Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Edmund Spenser's Faery Queen ed. GW Kitchin

A little diversion from the main stream of this blog, at least superficially.  However I hope that it will be found in the spirit of philosophical and ethical enquiry that is its basis, being as the essence of Spenser's work is Honour and the Allegory of Love.  What greater philosophy and ethics can there be?

Review of G.W. Kitchin edition of Edmund Spenser's Faery Queen

I found a copy of the first volume of this edition in my local Oxfam bookshop recently after reading CS Lewis's 'The Allegory of Love' in which Lewis eulogises Spenser's work.

I am as yet on Canto IV of Book I and loving every line.  It was a little hard work at first, but with the aid of the excellent and extensive glossary of usage at the back I am making good headway.

This hardback edition is nicely sized to be easily slipped into a bag or pocket and the font is also quite comfortable to the eyen. (M.English: plural of 'eye'.)

The meter took a little time for me to find the rhythm of, but when you take account of the archaic pronunciation, remembering to accent on the -ed past tense endings and so forth, it isn't long before it is tripping off the tongue.  Actually, I find myself half reading it out loud as that was presumably how it was meant to be taken.  The language itself is sensuous, at least to the  modern ear, a little ironic as there is so much protestantism in the allegory!  But this is a world of chivalry and honour that we are entering into here, and we must leave behind the dull utilitarianism of modern speech.

I confess that the religious allegory is not what I had expected prior to reading Lewis's analysis; I had assumed something more in tune with Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream.  While that references the ancient mythological world, this is solidly placed in a mediaeval courtly setting with all the contextual embedding due to knights on quests and allusions to crusades and papal corruptions.  The opening vignette is masterful and captures the reader, the knightly hero and his lady wandering into a dark wood and encountering a vile dragon which he slays before they travel on and become embroiled in the ploys of Archimago, the brothers Sansfoy, Sansloy and Sansjoy, and false Duessa. 

This is not a work to be hurried like a modern page turner, where all that you desire is to find out what comes next and rush on till having completed it you are both glutted and empty, wanting more when your plate is cleared and there is no more to gorge upon.  Spenser's work is of the kind wherein one can linger on every line, poised in the eternal present, slowly digesting the unfolding plot, appreciating the texture of the language as much as the images and story.

Doubtless I shall have recourse to a more recent edition to complete the remaining 5 books of this epic work once I have completed this first, but it is a true pleasure to make my acquaintance with Edmund Spenser through this marvellous little edition which I feel was waiting for me on that shelf in Oxfam last week.

copyright © 2011 Claire Rae Randall
This is a copy of the review which I posted on


  1. this is NOT a good edition to read.. i bought it and it has had huge sections cut from it.. anything which is a little risque, sex etc.
    look at the stanza numbers and you'll see it'll go (for example in canto 2) 1, 2, 3, 7.
    awful and very confusing in my lecture!

  2. Hi Bronni,
    I discovered what you are talking about after I had written my piece. I had assumed that the lacunae were pieces of text that had been lost. Yes it is disappointing, I will agree. I have since acquired a complete edition of Spenser's poetic works with the complete texts of the whole of the Faery Queen and that is how I realised about the deletions you referred to.

    To be fair to Kitchin, one has to understand that this edition was first published in 1867 when the sexually explicit portions would not have been considered acceptable. That in itself gives an insight into the context of the edition. Kitchin himself was a minister in the Church of England.

    Acknowledging these reservations about this particular edition, I still enjoy having a copy, for several other reasons. It has an extremely good and extensive glossary of terms, essential given the archaic language used by Spenser. The notes too give great insight into the allusions and references of the text, much fuller than those in the complete version I purchased later, the 1912 Oxford University Press, Smith/ Selincourt. The Kitchin version has a much better and more readable font, although the OUP edition seems to be a reproduction of actual Elizabethan text. I also like the Kitchin edition because it is a handy pocket size hardback and I am something of a fan of old editions in themselves, perhaps Kitchin and the Victorians would have disapproved of the sensual pleasure I receive from such things!

    However, thankyou for your comments, which serve to enlarge the contextual understanding of this work, and indeed the more open minded attitudes of the Elizabethans towards sex than the Victorians. You refer to your lecture, are you a lecturer yourself, or a student studying this work? Best regards.