Edmund Spenser: A Life

Overview


Edmund Spenser's innovative poetic works have a central place in the canon of English literature. Yet he is remembered as a morally flawed, self-interested sycophant; complicit in England's ruthless colonisation of Ireland; in Karl Marx's words, 'Elizabeth's arse-kissing poet'-- a man on the make who aspired to be at court and who was prepared to exploit the Irish to get what he wanted.

In his vibrant and vivid book, the first biography of the poet for 60 years, Andrew Hadfield...

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Edmund Spenser: A Life

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Overview


Edmund Spenser's innovative poetic works have a central place in the canon of English literature. Yet he is remembered as a morally flawed, self-interested sycophant; complicit in England's ruthless colonisation of Ireland; in Karl Marx's words, 'Elizabeth's arse-kissing poet'-- a man on the make who aspired to be at court and who was prepared to exploit the Irish to get what he wanted.

In his vibrant and vivid book, the first biography of the poet for 60 years, Andrew Hadfield finds a more complex and subtle Spenser. How did a man who seemed destined to become a priest or a don become embroiled in politics? If he was intent on social climbing, why was he so astonishingly rude to the good and the great Lord Burghley, the earl of Leicester, Sir Walter Ralegh, Elizabeth I and James VI? Why was he more at home with 'the middling sort' -- writers, publishers and printers, bureaucrats, soldiers, academics, secretaries, and clergymen -- than with the mighty and the powerful? How did the appalling slaughter he witnessed in Ireland impact on his imaginative powers? How did his marriage and family life shape his work?

Spenser's brilliant writing has always challenged our preconceptions. So too, Hadfield shows, does the contradictory relationship between his between life and his art.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The last biography of Edmund Spenser (1554–1599), author of The Faerie Queene, was issued in 1945. It is probable that no one will have to write another after this one from Hadfield (Shakespeare and Republicanism), a professor of English at the University of Sussex, who includes a whopping 2,500 endnotes in addition to 60-plus pages of bibliography as part of his record. Considering the skimpiness of documentary evidence, such levels of scholarship are impressive. The most visual of Elizabethan poets, Spenser is a highly stylized innovator whose ornate versification and influence have been left largely behind by modernist and postmodernist sensibilities. Hadfield, who previously has published on Spenser’s crucial years in Ireland, makes a case for the centrality of Spenser’s work while setting the record straight on his colonialist ambitions. Meticulous and slow to publish in an era in which life expectancy was only 35 years, and 10 years Shakespeare’s senior, Spenser bent the course of English literature by establishing pentameter versification. Although marred slightly by a sprinkling of odd repetitions, even the most serious readers will learn more than they might imagine about a colorful, seminal era. Illus. (Aug.)
From the Publisher

"Hadfield's Spenser is revelatory and performed with authentic scholarship and drive". --Harold Bloom

"Even the most serious readers will learn more than they might imagine about a colorful, seminal era." --Publishers Weekly--- Best new Books

" Andrew Hadfield displays a rare understanding of the poet's ambiguous legacy, of his relationship to history and then to art. Mr. Hadfield makes no simple judgments about the connection or disconnection between beauty and cruelty, but he offers a nuanced and clever reading of the work and the man that made the work". Colm Toibin, Books of the Year, Wall Street Journal

. Hadfield's thorough analysis of the self-referential elements in Spenser's writings makes this a book that those studying Spenser will want to consult frequently. The impressive apparatus includes 2,535 endnotes, a 64-page bibliography, 47 plates, and appendixes on Spenser's descendants, portraits, and previous biographies. Summing Up: Essential. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. CHOICE

"His book will be the new standard scholarly biography of Spenser, and is essential for literary scholarship of the era." --Library Journal

"A book that those studying Spenser will want to consult frequently...Essential." --Choice

"[Hadfield] has created a lasting and colorful portrait of one of England's (and Ireland's greatest writers." --Renaissance Quarterly

Library Journal
Edmund Spenser (1554–99) was the greatest nondramatic poet in the Elizabethan age, next to Shakespeare in the literary canon for his experimentation and poetic richness. He was also a working bureaucrat and, as an Englishman in Ireland, one of the first major colonial thinkers, yet we know little about him. Hadfield (English, Univ. of Sussex), a leading authority on the English Renaissance and its relationship with Ireland, offers the first full biography of Spenser since Alexander Corbin Judson's The Life of Edmund Spencer (1945). Given the paucity of newly discovered facts, Hadfield's approach is to remove misconceptions and establish the social, political, historical, and cultural contexts against which to read Spenser's poetry and other extant documents. Necessarily, much remains plausible conjecture. Nevertheless, Hadfield illuminates the historical and biographical significance of many passages in the The Faerie Queene, The Shepheardes Calendar, and the other great works. VERDICT Scholarly, rich in detail, and well written, Hadfield's work here assumes some familiarity with Spenser's poetry. His book will be the new standard scholarly biography of Spenser, and is essential for literary scholarship of the era.—Thomas L. Cooksey, Armstrong Atlantic State Univ., Savannah, GA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199591022
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 8/1/2012
  • Pages: 656
  • Sales rank: 1,441,185
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 2.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Andrew Hadfield is Professor of English at the University of Sussex and Visiting Professor at the University of Grenada. He is author of a number of works on early modern literature.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
List of Figures
List of Abbreviations
Introduction: Writing the Life
1. Origins and Childhood
2. Spenser goes to College
3. Lost Years
4. Annus Mirabilis
5. To Ireland I
6. Spenser's Castle
7. Back to England
8. 1591
9. More Lost Years and Second Marriage (1592-5)
10. Return to London, 1596-7
11. Last Years, 1597-9
Afterword
Appendix One: Spenser's Descendants
Appendix Two: Portraits of Spenser
Appendix Three: Spenser's Lives
Bibliography
Index

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