Nadya Chishty Mujahid. “Review of Jane Grogan, Exemplary Spenser: Visual and Poetic Pedagogy in The Faerie Queene." Early Modern Literary Studies 15.2 (2010-11): 7.1-7 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/15-2/revgroga.htm>
see nobody on the road,” said Alice.
I had such eyes”, the King remarked in a fretful tone. “To be able to see
Carroll, Through the Looking Glass)
this is not immediately apparent even to more careful readers, Jane Grogan’s
text does not put forward a single all-encompassing thesis, so much as a set of
related, yet ultimately distinct, sub-theses that collectively
contribute towards furthering Spenserian scholarship from the perspective of the
critical domain of ekphrasis-related heuristics. Ironically, the most useful
way in which one can begin to assess Grogan’s well-organized and carefully
documented text involves working one’s way backwards from her
conclusions in Chapter 4. Titled “Making a Virtue of Courtesy,” this section of
her book posits that, in shaping the virtue of courtesy within the overarching
didactic framework of The Faerie Queene, Edmund Spenser necessarily
needs to compromise the didactic and pedagogic strategies that he has developed
over the course of his earlier books (specifically the first three, which deal
with holiness, temperance, and chastity respectively). The complex, at times
almost convoluted, scholarly messages of Grogan’s text derive much support from
the final chapter’s confident deliberations as they implicitly underscore how
the “romance genre of Book VI itself poses a challenge to Spenser’s didactic
poetics” (157). Thus Grogan’s book, taken in its entirety, forcefully contrasts
the authoritative (and undeniably reformative) didactic poetics of the 1590
edition with the representations of virtue encapsulated in the sixth book.
introductory agendum—expounded and clarified in both her introduction, provocatively
titled “Misreading Spenser,” as well as in Chapter 1—wisely avoids the trap of
becoming a series of fashionable, but ultimately meaningless, new-historicist
capers. Instead the author gives a strong and solid performance on the
“balance-beam” of the “Letter to Ralegh”; underscoring the special role of
Xenophon’s Cyropaedia in fulfilling Spenser’s initial didactic aims.
This approach is relatively novel from the perspective of Spenser studies, and
Grogan’s performance on the aforementioned balance-beam pleasingly combines
interpretative exercise with historical accuracy. Her elegant “dismount” draws
upon Ricoeurian theory in order to illustrate how both “Spenser and [Paul]
Ricoeur accept a commitment to transformed futures in the act of reading” (66).
Grogan views the association between Spenserian didacticism and reader
reception as inherently dynamic, and repeatedly (but usefully) draws one’s
attention to how this dynamism helps to foster the development of both moral
character and reader-responsibility.
author’s intensive engagement with Spenser’s epic reaches its apex in Chapters
2 and 3 of her text, where Grogan pays homage to Spenser’s personal talent at
pictorial depiction as well as to his use of established visual paradigms of
the Renaissance. Her informative and lengthy discussion of Spenserian enargeia
in Chapter 3—where she defines enargeia as “the creation of vivid and
lively (or lifelike) images in the mind’s eye of the listener or reader” (109)—provides
clarity and focus for the concept that Spenser’s didacticism and his pictorial
poetics work symbiotically towards fulfilling the “Letter’s” professed aim of
fashioning a gentleman.
bibliography appears to be remarkably sound, both insofar as primary and secondary
texts are concerned. However, it draws on such a plethora of recent secondary
critical texts that I cannot help but feel that certain sections of Exemplary
Spenser, such as her excellent analysis of Britomart’s adventures in the
House of Busirane, would have benefited from a reliance on more “classic” work
such as the scholarship of Thomas P. Roche, for example. Moreover, her focus on
epic heroes in the first chapter would have undoubtedly been enhanced by
Kenneth Borris’ Allegory and Epic in English Renaissance Literature. Nevertheless,
Grogan’s detailed analyses of topics as varied and diverse as the Cyropaedia,
False Florimell, Italian and English courtesy theory of the Renaissance,
Anglo-Irish tensions, and the links between ekphrasis and
reader-responsibility—to list but a few—make this an invaluable reference guide
for undergraduates and graduate students alike. This is not to say that the
text will not appeal to advanced scholars of Spenser’s work (indeed, that
should go without saying); rather, I wish to assert that not all critical works
on Spenser are as suitable for use by students as Grogan’s undoubtedly is.
Although her odd neglect of Book IV and insufficient attention to Book V are
regrettable, given the depth and success of her engagement with Books I-III as
well as with the often elusive “Letter to Ralegh,” perhaps she may be prevailed
upon to visit the former books in a future study.
grounded in The Faerie Queene itself, Grogan’s book draws on critical
theory sparingly but pertinently. While her research and style of writing are
equally erudite, the text occasionally demonstrates a wry humour and quirky
cockiness that make for surprisingly enjoyable reading. In conclusion, one can
confidently state that Spenserians who are seeking to develop greater visual and
pedagogic clarity insofar as his complex epic is concerned would be well-served
were they to grab a pair of Grogan’s “literary bifocals”—beautifully packaged
by Ashgate Press.
Kenneth. Allegory and Epic in English Renaissance Literature. Cambridge:
Cambridge UP, 2000.
P., Jr.The Kindly Flame: A Study Of The Third And Fourth
Books Of Spenser's Faerie Queene. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1964.
Responses to this piece intended for the
Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.