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Edmund Spenser: A Life [Hardcover]

Andrew Hadfield
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

28 Jun 2012
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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Product details

  • Hardcover: 656 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (28 Jun 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199591024
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199591022
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 16.5 x 24.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 402,613 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Hadfield's breadth of reading and his coverage of relevant details are impressive. ... will undoubtedly become the authoritative biography of Spenser (Elizabeth Heale, Modern Language Review)

readers will find much to enjoy in this story of a path-breaking, independent-minded writer, whose network of associates included most f the important literary and political figures in the last quarter of the 16th century. (Neil Rhodes, Around the Globe)

this is going to be the standard biography of Spenser for a very long time ... If I encounter a better historical biography this year, I'll be surprised. (Jonathan Wright, The Tablet)

Hadfield's (Harold Bloom, Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University)

is revelatory and performed with authentic scholarship and drive.

Andrew Hadfield has created ... an invaluable biography, which will be a resource for Spenserian scholars and enthusiasts for generations to come. (Helen Hackett, Times Literary Supplement)

This is, in all senses, a substantial book, packed with scholarly detail. (Charles Nicholl, The Guardian)

Andrew Hadfield's monumental undertaking sets new standards in life writing. Not merely a significant contribution to Spenser studies, it changes the way we think about Renaissance literature, Elizabethan history, biographical criticism and issues of authorship. (Times Higher Education)

A phenomenal work of scholarship and insight. (Nicola Shulman, The Spectator)

Andrew Hadfield's life of Spenser is the first biography of the Prince of Poets, as his epitaph had it, in 60 years, and I cannot imagine anyone doing a better job for another 60 ... He brings to the biography a nuanced critical intelligence, and above all, a capacity to remind the reader how surprising Spenser was. (Stuart Kelly, The Scotsman)

This definitive portrait brings fresh life to a magnificent but maligned poet ... a model biography. (Jerry Brotton, The Independent)

Andrew Hadfield's Spenser is a remarkable piece of work ... It is difficult to imagine a more exhaustive examination of a poet's life. (Harold Weatherby, Sewanee Review)

by 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, The Wall Street Journal, Best books of 2012)

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. (B. E. Brandt, Choice)

About 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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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rapt with the rage of mine own ravisht thought. 20 Aug 2012
Edmund Spenser is presented comprehensively in this superlative biography by Andrew Hadfield. There are good descriptions of his education and influence of the Protestant Reformers in his formative thinking along with his knowledge of the classics including the Latin and Dutch tongues. The book also refers thoughout to the poems and the nuanced meanings of the nomenclature. The English colonisation beyond the Pale in Munster is given much detail with references to the Irish Wars to curtail international Catholicism such as the Battle of Smerwick. There is pertinant references to various statesmen, clergymen and gentlemen including printers and poets such as Gabriel Harvey and Sir Philip Sydney. There are references to the Geneva Bible and how Lammentations are read allegorically. There are also numerous examples of how Spenser commented on the court of Queen Elizabeth and his thoughts on Irish policy and his role as part of the Church and State both in England and Ireland. Edward Spenser was the secretary of the Bishop of Rochester and also Lord Grey in Ireland. There are references to all parts of the British Isles with particular detail on London and County Cork with pictures of various Church of Ireland locations. An interesting book pertinant to Irish history and Protestantism.
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Scholarly Volume 8 April 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Whilst I did not purchase this volume for myself, my friend for whom I did buy it is absolutely delighted with the book.
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The man who dreamed of faeryland 11 Sep 2012
By Comment Man - Published on Amazon.com
This summer I decided to reread Spenser. I began with the marriage odes and sonnets, continued to the Shepheard's Calender and then decided to reread the Faery Queene. The amazing beauty of his language endures after all these centuries; I consider him one of English's greatest poets, fresh and vital to this day. Three weeks ago I happened upon this biography in the library. I am not a great fan of biographies of writers and tend to actively dislike long biographies. Even worse, as Hadfield acknowledges in his introduction, the bare facts of Spenser's life would barely fill a sheet or two of closely printed type.

Yet I began to read and was totally immersed in not just who Spenser was, but what it meant to be a poet in Elizabethian England and to be a colonist in 16th century Ireland. Hadfield carefully recreates Spenser's life, the society in which he lived and relates both to Spenser's work. His profound reading of Spenser's poetry overturns superficial judgments linking Spenser and Queen Elizabeth and Spenser and Walter Ralegh and remind the reader just how controversial a poet Spenser was. Elizabethian England comes alive in this book in an extrordinary way. This is one of the best biographies I have ever read; I would rank it with Scholem's Sabbatai Sevi.

While the book is not easy reading, it repays the time and deep attention needed to read it. I think it is worth reading whether you know Spenser's work or not--and if you don't, you may discover a poet with whom you can travel life's road--the man who, as Yeats put it, dreamed of faeryland.
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