The Christian Humanist Podcast, Episode #34: The Faerie Queene

General Introduction
– Hey, there’s four of us!
– A needless interruption
– What’s on the blog?
– David pleases the king

Background
– A little-read Great Book
– Spenser’s social climbing
– The messy composition
– Disillusionment in the second half?
– Personal and civic virtue

Let’s Talk Carla
– The broad strokes of Carla’s thesis
– Female disappointment
– Does Britomart ever find satisfaction?
– Unspeakable disasters
– The block of the patriarchy

Let’s Talk Britomart
– Is Britomart a feminist?
– Self-hatred
– Gender bendin’ with Queen Elizabeth I
– The Ally McBeal of the 16th century
– An endemic problem to Renaissance epic?
– What did Spenser intend?

Period Resonations
– Nathan brings his dissertation into it!
– Religious tensions of the era
– The sacramentality of marriage
– Milton’s gender division
– Boethius and the Fortunate Fall

Book One
– The only thing you’ve read: Admit it!
– Which church are you part of?
– The Catholic scarlet woman

The National Epic
– A New Kind of St. George
– Gloriana, the Faerie Queene
– Prince Arthur
– The anxieties of the empire

Allegory and Critical Theory
– Michial wrongly anticipates a cage match
– Why allegory confuses Britomart
– How emotion breaks it down
– Allegory as inherently limiting
– Authorial intent
– Did Spenser fall backwards into a great book?
– Allegory that creates a surplus of meaning
– Back to the Holy Grail!
– Is there a point of arrival?

Lightning Round
– What else in The Faerie Queene is worth your time?
– Sir Guyon discovers the limits of classical virtue
– The first buddy cop movie
– False Florimell’s phony romance novel
– Pyrochles sets himself on fire
– The adventures of Belphoebe and Amoret
– The Salvage Man’s nasty habits

Why Should You Bother and How Should You Proceed?
– The power of the poetry
– A shameful reminder
– Intangible meaning and beauty
– Understanding the historical roots of our modern beliefs
– Read it in a group
– Positive frustration
– C.S. Lewis’s strange mother issues
– Stuff for the 11-year-old boys in our audience
– White is a color, too—and the ambiguity of virtue
– Another tiresome comparison to Moby-Dick
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Ariosoto, Ludovico. Orlando Furioso. Trans. Guido Waldman. New York: Oxford UP, 2008.

Blanchot, Maurice. The Writing of the Disaster. Trans. Ann Smock. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1995.

Boethius. The Consolation of Philosophy. Trans. Victor Watts. New York: Penguin, 1999.

Candler, Peter M., Jr. “The Anagogical Imagination of Flannery O’Connor.” Christianity and Literature 60.1 (Autumn 2010): 11-33.

Melville, Herman. Moby-Dick. New York: Norton, 2001.

Milbank, John. Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2006.

Milton, John. Paradise Lost. New York: Norton, 2004.

Shakespeare, William. Othello. London: Arden, 1996.

Spenser, Edmund. The Faerie Queene. New York: Penguin, 1979.

4 thoughts on “The Christian Humanist Podcast, Episode #34: The Faerie Queene

  1. Disappointed to hear Melville described as a bad writer who fell backwards into a good novel. I spent a semester studying Melville’s development as a writer. Not all of his books are worth reading, but he was a superb craftsman who knew what he was doing. His goal with Moby-Dick, as he said, was to turn blubber into poetry.

    Will have to discount the assertions made on this usually excellent podcast if something like this was uttered and allowed to go unchecked.

  2. Discount away. I also took a semester-length class on Melville, and it was then that I formed this opinion.

    “Moby-Dick” is about seven mediocre books (adventure story, bizarre allegory, comic novel, whaling manual, etc., etc., etc.) shoved together to make one great one. Melville, I think, had some vague idea that this is what he was doing, but I don’t think for a second it was his intention from the beginning. For evidence of how poorly this process usually worked, I’ll direct you to “Mardi” and “Pierre.” The former is absolutely unreadable–the second is a mess in ways that are interesting without being good.

    Certainly I think “Moby-Dick” is a wonderful novel–I just think people are right to resist it at first. You have to realize what makes that book great before you can think it’s great; it’s the mish-mash of styles, something that goes far beyond what anyone, Melville included, could possibly have intended. The book is great because it got away from him, not because he maintained his control over it.

  3. Carla! Stop asking “does that make sense?”! It makes sense!

    Seriously, good podcast y’all. I now must go check the Fairie Queene out of the library again. And good call on the power and beauty of Elizabethan language, Carla.

    (I must somehow find some way to use the phrase “exploding error-babies” in a sentence)

  4. Happy Thanksgiving!

    Michial, I disagree with your description of Moby-Dick as “seven mediocre books […] shoved together to make one great one”–but don’t want to get into that.

    I would agree that Mardi and Pierre are not worth reading unless you are doing a large study on Melville. (Or–would agree with caveats: The first fifty pages of Mardi are wonderful, and I do have a friend who swears by the brilliance of Pierre.) Melville was an experimental author (especially when he thought he could afford to be), and these were failed experiments. I don’t see them as similar experiments to Moby-Dick, though; each of the three operate under an entirely different methodology.

    As to Moby-Dick, and any book, I would say what the author originally sets out to do is irrelevant.

    In Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life, she says that when you finish a piece of writing your original vision “has been replaced by [a] changeling. […] Words lead to other words and down the garden path. You adjust the paints’ values and hues not to the world, not to the vision, but to the rest of the paint. […] The work is not the vision itself, certainly. It is not the vision filled in, as if it had been a coloring book.” In an interview, she said, “Whatever you do replaces whatever you had in mind to do, just like your actual children replace sort of blurry, ideal, vague children, and replaces them in your heart as well.”

    You follow the work as you build it. It doesn’t make you any less of a craftsman. And it doesn’t mean that what you finally produce is something you did not intend to create.

    At least we agree that Moby-Dick is a great book, worth reading.

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