Apparent narrative as thematic metaphor : studies in the organisation of the Faerie Queene
Kouwenhoven, Jan Karel
"The world, is changed with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil." For 'the world' read 'moral man', and Hopkins's lines would be the perfect epigraph to Die Faerie Queene, defining both its theme and its mode. Or so this thesis contends. It re-examines Spenser's Letter to Ralegh, so often ignored or even maligned, to find that it makes sense, both internally and with reference to the poem, on two conditions. One is that we grasp the poet's conceptual argument, according to which morality manifests redemption in Christ and thus constitutes the earthly anticipation of heavenly glory. The other is that, for once, we take him literally when he calls his work a continued allegory. Both points are developed in detail, but the latter receives all the emphasis, partly because it concerns a more strictly literary issue and partly because it is highly controversial. To be sure, existing criticism takes for granted the poem's status as allegory. Yet it persists in treating its fiction as narrative. Spenser makes such treatment logically impossible. He invites it only to expose the stories' illusoriness, thus directing the reader to take them as symbols, not exempla. Literally the whole poem falls to pieces, which are united exclusively in virtue of their allegorical meaning. This unity is given. Yet interpretation has to struggle endlessly to work it out: it reveals itself only intermittently, in flashes. Salvation, too, is given. Yet morality has to battle continuously to work it out, being only an elusive intimation of immortality. The poem's mode enacts its theme. Chapter One gets The Faerie Queene as a whole into proper perspective. Chapters Two and Three each discuss a 'narrative strand' in the Kiddle Books; a strategic choice, in that these Books challenge the relevance of the Letter's programme more obviously than any of the Outer Books.