Reading and Not Reading ‘The Faerie Queene’: Spenser and the Making of Literary Criticism

Book cover

Catherine Nicholson, associate professor of English, director of graduate studies

(Princeton University Press)

While literary critics have long viewed Edmund Spenser’s “The Fairie Queene” (1590) as one of the great epic poems in the English language, readers’ reactions to the work have often been less than enthusiastic. The poem’s first known reader, the author’s friend Gabriel Harvey, urged Spenser to write anything else instead. The writer Virginia Woolf insisted that if one wants to like the poem, “the first essential is, of course, not to read” it. In this book Nicholson examines the responses of readers from Queen Elizabeth and the keepers of Renaissance commonplace books to 19th-century undergraduates, Victorian children, and modern scholars, and considers what they reveal about the history of reading and the future of literary studies.

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