Monday, 11 December 2017

I Am Beginning to Hate This Guy - FQ Book 4 Cantos 10, 11 & 12

I've been slow on this recently, maybe depression, maybe laziness and maybe just because Edmund is beginning to really irritate me.

Partly its the grind of the rapes which, yes, are a common convention in Renaissance literature and of which no particular individual one is really bothersome, but jesus christ there are a lot. I mean there are a LOT, and they do not stop coming.

And the rapes are just another branch of the gender politics. I swear to God if I need to read about another flawlessly blonde virtue/whore complex situation I am going to fucking stab myself.

Right now you are probably thinking I'm a liberal wiener, maybe I should just git gud at Renaissance literature, but its not one thing, its the whole thing. The drumbeat of virgins and sluts and NOTHING ELSE.

"Oh hey its a hot girl lost in the woods. Hey girl, still got your hymen?"


I know I shouldn't be dragging my irony-drenched 21stC perspective into this. It is the easiest thing to do. But sometimes the irony is a defence against, or a mediator with, a deeper and more legitimate alienation and moral anger.

No matter how much you think you don't care about this shit, I swear to god, if you read through SEVEN HUNDRED PAGES  of it you are going to be reaching for the blue hair dye and hitting 'like and subscribe' on Buzzfeed.

Partly its the exceptionally boring 'list/architecture' Canto's which read to me like a man who has set himself an obscure and particular problem, got tired of it half-way through, and then just grrround his way through it.

The end of Book 4 is particularly bad. Canto 10 is an architecture/adventure site Canto in which Spencer is mainly describing a particular place, controlled by and symbolising a particular power structure. In this case its the Temple of Venus, and Spenser is talking about Love.

And these are perfectly reasonable ideas. Spenser takes a social and/or physical structure he and his readers will know well, the castle, the royal court, the fancy gathering, and uses this structure as the basis for a spiritual and moral investigation and interaction. So our characters are having an 'adventure' and moving through space and interacting with people and things, and they are also essentially performing a detailed and elaborate sermon at the same time.

Its very good. It's signature Spenser, its his classic 'go-to'. It's very interesting THE FIRST FIFTY FUCKING TIMES.

And we get some classic visualisations from this. Remember Furor and how he fed on anger and his Hag, Occasion who kept prodding him and who had no hair on her rear side because you had to grab her before the arrived? And the Gold Giant Distain, "and did distain to be so called, and all who so him called".

There is always some gold in Spenser, even in this shit Cantos. Canto 10 has a part where Scudamour gets into the Temple of Venus, he has to get the shield with Cupid on it from a giant and people in the Temple fear the shield because Cupid is a major Big Bad in the Faerie Queene, which is interesting, then when he finds Amoret, there is a line about how he needs love (Amoret) because he never thought he would ever be loved by anyone, which is a very Spencerian glimmer of humanity in the relentless gilded verse.

And gilded verse is right I think. A lot of it is like a late Spielberg film. Its rarely _bad_, you are getting decent quality most of the time, with lots of nice little glimmers of originality and imagination, but my god it goes on. And I do not know or care much where it is going.

Partly its because there aren't many fight scenes any more, and the ones we have have become repetitive.

Partly its because Britomarts Canto didn't have much Britomart.

Partly its because the opening Heroic Quest Books with a pretty tight focus have given way to this looping telenovella rambling cast of characters so I feel like its hard to say what any particular Book is really about. Book 4 is meant to be about friendship, but all the friendship stuff is over by the middle really, and handled by divine deus ex machina and the rest is all guys chasing Florimell and trying to get Amoret back to Scudamour. Its like mainlining a Netflix series. There are no memory gaps between Books or Cantos any more, its all one big identityless blur.

Partly its that from his historical record Spenser was just a bad guy, particularly in his colonial enthusiasms. This is in the long tradition of Arthurian writers kind of being scumbags;

Mallory - essentially a gangster, possible rapist.

Chaucer - by modern standards, a rapist.

Spenser - enthusiastic colonialist of the 'this-massacre-was-necessary and we-must-destroy-the-culture kind.

T.H. White - hid in Ireland during WWII whilst banging on about England. Some creepy sexual stuff.

Marion Zimmer Bradley - look it up.


Well what happens at the end of Book Four?

Canto 10 - Scudamour describes how he won his Cupid Shield and stole Amoret from the temple of Venus. They are both together now I think? So presumably they are done with that.

Canto 11 - This describes a marriage between two English rivers, the Thames and I forget the other one. It's quasi-fun. There's a big boring list of Neptunian characters and sea-associated mythical figures. Then there is a list of English rivers given as if it was a Royal court with the Thames being the main King and the others being like courtiers. Tributaries are supporters like pages and squires for the main rivers. There are some charming descriptions. Its long as fuck.

Canto 12 - This big river-marriage takes place at the house of Proteus, where Real Florimell (tm) is still imprisoned. Marinell, the guy who Britomart knocked down early in this book, is invited so he can get to know the literalised metaphors, but as a half-mortal can't eat thier food. He's wandering around feeling sad when he hears Florimell lamenting, basically about how much of a tool he is.

Marinell falls in immediate love. And doesn't rescue Florimell, instead he goes home.

When he gets home he gets so sad from love that he loses weight and gets sick, just like Arthurs Squire (there's another of those repetitions again, they become increasingly less charming the more they happen).

His oppressive and irritating mother who forced him not to hang out with girls OR HE WOULD DIE, wheedles the truth out of him. He's in love with a girl. What girl. Oh this girl kept prisoner by Proteus.

Then the mother essentially just complains to King Neptune, with her argument being composed of;

60% - This love is killing my son, therefore Proteus is kinda murdering him.

30% - By keeping this chick in a prison, Proteus is ignoring your law.

10% - Blah, blah, blah abduction, kidnap rape, wrong etc etc whatever.

This works.

Neptune gives her his seal or whatever, she takes that to Proteus, Proteus gives up Florimell in bad grace, she takes Florimell home.

Florimell has Marinell, Marinell has Flormell. Both are happy.

End of Book.

So Marinell ended up with the worlds hottest girl by complaining to his mum, who complained to the King. No jousts, no combat, no gyants. I don't know if this is meant to be funny or not.



  1. Honestly, I think the main problem is that the Faerie Queene is just much, much too long. Books 1 to 3 - the 1590 text - deserves its status as a classic of Renaissance literature, but books 4-6 - the 1596 installment - read like the second season which the fans of season 1 thought they wanted, but actually found really dull when it finally came out. All Spencer's best ideas went into books 1-3, meaning that there's less and less creative energy to counterbalance whatever other issues a given reader may be having with the text.

    An awful lot of readers give up after two or three books, and I can't really say I blame them. I read the whole thing through as an undergraduate, but I've never been tempted to pick it up again since. Let's be thankful he never followed through on his threat to write a 12-book version...

    1. I'm calling it the Faerie Queene Extended Universe Problem. I reckon it started to go off the boil in book three. If you got all the good Britomart stuff from book 4 and put it in book 3 and took out a lot of the crap you'd have an english classic.

    2. Yeah, you're probably right. Anyway, if you've got issues with Spencer's politics now, wait until you get to book 5, in which the virtue of Justice is represented by one knight's heroic quest to save Ireland from the evil Irish...

    3. Oh I'm almost looking forward to it. By that stage I'll probably be in full 'fuck this noise' mode and the whole blog will just devolve into an angry rant.

  2. If it makes you feel bad, don't force yourself. Whatever enjoyment people (and I) might get from the verses or your descriptions of what is going on, is not worth to pull yourself through terrible experience.

    1. It's not that bad, I'll probably just do it in my own time rather than day-by-day instead.