The early Spenser, 1554–80

'Minde on honour fixed'

By Jean R. Brink

The early Spenser, 1554–80


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Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-4258-0
  • Pages: 256
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £80.00
  • Published Date: October 2019
  • BIC Category: Early Modern Literature, LITERARY CRITICISM / European / English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Literature & literary studies / Literary studies: poetry & poets, Literature & literary studies / Literary studies: c 1500 to c 1800, LITERARY CRITICISM / Modern / 16th Century, Literature & literary studies / Literature: history & criticism
  • Series: The Manchester Spenser


Brink's provocative biography shows that Spenser was not the would-be court poet whom Karl Marx's described as 'Elizabeth's arse-kissing poet'. In this readable and informative account, Spenser is depicted as the protégé of a circle of London clergymen, who expected him to take holy orders. Brink shows that the young Spenser was known to Alexander Nowell, author of Nowell's Catechism and Dean of St. Paul's. Significantly revising the received biography, Brink argues that that it was Harvey alone who orchestrated Familiar Letters (1580). He used this correspondence to further his career and invented the portrait of Spenser as his admiring disciple.

Contextualising Spenser's life by comparisons with Shakespeare and Sir Walter Ralegh, Brink shows that Spenser shared with Sir Philip Sidney an allegiance to the early modern chivalric code. His departure for Ireland was a high point, not an exile.


'In what is arguably the most important contribution to Spenser studies since Andrew Hadfield's landmark biography, Jean Brink has rendered a superb service to the field, filling in blanks in the poet's life and opening up fresh lines of inquiry for future scholars. Brink's account of the 1560s and 1570s is exemplary in its scholarly scrupulousness. A sustained analysis of Spenser's schooldays and undergraduate experiences, a meticulous reading of The Shepheardes Calender and a firm putting of Gabriel Harvey in his proper, if less witty and familiar place are just some of the highlights of this splendid monograph. It is a work that is sure to be of lasting impact. Brink is less interested in Spenser's access to Ireland prior to 1580 than some of her readers will be, but she opens a gateway into the poet's early encounter with that country that her counterparts have yet to fully explore ... We speak nowadays of 'research monographs' when we really mean simply book-length arguments. The Early Spenser really is a research monograph. It reads like a volume that was pieced together over decades rather than years and for that reason it is certain to be a work of enduring criticism.'
Willy Maley, The Spenser Review


1 Lineage and the 'Nowell Account Book'
2 Spenser's education and Merchant Taylors' School
3 Pembroke College (1569-74)
4 'Southerne shepheardes boye' (1574-79)
5 Gabriel Harvey and Immerito (1569-78)
6 'Minde on honour fixed': Spenser, Sidney, and the early modern chivalric code
7 Aprill and November
8 Puzzling identities: From E.K. to Roffy's 'boye' to Rosalind
9 Familiar Letters (1580)
10 Ireland and the preferment of Edmund Spenser (1580)


Jean R. Brink is a Research Scholar at Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino, CA, Professor Emeritus at Arizona State University, and the founding director of the Az Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies

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