God's only daughter

Spenser's Una as the invisible Church

By Kathryn Walls

God's only daughter


  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-5177-3
  • Pages: 256
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £21.00
  • Published Date: March 2021
  • BIC Category: Early Modern Literature, Literature, Literary studies: c 1400 to c 1600, POETRY / General, LITERARY CRITICISM / Renaissance, Literature & literary studies / Poetry, Literature & literary studies / Literary studies: c 1500 to c 1800, Literary studies: general
  • Series: The Manchester Spenser


In this study, Kathryn Walls challenges the standard identification of Una with the post-Reformation English Church, arguing that she is, rather, Augustine's City of God - the invisible Church, whose membership is known only to God. Una's story (its Tudor resonances notwithstanding) therefore embraces that of the Synagogue before the Incarnation as well as that of the Church in the time of Christ and thereafter. It also allegorises the redemptive process that sustains the true Church. Una is fallible in canto I. Subsequently, however, she comes to embody divine perfection. Her transformation depends upon the intervention of the lion as Christ.

Convinced of the consistency and coherence of Spenser's allegory, Walls offers fresh interpretations of Abessa (as Synagoga), of the fauns and satyrs (the Gentiles), and of Una's dwarf (adiaphoric forms of worship). She also reinterprets Spenser's marriage metaphor, clarifying the significance of Red Cross as Una's spouse in the final canto.


'[A] model of a sustained, close, critical reading of a single book. . . ..Its strengths lie precisely in the painstaking and patient unpacking of book 1 through an immensely learned discussion of sixteenth-century theology and in particular the invisible church as conceived in Calvinism'
Renaissance Quarterly, Winter 2014

'Walls's sophisticated exploration of the many cultural and literary infratexts should be required reading for Spenser scholars or graduate students pursuing an interest in this remarkable and important early modern poet. . . . evinces a refreshing independence of inquiry that is unafraid to follow the evidence wherever it leads'
Cahiers Elizabethains, 2014

'[P]ersuasively demonstrates that reading Una alongside contemporary Protestant thought about the invisible church greatly enriches her role in the poem. Walls's tightly-focused book establishes that Una's travails deserve as much careful attention as those of the knight who seeks her'
Spenser Review 44.3.64, Jan 2015

'groundbreaking . . . Walls's book is not only crucial to all Spenserians, but to all early modern academics and students. . . . an unflinching reflection [on criticism to date]. . . . an indispensable companion to The Faerie Queene'
Parergon 32: 1, 2015


Introduction: The Incarnation, allegory, and idolatry
1. The fallibility of Una
2. Una redeemed - the Incarnation
3. Una as the City of God
4. The City of God in history
5. Canto VI - The curch's mission to the gentiles
6. Una's adiaphoric dwarf
7. Una's trinitatian dimension
8. The multiplication of Una
List of work cited


Kathryn Walls is Professor of English at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

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