God's only daughter

Spenser's Una as the invisible Church

By Kathryn Walls

God's only daughter


  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-0-7190-9037-0
  • Pages: 256
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £75.00
  • Published Date: November 2013
  • BIC Category: Literature, Literary studies: general, Literary studies: c 1400 to c 1600, LITERARY CRITICISM / Renaissance, Literature & literary studies / Literary studies: c 1500 to c 1800
  • 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.


Kathryn Walls is interested in the oneness of religion in Spenser, exemplified in the figure of Una. God's Only Daughter is a model of a sustained, close, critical reading of a single book and, indeed, a single figure in The Faerie Queene in the tradition of T. K. Dunseath's account of book 5. Ironically, A. C. Hamilton, who inspired Walls's work, once likened such single-book studies of The Faerie Queene to "the Hindustani fable of the six blind men quarrelling over the description of an elephant." God's Only Daughter is more like an exquisitely carved two inches of ivory. 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.

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. The work evinces a refreshing independence of inquiry that is unafraid to follow the evidence wherever it leads.

[God's Only Daughter] persuasively 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(s) who seeks her.

'The reader of God's Only Daughter will come away better informed about sixteenth-century Calvinism.'


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


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

Sign up to our newsletter
and receive 20% off all future book orders