Troubled Blood  and Spenser–Part Four Thoughts

Apologies for the late post today! With these hefty readings, I’m falling behind nearly as much as my students, but I dare say I’m having more fun with my reading than they are with theirs! I hope you’re enjoying the threads we’ve thus far discovered that tie Troubled Blood to its literary inspiration, Edmund Spenser’s epic Faerie Queene. If you have not been following along with our multi-faceted coverage of the new Cormoran Strike novel, I hope you’ll catch up, and then I hope you’ll come with me after the jump as we enter the next season, both literally and figuratively, in the latest installments of the adventures of our modern-day knights Artegall and Britomart, Strike and Robin.

As we are all racing toward what is sure to be a thrilling conclusion, it is sometimes hard to slow down long enough to process the artistry being exhibited by Rowling/Galbraith, but as we reach the end of Part 4, here are the four most interesting Spenser connections that both show the depth of our story’s connections to The Faerie Queene and may offer us clues for the journey ahead.

Seasons Change

So far, we’ve had opening quotations that have each taken us to a specific season. These passages have all come from the pageant of the seasons in the last existing cantos of The Faerie Queene. Each of the first three Parts has a quotation that fits the season in which it takes place. However, Part 4 makes a slight deviation. Rather than pulling out one of the passages with a month reference or some other piece from the same canto that sources the first three, Galbraith takes a quotation from the second canto of Book IV, the book devoted to the Virtue of Friendship. Unlike the other books of the epic poem, which feature a single knight as the central figure for each book, Book IV has two: Cambrel and Telemond (or Triamond. He has an identity issue. Evidently, Spenser had problems with Flints, too), because, of course, it’s hard to have a story about friendship with only one person.

Friendship is definitely on display in Part Four, just as it is in Book IV. Although Robin and Strike have a row, reflecting the Faerie Queene episode in which Artegall gets the posterior of his armor kicked by his future wife, Britomart, of course, our detectives, like their mirror figures, reconcile. In case we have not gotten the message so far that Britomart, the knight of Chastity, and Artegall, knight of Justice, are types for our leads, there are numerous epigraphs in this part to stress that. Many of the knights, particularly in Book IV, begin as enemies who develop strong bonds of loyalty as the story progresses.

Time, Time, Time

Not only does the header send us to Book IV, but it also reminds us of a central theme that resonates both in this section of the novel and in Spenser’s poetry: Time. Just in case we don’t get that from the opening quotation, we are reminded with the stress on the Athena clock Roy Phipps used to communicate with Margot and on the  astronomical clock at Hampton Court.

The passage about time fits here beautifully, because, just as it does in its source material, the quotation stresses that time is an enemy, a thief that snatches our opportunities and our health. So, appropriately, this is the section in which we lose Aunt Joan after her battle with cancer. Strike, who at last realizes how dear Joan is to him, is given the great gift of sharing her last days, but not without struggle, as he and Lucy brave flooding to get to St. Mawes before their adopted mother passes. Strike and Joan have a beautiful farewell, as he is the one with her when she dies, and he is the trustee of her wishes to be cremated and her ashes scattered at sea. All this emphasis on water is not just in line with mad Talbot, original Bamborough investigator; it is in line with Spenser, who uses nautical epigraphs beautifully in Book I to show the struggles and triumphs of his protagonists. Spenser obviously also provides Rowling with a plethora of sea-related opening passages to use in this section. The sea, for both Spenser and for Strike, represents the implacable force of nature, time, a fact stressed by that nice seagull observation at the end of the last chapter of Part Four.

The sea reminds us that we are mortal; it’s an agent of change, of time that moves on without us. Edmund Spenser could not have known, when he composed Book IV, that he would not live to complete all 12 proposed books of his epic poem, that he, too, would fall victim toWicked Time, but it’s a theme that permeates many of his poems and which often uses the sea. One of my favorites, “One Day I wrote her Name upon the Strand,” has the speaker’s sweetheart tease him for the futility of writing her name in the sand at the beach, as the waves always wash it away, and she reminds him that indeed, time will wash her, and all memory of her, away as well.

He counters with the assertion that art, that great preserver, will allow the woman’s name, and her legacy, to live on, long after her death, through his poetry. Although the lady’s name is not mentioned, if she’s Mrs. Spenser, or if she is the Queen Spenser so often immortalized in his writing, the name is the same: Elizabeth.

Tudors and Roses

As a veteran historical interpreter, I am well practiced in putting on funny clothes from another time period, educating school children, and being asked odd questions, like “Is that a real fire?” In Part Four, we get to meet Cynthia, who has been answering just those sorts of questions (of course, the schoolkids asked her how it felt to have her head cut off!) as a docent at Hampton Court, where she dresses as Anne Boylen and leads tours. She clearly enjoys the job enough to have a ringtone that plays “Greensleeves,” the tune Henry VIII wrote for Anne Boylen (before all that unpleasant beheading business). Or, perhaps, she identifies with Anne to some degree. After all, the king was a married man when he courted Anne, and there was a whole nasty church business that ensued so he could divorce his first wife for her. Although Cynthia swears there was no romance between herself and Roy Phipps until long after Margot’s disappearance, and they did not marry until Margot was declared dead seven years after her vanishing, we might do well to be suspicious. In any case, Anne Boylen, whom Cynthia is depicting when Strike and Robin meet her, was also the mother of a sassy little redhead who went on to rule a large chunk of the then-known world: Elizabeth Tudor, Elizabeth I, or, to her admirers, the Faerie Queene.

Spenser intentionally made Elizabeth I the Muse of his poem, and although she is the inspiration for several other characters as well, The Faerie Queene, patroness and liege of all those virtuous knights, was most certainly meant to be the Queen of England. Interestingly enough, the Faerie Queene, as a character, doesn’t appear much in the epic poem. She is a force, an inspiration, an ideal, but often not a physical presence in the poem. So far, one of the other Troubled Blood characters who carries one of the Queen’s names is fulfilling a similar role: Gloria, the mysterious member of the St. John’s staff who may or may not have important information about Margot’s disappearance. Gloriana is one of Elizabeth’s honorifics (really, the woman has more names than Strike/Oggy/Stick/Diddy/Bluey/Mystic Bob/Bunsen….). My suspicion is that the enigmatic Gloria, like the Queen whose name she bears, may not physically be inhabiting the story much, but she may, in fact, be a crucial factor at the back of the narrative.

More Familiar Names

We’ve already seen a number of Faerie Queene names crop up in Troubled Blood.  Part Four also presents a couple of new ones, including a two-for-one.

Unsurprisingly, we get another nod to the Queen (after all, it is her poem). While investigating the Leamington Spa cemetery (and realizing the image of Margot prowling among tombstones is inaccurate, as most of them were destroyed in WWII), Robin runs across the grave of one James Virgo Dunn (if this is a real historic person, I hope someone will fill us in!). In addition to the nod to James I, nephew and successor to Elizabeth I, there is perhaps a reference to John Donne (different spelling, of course), but also to Elizabeth I as the Virgin Queen (really, who knows, but she was unmarried).  “Virgo,” of course, also ties into our astrological theme.

 Even more of a stretch is the interesting Samhain Athorn. On the surface, of course, bizarre Gwilherm would have been very likely to name his son after the ancient Halloweenish holiday. But his name also evokes one of my favorite Faerie Queene characters, Samient, a clever lady who serves as a messenger and guide for various knights and nobles. I’d like to see the interesting Samient get more of a nod, of course, but as unconventional as he us, Samhain may have some real value to our mystery.

Most importantly, the Athorns have a social worker whose name is the bonus in this section: Clare Spencer. Spenser is the obvious one. Although the social worker does not seem like a major player in our story, perhaps her name nod means that she, and the Athorns, still have a big role to play. Of course, most people would just think of Princess Diana, especially with that spelling.

Clare is also a Faerie Queene nod. There are no fewer than three characters named Claribell in the poem (none of these characters is a clown, thankfully), both male and female. There is also the remarkable Clarinda, maid to the Amazonian queen Radigund, who helps overthrow her ruler by aiding the knights. She also falls for Artegall. Does that hint that Clare Spencer may come back as another of Strike’s girlfriends before Robin and Strike are finally a couple? Time will tell.

As we head into Part Five, I’ll be scouting more Spenser elements for our discussion, but if there are some I’ve missed or others we should notice, jump in on the comments for this, or any, of the posts in the series!


  1. Nick Jeffery says

    James Virgo Dunn is indeed a real person:
    He was a Jamaican slave owner:

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