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In memory of Judith Anderson, 1940-2022
by Tamara A. Goeglein, David Lee Miller, Heather James, Sarah Van Der Laan

Tamara A. Goeglein


I met Judith H. Anderson in the fall semester of 1982, my first as a graduate student at Indiana University, Bloomington. My final visit with Judith was this past June, in Bloomington, forty years after I took her ‘Spenser and Milton’ course. In those forty years, Judith became my friend, one with whom I shared my thoughts and my critical writing, as she did with me. This past June, I’d driven to Bloomington to help her edit two forthcoming essays: one on Spenser and one on Milton. In these essays, Paul Ricoeur’s multivolume Time and Narrative, with its Augustinian experience of time and its Aristotelian mimetics of time, informed Judith’s thinking about expressions of temporality in Spenser’s and Milton’s narratives. ‘Milton, Time, and Narrative: “now / While time was”’ (forthcoming, ELH) explores mythic time as a future and a past yet undecided. In this essay, and its companion on Spenser (forthcoming, Spenser Studies), she dives deeply into Ricoeur’s notion of the intimacy of time with narrative, pointing out the conceptual resource of language itself in the word intimus (‘inmost, innermost’) and underscoring the reader’s intimate role – her role – in the reading process. To read Judith’s writings is to experience her reading-in-action. I confess to being a junkie: I think I’ve read just about everything she published, which is a lot: she authored eight books, co-edited four collections of essays and one translation, and wrote over eighty essays. 

I’d like to share some reflections about Judith’s habits of mind, which are best expressed in her notion of ‘textual respect’. This is, as she writes in Light and Death (2017), a process of situated reading that ‘opposes the imposition of doctrine, content that is fixed and defined, from outside the workings of imaginative texts, as distinct from its incorporation, exploration, and revision from within them’. ‘Textual respect’ is, she continues, ‘a distinct method of seeing, perceiving, and therefore interpreting.’ It completes ‘textual poesis’. It ‘encompass[es] verbal and rhetorical, intellectual and affective, historical and cultural dimensions’. And, it is ‘attentive to the significance of form’, which ‘inseparably and demonstrably participates in the meaning of the text’ (7). Judith practiced ‘textual respect’. Full stop.

Judith pursued the workings of allegorical form in her first book, The Growth of a Personal Voice (1976), and, over forty years later, again, in her eighth book, Spenser’s Narrative Figuration of Women in ‘The Faerie Queene’ (2018). For Judith, allegory is a narrative form, a form that creates new knowledge, that is provisional, and (like the assertion of a Spenserian ending), that is ‘unperfite’. In Reading the Allegorical Intertext (2008), she offers an aside about admiring the ‘perfection’ of Michelangelo’s David but preferring instead his Boboli Captives – ’rough, unfinished, sometimes inchoate forms emerging from massive blocks of stone’ (8). She was attracted to emerging forms in Spenser’s allegory, notably in the figure of Britomart and her growth of awareness, from Malecasta’s catching her ‘vnawares’ ( to her realization of, as Judith writes, ‘a personal world’: in 1976, Judith concluded that Britomart ‘embodies the inner mean, and has becomes truly like Isis’ (167). By 2018, however, Judith’s own awareness of Britomart had expanded and changed: yes, Spenser wants us to see that Britomart’s awareness emerges in Books 3-4, but, in Book 5, the narrative of Justice ‘subjects her awareness to her function as a vehicle of merciful redemption for Artegall, after which she is effectually discarded’ (120). Britomart has been ‘reduced’ to a statuesque Isis, which is ‘troubling,’ as Judith writes, because Spenser’s narrator (now like Busirane) is so openly ‘involved at the end’ (120). I think back to Judith’s preference for the Boboli Captives and their still movement.

The punning paradox ‘still movement’ was central to Renaissance notions of myth and parody, and Judith wrote about this figure in a trio of recent essays on Shakespeare’s figuration of Mamillius, Lavinia, and Aaron. Judith challenges critical views of these three characters by arguing that the silencing of Shakespeare’s Philomela is less literalized than narrativized; the transforming of Aaron into a myth dramatises his own violent reduction of Ovidian narration; and Mamillius’s death pushes the play’s rebirth narrative to its own still limit.

Judith explored limits and binaries in metaphors, sexualities, genres, consciousness, and even in syntax. In Biographical Truth (1984), she examined ‘history and fiction, creative invention and objective truth, [which] are presumed to be complementary and even inseparable rather than opposed’ in the early modern period. In this volume, musing about George Cavendish’s Cardinal Wolsey, she points out that the bible was such a ‘part of his [Wolsey’s] consciousness’ that his speeches ‘express the ambiguity of his own awareness’ (34). In Words that Matter (1996), she confronts the ‘syntactical ambiguity’ in the final moment of Donne’s ‘Deaths Duell’: in it, she acknowledges the ‘possible and present’ meaning (in ‘to hang upon him that hangs upon the Crosse’) that Donne is ‘aligning himself with Christ’s sacrifice.’ Once we become aware of this possibility – blasphemous as it is – she goes on to say that ‘its exclusion requires deliberate effort’ (228). Such an exclusionary act was anathema to Judith.

Human potential for awareness, perception, and growth recur in Judith’s writings and, with them, their counterparts: deception, illusion, and death. About this last one, I know that medieval and early modern English poets gave her plenty of material, but still and nonetheless she did gravitate towards it and, importantly, death’s relationship to light. As I grieve Judith’s death, I am grateful for the light she brought to English Renaissance textual studies. And, in closing, I’d like to reflect on her response to Milton’s relating darkness with the mount of God, one instance of what she called Milton’s ‘twilight zone’ in Light and Death. There, in a momentary pause, she raises the issue of context as perspective. How to see the relative primacy of light and dark? Frederic Jameson would suggest difference as an appearance of fundamental unity. But, the Big Bang Theory, Kepler’s magnetism, Spenser’s emblematic Concord, and Lucretian fusion and fission suggest simultaneity, in one form or another. She concludes that ‘the context I have assumed for God’s mount is cyclical, systemic, and differential: “light and darkness in perpetual round / Lodge and dislodge by turns”’. And, in this, I hear Judith’s voice completing Miltonic poesis: ‘I have called it natural, hoping this term is acceptable for divinity. Its underlying unity is God himself, of whom dark light (“Dark with excessive bright”) is an ecstatically intense, real perception’ (202-203).


David Lee Miller


Judith Anderson first caught my attention in 1980. One of my undergraduate students at the University of Alabama had plagiarised a passage from The Growth of a Personal Voice. I thought, how dumb is that, to plagiarise from a book called The Growth of a Personal Voice? But I remember rereading the stolen passage in my copy of the book and thinking, well, this student may be oblivious to irony, but at least she has good taste. It was smart, sensitive, well-written critical prose she had chosen to pilfer.

I met Judith in person at Kalamazoo in 1985 when she responded to a paper I gave under the pretentious title ‘The “Tudor Apocalypse” Now, or Spenser and the Risks of Historicism’. I was paired with A. Kent Hieatt, who (if memory serves) delivered a stylometric argument about the influence of Spenser’s Ruines of Rome (or was it Ruines of Time?) on Shakespeare’s sonnets. What I most vividly recall is Judith’s opening gambit. Reading my paper and Kent’s side by side, she said, was like trying to compare ‘a kaleidoscope to a CAT scan’.

This was the Judith so many of us remember: whip-smart, uncompromising, and witty. The other side of her – Judith without the armour – was just as real but far less apparent. I glimpsed it when the grown-up version of my argument was published by PMLA in 1986, and she sent me a post-card from the Huntington to say she now found it persuasive, and offered congratulations. She was even kinder when The Poem’s Two Bodies appeared two years later.

Over the decades to follow, she proved a faithful friend, an always appreciative but never uncritical reader, a generous editor, and most of all a kind and supportive private correspondent.

And yet. There was always such a reserve about her. She was an intensely private person. There was a post on the listserv last month that struck me forcibly because it quickly moves past the intimidating moments to portray a side of Judith I never really got to see for myself. One of Judith’s former students, Nathanial B. Smith, now a Professor at Central Michigan University, wrote:

Some of my most vivid memories of Judith are from the classroom. If she could at times seem intimidating in her office (or in Q and A sessions!), she guided class discussions with a palpable joy that was contagious, bringing to life words and worlds so apparently remote from our own. She was legendary at Indiana for reading aloud in class – one of my friends who studied 20th c. poetry swore she had read the entirety of Book 9 of Paradise Lost aloud one semester. I doubt that, but she did read aloud every single class meeting, sometimes stopping to comment on syntax, meter, pattern, or idea, swelling and breaking the faintest smile at a thought that seemed just to have occurred to her. Not a hair out of place, always wearing dangling earrings or a necklace or brooch, Judith towered over the assigned material – hopping from discussions of Derrida, Kathleen Williams, and Edgar Wind almost in the same breath – without ever lording over the classroom. Our own voices were constantly invited in, whether debating a line or a critical reading, or for slightly more formal presentations, like the day we all were asked to choose a sonnet from the Amoretti to (yes) read aloud before making one or two observations. I wonder if her joy sprung not only from the beauty and complexity of whatever poem we were exploring that day, but from the little intellectual community that grew over the course of four months, offering her students a glimpse of the larger intellectual community she shared with so many of you on – and beyond – this list.

A Judith of joy: what a contrast to the figure evoked by her longtime friend Anne Lake Prescott, who wrote ‘I was terrified of her and found that one can tremble with fear and still love!’ The reference, of course, is to Amoretti 67, with its matchless blending of fear and love, but it does sound as though Judith, who won a Trustees Teaching Award at Indiana not once, not twice, but four times, didn’t made her students quite so fearful, at least during classtime. I wish I could have known that side of her better!

One memory that seems to capture the undefended Judith comes from the conference that Nina Levine and I organised to honor Harry Berger, Jr. back in 2006. ‘The Harryfest,’ we called it. Judith delivered a remarkable paper in which she took on Harry’s reading of Acrasia in the Bower of Bliss – took it on and, in my view, scored decisively against the master.[1] It remains one of my favourite pieces among Judith’s prolific output, in part because she lets herself respond to and be seen by the text in a remarkable way. Remarkable for anyone, but doubly so for her.

Harry, generous as ever, waited until the final session wrap-up to deliver a stirring testimonial, seemingly impromptu, celebrating what Judith and her work had meant to him. Perhaps you had to be there, but it was a beautiful moment, and as Judith sat listening in the audience, her eyes brimmed with unshed tears.

During the run-up to that conference, a few of us amused ourselves by composing mock-tributes to participants in a light-verse form called the ‘Clerihew.’ Judith wrote a set of couplets for Harry that encapsulate the argument of her paper:

There’s something amiss

In the Bower of Bliss,

If this is a place

With nary a trace

Of a sexy Miss,

And everything’s his[s].


—Cis[s]ie and Flos[s]ie

I was especially pleased with the one I came up with for Judith, and sent it to her – ostensibly to ask permission, but to be honest, mostly hoping for an appreciative chuckle. To my surprise, Judith asked me not to circulate it – and I do not reproduce it here – because, as she said, she was a very private person, and would not be comfortable appearing as the subject of the mildly risque punning I had indulged. But she graciously thanked me for asking.

Undaunted, I kept churning out Clerihews in the years that followed. Some readers may have heard a batch of these during a Porlock session at Kalamazoo. Among the batch was another on Judith, which I read aloud as she sat a few feet away. She was both slightly embarrassed and slightly amused – a lovely moment, I thought. Teasingly, it catches both sides of the colleague we loved and sometimes feared. Here it is, complete with commentary by E.K.:


Dame Judith can seem austere

But she’s really quite a dear.

She told me one time (and this is a quote):

‘You remind me of something I once wrote

In a footnote.’[2]


Heather James

Imagine a scholar, moved by the sheer love of knowledge to gain mastery over whole systems – genre, poetry, rhetoric, gender, modes of cognition, and more. I am not that scholar: curiosity leads me in many intellectual directions but mastery eludes me; speculative sentences come to me naturally but declarative ones do not. And so it is a joy to come across a scholar, one working in my field and georgic row, who does it all: fearless speculation based on unequivocal grounding in systems of thought across disciplines. Such a person is unafraid to be abrupt or bracing in the public venues of our profession and equally unreserved with praise of both peers and junior scholars. Such a person knows that both modes of academic engagements are motivated by passionate concerns for the things that matter in our fields and the intellectual as well as verbal force and precision that they demand. This person, of course, is Judith H. Anderson.

Judith Anderson has left an indelible mark on studies of Spenser, Donne, and Langland in particular. She informed me fairly recently, at the last major conference I was able to attend in person (due to Covid) that she was making inroads into Shakespeare studies. She questioned me closely about some of my own arguments about Shakespeare, especially Titus Andronicus, and as the room buzzed with conversations of many kinds, social and intellectual, the small space in the room that we occupied seemed to me to be the only one. There are many memories I have of Judith over the years, but that moment out of time and space is what I wish to share, in part because I feel sure it will resonate with many who knew her and esteemed her. In my experience with Judith, the opening stages of conversation were sure to be awkward because social niceties are not what interested her: the dialogue that opened up after the first two minutes was what she was looking for. In short, she excelled in real conversation, and I relish each one we had.

Judith Anderson’s importance to her fields only grew in relation to a fact about her: she never questioned their relevance. In some cases, the failure to question one’s own relevance has to do with entitlement and privilege. In Judith’s case, it had to do with conviction in the value of her fields and confidence that there is no greater gift to these fields than speaking one’s mind, boldly and freely, without regard for pieties.

After learning that she had passed, I turned to my favourite of her books, Words That Matter: Linguistic Perception in Renaissance English, and re-read it with great pleasure and some astonishment. I’d remembered it as an excellent book, and my own copy is peppered with marginal notes and post-its. What I had not fully seen is how exquisitely crafted a book it is, with its frank engagement of criticism, fearless encounters with theories, and ebullient responses to the dictionaries, literature, and sermons that test the material and figurative dimensions of words. The chapter titles are not meant to be self-referential, but they could easily apply to Judith’s own practice as scholar of great range and historical depth: Frozen Words (Rabelais’), Latin and Lexicons, The Definitive Word, Stones Well Squared, Magic and Metaphor, and Weighing Words. The book’s final section, ‘Life Lived and Life Written,’ is on Donne when he knew he was going to die. The book as a whole, however, suggests how fully a scholar can live a life committed to the far-ranging meanings of the written word.


Sarah Van Der Laan


I knew of Judith Anderson long before I joined the Indiana University faculty in 2009. Who didn’t? The impressive range and insight of her scholarship combined with her many honours and leadership positions to create a stellar reputation far beyond Bloomington; I was delighted, and curious, to become her (very much) junior colleague in IU’s thriving Renaissance Studies community. On campus, my first impressions were of a formidable character to match that intellect. Tall, slim, and striking – with her distinctive large glasses, her blunt bangs and long blond hair sternly confined in an impeccable low ponytail, and her timeless wardrobe of tailored trousers and turtleneck sweaters worn under bright woollen blazers or sweaters – Judith projected a perfect and effortless command of persona, as if she had found a style to match the mind capable of such rigorous and impeccable scholarship and then dismissed the vagaries of mere fashion as objects unworthy of her attention. As a newly-minted assistant professor, keenly desirous to project the perfect combination of authority and accessibility to students only a few years younger than I was, the harmony of Judith’s personal and intellectual self-expression became for me what today’s students would call a “life goal.” (It still is, though my concern has shifted from concealing my inexperience to disguising the wear and tear of toddler parenthood). She had attained, it seemed, the wisdom and the strength of mind to distinguish between fashion and style—in scholarship and in life—and to disregard the lures and pressures of fashion while cultivating excellence with style, and style with excellence.

Judith’s distinctive appearance ensured that she could never be overlooked at the many lectures and roundtables she faithfully attended, even before she began to offer the remarks that improved many an argument even as (I’m sure) they struck fear into more than one speaker’s heart. Her comments might often have been described as trenchant, but they were always scrupulously fair and constructive; pandering to a speaker’s (or student’s) ego may have fallen into the category of unworthy objects, but I never heard her say anything that could truly be considered unkind. I quickly learned that the rigorous intellect I admired so much was only one vein in a character also richly endowed with generosity and shot through with dry humour. (It didn’t stop her from noticing and appreciating others’ styles, either; on one of the last occasions I saw her, when I was heavily pregnant, she quickly followed her congratulations with an approving comment on recent improvements in maternity fashions.)

When I arrived in Bloomington, Judith was nearing the end of her long and distinguished career; she had already been at IU for thirty-five years and would retire four years later. She was under no obligation to take any interest in me – not least because I was joining the Comparative Literature department rather than Judith’s English department, and it didn’t need a Spenserian of Judith’s calibre to read the four floors of distance between the English and Comp Lit offices as an allegory of the sometimes-complicated relationship between the two departments. But Judith repeatedly made a point of reaching across that institutional divide, steering students toward my graduate seminars and soliciting my participation in dissertation committees. When bureaucratic hassles threatened our collaborations, Judith encouraged me to apply for a courtesy appointment in the English department – and I strongly suspect that she advocated behind the scenes for that politically delicate application to be approved. Her generosity and her commitment to my inclusion opened the door to many further endeavours with my colleagues and friends in English, for which I’ll always be grateful.

Judith remained a fierce champion even after her retirement; who else would express regret laced with indignation that she had not been asked to write an internal tenure letter for a colleague in another department? But my favourite memories of her come from an utterly unexpected encounter. Though already two years into retirement, in 2015 Judith decided with typical intellectual curiosity and collegial openness to make a first visit to the biennial Conference on John Milton. The conference’s longtime home in Murfreesboro, Tennessee was nearly a six-hour drive from Bloomington, but flying would have been dismally impractical and shockingly expensive. Judith invited me to join her on a road trip. I was nervous – what if Book Six of The Faerie Queene came up in conversation, and I had to confess my abiding dislike of pastoral poetry and my complete indifference to Calidore and Calepine? – but grateful for the ride and thrilled at the prospect of getting to know Judith a bit better.

On the appointed morning, she pulled into my driveway in her vintage but immaculate car: a Buick or Cadillac or similarly classic piece of Americana, the squared-off corners of its immense hood and trunk gleaming in the sun and seeming utterly of a piece with Judith’s trademark glasses and blazer-and-turtleneck uniform. As a non-driver, I was charged with navigating; Judith handed me a AAA TripTik (no GPS or Google Maps for her!), and we set off.

TripTik: the American Automobile Association has for many years prepared for its members detailed step-by-step driving directions from any point of departure to any destination: the precursor to contemporary map apps. The directions, illustrated with icons of road signs, directional arrows, and more, are printed onto half-sheets of stiff paper and spiral-bound into slim custom books designed for easy consultation while on the road. Like Judith’s car, they evoke the era of car travel before cell phones, when a road trip meant leaving behind everyday life to enter a bubble of discovery and possibility that existed utterly outside of normal life and from which no road-tripper would emerge unchanged: of roadside diners and quirky attractions documented nowhere beyond their vintage signs, of confidences and self-revelation emerging in (from?) the companionable solitude of sitting side by side, in someone’s presence but not under their gaze.

By the time Judith and I arrived in Murfreesboro, I knew her Wendy’s order, we had developed a gas station routine (Judith refilling the car’s enormous tank while I cleaned the windshield), and we had made a sizeable dent in the apple bread I had baked to tide us over the long stretches of rural roads on our route. But the real confidences came on the return trip. Judith was not one to divulge the details of her personal life readily, but as we wound through the rolling hills of western Kentucky, enjoying the fall foliage while watching the road (Judith) and the TripTik (me), the conversation turned to the challenges of dual-career academic marraiges. To honour the unwritten rules of the road trip, I’ll say only that Judith spoke of the complications of changing one’s legal but not professional name; with perhaps more feeling than tact, I replied that I had absolutely no intention of changing mine. I’ll never forget her response: a resounding ‘You go, girl!’ Not a phrase I would ever have expected Judith to utter, but one I recall often, and have turned into a lodestar: approval I aspire to deserve as my work increasingly draws me into areas where she blazed the trails, whether in illuminating Spenser’s heroines or establishing the International Spenser Society. As a brilliant scholar and generous colleague, she remains a guide and inspiration – and will do so for generations. You go, Judith.


[1] See ‘Acrasian Fantasies: Outsides, Insides, Upsides, Downsides in the Bower of Bliss’, in A Touch More Rare: Harry Berger Jr., and the Arts of Interpretation, ed. Nina Levine and David Lee Miller (New York: Fordham University Press, 2009), pp. 77-91.

[2] This is a notable and sententious comparison A minore ad maius.


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Cite as:

Tamara A. Goeglein, David Lee Miller, Heather James, Sarah Van Der Laan, "In memory of Judith Anderson, 1940-2022," Spenser Review 52.3.6 (Fall 2022). Accessed April 1st, 2023.
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