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Critical Essays on John Donne.

In recent years, scholars have wrested away New Criticism's once-monopolized hold on John Donne's pervasively intellectual and self-referential wit, irony, paradox, and ambiguity, applying these features usefully to new historicist, Marxist, deconstructionist, feminist, and other readings. In pursuing such socio-political avenues of inquiry, these readers have also opted, usually, for more inclusive critical selections of Donne's works, expanding on New Criticism's self-aggrandizing obsession with his lyrics. As a result of these more recent and comprehensive estimations, there have emerged, in Marotti's words, "new notions of textuality, culture, literary production and reception, and gendered writing and reading" (1). In the midst of this widespread contextualization of Donne's writing, however, self-referentiality remarkably remains the cornerstone of most scholarly appraisals of his canon. Marotti's excellent anthology goes a long way in synopsizing such elemental changes - changes still utilizing Donne's self-referentiality - in the poet's canonical studies; each of the seven essays included in this edition, all published since 1977, historicize Donne's multifarious writings, complementing each other by directing their attentions in markedly different ways.

Each essay offers historical, political, literary, and biographical glimpses through which Donne's self-referentiality expresses itself in his various avocations throughout his life. Achsah Guibbory postulates that Donne, like many subjects of England's patrilinear culture, felt threatened by Elizabeth's feminine rule and the hindrances it imposed upon masculine superiority; Donne's patriarchal inclinations politicized even his Elegies. Janel Mueller similarly views the women in Donne's love poetry, religious verse, and verse letters as all inscribed differently, depending on the "speaker's play of mind" (40). Thus the "persuaded and possessed" (42) woman of the love poems becomes the "authority figure" (44) of the verse letters to patronesses. Richard Halpern convincingly employs the concept of "autopoiesis" to re-establish Donne's "autonomous lyric," recently attacked by Marxists and others "in the name of social totality, a general textual economy, or contiguous fields of cultural and social practice" (49).

Alongside Marotti's excerpt from John Donne, Coterie Poet (1986), David Aers and Gunther Kress discuss several of Donne's verse epistles. Like Mueller, Aers and Kress find differing versions of the self emanating from the epistles; like Marotti, they too see Donne as manipulating the verse epistle to "circumstance" (106) both himself and his patronesses in the courtly environments they inhabited. Ronald Corthell's piece, written expressly for this edition, again discusses Donne's construction of the self, this time in his Anniversaries and by means of psycho-analytic exploration: "I mean to emphasize the psychological investment in the work of producing Elizabeth Drury as the centering 'shee' of the poem and to explore the role of desire, particularly in the form of identification, in the production of the enigmatic 'shee'" (124). Annabel Patterson closes the collection by exploring Donne's prose works, trying to find comfortable ground between mostly older evaluations of Donne as monarchist and newer claims of a more subversive, discontented poet/politician: "[I]t is impossible to produce a single-minded person, let alone a coherent pattern of behaviors" (143).

Marotti introduces the anthology with a brief yet informative history of Donne studies in the twentieth century, neatly situating his own argument - namely, that Donne wrote for a coterie audience - into the recently surfaced historical, biographical, and cultural realities of Donne's epoch: "Donne's metacommunicative affirmation of the bonds of feeling, of understanding, and of social intimacy with his readers may have been designed partly to counteract some of the effects of the deliberate difficulties of his work" (5). He then provides a detailed description of each contributor's work, inviting further research along these same lines. His invitation, as well as this anthology, should be taken seriously.

DANA E. ASPINALL University of Connecticut
COPYRIGHT 1996 Renaissance Society of America
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Aspinall, Dana E.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 22, 1996
Words:602
Previous Article:Essays on Renaissance Literature, vol. 1, Donne and the New Philosophy.
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