Donne: The Reformed Soul
John Donne needs no introduction, yet this book reveals his life in such detail that I felt I had discovered a new man. The scope is extraordinary and stems from Stubbs’ determination to find coherence in a biographical life by ‘putting that life off-centre, placing the subject back in the crowd as well as picking him or her out from it.’ This approach is particularly apt for two reasons: Donne’s own life spanned a period of such momentous change, political, religious and social that the historical background must be allowed, as Stubbs writes, ‘to swarm back into the foreground’. Second, and more importantly, Donne himself was acutely conscious of being part of the bigger picture, ‘part of the Maine.’
This illuminating study focuses on Donne’s constant transformation and his ability to keep step with the changing world, evolving from papist to Protestant, from adventurer to courtier and finally clergyman, while always remaining, above all, a poet. Likening himself to a clod, he famously declared, ‘I am a man, I have my part in the Humanity.’ By the time of his memorable Lenten sermon of 1625, the worn figure that Donne had become was the last of many transformations, many ‘reformed souls’, a man whose articulate commentary on the dilemmas of his time is of timeless significance and relevance. This is a brilliant portrait of a unique figure.