From Publishers Weekly
For his first book, Stubbs has produced a biography of the enigmatic, conflicted poet familiar today to many people mostly thanks to a single, lovely line: "No man is an Island, entire of it self." John Donne—born in 1572, at the outset of the most politically tumultuous and religiously violent era in English history—searched throughout his life for passage to a continent, to find a homeland, to involve himself, as he put it, in mankind. Beginning life as a secular Catholic, Donne ended it as a pious Protestant priest; a dissolute young man, he evolved into a serious intellectual of delicate demeanor; a swashbuckler who fought against Spain for loot and adventure, he buckled down and became one of the finest poetical craftsmen of the Renaissance; a promiscuous loner once focused on making money and powerful friends, he married for love and left it all happily behind. Throughout his life, Stubbs shows, Donne was a study in paradoxes, and one of the strengths of this book is his ready acknowledgment of his subject's contradictions. "Part of the job of this biography," writes Stubbs, "is to trace the strands between these personae and point out the unity underlying them." He succeeds admirably. (Apr.)
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*Starred Review* The greatest English metaphysical poet was and wasn't a man of letters, as Stubbs shows in as engaging a work of scholarship as a biography could ever be. Donne (1572?-1631) was more obviously a lifelong bureaucrat than an author. Initially hampered by his family's Catholicism, he studied law. He fought with Essex at Cadiz and Raleigh in the Azores, got a plum secretarial post, but fell in love with a wealthy squire's daughter. Their elopement brought immediate dismissal and years of scraping by. Only after Ann Donne's death did he take holy orders and rise swiftly to the deanship of St. Paul's Cathedral. He had written poetry since his late teens. Circulated in manuscript, it made him famous in society, enough so to allow Donne a sideline in writing commissioned verse that kept him afloat during the lean years. Adroitly employing Donne's poems to illuminate his life and arguing that Donne was always animated by his vision of the interdependency of all human beings, Stubbs opens a large window on the most durably fascinating society in English history. Ray OlsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved