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Donne: The Reformed Soul
Donne: The Reformed Soul
by John Stubbs
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Struggles of a Sensitive Soul, 1 Aug 2009
Biography remains one of the most challenging genres of historiography, requiring not only a talent for relentless research but also delicate psychological insight. However, psychological insight can easily be frustrated by the passage of time. The documentary trail (on which all history is reliant) becomes filled with gaps as we push back the centuries: as such the documents that do survive have to be mined for every tiny insight that can be gleaned from them, even if such insights are dependent on clumsy suppositions and ambiguous approximations.

Thus, the difficulties of writing a biography of John Donne become apparent. Here we have no convenient case study left by some proto-psychologist of the seventeenth century. We possess only some letters, his poetry, his sermons and the fractured reminiscences of obscure contemporaries. Each source has its own flaws: for instance, how much can a poem (a piece of fiction, often scribbled out for a client at court) tell us about the psychological state of its author or the circumstances of Donne's life? We can draw parallels between instances in the poems and the known biographical facts but these are nothing more than half guesses that can have no confirmation. This problem is only exacerbated when we take into account that so few of Donne's poems can be accurately dated. When it comes Donne's life and mind, all we can do is guess.

And guess John Stubbs does. However, these guesses are far from being stabs in the dark: he calculates and rationalises every move he makes. Stubbs goes to incredible lengths to set out the historical context: indeed this book is, in some ways, more about Donne's England that is about Donne himself. He then uses that context, along with creative exegesis of the poems and sermons, to suggest what Donne was doing and thinking at a particular moment. His readings of available source material are meticulous: he misses no detail, no hidden allusion, no subtle hint. Where no material by or about Donne exists, he uses works by contemporaries in similar situations to approximate what Donne may have been feeling. Stubbs also writes with verve, aplomb and wit: this book is a genuine pleasure to read. Thus, by the end of the book, a portrait of a man emerges, one that it is very similar to the famous painting of Donne: a life-like face emerges from the eminent shadows that continue to cloister much of the figure.

The other reviewers here have suggested that Stubbs either speculates too much or that he does not speculate enough. The simple truth is that Stubbs has no choice but to speculate, as my review makes clear. Not enough of the man has survived to make speculations redundant and Stubbs does not shy away from that fact: he realises that to do so would be to sacrifice too much to an unsustainable commitment to absolute historical veracity. At every turn he speculates but his speculations are not divorced from reality: there is at least a chance that his approximations may have been what Donne actually felt.

My only criticism is that there is nearly nothing written about the poems themselves: this is definitely a work of biography and not one of literary criticism.

To conclude, this is an admirable biography. Speculative it might be but given the source materials it could be nothing else. The book is a fascinating insight into early Stuart England seen through the prism of one of its most enduring poets.


The Insulted and Injured
The Insulted and Injured
by Fyodor M. Dostoevsky
Edition: Paperback
Price: £18.86

4 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Oh no! Not more typos!, 14 May 2007
The title is no hyperbole: this edition is absolutely littered with some of the most horrific examples of typos I have ever seen. The number '0' is used as a substitute for the letter 'o', the letter 'l' is on more than one occasion replaced with the bracket sign ']' and full stops liberally adorn the middle of sentences. Do not buy this edition.

As for the book itself, it must be Dostoevsky's worst novel. Far, far too sentimental, an utterly inconclusive plot and a lack of any decent characters. The only interest it has is that the narrator has a similar biography to that of Dostoevsky himself, a rarity in his novels.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 29, 2011 1:12 PM BST


The Cambridge Companion to Dostoevskii (Cambridge Companions to Literature)
The Cambridge Companion to Dostoevskii (Cambridge Companions to Literature)
by W. J. Leatherbarrow
Edition: Paperback
Price: £19.56

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Introduction into Dostoyevsky Academia, 29 July 2006
Being a fan of Dostoyevsky's writings, I wanted an accessible book that would provide me with some further insight into his works. This book certainly met that criteria.

The various essays are all written by some of the most well-known western Dostoyevsky academics but they are written in such a way as to be accessible to people who have no or little experience with academic writing.

The essays touch on most of the well known themes in Dostoyevsky's writings as well as some that are rarely mentioned - the essay on Dostoyevsky and Russian folklore, for example, is something that is generally not focussed on by critics or translators.

As such, I can heartily recommend this book to those who admire Dostoyevsky and want to see some of undercurrents that lie behind his masterpieces.


Koktebel [DVD]
Koktebel [DVD]
Dvd ~ Gleb Puskepalis
Price: £12.32

26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Calm, relaxing, beautiful, 28 May 2006
This review is from: Koktebel [DVD] (DVD)
I found this film incredibly calming to watch. The pace is slow, perhaps even mournful, but this is so every inch of the beautiful Russian landscape is captured by the camera. The camera work is truly wonderful on this film, lingering on wide scale shots of the bleak Russian steppe in order to let that unique landscape and its splendour fully impact on the audience.

However, such slow pacing means that the story itself has substantially less impact than its backdrop. Substantial events are simply too far apart from each other for the story to have any real cohesive structure. The character based story is still quite strong, especially in the case of the father whose weaknesses and failings are revealed slowly as the story progresses. I found the character of the son rather flat, however, and based too heavily on childhood petulance. He acts as a tool of the film maker rather than as an independent character, for it is through the child that the weaknesses of the parent are revealed.

In conclusion, well worth watching. Despite some weaknesses in its story, the film is still highly memorable for the love and care that has clearly gone into crafting it.


Thud! (Discworld Novels)
Thud! (Discworld Novels)
by Sir Terry Pratchett
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars The usual fantastic satire from Pratchett's pen, 1 Oct 2005
Once again, Pratchett has done it. This time he used the multi-racial society of Ankh Morpork to reflect the tensions in our own multi-cultural society post 9/11. As usual, Pratchett's witty humour adds poignancy to the idiocy of bigotry and other human traits in general.
The character study that is Commander Sam Vimes takes another step forward, examining now how the illustrious watchman reacts to the double pressure of being a father (illustrated through the hilarious routine of reading "Where's My Cow?") and holding on to a disintergating force in a disintergrating city. As with 'Night Watch', the other characters of the Watch series take very much backstage role as Pratchett further develops Vimes. This is a shame, judging on the quality of the few Watchmen orientated chapters, noting particularly the expert twist on the traditional binge drinking of a girl's night out.
Despite my love of the Watchman series in the Discworld saga, I felt that this book seemed slightly more tired than the magnificent 'Night Watch' as very few new elements are added in this novel at all and those which are introduced, are used sparsely and too little real effect. Fortunately it is saved by the exceptional quality of the old material and Pratchett's consistent sense of self depreciating humour. A worthy addition to the Discworld series but not, in any sense, the very pinnacle of Pratchett's efforts, recent or otherwise.


Mort: (Discworld Novel 4) (Discworld Novels)
Mort: (Discworld Novel 4) (Discworld Novels)
by Terry Pratchett
Edition: Audio CD
Price: £12.94

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent addition to the Disc, 17 Jan 2005
This re-release of Pratchett's Mort shows us why indeed the Discworld has become one of Britain's best loved series.
Mort is the first book where Pratchett decides to show the reader an up close and personal view of Death, one of the more mysterious entities of the Disc. And how well he does it. The potrait of Death Pratchett paints is not that of the spectre of all evil but instead a rather eccentric gentleman who has seen rather too much of life. Ths is Pratchett does with some excellent wit: for example Death's horse is named Binky.
The story itself is very well done, concentrating on Death and his new apprentice Mort. Mort cannot bring himself to do Death's job out of compassion and so ends up letting a dead princess live on.
The masterpiece of this novel is the character of Death. Pratchett turns religious convention on its head, making Death far from evil. Indeed he actually makes you feel horribly sorry for Death and the reader will be moved emotionally by Pratchett's clever but subtle way of showing the actuality behind the myth.
The reason I have not given this the 5 stars it deserves is because of its audio book status. While I enjoy audio books for when I am relaxing, I cannot give it 4 stars because a great deal has been abrigded from it - many of the sequences deemed unessential to the plot have been cut which is disappointing. However Tony Robinson does an excellent job as usual of narrating, giving all of the jokes a cynical edge which only enriches their comic value.


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