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John Donne (Writers and their Work) Paperback – 3 Jan 1994
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About the Author
Stevie Davies lectured at Manchester University from 1971-1984, leaving to become a full-time literary critic and novelist. Her novels include Boy Blue 1987), winner of the Fawcett Society Book Prize in 1989; Primavera (1990) and Arms and the Girl. She has written two books on Emily Bronte and two on Milton, a study of Renaissance feminist themes; and works on Virginia Woolf and Shakespeare. Her most recent books are a novel, Closing the Book (1994) and a study of the Brontes (1995).General Editor: Professor Isobel Armstrong, Birkbeck, University of London
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12 July 2011
The value of this book lies in its feminist perspective on Donne's love poems. Its central argument is that the poems reveal a profound dependence on women's love at the same time as a deep anxiety about their constancy that issues in a lingering misogyny. It is a persuasive argument. The earlier poems, especially the Elegies, are seen as exhibiting a masculine aggressiveness, while the later ones show signs of great tenderness and profound loss: the readings of `A Valediction: forbidding Mourning' and ` A Nocturnal upon S. Lucy's Day' are among the best moments in the book. Unfortunately, the book is not immune from disquieting error. The famous passage asserting a common humanity (`No man is an island...') occurs in Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, perhaps the only prose work of Donne's that can still speak to us, and not in one of the Sermons, as Davies strangely declares. It is an error that undermines her local discussion. More importantly, the book does not ask why this deep connection between anxiety and dependence within sexual relationships arose when it did at the end of the sixteenth century, and in a body of poems that were widely popular at the time. Davies sees them simply as expressive of the male mind which is endemic in civilisation. A more convincing view would place the poems within the general anxiety engendered by a new form of society. Emergent capitalism threatened to dissolve all existing relations, the most intimate among them.
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