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This review is taken from PN Review 22, Volume 8 Number 2, November - December 1981.

FRICTION AND ANGULARITY John Carey, John Donne: Life, Mind and Art (Faber) £9.50

Donne's uniqueness is the informing principle behind John Carey's new study. There is fairly general agreement that Donne's poetic achievement is without significant precedent in English literature, but Carey effectively isolates him from those poets often thought of as his followers, too. It will, I imagine, be a considerable relief to many Donne specialists to find little mention of the word 'metaphysical', and none of a 'school of Donne'. Instead, where comparisons with other writers do occur, these are as often as not with nineteenth-and twentieth-century figures: Browning, D. H. Lawrence, Aldous Huxley. But it would be quite wrong to suggest that the Donne of this book is a modishly-presented figure, or that Carey's approach is anti-historical. The personality that emerges is peculiarly and compellingly of its time.

Carey is in no doubt as to what it means to affirm Donne's uniqueness so forthrightly: the life, mind and art are integrally and inseparably related. Making full use of the available biographical knowledge, Carey begins by isolating two factors in Donne's character and circumstances which, in his view, shaped Donne's poetic identity; these are Donne's apostasy (he left the Roman Catholic church in the mid-1590s) and his ambition. Carey shows how Donne in effect created an 'art' out of each; the really valuable quality of this part of the book is that it allows us to see how Donne's various writings are the products of one imagination, and the assertion that 'Donne's limitations . . . are part ...


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