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John Donne, Body and Soul

For centuries readers have struggled to fuse the seemingly scattered pieces of Donne’s works into a complete image of the poet and priest. In John Donne, Body and Soul, Ramie Targoff offers a way to read Donne as a writer who returned again and again to a single great subject, one that connected to his deepest intellectual and emotional concerns.

Reappraising Donne’s oeuvre in pursuit of the struggles and commitments that connect his most disparate works, Targoff convincingly shows that Donne believed throughout his life in the mutual necessity of body and soul. In chapters that range from his earliest letters to his final sermon, Targoff reveals that Donne’s obsessive imagining of both the natural union and the inevitable division between body and soul is the most continuous and abiding subject of his writing.

“Ramie Targoff achieves the rare feat of taking early modern theology seriously, and of explaining why it matters. Her book transforms how we think about Donne.”—Helen Cooper, University of Cambridge

208 pages | 4 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2008

Literature and Literary Criticism: British and Irish Literature

Religion: Religion and Literature


"Targoff argues that recent scholarship on Donne has overstressed social and political concerns (’apostasy and ambition’) at the expense of the ’great subject’ that interested him: ’the parting between body and soul.’ Arguing that Donne engaged in protracted ’brooding’ on this subject throughout his literary career, the author pursues this theme through Donne’s works, beginning with a helpful look at his epistles (in prose and verse).... Successful are the treatments of Donne’s extended prose, including the Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, in which Targoff smartly traces ’Donne’s idea of proleptic putrefaction--that through physical deterioration now, he might reduce his time as a corpse later.’ Particular praise is due the last chapter on the frequently taught final sermon Deaths Duell, where Donne remains, writes Targoff, ’fraught with anxiety about the logistics of his material reassemblage.’ She offers a strong new interpretation of the frontispiece to the Duell. Teachers of Donne’s prose will find much of value here; students of the verse will also be assisted, though likely not persuaded, by the new reading of the Second Anniversarie proffered."


"An original, persuasive, useful, and thoroughly readable contribution to Donne studies."

Gayle Gaskill | Renaissance Quarterly

"Clearly this is a book of basic significance for a study of Donne. . . . There is much to learn from it."

John T. Shawcross | John Donne Journal

"Targoff’s argument is lucid, sharply focused, and immediately convincing: this is the Donne whom I was taught and who continues to engage and move my students."

Stephen B. Dobranski | Studies in English Literature

Table of Contents

       List of Illustrations


1     Letters
2     Songs and Sonnets
3     The Anniversaries
4     Holy Sonnets
5     Devotions
6     Deaths Duell


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