The Oxford Handbook of John Donne, Edited by Jeanne Shami, Dennis Flynn, and M. Thomas Hester
Stanwood, P. G., Early Modern Literary Studies
The Oxford Handbook of John Donne, edited by Jeanne Shami, Dennis Flynn, and M. Thomas Hester. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. pp. xxxvi + 845. ISBN 978-0-19-921860-8
1. This huge and important work is a further contribution to the Oxford series of "Handbooks," which joins volumes devoted to single authors, including Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, and others. In her helpful general introduction, Jeanne Shami declares that this Handbook is not intended merely to summarize what is already known but rather to reveal new directions, or "critical patterns of literary and historical work on John Donne's writings" (1). Fifty-six essays by forty-four contributors provide ample opportunity for this ambitious, yet carefully managed enterprise. The Handbook is set out in four general divisions: Part I is somewhat apologetically named "Research resources in Donne studies and why they matter"; Part II is on "Donne's genres"; Part III considers "Biographical and historical contexts"; and Part IV, the shortest section, has the curiously wordy title: "Problems of literary interpretation that have been traditionally and generally important in Donne studies." Each section has its own brief introduction by one of the editors.
2. Most of the contributors are well established and familiar names in early modern scholarship, and many are deeply involved in the magnificent Donne Variorum project, which seeks to present all of the poetry in accordance with current textual knowledge. Under the general editorship of Gary A. Stringer, and a very large number of assistants, Indiana University Press has published four of a projected eight volumes. Stringer's fine essay on "The composition and dissemination of Donne's writings" is the first in the Donne Handbook, and he describes well the concerns and difficulties of "reconstructing" and editing Donne's texts, both in prose and poetry--the latter existing in scores of contemporary manuscript versions. Meanwhile, Donne's 160 extant sermons, and their continuing significance, splendidly discussed in Jeanne Shami's long essay, are receiving other and renewed attention. They are being edited in a new edition, which Peter McCullough is directing for the Oxford University Press; this will replace the familiar one by Potter and Simpson. However, McCullough's work on this edition of sermons, and that of the several editors, is evidently too recent for discussion in this Handbook; and so the brilliant, exegetical study by Katrin Ettinhuber on Donne's Augustine (2011) forms no part of the Donne Handbook. Also, the difficulties in compiling and editing the Prose Letters, while admirably discussed by Margaret Maurer, are great; but they must wait for full disclosure. Perhaps such a book must anticipate as much as remember. Like any bibliography, and certainly for the enormous one attached to this Handbook, there is no end in sight.
3. The volume is free of notes of the usual sort, and commentary is carefully eschewed; but references are embedded within the text, often with very great frequency. Sometimes one is reading extended summaries of previous scholarship, with an unhappy clutter of references, a common feature of thesis writing, with little indication of "directions for further work" (663). The short form for abbreviations of Donne's work, adopted from the Variorum, at first is troubling for the general reader who will need to refer frequently to the list of short forms in the Note to Readers (a list that comprises seven closely printed pages). Yet out of concern for completeness, all short forms are given in this list, whether they appear anywhere in the essays that follow, such as "AutHook" Ad Autorem ['Non eget Hookerus'], which is never mentioned. Many forms that do appear are at first obscure to all but devoted students of Donne, or of the Variorum. Many readers will be turning from the front to the back of this very big book, from short forms to bibliography.…
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Publication information: Article title: The Oxford Handbook of John Donne, Edited by Jeanne Shami, Dennis Flynn, and M. Thomas Hester. Contributors: Stanwood, P. G. - Author. Journal title: Early Modern Literary Studies. Volume: 16. Issue: 2 Publication date: May 2012. Page number: Not available. © 2008 Matthew Steggle. COPYRIGHT 2012 Gale Group.