cover image Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne

Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne

Katherine Rundell. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, $30 (352p) ISBN 978-0-374-60740-1

Scholar Rundell (The Wolf Wilder) explores in this thoughtful biography the life and art of poet and priest John Donne (1572–1631), positioning him as an imaginative, witty, and sensual figure. Donne “reimagined and reinvented himself, over and over: he was a poet, lover, essayist, lawyer, pirate, recusant, preacher, satirist, politician, courtier, chaplain to the King, dean of the finest cathedral in London,” Rundell writes as she traces Donne’s life from his birth into a Catholic family during the strife of the Protestant Reformation through his formal education, appointment as a member of Parliament, marriage to Anne More (which got him thrown into Fleet Prison; More was a minor and her family didn’t approve the marriage), and his eventual renunciation of Catholicism for Anglican priesthood. Donne was keenly aware of sorrow, Rundell shows, and believed “we, humans, are at once a catastrophe and a miracle.” But he was also a biting satirist who mocked social expectations through his writing, and a romantic. (“The word most used across his poetry, apart from ‘and’ and ‘the’,” Rundell notes, “is ‘love.’ ”) Rundell’s prose is stylish and playful, referring, for instance, to Donne’s religious treatise Pseudo-Martyr as “so dense it would be swifter to eat it than to read it.” This comprehensive study is poetic in its own right; scholars, students, and poetry lovers, take note. (Sept.)