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date: 11 December 2019


Abstract and Keywords

This Introduction serves to outline the contents of Part I of this book. Part I ememphasizes the heuristic and practical orientation of the book by examining prevailing assumptions and reviewing or introducing students and researchers to some of the specialized scholarly tools available for Donne studies. Work in this section provide a brief evaluation and description of the scholarly strengths, shortcomings, and significance of each resource, focusing on a balanced evaluation of the opportunities and the hazards each offers. This part of the book sets the tone, prepares the textual and contextual ground, and highlights the tools available for advancing Donne studies into the current century.

Keywords: heuristic orientation, practical orientation, Donne studies, resources

Part 1 of the Oxford Handbook of John Donne emphasizes the heuristic and practical orientation of the Handbook by examining prevailing assumptions and reviewing or introducing students and researchers to some of the specialized scholarly tools available for Donne studies. Chapters in this section provide a brief evaluation and description of the scholarly strengths, shortcomings, and significance of each resource, focusing on a balanced evaluation of the opportunities and the hazards each offers.

Part 1 begins with two essays situating Donne's writings in terms of his status as primarily a ‘manuscript author’, read by particular, identifiable individuals during his life and a variety of readers in his early print afterlife. Gary A. Stringer's essay on ‘The Composition and Dissemination of Donne's Writings’ introduces the controversial subject of the production, circulation, and transmission of Donne's writings in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries among various coteries, dedicatees, and named recipients, concluding that ‘Donne at various times availed himself of each of the modes of communication available to him, choosing print, oral delivery, or manuscript circulation in accordance with the various meanings he intended for—and felt comfortable in conveying to—particular audiences at particular times’. The essay pays particular attention to ‘the vulnerability of manuscript texts not just to errors of inadvertency or misjudgement, but to deliberate scribal tampering’, in addition to considering questions regarding the intended recipients of the poems, precise dating of many of Donne's writings, Donne's practices of revision, and the authoritative canon of Donne's writings.

Ernest W. Sullivan II's essay on Donne's early (seventeenth-century) readership establishes the range of readers and the variety of uses to which Donne's works were (p. 10) put in the first generations after their dissemination and publication. The essay thus challenges the perception of Donne's seventeenth-century readers as comprising primarily the ‘intellectual elite’ with access to his manuscripts, by demonstrating that a great many more people were ‘reading/writing Donne (particularly his works in print) much more frequently and over a much greater time-span than has been thought’, and that these writings had ‘commercial, social, and personal value for a great diversity of readers’. Sullivan's focus on the practices of reading and interpretation of Donne's writings over the course of the seventeenth century redraws our picture of Donne's seventeenth-century influence on his society's language and culture across the social spectrum.

Following these two introductory essays, Lara M. Crowley's essay introduces readers to the importance of archival work in advancing Donne studies. Here we mean archives, first and foremost, as the archive of Donne's own writings, including the many contemporary copies—both manuscript and print—of his writings. However, archival research is also introduced as important for adding new information to the biographical, historical, and contextual fields in which these writings are situated. Thus, ‘opportunities in archival research extend beyond the important goals of establishing informed texts, their likely periods of composition, and (in some cases) the sequences in which they circulated, to such issues as Donne's attitudes towards print and patronage’. Archival research also promises to yield knowledge of the literary tastes of Donne's readers, as we increase our awareness of and familiarity with early modern practices of manuscript compilation and circulation. The essay also offers practical advice for navigating archival collections even as it expresses the exciting possibilities opening up for Donne scholars in this kind of research.

Essays by Stringer, Richard Todd, and Sullivan explore the important issues of what we read when we read John Donne's writings, how close these writings are to Donne's originals, the history of establishing texts for Donne studies and their impact on criticism of his works, and debates over which writings are canonical. Together these essays demonstrate the importance of establishing the texts of Donne's writings as foundational to all other scholarly activity. Every edition represents the best efforts of an expert to provide an accurate and reliable representation of the work, and provides the necessary biographical, historical, critical, and factual information to begin a thorough and intellectually satisfying study of the work. ‘Any reader who wants to understand any literary work has to start with its scholarly edition.’ So, Stringer and Todd describe and analyse the complex textual tradition of editing Donne's poetic texts, culminating in the work of the Donne Variorum project, which has provided the most comprehensive, accurate, and scholarly edition of Donne's poetry available to his readers based on the most thorough investigation of all bibliographical evidence (including all known manuscripts) collated using state-of-the-art technological programs, and interpreted according to sound principles of textual editing that eschew the ‘eclectic’ texts of all former editions. (p. 11) Sullivan tackles the state of the text for all of Donne's prose works, providing for all readers of Donne an overview of the work of the textual bibliographer and a scholarly review of available editions of Donne's prose.

Donald R. Dickson's essay introduces scholars to essential scholarly tools outside the archives and the established texts in an essay dealing with short-cuts to research—both the opportunities afforded by these tools as well as the pitfalls associated with them. Electronic databases (e.g. the online sermons available through Brigham Young University) and concordances (both print and now electronic—i.e. DigitalDonne) that allow readers to search and manipulate text, as well as printed volumes (such as John R. Roberts's annotated bibliographies) that gather together and annotate critical resources are described and evaluated. This chapter is intended to facilitate research, but cautions users to remain aware of the hazards of short-cuts of any kind to the scholarly enterprise.

Finally, Hugh Adlington's essay demonstrates that perhaps the most important and underused research tool in the kit is the international scholarly community. This essay indicates the international scope of interest in Donne and the principal organizations that facilitate exchange of ideas, but it is also intended to inspire greater engagement with Donne scholars around the world, and to seek opportunities and occasions for working together—in teams—on large projects such as the Donne Variorum, the Oxford Letters project, and the Oxford Sermons project, as well as on smaller projects where both established and emerging scholars can converse.

Together, these essays set the tone, prepare the textual and contextual ground, and highlight the tools available for advancing Donne studies into the twenty-first century. No readers hoping to approach the subjects of subsequent chapters should do so without first making themselves familiar with the scholarly landscape sketched here in Part 1.