Biographer R.C. Bald concluded that John Donne “must be the earliest major poet in English of whom an adequate biography is possible”, and Izaak Walton’s contemporary account in his Life of Dr John Donne has since been followed by a number of literary biographies of the English poet. This chapter reviews the relationship between biographical and literary critical studies of this writer, identifying three broad trends: firstly (from Walton to Edmund Gosse) a focus on the religious and secular life of Donne, with sometimes speculative literary criticism; secondly, the exclusion of biographical information characteristic of twentieth-century approaches to Donne’s writing, such as T.S. Eliot’s “The Metaphysical Poets” and Cleanth Brooks’ New Critical reading of “The Canonization”; finally, more recent attempts to reintegrate Donne’s life and writing through a recognition of his intended readerships and sources of inspiration, such as his coterie and his wife Ann.
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- John Donne English Poetry Literary Biography