Collections > UNC Chapel Hill Undergraduate Honors Theses Collection > A Little World Made Cunningly: The Formation of John Donne in the Civil War Period
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John Donne’s life in print began with his death in 1631, when the first printed canon emerged from the body of manuscripts left by the late Dean of St. Paul’s. Though the process of canon formation overlapped with the politically volatile years of the English Civil War, Interregnum, and Restoration, scholarship on Donne has tended to focus on the author’s own biography and the events that exerted an influence at the time he was writing, ignoring the influence wrought by the circumstances in which the canon that codified “John Donne” took shape. This paper extends literary scholars’ existing historicism to the three decades after Donne’s death. Scrutinizing print editions published between 1631 and 1661, this study tracks editors’ chief motivations to preserve the canon, memorialize Donne, and invoke his works in topical arguments. I argue that the events of the Civil War period left a discernible impression on the version of “John Donne” crafted and handed down from the mid-seventeenth century. Though Donne’s works predate the Civil War period, what “Donne” had to say crystallized through texts that reflect the circumstances of publication. By shedding light on the contextuality of Donne’s first canon, this study opens a new angle for approaching Donne, one that accounts for the figures and events in the thirty years after Donne’s death and their role in shaping the “John Donne” read in the present.