Stubbs, John 1977–

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Stubbs, John 1977–


Born 1977, in Leicestershire, England. Education: Earned degree from Oxford University; Cambridge University, Ph.D., 2005.


Home— England.


Jerwood Award, Royal Society of Literature, 2004, for Donne: The Reformed Soul as a work in progress.


Donne: The Reformed Soul, Viking (London, England), 2006, published as John Donne: The Reformed Soul, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2007.


When John Stubbs was a teenager perusing his father's library, he happened upon an old, worn book of John Donne's songs and sonnets. In an interview with Mark Thwaite for the Ready Steady Book Web site, Stubbs noted that discovering Donne's poetry "was like being shaken awake." The straightforward nature of the Donne's poetic arguments and discourses drew him in, appealing to the teenage Stubbs's experiences and creating a feeling of kinship. Even upon discovering, at university, the prose that his literary icon had written in addition to poetry, Stubbs still did not view Donne in an academic fashion. Furthermore, Donne's prose sparked a fascination with the history of the writer rather than just with his writings. While studying for his doctorate at Cambridge University, Stubbs did not solely focus on Donne's life and work, which remained instead a personal passion. During a particularly rough patch with his schoolwork, a friend suggested an alternate project to occupy the mind of the young doctoral student, and the idea for Donne: The Reformed Soul was born.

Before he could begin his work, however, Stubbs read every vital biography of Donne that he could find, including those by John Carey, Dennis Flynn, and R.C. Bald. In the interview with Thwaite, Stubbs mentioned a discovery which bothered him greatly— "that a tendency emerged … to diminish Donne's strengths and treat his limitations uncharitably, often on very personal grounds; and that people have begun missing his humour, his ironic compassion, and also his seriousness." In Donne, published in the United States as John Donne: The Reformed Soul, Stubbs recounts much about Donne's life, including his youth, his religious conversion, a secret marriage that ultimately lead to half a dozen children, and his many views and literary pursuits. The author points out chronological discrepancies in other biographies while at the same time borrowing anecdotes from those same tomes. Stubbs, however, uses Donne's writings to illuminate details of the poet's life, a practice which, according to Literary Review Web site contributor Robert Nye, "give[s] a living, breathing sense of the young Donne." Nye suggests that if the latter part of the book seems "a touch dry," this should be attributed more to the life being chronicled than the man doing the chronicling.

Katherine Duncan-Jones, writing in the London Times, noted the difficulty in recording information about Donne's life, pointing out notable failures in the field, including one man who promised his publisher such a book for nearly seventy years without delivering a finished product. Duncan-Jones also observed Stubbs's "great gift … for visual evocation and physical narrative," remarking upon the author's use of words to paint a sparkling picture of Donne's varied and fascinating life. She did, however, point out occasional moments of "slackness and cliché" in Donne, along with a failure to mention the subject's high social status, certainly of importance in those times. Additionally, the reviewer questioned what she considered "literal-minded and simplistic" use of Donne's poetry, believing that the works are not necessarily a reflection of Donne's experience.

Stubbs is "excellent … at picking his way through the complicated evidence for Donne's movements" in life, according to poet laureate Andrew Motion, reviewing Donne for the London Guardian. While Motion observed a shortage of discussion about the writer's use of language, he noted Stubbs's skill in "showing its social and personal implications." In a similar review,Harper's contributor John Leonard observed that while Stubbs "shirks his duty" as biographer by not delving deeper into the complexities of Donne's language and writing,Donne is full of "sentences that are supple and witty" and "digressions that are gossipy and engrossing."



Biography, summer, 2007, John Carey, review of John Donne: The Reformed Soul.

Financial Times, August 19, 2006, Mark Ford, "John Donne, Overdone: The Latest Biography of the Jacobean Poet Is Too Imaginative for Its Own Good," p. 30.

Guardian(London, England), July 22, 2006, Andrew Motion, "Donne Undone."

Harper's, May 2007, John Leonard, review of John Donne, p. 88.

Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2007, review of John Donne.

New Criterion, January, 2007, Paul Dean, "Donne's ‘Dialogue of One,’" p. 69.

New York Times, May 13, 2007, Thomas Mallon, "Love's Deity," review of John Donne.

Publishers Weekly, January 29, 2007, review of John Donne, p. 55.

Reference & Research Book News, August, 2007, review of John Donne.

Times(London, England), September 20, 2006, Katherine Duncan-Jones, "Doing Donne," review of Donne: The Reformed Soul.


Literary Review, (November 6, 2007), Robert Nye, "A Notable Disliker of Milk and Martyrdom," review of John Donne.

Ready Steady Book, (November 6, 2007), Mark Thwaite, interview with John Stubbs.

W.W. Norton & Co. Web site, (November 6, 2007), brief biography of John Stubbs.