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Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne - A Sunday Times bestseller Hardcover – 14 April 2022
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** A Sunday Times bestseller **
'Every page sparkles.' Claire Tomalin
'Crackling with gusto and sympathetic intelligence' Andrew Motion
'A triumph.' Matt Haig
'A wonderful, joyous piece of work.' Maggie O'Farrell
'Blazingly intelligent and witty' Telegraph
'Frankly brilliant' Sunday Times
John Donne lived myriad lives.
Sometime religious outsider and social disaster, sometime celebrity preacher and establishment darling, John Donne was incapable of being just one thing. He was a scholar of law, a sea adventurer, an MP, a priest, the Dean of St Paul's Cathedral - and perhaps the greatest love poet in the history of the English language. He converted from Catholicism to Protestantism, was imprisoned for marrying a high-born girl without her father's consent, struggled to feed a family of ten children and was often ill and in pain. He was a man who suffered from black surges of sadness, yet expressed in his verse electric joy and love.
From a standout scholar, a biography of John Donne: the poet of love, sex, and death. In Super-Infinite, Katherine Rundell embarks on a fleet-footed 'act of evangelism', showing us the many sides of Donne's extraordinary life, his obsessions, his blazing words, and his tempestuous Elizabethan times - unveiling Donne as the most remarkable mind and as a lesson in living.
Rundell captures John Donne's unique vision in all its power, eloquence and strangeness . . . she is the ideal person to evangelise him for our age. -- Lara Feigel ― Guardian
A wonderful, joyous piece of work . . . with fierce, interrogative intelligence. it is fantastic to have this most elusive and mysterious of men brought out into the light, for all to see. I just loved it. -- Maggie O'Farrell
Blazingly intelligent and witty . . . the biographer Donne has been waiting for ― Telegraph
Frankly brilliant . . . On reading this extraordinary biography you are left concluding that [Rundell's] talent, like that of her hero's, must somehow be super-infinite. ― Sunday Times
Katherine Rundell's brave and detailed new biography of John Donne is just the book we need: the life, family, historical background, religious questions and - best of all - the poetry, are imaginatively researched and subtly treated. The result is worthy of its subject - every page sparkles. -- Claire Tomalin
Crackling with gusto and sympathetic intelligence, Super-infinite places John Donne fairly and squarely in his own times, while making those times feel contiguous with our own. We meet all his closely-entangled selves - wit, poet, lover, husband, soldier, priest - and all of them are cleverly drawn, creating a portrait in which closely-observed details are ingeniously set against a background of long perspectives. -- Andrew Motion
What a Super-Infinite delight is this, this is the rich, textured and excellent biography that I have always wanted to read about Donne - it brings the poet, his poetry, his many lives and his turbulent Elizabethan and Stuarts times vividly to life. -- Simon Sebag Montefiore
Katherine Rundell makes Donne come alive as a remarkable and extraordinary and almost boundless human being. His life was one of despair and joy, the sacred and the profane, deep love and pain, and this book is filled with such infectious passion and fascinating detail that it shines like its subject. A triumph. -- Matt Haig
'Katherine Rundell has a wonderful touch, light yet profound, which perfectly suits her extraordinary subject. The book combines delight in Donne's humanity and his intellect, even as it delves into his metaphysics. Unmissable.' -- Simon Jenkins
This book unravels that knotty, witty, passionate poet John Donne. Completely at home in the middle of this Sacred and Profane Love Machine, Katherine Rundell has produced what is in itself a paradoxical and beautifully crafted work of literature - something much greater than mere critical simple biography. -- A N Wilson
Super-Infinite is a stylish, scholarly and gripping account of Donne's ecstatically divided self, 'hurried by love' and by man's 'inborn sting': a work super-relevant to our own troubled times.-- Rose Tremain
In Rundell, Donne has an authoritative and sympathetic chronicler ― Observer
What a delightful book Super-Infinite is: companionable, astute, intimate in tone and clear-eyed in judgement, it brings Donne and his milieu to glorious life. I loved it. -- Nick Laird
There can be no better companion than Rundell in a bracing pursuit of John Donne. Throughout this sure-footed and eloquent biography, she encourages us to listen attentively to his many voices, and to the voices of those around him. -- Diarmaid MacCulloch
- Publisher : Faber & Faber; Main edition (14 April 2022)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 352 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0571345913
- ISBN-13 : 978-0571345915
- Dimensions : 13.5 x 2.5 x 21.6 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: 5,366 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer reviews:
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Another reviewer on this site misses the point somewhat when they note, as an example of what they misrecognise as overcooked prose: '[ …] “labyrinthical” does not exist. She means “labyrinthine”.' The word in fact does exist. It first appears in - and most likely was coined by - Donne.
It’s hard to say why. The prose is lively and striking, there’s no academese. There’s a lot of interesting background about London and the period. But you never get a really in-depth sense of the man, perhaps because biographical details are all too clearly sparse; and you never get a really in-depth sense of the ideas in the poetry. So: if you don’t know Donne and wouldn’t appreciate him, this isn’t for you. If you don’t know him and would, then read Donne instead. If you do know him, then you probably want something less breathless and meatier. Overall, this is like those history podcasts where they spend 20 minutes making jokes and 10 minutes giving you the bare bones of their topic.
I have read biographies of Donne before, notably John Carey's excellent "John Donne: Life, Mind and Art" originally from 1981, which I read in 1990. There is also John Stubbs' "Donne: The Reformed Soul" from 2006.
Here, at last, is a book by someone not called John that promised much and delivered more. Katherine Rundell has written a book that permits the reader some of Donne's lines but not many while bringing Donne alive in so many other ways. As this book resides on the thesis of Donne and his mental wranglings about eternity and the super-infinite, it is a wonderful notion to make him (and those close to him) re-birthed. One feels their presence, their living, their suffering, their day-to-day problems of finding a way to survive while Donne, forever doing the same manages, meanwhile, to be, in my mind, the greatest poet produced by this country, endeavouring to continuously challenge each reader to untangle the contours of his brain that he makes real in ways that ensure the metaphysical is earth-bound.
This is a book that I would have enjoyed to keep reading well beyond its end. It is a book that compels a reader to take up Donne's challenge - to read his poetry and see all things, life, death, marriage, sex, in a way that no one else could but in ways that open up new avenues of thought. His poetry is exhilarating as was this biography.