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“John Donne, Anne Donne, Vn-done”? A Biocultural Reassessment of Their Scandalous Marriage

  • Michael A. Winkelman
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Part of the Cognitive Studies in Literature and Performance book series (CSLP)

Abstract

Much has changed since John Donne’s clandestine marriage to Anne More in December 1601. Matrimony in the West is now chiefly predicated on romantic love, with divorce available if things do not work out. Meanwhile, the scientific discoveries of the last four centuries have spurred technological progress that has transformed the world; consequently, universities have sprung up to educate workers for this, our Information Age, employing researchers in every subspecialty imaginable, including Renaissance English Literature. Pondering these innovations, it might surprise us that the conventional wisdom concerning the Donnes’ intertwined fate has remained fixed since hagiographer Izaak Walton rendered his judgment in the mid-seventeenth century: “His marriage was the remarkable error of his life” (60). Professors Annabel Patterson, John Carey, R. V. Young, and Dayton Haskins all refer to it as “disastrous” or a “disaster.”1 Even critics smitten by Donne’s Songs and Sonnets generally echo Walton in calculating the costs of wedding Anne. Yet the oppositional position held by a few Romantics and Victorians who idealized his domestic bliss—Donne’s “days flowed on in a tranquil and monotonous happiness” with “no ambition beyond learning, and with very little care or thought of the morrow,” one wrote—also seems seriously off target.2

Keywords

Parental Investment Marriage Market Cognitive Approach Romantic Love ANNE DONNE 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Annabel Patterson, “Satirical Writing: Donne in Shadows,” CCJD, 120; John Carey, John Donne: Life, Mind and Art (London and Boston: Faber & Faber, 1981), 71; R. V. Young, “Love, Poetry, and John Donne in the Love Poetry of John Donne,” Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature 52 (2000): 262; and Dayton Haskins, “On Trying to Make the Record Speak More about Donne’s Love Poems,” DM, 41.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Walton mentions Anne’s learning (29–31); her father invested in a mill whose revenues were “bestowed and imployed” for “the maintenaunce educacon and advauncement of my fower daughters.” Quoted in Ilona Bell, “Courting Anne More,” JDJ 19 (2000): 62–63.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    R. C. Bald, John Donne: A Life, ed. Wesley Milgate (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970).Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    Cf. the secret marriage of Bellamour and Claribell in Spenser’s Faerie Queene: “Which when her father understood, he grew / In so great rage, that them in dongeon deepe / Without compassion cruelly he threw” (VI.xii.5). Edmund Spenser, Poetical Works, ed. J. C. Smith and E. de Selincourt (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1912).Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    See, inter alia, Ann Jennalie Cook, Making a Match: Courtship in Shakespeare and His Society (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991); G. R. Quaife, Wanton Wenches and Wayward Wives: Peasants and Illicit Sex in Early Seventeenth Century England (London: Croom Helm, 1979); Ralph Houlbrooke, The English Family 1450–1700 (London and New York: 1984); Alan Macfarlane, Marriage and Love in England: Modes of Reproduction, 1300–1840 (Oxford and New York: Blackwell, 1986); Lawrence Lerner, Love and Marriage: Literature in Its Social Context (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1979); and (cautiously), Lawrence Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage 1500–1800, abridged edn. (New York: Harper & Row, 1979).Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Elementary Structures of Kinship, trans. James Hurle Bell, John Ricard von Sturmer, and Rodney Needham (Boston: Beacon Press, 1969). Cf. the reflexively cited feminist response by Gayle Rubin, “The Traffic in Women: Notes on the ‘Political Economy’ of Sex,” in Toward an Anthropology of Women, ed. Rayna Reiter (New York and London: Monthly Review Press, 1975), 157–210. Rubin explicitly rejects the natural and hence her refutation is thoroughly unpersuasive.Google Scholar
  7. 10.
    Evelyn Simpson, A Study of the Prose Works of John Donne, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1948), 318.Google Scholar
  8. 11.
    Lynne Magnusson, “Donne’s Language: The Conditions of Communication,” CCJD, 183. Like Bald, she judges his first letter to Sir George More negatively. On sociolinguistics, see J. L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words, ed. J. O. Urmson (New York: Oxford University Press, 1962), and Kenneth Burke, Language as Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature, and Method (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1966).Google Scholar
  9. 13.
    Simpson, Prose Works of John Donne, 318–22. See also Ilona Bell, “‘Under Ye Rage of a Hott Sonn & Yr Eyes’: John Donne’s Love Letters to Ann More,” in The Eagle and the Dove: Reassessing John Donne, ed. Claude Summers and Ted-Larry Pebworth (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1986), 25–52. To this reader, it would appear on stylistic grounds that the letters are probably Donne’s.Google Scholar
  10. 18.
    See the Preface to Pseudo-Martyr, in John Donne, Selected Prose, ed. Evelyn Simpson, Helen Gardner, and Timothy Healy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967), 44–52.Google Scholar
  11. 19.
    Robin Dunbar, Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997). Most of the scholarship on “Sins of the Tongue” is anthropological: see M. Gluckman, “Gossip and Scandal,” Current Anthropology 4 (1963): 307–16; F. G. Bailey, Gifts and Poison: The Politics of Reputation (Oxford: Blackwell, 1971); Ralph Rosnow and Gary Fine, Rumor and Gossip: The Social Psychology of Hearsay (New York: Elsevier, 1976); Patricia Meyer Spacks, Gossip (New York: Knopf, 1985); Robert Goodman and Aaron Ben-Ze’ev, eds., Good Gossip (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1994); and Jerome Barkow, “Beneath New Culture Is Old Psychology: Gossip and Social Stratification,” in The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture, ed. Jerome Barkow, Leda Cosmides, and John Tooby (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 627–37.Google Scholar
  12. 20.
    See Leo Braudy, The Frenzy of Renown: Fame and Its History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986); and Thelma Fenster and Daniel Lord Smail, eds., Fama: The Politics of Talk and Reputation in Medieval Europe (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003). Fama editors Fenster and Smail provide an informative discussion of the word fama’s derivation (it’s related to profess, bandit, aphasia, and blasphemous), 10–11.Google Scholar
  13. 21.
    Today it’s worse than in Donne’s time, as we’re titillated by tabloids and the blogosphere. On this issue see, inter alia, Daniel Solove, The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007), and Lee Siegel, Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob (New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2008).Google Scholar
  14. 22.
    Biathanatos, in John Donne, Selected Prose, ed. Neil Rhodes (London: Penguin Books, 1987), 85.Google Scholar
  15. 23.
    Daniel Nettle, “The Wheel of Fire and the Mating Game: Explaining the Origins of Tragedy and Comedy,” in Evolution, Literature, and Film: A Reader, ed. Brian Boyd, Joseph Carroll, and Jonathan Gottschall (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), 320.Google Scholar
  16. 32.
    Linda Levy Peck, Court Patronage and Corruption in Early Stuart England (Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1990), 176. Mutatis mutandi: in 1919 Max Weber asked, “Do you think that, year after year, you will be able to stand seeing one mediocrity after another promoted over you and still not become embittered and dejected?”Google Scholar
  17. 35.
    See David Lindley, The Trials of Frances Howard: Fact and Fiction at the Court of King James (Routledge: London and New York, 1993), and Alastair Bellany, The Politics of Court Scandal in Early Modern England: News Culture and the Overbury Affair, 1603–1660 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).Google Scholar
  18. 36.
    Come see the violence inherent in the system! Sir Walter Ralegh may have been the most noteworthy victim of Stuart absolutism: he was put to death in 1618 after a lengthy imprisonment in the Tower of London. Robert Carr and Frances Howard were found guilty of killing Overbury in 1616. Politician, essayist, and proto-scientist Sir Francis Bacon was convicted of corruption in 1621. Astrologer John Lambe, part of Buckingham’s retinue, was hacked to death by an angry mob in 1628, and Buckingham himself was assassinated the same year. Royalists Thomas Wentworth (Earl of Strafford) and the archbishop of Canterbury William Laud were executed for treason, in 1641 and 1645 respectively, by orders of Parliament, and King Charles I lost his head in 1649. During this period, tragedies obsessively presented tyranny and its discontents onstage—a reflection of growing intolerance and/or a catalyst for “the good old cause.” (As Donne put it in “The Curse,” “What Tyrans, and their subjects interwish,” [26].) Rivers of ink have flowed over the complex and highly debated roots of the conflicts leading up to the Civil War, and the primary and secondary literatures are voluminous, touching on Puritanism, politics, Milton and many other writers, etc. For headway into this imbroglio, see, inter alia, Conrad Russell, The Causes of the English Civil War (Oxford: Clarendon, 1990); Christopher Hill, The Intellectual Origins of the English Revolution—Revisited (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001); and The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas during the English Revolution (New York: Viking, 1972).Google Scholar
  19. 37.
    On the deep roots of ethics and reciprocity, see Frans de Waal, et al., Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved, ed. Stephen Macedo and Josiah Ober (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2006). However, that is only part of the story, existing in tension with primates’ tendencies toward despotism and favoritism. Dario Maestripieri describes such hierarchical, Machiavellian cultures among monkeys and humans: “Individuals’ opportunities for social success in nepotistic societies depend in large part on the political power of their families. Individuals have limited opportunities to strike their own deals with unrelated individuals or groups, and social mobility across strata is strongly constrained by family pedigree.” Macachiavellian Intelligence: How Rhesus Macaques and Humans Have Conquered the World (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 163.Google Scholar
  20. 38.
    Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (New York: Bantam Books, 1981).Google Scholar
  21. 39.
    See especially Brian Boyd, “Jane, Meet Charles: Literature, Evolution, and Human Nature,” Philosophy and Literature 22 (1998): 1–30. N.b. Darwin was an avid reader of Jane Austen.Google Scholar
  22. 41.
    On Donne’s sea change, see Edward Le Comte, “John Donne: From Rake to Husband,” in Just So Much Honor: Essays Commemorating the Four-Hundredth Anniversary of the Birth of John Donne, ed. Peter Amadeus Fiore (College Park: Penn State University Press, 1972), 9–32; and Edward Le Comte, Grace to a Witty Sinner: A Life of Donne (New York: Walker, 1965).Google Scholar
  23. 43.
    Troilus and Criseyde (I.401), in The Riverside Chaucer, gen. ed. Larry Benson, 3rd ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987).Google Scholar
  24. 44.
    Denis de Rougement, Love in the Western World, trans. Montgomery Belgion, rev. ed. (New York: Pantheon, 1956); and R. Howard Bloch, Medieval Misogyny and the Invention of Western Romantic Love (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991).Google Scholar
  25. 50.
    Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy, ed. Holbrook Jackson, Everyman’s Library 886, 3 vols. (New York: Dutton / London: Dent, 1932), Pt. 3, Sec. 2, mem. 1, subs. 2; vol. 3, pp. 49–58.Google Scholar
  26. 52.
    Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works (New York: Norton, 1997), 468.Google Scholar
  27. 54.
    Jonathan Gottschall, Literature, Science, and a New Humanities, Cognitive Studies in Literature and Performance (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 132.Google Scholar
  28. 56.
    For a rebuttal to the knee-jerk reactions of feminists against this apparent objectification of women, see Pinker, How the Mind Works, 492–93.Google Scholar
  29. 57.
    See also Bald, John Donne, 157, 324. N.b. Walton recounts the episode of Donne, abroad with the Drurys in 1612, envisioning his wife holding a dead child (39–42). Critic William Empson makes an important point here about the unintended consequences of the Donnes’ extended honeymooning: “Donne… gradually kill[ed] his wife by giving her a child every year” (776). Empson later adds that the woman in “Air and Angels” “might want him to earn money, or in simpler times bring meat to the cave” (786). “Donne the Space Man” (1957) in Seventeenth-Century British Poetry: 1603–1660, ed. John Rumrich and Gregory Chaplin (New York and London: Norton, 2006), 771–95.Google Scholar
  30. 59.
    See Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, 2nd ed. (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1989).Google Scholar
  31. 61.
    Carey, John Donne: Life, Mind and Art, 80. See also Lesley Lawson, Out of the Shadows: The Life of Lucy, Countess of Bedford (London and New York: Hambledon Continuum, 2007). Lucy was described as “an honourable lover and Patronesse of learning and the Muses, an instinct naturally ingrafted in your excellent spirit, by that worthy blood of the Sydneyes” (DNB). Her grandmother was Lucy Sidney, aunt of Sir Philip and Mary Sidney Herbert. See also Donne’s flirty letter to Lucy (Selected Letters, 48). Haskins, alone among modern critics, hints at the possibility of adulterous subtexts.Google Scholar
  32. 65.
    Juliet Dusinberre, Virginia Woolf’s Renaissance: Woman Reader or Common Reader? (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1997), 71.Google Scholar
  33. 69.
    John Donne, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions and Death’s Duel (New York: Vintage Books, 1999), 162.Google Scholar

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© Michael A. Winkelman 2013

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