The canonical writer John Donne is often discarded by historians as a “literary” figure that has no place in historical studies. Indeed, although Donne’s position in the literary canon is unquestionable, his importance for early modern religious studies, especially for post-Reformation Catholicism, has been underappreciated – and perhaps even overlooked until the 1990s when his sermons started receiving attention. In literary circles, however, the field of post-Reformation Catholicism is often eschewed in favour of accounts of the period that are underlined by Protestant triumphalism, leading to the representation of Donne as an outlier-innovator who was articulating rather unusual theological and political views for his time. This argument is usually aligned with an understanding of the period that resembles the type of “Revisionist” paradigm that has come under fire over the past thirty years of post-Reformation studies.
This paper will argue that, despite the shattering of the “Revisionist” paradigm in historical studies, some of its central claims still live on in Donne scholarship, placing this literary field’s current treatment of the topic some thirty years behind post-Reformation studies. It will contend, however, that the very claim that is frequently made by literary scholars that Donne is an outlier or a maverick, is, itself, highly suggestive, and that close readings of the works of individuals such as Donne ought to be taken more seriously across disciplines – particularly when pointing to the difficulties inherent in assimilating figures like Donne to a “mainstream”, Protestant-inflected narrative apparatus.
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