John Donne’s Survival Guide

In his acclaimed new biography, Donne: The Reformed Soul, John Stubbs paints a compelling portrait of an extraordinary man. John Donne did his utmost to stay on the right side of the authorities, even censoring his own work. But his writing tells a different story. His poetry lays down rules only to transgress them, alternately doing battle and seeking union with a succession of imagined ‘authorities’ who have a claim on his conscience or integrity.

Poet and novelist Ruth Padel led John Stubbs through a detailed and beautiful account of an ‘extraordinary human being’ while Harriet Walter, star of Sense and Sensibility and Bright Young Things, read from Donne’s poems, transfixing the audience with a compelling journey into Donne’s poetry.

John Stubbs talked passionately about the poet, revealing an intriguing array of information about Donne’s ‘slippery’ life, giving the audience, as Ruth Padel described, ‘a real sense of how much mosaic and interesting stuff there is about him’.

Harriet Walter proceeded to deliver more of Donne’s mesmerizing imagery while Stubbs drew in the audience with facts about the poet’s later life, marriage and children. After further talk of religion, death, love and poetry, the night ended with questions from the audience about this compelling poet.

PEN would like to thank John Stubbs, Ruth Padel and Harriet Walter, the Guardian Newsroom and Waitrose for the wine everyone enjoyed after the talk.

Report by Nicola Groutage

A podcast of the talk is available on The Guardian‘s website

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