In Wit, Edson references Donne’s Holy Sonnets to illustrate Vivian’s scholarly personality. The set of sonnets are somewhat confusing and descriptively detailed. As we have talked about in class, this also exemplifies her serious personality. What we did not speak of in class, however, was of John Donne’s angry poetry. Vivian seems to view Donne in a saintly fashion. In some instances throughout the play she refers to him as “the greatest English poet, some would say” (40). However, when one reads more of Donne’s poetry besides the Holy Sonnets, there is a dark and almost morbid side to him that has not been included within the play.
In John Donne’s poem entitled “The Curse” he speaks about cursing the man who finds out about his (John Donne’s) love affair. The curse gets as gruesome as to have this man succumb to incest and have his children suffer from his own tainted reputation. All of these images are horrid and ill wished. In another poem, entitled “Apparition” he speaks of haunting his ex-lover when he dies. Neither of these poems is included in Wit. Presumably there would be no purpose in including them, but the fact that they are not included attributes again to Vivian’s lack of feeling towards humanity, this time in the negative effect. In addition to the eroticism we had talked about in class, this evil spirit of John Donne makes Vivian appear so innocent. She had no lover, no children; she was innocent in a sexual way for at least the time surrounding her cancer. She was innocent as to be ignorant to Donne’s malicious spirit as well, because she had placed him on such a pedestal. In avoiding his darker works she is just as ignorant as ignoring his erotic work.
Another effect of excluding John Donne’s ill works almost makes Vivian seem scared of people in general. By focusing on the saintly aspects of his poetry, she is connecting herself with the higher power of the Christian God and alienating herself from dealing with any human emotion. In this she boosts herself towards a level that will not let her relate in any humanly way with those around her. This is much like the previous point that she denies humanity but in a deeper way, because she is scared of it and what it can accomplish. Yes, she may, too, be scared of the sexual advances that humans fall prey to, but also there is a darker aspect she is frightened of and refuses to deal with: human anger. She does not get angry with her professor towards the beginning of the play, she was not exactly angry, was she? She had to sit down, yes, but she never grew cross. And at the end even could see E.M. Ashford’s point (15). I’m sure she has gotten angry like every other human on the face of the Earth but in its dismissal from her play Edson also illustrates the extent of Vivian’s faith.
With that said, Edson has made Wit also into a Christian proclamation. I don’t know all that much under the Christian faith besides the basics but I can see that by sticking to such sonnets she has made a statement about death. Of course the whole play is about death, but now there is a religiousness tied to the transgression from Earthly to Heavenly life. With the exclusion of Donne’s malicious poetry, Edson could be implicitly defining Vivian as ascending to Heaven. In speaking nothing of any evil idea or creature or poem, there has been no question of Hell. There may also be deeper Christian values or lessons that I do not even see with my lack of knowledge on such a subject.
In sticking to the Holy Sonnets Edson has created an ironic and even witty play that would have been entirely different had John Donne’s ill-willed poetry had infiltrated.