Bettie Anne Young Doebler '53, A.M. '55

Modern-day scribe inspired by seventeenth-century literature

Bettie Anne Young Doebler '53, A.M. '55

Should you visit University College at Arizona State University in Scottsdale, you might overhear English professor emerita Bettie Anne Doebler's gentle North Carolina voice reciting John Donne or introducing Shakespeare to another lucky generation of students.

An expert in seventeenth-century British literature, Doebler earned her undergraduate and master's degrees in English at Duke, and her doctorate from the University of Wisconsin. She taught at Dickinson College and Arizona State University in Tempe before retiring in 1996 to devote herself to writing and publishing poetry. But the classroom still called to her.

"I felt rather useless, even though I was still writing," she says. "I needed people to talk with seriously, and I even found myself reading sort of sloppily."

So, in 2006, back she went. She teaches several courses in an ASU interdisciplinary studies program, "a new project that tries to make the university more accessible to the community. My classes are about finding a habit of mind, about how to think. I teach a lot of literature that encourages empathy—and we read a lot of poetry."

Doebler's passion for poetry and books began during her childhood in Greenville, North Carolina. Her parents, both Duke Class of 1925, read to her —and to each other, Doebler recalls.

Doebler started writing early. "I have written poetry since I first began to imitate nursery rhymes in grade school," she says on her faculty home page ( english/who/doebler.htm). That lifelong habit led to the publication of poems in magazines such as The Awakenings Review and The Anglican Theological Review, and the British journals Poetic Realm and East of Auden. Her fine press chapbook, Breathing Between Dances, was published in July 2007.

These works join her two major critical studies, The Quickening Seed: Death in the Sermons of John Donne (1974) and Rooted Sorrow: Dying in Early Modern England (1994) on the bookshelf. In addition, during the
last decade, she has co-edited and co-written with a colleague in history introductions to an eight-volume series, Funeral Sermons Published for Women between 1600 and 1630.
The last volume is Donne's Sermon of Commemoration for Lady Magdalen Danvers.

In 2008, her first mystery novel, Lost Sheep, set in Cornwall and other parts of England, will be added to her bibliography. The novel centers on the theft of manuscripts from British rare book collections. (In her scholarly life, Doebler haunted the British Library and the Bodleian at the University of Oxford.)

In the classroom of distinguished professor William Blackburn at Duke, says Doebler, "I discovered my desire to live in the seventeenth century." She also met her husband, Shakespeare scholar John Doebler '54, in Blackburn's class. After marrying, the pair moved from Durham to Madison, where both pursued their doctorates at the University of Wisconsin. It was there that the Renaissance scholar Ruth Wallerstein suggested that Doebler might be interested in the subject of death in the seventeenth century.

"I had become irritated with critics who said John Donne was obsessed with death," says Doebler.
"I thought there was something broader in the period that explained it. I have carried that major interest through my most important work as a scholar."

After her husband died in 1994, Doebler started writing more seriously—poems of mourning and grief. "I started out writing poems that were at least partially in imitation of my favorite poet, John Donne, but in recent years I have developed a more modern voice." Poetry, she says, is "the necessary oxygen provided to me for life."

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