Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Harriet Rubin, Dante in Love: The World's Greatest Poem and How It Made History

This is a pretty good supplement to any reading of Dante, whether it be just reading Inferno or the entire Divina Commedia for the first time. While I'm not too crazy about the title (which suggests a focus on Italian poet Dante Alighieri's love for his Beatrice a la Shakespeare in Love), the scholarship is well done and, like the Peter Ackroyd biography of Shakespeare I read earlier, it provides an excellent portrait of the poet, his times, and his writing method.

Rubin begins by putting Dante within his political context, detailing the circumstances surrounding his exile and the nineteen years of wandering he was subjected to as a result. She adds to this a solid analysis of each of the Commedia's three canticles, discussing Dante's compositional methods and influences (whether real or literary), all the while linking Dante's development as poet and man to his developing sense of "love" -- love for Beatrice, love for country, and love for God. Ideally, I would have liked to read Inferno in its entirety, followed by Rubin's section on it; then read Purgatorio in its entirety, followed by Rubin; followed by Paradiso and Rubin. As I said, for students of Dante this is a good book ... maybe not the best, but a good starting point for putting the Commedia within some authorial and historical context.

If you have a chance, check it out.

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