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Dante in Love: The World's Greatest Poem and How It Made History
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0743234464, Hardcover)No figure speaks for the Christian High Middle Ages more emphatically than Dante Alighieri, and according to Harriet Rubin, author of Dante in Love, no writer reveals the path to creative genius more emphatically either. Combining history and literary criticism, Rubin contends that "there is another way to read Dante"--not as a scholar, but as a fellow journeyman. Rubin's admiration and grasp of Dante's masterpiece is clear. She writes as one with an intimate knowledge not only of the period that shaped the poet, but also of the subsequent artists, thinkers, scientists, and statesmen that the poet helped to shape. But this strength, paradoxically, turns out to be the book’s biggest weakness: Rubin's obsessive contextualizing. The bulk of Dante in Love consists of historical references that are meant to define Dante's age and to illustrate the poet’s development and far-reaching influence. However, with each historical digression, we get farther and farther away from Dante and the Commedia itself. The result is a meandering narrative that in the end lacks focus, despite Rubin’s references to the poem (from multiple translations) and her stated intention of tracing Dante’s progress as an exile and artist through Italy and his creative process. Many of Rubin’s historical asides, such as her discussion of the rise of devotion to the Virgin Mary, truly help illuminate the poem. But others read like sweeping pronouncements that lack sufficient explanation: "Keats had the right instinct but the wrong method for exploiting Dante." Rubin marvels how Dante "kept his vision alive over nineteen years of trials to make the Comedy seem as if it were all one line, the work of one awful moment of birth which time stopped for genius." Unfortunately, Rubin's own work lacks a similar cohesiveness. -- Silvana Tropea
(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:31:55 -0400)
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