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autobiography

Dante (Lives)

by R.W.B. Lewis

ISBN 075381319X / 9780753813195 / 0-7538-1319-X
Publisher Phoenix (an Imprint of The Orion Publishing Group Ltd )
Language English
Edition Softcover
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Book summary

History, literature, love, and religion come together in this graceful biography of the world's most revered and influential poet. R.W.B. Lewis, who won a Pulitzer Prize for Edith Wharton, displays the same intelligent understanding here of the complex interplay of inner and outer forces that shape an artist. His lucid account of political and literary conflict in 13th-century Florence (subject of another Lewis book, The City of Florence) illuminates the context in which Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) came of age, fell in love with the unattainable Beatrice Portinari, forged the "sweet new style" that transformed Italian literature, and embroiled himself in factional disputes he would angrily renounce after his exile from Florence in 1302. Lewis makes palpable the intellectual and imaginative energy that fired Dante to write an influential political treatise (De Monarchia), a powerful argument for literature written in the common tongue (De Vulgari Eloquentia), and of course his twin tributes to Beatrice: one of the most eloquent love poems ever written (La Vita Nuova) and that supreme chronicle of the human spiritual quest, Divine Comedy. The author notes autobiographical elements in all Dante's works without trivializing their creative majesty, and if the poet's personality is somewhat muffled across the distance of eight centuries, his artistic presence still "sparkles and sings and smiles like one of the spirits in Paradise." Drawing cogently (and with generous acknowledgment) on previous scholarship, this volume worthily fulfills its mission as an entry in the excellent Penguin Lives series of short biographies for the general reader. --Wendy Smith [via]