Not Such an Infernal Old Life for Dante; Lives: Dante. by R W B Italy (Weidenfeld & Nicolson. Pounds 12.99). Reviewed by Monica Foot
Byline: Monica Foot
Weidenfeld & Nicolson's Lives series already includes such intriguing works as Edna O'Brien on James Joyce, Carol Shields on Jane Austen and Larry McMurty on Crazy Horse, with Thomas Keneally on Abraham Lincoln and Paul Johnson on Napoleon among forthcoming titles.
Pulitzer prize-winning biographer R W B Lewis has drawn the Dante straw and he has produced a lucid, integrated study of the great poet and of the Italy of Dante's day, riven by complex political struggles between the factions of the Pope and of the Holy Roman Emperor, fought out between battling city states.
Born in Florence in 1265, Dante 'grew up in a city that was at last fully realizing itself. It had been moving fitfully toward that goal for a good many years, in a series of developments that led both to prosperity and to a gathering self-image: a feeling for the primacy of the civic and the public over the private and the factional, combined with a sense of the larger importance of the merchant class as against the nobility'.
Florence was becoming a city behind great defensible walls. Dante was to imagine paradise as a city, where his poetic guide would be his lifelong love Beatrice, first glimpsed at the age of nine and never forgotten, despite his marriage to another and fatherhood. …