DANTE: A Penguin Life

R. W. B. Lewis, Author
R. W. B. Lewis, Author . Lipper/Viking $19.95 (205p) ISBN 978-0-670-89909-8
Reviewed on: 05/28/2001
Release date: 06/01/2001
Open Ebook - 224 pages - 978-1-101-16298-9
Hardcover - 265 pages - 978-0-7862-3755-5
Paperback - 205 pages - 978-0-14-311641-7
Open Ebook - 224 pages - 978-1-101-16235-4
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There could hardly be a more fitting biographer for Dante than Pulitzer Prize–winning literary critic Lewis, who has called Dante's native city of Florence his second home for 50 years. In this newest offering in the Penguin Lives series—a fraction of the size of Lewis's previous biographies of Edith Wharton and the Jameses—Lewis shows an uncanny ability to capture crucial moments in Dante's life and development as an artist. Whether he is presenting the intricacies of Florentine politics or the living woman behind Dante's immortal vision of Beatrice, Lewis manages to provide just enough context to illuminate the known facts of Dante's life without losing the thread of his narrative. Lewis is especially effective in tracing the artist's tormented relationship with his native city, including his banishment from Florence in the political intrigues of the 1300s. In one memorable passage, he describes the "Purgatorio" (in which Dante consigns whole populations of Tuscans to eternal suffering) as the "exile's furious song"—an attempt by an all-too-human artist to pass celestial judgment on his malefactors. Always a memorable writer, Lewis shows himself a particularly spry craftsman here; this may well be one of the most pleasurable biographies of Dante, as well as one of the shortest. Anyone in search of a brief but eloquent guide to the life of the Florentine master should not hesitate to turn to this book. (June)

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