Reading Dante: From Here to Eternity by Prue Shaw - review by Robert Gordon

Robert Gordon

Hell of a Poem

Reading Dante: From Here to Eternity


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Literary criticism has all but lost the meagre niche it once occupied in the general books market: attention to literature has been crushed by the juggernaut of biography. But the appetite can return on occasion, prompted by some imaginative repackaging of great works that manages to rekindle a dormant fascination. Fifteen or more years ago, Alain de Botton pulled it off in How Proust Can Change Your Life; more recently it has been Montaigne’s turn, thanks to Sarah Bakewell’s fêted How to Live, ostensibly a biography but more like an illuminating guide to the Essays. It is nigh impossible to predict where the next flash of interest might occur. We can guess at some of the necessary (but not sufficient) conditions: recent editions or new translations of the original works, perhaps; maybe a cluster of popular critical works trying something similar, some floating, some sinking (de Botton and Bakewell were not the only ones to write about their chosen authors); and, if possible, a background noise of innovation and iconoclasm among academics researching that writer. Certainly, the critic who strikes

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