Underlying Barbara Reynolds’s book is a big idea: that Dante’s Divina commedia was written with the intention of entertaining an audience. To some readers this may seem blindingly obvious – why else would someone write the fictional story of one man’s journey across the universe? But in the context of a book about Dante it is a refreshing observation. Entertainment is frequently the first casualty of scholarship and, to read many books about him, you would think that his great work was either a textbook on philosophy in the late Middle Ages or well-intentioned political observation wrapped up in arcane code (it does, of course, contain elements of both these things, but then that is genius for you).
Barbara Reynolds has studied and taught Dante for most of her life – she completed the Penguin translation of the Comedy after the death of Dorothy L Sayers. This volume, which comprises both a biography and a summary of the major works, is really a vehicle for the observations and