According to Harold Bloom, Dante bestrides world literature alongside Shakespeare. Jorge Luis Borges labelled Dante’s Commedia ‘the greatest gift that literature can give us’. For Yeats, Dante was ‘the chief imagination of Christendom’. And yet it is not at all clear that English-speaking readers quite grasp why the Commedia (the ‘Divine’ epithet was a later addition) is such a preternatural literary force. In fact, we are fortunate to live in a golden age of Dante translation: the Commedia has been stunningly well-served by a series of muscular, creatively experimental, and ambitious versions appearing one after the other over the last thirty years, by Allen Mandelbaum, Mark Musa, Robert Pinsky, Robert and Jean Hollander, and most recently by Robin Kirkpatrick in a superb new Penguin Classics edition. What A N Wilson has spotted, however, is a gap in the market: the near-absence of accessible, and poetically and intellectually invigorating exegeses of the poem. Who is to help us read this early-fourteenth-century epic of vice and virtue, politics and love?
Dante in Love is Wilson’s impassioned attempt to plug the gap. He guides us with the verve and vision of an able storyteller, steeped in the Christian tradition, and an amateur’s engagement with the vast field of Dante commentary and scholarship. The paths are many and elaborate, taking