An insightful biography of Florence's famous son
Acclaimed biog rap her R.W.B. Lewis traces the life and complex development-- emotional, artistic, philosophical--of this supreme poet-historian. Here we meet the boy who first encounters the mythic Beatrice, the lyric poet obsessed with love and death, the grand master of dramatic narrative and allegory, and his monumental search for ultimate truth in The Divine Comedy. It is in this masterpiece of self-discovery and redemption that Lewis finds Dante's own autobiography--and the sum of all his shifting passions and epiphanies.
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.
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November 23, 2009
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