George V. Reilly

Review: The Dante Club

The Dante Club
Title: The Dante Club
Author: Matthew Pearl
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
Publisher: Random House
Copyright: 2003
Pages: 372
Keywords: historical mystery
Reading period: 10-12 February, 2007

This book is blurbed by Dan Brown on the front cover; happily, The Dante Club is a much better book than The Da Vinci Code and Pearl is a much better writer than Brown.

The poets Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, and Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, their publisher, J.T. Fields, and the historian George Washington Greene are completing the first trans­la­tion of Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy ever to be published in America. It is Boston in 1865, just after the Civil War. Two prominent Brahmins are murdered in grotesque manner and the Dante Club realize that the details of the murders are taken straight from the as-yet little-known Inferno. Stirred out of scholarly inaction, they start looking for the killer.

Pearl conjures up nineteenth-century Boston, fresh from the War Between the States, full of little-wanted immigrants, and the distrust of the Harvard Cor­po­ra­tion of foreign ideas. He brings his three main characters, Holmes, Lowell, and Longfellow to life. He makes a strong case for the uni­ver­sal­i­ty of Dante; enough so that I am minded to dig up my copy of Dorothy L. Sayers’ trans­la­tion of Dante’s Inferno and give it another go some day.

Background in­for­ma­tion: TheDan­te­Club.com.

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