"The Dante Club" by Matthew Pearl. [review]
Dooley, Gillian Mary
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Matthew Pearl is a graduate from Harvard, summa cum laude, and winner of the Dante Society of America’s prize for his academic work. Boldly, Pearl has taken for his main characters the famous New England Fireside Poets – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes (Senior), and James Russell Lowell. The year is 1865: the Civil War is just over. Longfellow is engaged upon a controversial translation of Dante’s "Divine Comedy", the first to be published in America. Pearl uses this precise point in American history – the horrors of the Civil War fresh in everyone’s minds – and juxtaposes it with the opposition to the Dante translation from a conservative Harvard establishment convinced not only that the encouragement of modern languages poses a threat to the comfortable hegemony of Greek and Latin, but also that the Divine Comedy’s subject matter is scandalous and will undermine the morals of decent, Protestant Americans.