by Matthew Pearl, author of The Dante Club, The Poe Shadow, and The Last Dickens (First 10 people to post a comment will receive one FREE copy of any of the books mentioned in this article. Simply post a comment and then email us with your full school mailing address).
Reading Dante for the first time was a memorable moment in my life as a student. I remember what first caught me. In the beginning of The Divine Comedy, Dante finds himself in danger in a wild forest until a spirit from the afterlife is sent to guide him. This spirit is Virgil, the Roman poet. Virgil was Dante’s literary idol, and now here was Dante resurrecting him as a character in a poem. I was just starting to read Dante, and already I had formed my next mission. I’d have to read Virgil, too.
One work of literature had the power to get me to run out and read another one. That wasn’t the first time it had happened to me. I had been a fan of T. S. Eliot, and his striking references to Dante had led me to the Italian poet to begin with. Later I’d discover the Dante Club, a group of American poets in the nineteenth century committed to bringing readers to their favorite medieval poem. In them, I found the same type of energy that had affected me when I put down Eliot to read Dante, and took a break from Dante to grab Virgil. This was reading as a continuum, a chain reaction. This would animate my writing through all three novels, each of which entered another corner of literary history: The Dante Club, The Poe Shadow and The Last Dickens. (more…)