The Dante Club Review
Major Characters • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow-Protagonist and main translator of the club • Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. - doctor and poet • James Russell Lowell- first poet of the club • George Washington Greene - pastor and oldest member • James Thomas Fields - publisher and member • Nicholas Rey - 1st African American policeman • Chief Kurtz - head of police • Judge Healey - first killed, neutral, refused the position to "defend" Dante • Reverend Talbot - second killed, simoniac • Phineas Jennison - third killed, schismatic • Dr. Manning - treasurer of Harvard Craper, traitor • Pliny Mead - student of Lowell's, also considered traitor • PietroBachi - former teacher of Italian at Harvard, and original suspect in murder • Dan Teal - soldier from the civil war.
Based on actual people • Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes- the actual Dr. Holmes was an American physician, poet, professor, lecturer, and author; considered as one of the best writers of the 19th century and a member of the “Fireside Poets.”
Based on actual people • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow- Also considered one of the five “Fireside Poets.” He was an American poet and educator and the first American to translate Dante’s The Divine Comedy.
Based on actual people • James Russell Lowell- Also one of the “Fireside Poets.” American Romantic poet, critic, editor, and diplomat.
Based on actual people • George Washington Greene- an American historian and grandson of Major-General Nathaniel Greene, who served during the American Revolutionary War.
Based on actual people • James Thomas Fields- an American publisher, editor, and poet.
The “Fireside Poets” • A group of 19th-century American poets from New England. • The group is typically thought to comprise Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, William Cullen Bryant, John Greenleaf Whittier, James Russell Lowell, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., who were the first American poets whose popularity rivaled that of British poets • These poets usually used conventional forms and meters in their poetry, making them suitable for families entertaining at their fireside.
Setting: American Civil War Area • Set amidst a series of murders in the American Civil War era, it also concerns a club of poets, including such historical figures as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., and James Russell Lowell, who are translating Dante’s The Divine Comedy from Italian into English and who notice parallels between the murders and the punishments detailed in Dante's Inferno.
Importance of Setting • The American Civil War, also known as the War Between the States or simply the Civil War, was a civil war fought from 1861 to 1865 in the United States after several Southern slave states declared their secession and formed the Confederate States of America (the "Confederacy" or the "South"). The states that remained were known as the "Union" or the "North". The war had its origin in the fractious issue of slavery, especially the extension of slavery into the western territories. Foreign powers did not intervene. After four years of bloody combat that left over 600,000 soldiers dead and destroyed much of the South's infrastructure, the Confederacy collapsed, slavery was abolished, and the difficult Reconstruction process of restoring national unity and guaranteeing rights to the freed slaves began.
Summary • 1865 Boston, a small group of literary geniuses puts the finishing touches on America’s first translation of The Divine Comedy and prepares to unveil the remarkable visions of Dante to the New World. The powerful old guard of Harvard College wants to keep Dante out—believing that the infiltration of such foreign superstitions onto our bookshelves would prove as corrupting as the foreign immigrants invading Boston harbor. The members of the Dante Club—poets and Harvard professors Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell and publisher J. T. Fields —endure the intimidation of their fellow Boston Brahmins for a sacred literary cause, an endeavor that has sustained Longfellow in the hellish aftermath of his wife’s tragic death by fire.
Summary • But the plans of the Dante Club come to a screeching halt when a series of murders erupts through Boston and Cambridge. Only the members of the Dante Club realize that the style and form of the killings are stolen directly from Dante’s Inferno and its singular account of Hell’s punishments. With the police baffled, lives endangered and Dante’s literary future at stake, the Dante Club must shed its sheltered literary existence and find a way to stop the killer.
Summary • The brunt of the burden falls to Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, whose unique literacy in both poetry and medicine continues to pull him into the center of the struggle. An outcast policeman, Nicholas Rey, the first and only black member of the Boston police department, places his future on the line after discovering the secrets of the Dante Club. Together, they find the key to the murders where they least expect it: closer than they could have imagined.
How are punishments symbolic? (Symbolic retribution!) • Members of the Dante Club, a group of poets translating The Divine Comedy from Italian into English, notice the parallels between the murders and the punishments detailed in Dante's Inferno. • The club, including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., and James Russell Lowell, sets out to solve the murders, fearing that the truth will ruin Dante's burgeoning reputation in America, thus making their translation a failure, as well as the obvious problem that they would be virtually the only suspects if they reported this information to the police. • Then, Phineas Jennison, both a wealthy contributor to the Harvard Corporation and friend to the translators (a "schismatic"), is sliced open exactly down the middle—all killed in extreme fashion and undeniable resemblance to the punishments of people in Dante's Inferno.
Allegory Review • Allegory is a literary devicein which characters or events in a literary, visual, or musical art form represent or symbolize ideas and concepts. • An allegory conveys its hidden message through symbolic figures, actions, imagery, and/or events. • As a literary device, an allegory in its most general sense is an extended metaphor. • As a class, let’s discuss how Dante’s Inferno is an allegory, as a review
Some questions to consider…. • In Dante’s Inferno, Dante’s poetic idol Virgil leads him through the dangerous passages of the afterlife. In what ways do the characters of THE DANTE CLUB guide one another? Who would you say is the real leader? • How does the backdrop of the American Civil War influence the events of the novel?