Dante the Maker, by William Anderson

Dante the Maker
by William Anderson
510pp
0979870739 / 978-0979870736
$24.99

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About the Book
Upon its initial publication in 1980, William Anderson’s Dante the Maker won the Silver PEN Award, and has since been hailed by R. W. B. Lewis as “The best and most thorough biography [of Dante] in English.”

Dante has been called “the central man of all the world” because he represents in perfect balance “the imaginative, moral, and intellectual faculties all at their highest.” In his Divine Comedy Dante introduced a new way of presenting human characters which was permanently influenced all later forms of narrative and drama. This work not only affected history directly but offered people of all generations a new ideal to which they should aspire. Dante invented modern literature by making contemporary characters and events the subject of art: he changed the future by his reinterpretation of the past. William Anderson’s exciting and original biography (winner of the Silver Pen International PEN Club Award) makes extensive use, for the first time, of Dante’s own descriptions of his creative process, his inspirations and the ways in which he interpreted them. Though likely to be invaluable to the student of Italian literature and to the innumerable lovers of Dante, the book will also, by its emphasis on the creative act, fascinate everyone who is interested in the sources of art.

Reviews
R. A. Shoaf,
 Speculum
“The life of Dante is the kind of story that reminds us why history and biography are so important to what we do. Even with all the gaps, with all the unanswered and unanswerable questions, the story is so rich in detail and meaning that it cannot fail to excite and disturb us, outrage and inspire us. And William Anderson has told it in such a way as to let it produce all these effects. His enthusiasm for Dante and the Commedia is irrepressible; it shines through practically every page of his long, eloquent, and in the best sense of the word personal book.”

Joan M. Ferrante, Renaissance Quarterly
“[William] Anderson is also concerned with Dante as a poet, with the transformation of all the material of his life, his world, his education, into the poem. This encyclopedic study follows Dante’s life and work more or less chronologically, attempting to give the reader a sense of contemporary history, science, religion, and literature-in short everything Dante might have experienced and drawn upon…. the author has consulted many early as well as modern sources, and I am sure that scholars will find new references in areas they do not know well. …I find intriguing the suggestions that Dante might have known the works of Hildegard of Bingen, that he attempted a proto-Commedia in canzone form, that the De vulgari eloquentiai is constructed in a series of descending triads, even if some of the details do not seem to fit. There are also many interesting anecdotes in the historical passages, and many enlightening observations in the literary criticism, e.g., the treatment of the spiral journey in Purgatory, as opposed to the movements in Hell and Paradise, the statement that in Paradise every movement of the blessed is transfigured into art, that Peter’s image of the sewer feeding human sin to Satan recapitulates the cosmology of the poem. Perhaps the author’s basic assumption–with which I entirely agree–that the Comedy was conceived as a whole, with a detailed plan before it was written, led to his attempt to fit every aspect of Dante’s life and culture at each stage into a particular place in that plan, which inevitably created some distortions. Perhaps his attempt, as a poet, to understand and explain the process of creation makes his study more subjective than one expects in Dante studies.”

Financial Times of London
“…tirelessly, exuberantly interesting.”

George Steiner
“… a joy to read!”

Choice
“…a fine volume, a real contribution…. Highly recommended.”

About the Author
William Anderson was an historian and a poet whose knowledge and understanding of Dante was informed by these two perceptions. He translated a number of works, including Dante’s Vita Nuova and Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy, and edited Froissart’s Chronicles in Lord Berners’ translation. His historical and architectural interests combined in Castles of EuropeCathedrals in Britain and IrelandHoly Pl aces of the British IslesThe Rise of the Gothic and Green Man. His last book, The Face of Glory, is a synthesis of much of his thought about creativity and the connections between artistic and scientific inspiration.

He received three literary prizes, including the Silver Pen award for Dante the Maker.

He died in 1997, aged 62, continuing to write poetry to the end of his life. On his tombstone are his own words, We are the notes of the song, not the singer, and the Dantean accolade William Anderson – Poet.