Tuesday, August 30, 2011

RRR: The Divine Comedy, Vol. 1, The Inferno

I finished reading volume one of Dante's Divine ComedyThe Inferno, about a month ago and was very delayed in posting this, though I wrote most of it at the time.

I was about three-fourths of the way through the book, when my husband asked me how I liked it. I responded, “I'm looking forward to getting out of hell” without thinking. This led to a number of jokes throughout the remainder of the book – “Only 34 pages of hell left” etc....

The Inferno was not “hell” to read, but at the same time, I am looking forward to Dante's portrayal of purgatory and heaven. I enjoyed and was challenged by this version, translated from the Italian with ample contextual notes by Mark Musa.

The Pilgrim (symbolic of Everyman) and his guide, Virgil (human reason), travel deeper and deeper into the realms of hell, from one category of sin to the next. I truly appreciate the symbol of Virgil as the Pilgrim's guide, revealing the limits of human reason. Human reason can explain and direct the Pilgrim though hell, but alone, can not be the bridge to the divine.

Virgil and the Pilgrim meet figures of Greek and Roman legend, of the Bible, of Italian history and Florentine politics. Dante's selection of figures to represent various sins and to warn the Pilgrim (and thus the reader) is artful – intertwining myth, history, politics, and religion to get his point across. Clearly he had some fun poking at contemporary rivals also.

I could not have read through the The Inferno without Musa's notes, reminding me of the stories of mythological figures I had forgotten, and explaining the figures and politics of Florence that are referenced throughout.

Yes, despite a bit of perseverance needed, I enjoyed “hell” but am happy to move onwards to purgatory and paradise. But I have a number of books on my reading list in between...

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Voices of Richard III

I have been studying for the GRE literature subject test, in case I decide to apply to additional graduate schools in the fall. Yesterday, I was pleasurably reviewing Shakespeare's plays. In the evening I ironically came across the video posted below on the literary blog, The Elegant Variation.

His impressions are brilliant! Enjoy...

Monday, August 8, 2011

RRR: War and Peace

I finished reading War and Peace a few weeks ago, and typed this up, afterwards.

I am amazed how quickly War and Peace flew this time. I started it a few years ago, and somehow didn't have time to get very far. I thoroughly enjoyed this lengthy narrative this time, following the lives five Russian noble families throughout Napolean's campaigns against Russia. Such stories and characters Tolstoy crafted and intertwined! And I could have kept going, reading on about the children's lives, had it been possible. One night I even dreamed of a calvary battle...

Admittedly, I did issue a few sighs as Tolstoy's essays on war, history, and freewill interrupted the story. Though this does not mean that these opinions were not interesting, and some were quite ironic.

I find Tolstoy to be quite an evangelist, both in Anna Karenina and in War and Peace. Through his characters, namely Prince Andrei and Count Bezukhov, Tolstoy challenges surface reality and explores individual quests for truth. Much of Tolstoy's life and spiritual journey is reflected in these characters also, as it was in Levin in Anna Karenina.

At the end of the book, post wars, Pierre challenges government failures, asking and seeking to act on “What do we do?” The characters have differing responses, each valuing something else more. This is always challenges me, "What am I to do?"

War and Peace was truly cross genre – historical and romantic fiction intermixed with essays critical of how history is recorded and interpreted. His novel itself is history, portraying levels of reality through fiction.