Monday, April 10, 2006

The Dante Club

Thanks to Kelly's recommendation on the 4 Real Learning forum I am reading The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl. A cleverly constructed murder mystery, it weaves together Longfellow and the literati of 1860s Boston with Dante's Divine Comedy. I am enjoying the book in its own right, but I am finding a special pleasure in it because it reminds me strongly of an old family friend who died back in 1991.

"Auntie Moo", as I called her (Moo was short for Muriel) was an old college tutor of my mother's. In those days she taught religious studies, but her real love was the middle ages. Not long before she died - at the age of 96 - she was brushing up her medieval Italian in order to re-read Dante in the orginal. She also had a penchant for murder mysteries, and would, I'm sure, have gobbled up The Dante Club. When she discovered that I was interested in things medieval, a steady supply of books on the subject came my way. When I later went to university to study medieval history, she read (and criticised!) every essay I wrote. Sadly, she died before I graduated. She herself had been a student at Oxford University during the First World War, and was proud to be the oldest surviving student of her old college. Although she always remained a member of the Church of England I think she must have flirted with Catholicism in her younger days. I know she spent some time in Italy, where I believe she stayed in a convent, and when I joined the Catholic Church she passed on to me an old Tridentine Missal, a Latin Vulgate, a Douay-Rheims translation of the Bible and a Ronald Knox translation.

So Auntie Moo, I'm reading The Dante Club for the both of us, and appreciating it all the more for the pleasure I know you would have taken in it. And if I make it into my mid-nineties, I hope I will still be capable of studying medieval Italian!

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