Saturday 1 January 2011

New Year Resolutions

Another year has gone, and what a year it was . . . now it's time for the usual new-year resolutions. As far as I'm concerned, these will be my priorities:

1) To live like a twenty-one-year old

2) Not to buy any iPad, iPhone, Android, Kindle or similar devices

3) keep all my hair on my head

4) finish my second novel

5) have more holidays than I had in 2010

Well, that's enough already. I'd be happy if I manage to fulfill two or three of these.

* * *

The editing of Dante's Purgatory has kept me delightfully busy during the Christmas break. It's a book I had read many times before, but having to read it twice again, once in Italian and once in JG Nichols's excellent new translation, was a real privilege.

It is difficult, after working on such a towering masterpiece, not to smirk at some of the stuff that gets published today. Yesterday I went to our local Waterstone's and spent some time browsing the new-fiction shelves. The quality of most of the books, with very few exceptions, was little more than risible by comparison.

I am not saying that Dante's Purgatory is a perfect work, but its ambition and scope, and the almost hypnotic, unrelenting beauty of its terza rima makes it fly well above most other writers in prose or verse.

At this new reading, the last few cantos of Purgatory struck me as a bit compressed and even rushed by comparison with the rest of the Comedy. The allegorical scenes at the end (Christ as a gryphon for example) are not only miles away from modern taste but lack any dramatic drive, and are a bit mechanical. The character of Matelda remains vague, and when she is finally named at the very last canto it sounds almost as an afterthought. Beatrice comes across as arch and wooden – you can't understand how Dante could have fallen in love with her.

But, above all, it feels like Dante had run out of space in the last couple of cantos, and the strict thirty-three-canto structure of Purgatorio didn't allow him to have free rein to let the imagination fly. His own awkward admission at the end of Canto XXXIII may suggest that he was simply too impatient at this point and wanted to move on to Paradiso as soon as possible:

If, reader, I had but the space to write,
Then I would sing, as far as I was able,
The sweet draught that would never satiate;
But now, since every single page is full
Of those ordained for this my second book,
Art's laws demand nothing additional.

* * *

This blog should have been graced with a picture of Elisabetta dancing the Macarena, from last night's New Year's Eve party – but unfortunately I was not able to clear permission with her.

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