[Review] The Divine Comedy, The Inferno by Dante Alighieri, translated by John Ciardi

Publisher and Publication Date: New American Library. 2003. First published 1320.
Genre: Epic poem.
Pages: 928. 295 pages in The Inferno.
Format: Paperback.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers of classics.
Rating: Excellentia!

Goodreads author page for Dante Alighieri

This review will be for The Inferno. I have not read The Purgatorio or The Paradiso (yet) in this one volume book.

This book is read for my list in The Classics Club.
This book is also read for the Chunkster Reading Challenge 2021. I will only count this book once as the total book or volume is 928 pages. The Inferno including all the preceding chapters is 295 pages.
This book is also for Back to the Classics 2021-a book written in another language and thus translated to English.

Dante Alighieri, 1265-1321

For further reading or listening:
Britannica
Biography
Catholic Answers, an encyclopedia.
Researchomatic, an essay.


Summary and My Thoughts:

Dante Alighieri (1265-1321). At the time of these poems he is 35.

Dante had been expelled from Florence, Italy with the charges of being a grafter. A grafter is a person who has been dishonest or has taken advantage of another for gain or profit. For example, money or power. In addition, Dante believed he was guilty of pride (this will be brought out in The Purgatorio). And, his sin set the poems in motion. It is because of his sin that he is in the “dark wood of Error.” The first Canto is aptly titled, “The Dark Wood of Error.”

I’d be lost without the “How to Read Dante”, “Translator’s Note”, “Introduction”, and explanatory notes. I’d done a little research on who is the best translator for the poems. I settled on John Ciardi. Another benefit to this edition is all three are in one volume.

It is a narrative type poem. It is an allegory.

The Inferno has 34 Cantos.

There are several themes. The theme most recognizable in the poem, The Inferno, is it is a journey. A journey down into The Inferno. The poem begins with the descent. It ends with the climb out of it.

The Inferno has several themes (actually packed with themes), symbols, and lessons.

Some of the themes are sin, death, perseverance, courage, bravery, justice, good and evil, suffering, judgment, temptation, self-control, grief, pride, and greed.

I believe if a reader is a Christian that person will see or understand things that a person who is not a believer will not notice, especially if the reader is Catholic.

A few favorite quotes:

1. “The light was departing. The brown air drew down all the earth’s creatures, calling them to rest from their day-roving, as I, one man alone,

prepared myself to face the double war of the journey and the pity, which memory shall here set down, nor hesitate, nor err.”

From lines 1-6 in the first Canto.

2. “‘No soul in Grace comes ever to this crossing; therefore if Charon rages at your presence you will understand the reason for his cursing.’

When he had spoken, all the twilight country shook so violently, the terror of it bathes me with sweat even in memory:

the tear-soaked ground gave out a sigh of wind that spewed itself in flame on a red sky, and all my shattered senses left me. Blind,

like one whom sleep comes over in a swoon, I stumbled into darkness and went down.”

From lines 124-134 in the third Canto.

3. “He said to me: ‘You will soon see arise what I await, and what you wonder at; soon you will see the thing before your eyes.’

To the truth which will seem falsehood every man who would not be called a liar while speaking fact should learn to seal his lips as best he can.”

From lines 121-126 in Canto 16.

Final Thoughts:

1. Dante is joined by other famous poets.

2. Dante sees interesting souls of those he knew and some he didn’t know but were infamous. For example, a few popes.

3. Those he saw are known by their sin.

4. Beasts or monsters are met on the journey.

5. There is a listing of sins and their level as to which ones are worse, etc.

6. I can understand why people do not read Dante’s works. They are daunting and intimidating. However, they are not impossible to read but only a challenge.

7. Gruesome scenes are described in several Cantos of biting, chewing, and the devouring of bodies.

8. There is a sinister feel to some of the souls and those Dante encounters.

9. The Inferno is not a feel-good happy story. It is not a romantic type story. It is serious, powerful, and memorable.

I have a question: Explain how there is a frozen lake in hell?

[Review] North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Publisher and Publication Date: Oxford University Press. 1854-55. My edition was published 1998.
Genre: Fiction. Classic literature.
Pages: 496.
Format: Paperback.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers of classic literature.
Rating: Excellent.

North and South is a read for these challenges: Victorian Reading Challenge, The Classics Club, Chunkster Reading Challenge, and Back to the Classics Challenge 2021.

For further information:
Oxford World’s Classics
The Gaskell Society
American Literature

Elizabeth Gaskell Goodreads author page

Elizabeth Cleghorn Stevenson Gaskell, 1810-1865

Other books by Elizabeth Gaskell:

Mary Barton 1848
Cranford 1853
Ruth 1853
The Life of Charlotte Bronte 1857
Sylvia’s Lovers 1863
Cousin Phillis and Other Tales 1865
The Grey Tales and Other Tales 1865
Wives and Daughters 1866
Gothic Tales is an assortment of her writings from 1851-1861. The Old Nurse’s Story is one of these stories. The e-book is currently .99 cents at Amazon.

Summary:

Margaret Hale is the heroine of North and South. Her parents are Mr. and Mrs. Hale. Margaret has one brother, Frederick, who was in the Navy but brought about a mutiny. He is now living on the European continent and in hiding for fear of court-martial. Her father is a minister in the Church of England. She has a cousin named Edith. Edith is Margaret’s age and early in the book she marries.

Margaret is from the south of England. She is a young woman of middle class.

The Hale family’s lives change when Mr. Hale resigns his position as a minister. The family relocates to a northern town in England. It is an industrial town. The mill owner is Mr. John Thornton.

My Thoughts:

This is the second time to read North and South. I’ve seen the film several times. It is a film produced by the BBC.
When I re-read a book I try and focus on something new. I usually pick a different character than when I read the book the first time. Focusing on someone new helps me learn something new about the book. This time I focused on Margaret’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Hale.

There are several reasons why I love this story:

1. Margaret is one of my favorite book heroines. She is steady and reliable. She is observant and cautious. She has a heart of gold. She is not a woman who can be persuaded to become involved with a person or an idea without time to think and weigh the decision. She is beautiful in appearance and character.
2. The romantic element has time to develop and mature.
3. Margaret’s parents come across to me as acting much older than their probable age. Margaret is about 18 or 19 when the story begins. Her parents would be in their 40s or early 50s. But they come across as being much older, 60s to 70s. Mr. and Mrs. Hale are insecure, frail, fragile people. Margaret shows remarkable strength in comparison to her parents. Margaret shows remarkable beauty in her character opposite her cousin Edith. North and South is a story of several comparisons: Margaret and her parents. Margaret and her cousin Edith. The industrial town of the north compared to the towns of the south. The industrial workers compared to the owners. There is also a comparison between Protestant and Catholic.
4. Mr. and Mrs. Hale are not a good match. They are a married couple who are not close. They do not bring out the best in one another. They are not a source of strength for one another. They are not a couple who are transparent and honest. Their strength seems to come from Margaret. She is more like a parent than they are. This is intriguing for a story.
5. Mr. John Thornton is a bit of a brooding, serious type character. It is never voiced, but I believe he is lonely for a wife. He is at an age when he no longer wants to share a home with mother, but have a wife and help-mate. I felt empathy for him in the story.
6. Mrs. Thornton who is John’s mother. She comes across as a sour tart. However, there is something I immediately like, she is a person who states how she feels and this is a breath of fresh air. Whether I like what she always says is another matter. She too is a comparison against Mr. and Mrs. Hale.
7. A good, solid, satisfying closure for the story.

I don’t understand exactly why Mr. Hale wanted to leave the church. This is skimmed over. It is vague. However, through their demeanor and behavior I understand how in this type of situation people feel ashamed, disgraced, embarrassed, and humiliated. His career as a minister placed him in a distinct class station. When he left there would be gossip. Those people would treat the minister and his family differently. Add to this is the situation of their son and what happened to him. Both of these issues are too much and the Hale family would need to relocate.

Themes in the story: family honor, romance, suffering, judgment, conformity, beauty, greed, charity, tolerance, grief, kindness, death and dying, courage, and compassion.

[Review] The Count of Monte Cristo (Abridged) by Alexandre Dumas

Publisher and Publication Date: Barnes and Noble Classics. 2004.
Genre: Fiction. Classic literature. Classic French literature.
Pages: 608.
Format: Hardcover.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Classic literature readers.
Rating: Good.

This is the first Chunkster size book for that reading challenge I’ve finished in 2021.

This book is read for the 2021 Victorian Reading Challenge.

This book is also read for The Classics Club.

This book is also read for Back to the Classics Challenge 2021. #4 A book written in not my first language. “4. A classic in translation, meaning any book first published in a language that is not your primary language. You may read it in translation or in its original language, if you prefer.”

I’ve had this book in my TBR piles several years. I’m excited to cross it off the list of books to be read.

Link at Barnes and Noble.

Alexandre Dumas, 1802-1870

Biography on Alexandre Dumas

Goodreads author page

The Count of Monte Cristo was first published in a serialized form. The French title: Le Comte de Monte-Cristo in 1844-1845.

Summary:

France. 1815.

Edmond Dantes has everything going for him. He has a loving father. He is in love with a beautiful woman he is engaged to marry. He has a career as a captain of a ship. He is young and handsome.

There is a man who is very jealous of Edmond. He plots to destroy Edmond. Edmond is accused of treason. His sentence is in a prison fortress built on a small island. Edmond wastes away in his prison cell for 14 years. During this time, Edmond develops a friendship that becomes a lifesaver. And, Edmond plans his revenge.

My Thoughts:

I like The Count of Monte Cristo, but I am not in love with the story. It is not a story that swept me away like Les Miserables or other five star/excellent classic literature books I’ve rated. But it is a good, solid story.

It is a simple story to follow.
It has heroes and villains.
It is told in a chronological order of events.

A man who has everything going for him in life and it is stolen in a brief moment. A great injustice is done to Edmond. I have empathy for his plight. I feel an investment in what is going to happen. I felt surely with a chunkster page book a reckoning will come.

It is a story that in the beginning pages I felt sadness and anxiety. However, the story has a good building up and leads to a satisfying closure.

Themes in the story: betrayal, ambition, courage, redemption, revenge, perseverance, honesty, good and evil, deception, heroism, honor, suffering, judgment, injustice, justice, self-control, empowerment, and grief.


(Review) Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Publisher and Publication Date: Yale University Press. 2003. First published 1603.
Genre: A tragedy in five acts. Play.
Pages: 249.
Format: Paperback.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Classic readers. Readers of Shakespeare.
Rating: Excellent.

Hamlet is a tragedy in five acts.
I have read this a second time because of a historical fiction book: A Man of Honor by J.A. Nelson. It is also a tragedy read for The Classics Club challenge.

The original title: The Tragicall Historie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.

The play is available to read for free at MIT and The Folger Shakespeare.

To read more information:
Britannica
Royal Shakespeare Company
WilliamShakespeare.net

Title page of 1605 printing.
Horatio, Hamlet, and the ghost. Artist is Henry Fuseli. 1789.

Summary:

Denmark. Early 1500s. The royal house of Denmark.
Hamlet is the prince of Denmark. His father is King Hamlet. His mother is Gertrude. His father’s brother, Claudius, murdered King Hamlet. Claudius became king and married Gertrude.
A ghost appears to Hamlet. The ghost tells his story. Hamlet seeks revenge.

My Thoughts:

Hamlet is one of my three favorite tragedies of Shakespeare. The other two are Macbeth and Julius Caesar. I’ve read several others but these three are my favorites.

To read Hamlet is not the same as to “experience” the drama unfolding visually. To experience Hamlet is to take it all in with the senses.

I am not an actor, but it helps to read aloud the tragedies of Shakespeare. I feel the same way about poetry. Reading poetry aloud is better than to read it silently.

Several reasons why I love Hamlet:
1. Hamlet is absorbing, emotional, and evocative.
2. Hamlet is memorable because of the characters, dialogue, plot, conflicts, mood, and setting.
3. Hamlet requires thought. For example, some questions and thoughts I had while reading: Is Hamlet truly mad? The other characters seem to believe he is mad. They have conversations wondering if he is mad. Does Shakespeare want me to believe he is mad? Is this a distraction in Hamlet? Is this a ploy?
4. I feel empathy for some of the characters. However, I do not feel any of them are people I admire. They are not characters who I can say I love. They are certainly memorable.
5. The language of Shakespeare is sweet music to my mouth and ears.
6. I love several lines from Hamlet.
“Murder most foul, as in the best it is, But this most foul, strange and unnatural.” -Ghost. Page 43.
“Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,” –Hamlet. Page 98.
“Now cracks a noble heart. Good night sweet prince, And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest! Why does the drum come hither?” -Horatio. Page 225.

(Review) Bleak House by Charles Dickens

Publisher and Publication Date: Penguin Classics. 2003. First published 1853.
Genre: Fiction. Classic literature. Victorian literature.
Format: Paperback.
Pages: 1083-this includes all supplementary material. The story itself is 989 pages.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers of Charles Dickens, classic literature, and Victorian literature.
Rating: Excellent.

Link at Amazon
The Kindle is free at this time.

Bleak House was first published in a series, 1852-1853. It was published in one volume in 1853.

I’ve read several of Charles Dickens books.
1. David Copperfield.
2. Hard Times.
3. Oliver Twist.
4. A Tale of Two Cities.
5. Great Expectations.
6. A Christmas Carol.
7. Bleak House.
In January, I plan to start reading The Old Curiosity Shop.
David Copperfield is my number one favorite book!

Front cover of the serial cover that first published Bleak House. The series ran from 1852-1853.

Summary:
The time period is probably the 1830s.
England is the setting.
A lengthy litigation case tied up in Chancery court proceedings is Jarndyce and Jarndyce. Two young people who are at the center of this case is Richard Carstone and Ada Clare. They are young adult cousins. John Jarndyce is their guardian.
Esther is the heroine and the only first person narrator in the story. She was raised by a critical and unloving godmother named Miss Barbary. Her life with the godmother is lonely and sad. After Miss Barbary’s death, Esther is placed in an establishment where she can be educated to be a governess. It is John Jarndyce who arranges her schooling. He is also the one who hires her to be Ada’s companion. Esther is a person who has a strong lack of vanity. She is humble. She rarely looks in the mirror; and, her feelings about her looks will become more apparent in the story towards the end. She is a character who is strong in positive traits. She is a true heroine.
Lady Honoria Dedlock is married to Sir Leicester Dedlock. It is apparent early in the story Lady Dedlock hides a secret.
These are the three main plots in the story.

There are several subplots along with a long list of characters.

There are internal and external conflicts.

Themes in the story are illegitimacy, death, dying, revenge, bravery, loyalty, perseverance, honesty, compassion, love, shame, honor, and romance.

My Thoughts:
I love, love, love Bleak House. The more I think about this story the greater respect I have for it.
It is a huge—epic story. It encompasses so much terrain. I feel Charles Dickens crafted a superb story. It holds it all in terms of what a story can share with a reader.

My favorite points of Bleak House:
1. Charles Dickens is a master at manipulating me by pushing, pulling, and moving me along through the story to the last page.
2. Dickens creates characters not only with unusual and memorable names, but their personalities are dimensional and demanding of attention.
3. The use of imagery is always a favorite with me. The story begins with a fog that will not go away. The fog is “everywhere.” It hangs on and impacts everyone.
4. I have strong empathy, like, dislike, disgust, or anger at characters.
5. Moral lessons in the story. I’m referring to how people should be treated humanely and with empathy.
6. I feel this is a story I can read multiple times and learn something new each time.
7. Bleak House is a reminder of the things most important in life.

Why does the story Bleak House matter?
One reason is the example of the ridiculous lengthy court proceedings of Jarndyce and Jarndyce. A change in court proceedings happened later in the 19th century.
A secondary reason is the shame and energy it takes to hold on to a secret.
This story tells me it is always wrong for people to abuse a child because of what some in the adult world has decided is the correct response.
Charles Dickens is telling me about his world. He wanted to bring to light a kinder place than the one existing in Victorian England.