Thursday, August 13, 2015

Book Review: The Figure of Beatrice by Charles Williams

One story recounted in The Fellowship is that Dorothy Sayers was inspired to translate the Divine Comedy (into a really good translation) by the enthusiasm of Charles Williams, the weirdest Inkling. I was intrigued by this and looked up Williams's The Figure of Beatrice -- and I sensed the same inspiration.

Before, I was a typical Dante reader: I made it through the Inferno easily, then gave up on the first terrace of Purgatorio. I didn't get it, and I'd heard that Paradiso was even more obscure. In The Figure of Beatrice, Williams is able to lose himself so much in Dante that through him I saw the beauty and practicality of Dante's final two volumes. To get there, Williams takes you through Dante's works in order. I still don't get Convivio or De Monarchia the same way that I "get" Vita or the Divine Comedy, so a few parts of Williams' book were hard going (and a few passages are ethically knotty), but the reward is enormous. There is treasure laid up in heaven here.

The other thing that surprised me about this book is how personally practical is was to me. This was a healing book that I've needed for more than a year now. It allowed Dante to speak through the centuries, and what he has to say is intensely relevant, especially as translated by Williams. I actually found myself thinking when reading social media that Dante's perspective would help bring "peace and direction," in Williams' words.

The point of this book is not just to be able to read this book, but to be able to read all the books from one of the greatest writers in history. So you can see that in the next few months there will be posted reviews for Purgatorio and Paradiso!

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