Burn Baby Burn, Disco...
Posted by Karen R on October 28, 1997 at 14:41:41:
Now, what does Dante's Inferno have to do with this book? Apparently, lots. Have you noticed how many times his name is mentioned? This book should be put out on the Web in hypertext, with full search capabilities!!!
Early on, Roland describes the Ash Factory as the Inferno and the British Museum's Reading Room as "Paradise." Blackadder's assistant is named Paola (more on that in a bit), the feminine version of a famous character in the Inferno. Dante's name keeps popping up all over the place, in Crabb Robinson's diaries (BTW, he's real like pretty much all of the references). Well, I never read Dante's Divine Comedy (3 vols.), so I began skimming around the texts and some criticism and wound up with the following:
In an earlier post about the narrative structure, I quoted the part where Roland had a vision of the two of them reading the letters together:
he had a vision, which he now saw was ridiculous and romantic, of their two heads bent together over the manuscripts, following the story, sharing he had suppposed, the emotion.
This scene is supposed to invoke the image of the most famous pair of lovers in the Inferno: Francesca and Paolo. Their story is one of being condemned to Hell for the sin of lust. This being one of the early cantos (V), the Pilgrim is pretty naive and, instead of learning anything about morals from her story, feels compassion and pity. He buys Francesca's story, lock, stock and barrel. However, her story is full of holes. She has turned the truth upside down and omitted a number of important facts.
Let me explain. She tells the pilgrim that "love" is the cause of all her troubles, but love is not what she describes. She describes passionate,lustful acts. She also says that the person who did this to her should be condemned to the deepest circle of Hell. Well, the facts of the story are that both F&P were adulterors. F's husband was the one who slew them both.
The more important part is when she describes the point at which love manifested itself. She and Paolo were reading a book about Lancelot del Lac and how love constrained him. She describes the scene:
We were alone and had no misgiving. Many times that reading drew our eyes together and changed the colour in our faces, but one point alone it was that mastered us; when we read that the longed-for smile was kissed by so great a lover, he who never shall be parted from me, all trembling, kissed my mouth. A Galeotto was the book and he that wrote it; that day we read in it no further.
So what, I hear you say!! First off, she has reversed the roles of Lancelot and Guinevere (Guinevere initiated the kiss); therefore, Francesca is a liar and we should not believe anything she has to say. Some interpretations, emphasize the common medieval view that woman were daughters of Eve, tempting Adam to commit the first sin in the Garden of Eden.
Second, the line about Galeotto being the book apparently has become a catch phrase in literary circles, meaning take this with a bit of irony. Sort of a caveat emptor for readers about what the author has set down.
Third, Francesca and Paolo mimic what they read (Paolo kisses her) and then they stop reading at that point. They don't find out how the story will end.
We know how the Lancelot-Guinevere story ends. Because he is unpure, Lancelot is unable to succeed in his quest to find the Holy Grail. Our Knight Roland dismisses this lovers' scene and will thus remain pure so that he can continue with his quest.
So what do we learn from all of this. Lust and passion are not love. Their temporary pleasure together in lust has become their own particular torment in Hell.
The best interpretation of this scene comes from George Santayana:
"Can an eternity of floating on the wind in each other's arms be punishment for lovers? That is what passion is, if left to speak for itself, would have chosen. It is what passion stops at and would gladly prolong for ever. Divine judgement has only taken it at its word....Abandon yourself, Dante would say to us,...abandon yourself altogether to a love that is nothing but love, and you are in Hell already!"
I know this is long, but there is one more point. While I've been marking up the text, I put little question marks next to Maud's unease with the lighting in Seal Court. She was "worried" by it; "disturbed by the degree of discomfort represented by the sad lighting." What is this all about. Well, perhaps, this too can be tied to Dante, but this time to Il Paradiso. In that volume, which I don't have, evidently Light is Divine Love. From Paradiso V, "Beatrice describes the relationship of all objects of love to love's original source quite clearly, again using the image of light...."
Oh, well, enough of this for now.
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