Dante Club, The ~ Matthew Pearl ~ 4/03 ~ Book Club Online
Joan Pearson
March 27, 2003 - 03:24 am

A "divine" mystery, a compelling blend of historical fact and fiction!

click to meet the poets

In 1865, a group of poets, calling themselves "The Dante Club", Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes and James Russell Lowell are finishing up the first translation of The Divine Comedy in America, when a series of murders break out in Boston and Cambridge. The poets recognize the killings as based on the description of Hell's punishments from Dante's Inferno and resolve to solve the case themselves. Right on their heels is the outcast mulatto, Nicholas Rey, the first black member of the Boston PD. Solving this case is important to him, too. (This is 1865, remember!)

While you can fully enjoy the mystery without any knowledge of Dante, you are welcome to join our discussion of the Inferno which will be going on simultaneously. Some of us plan to participate in both discussions to provide an exchange of ideas. Don't miss this experience on any level - mystery, history and/or literary.

|| The Dante Club's Official Web Site||Matthew Pearl on Historical Fiction||
||Longfellow's Poems||
|| Fugitive Slave Act
Longfellow's Study in Craigie House ||
|| Atlantic Monthly ~ 1865, 1866, 1867, 1868|| Dante & the Death Penalty - Matthew Pearl||
Electronic text - Longfellow's translation
Jo Meander - Discussion Leaders - Joan P.

LOWELL - horeselover||BURNDY & CAMP - Jo|| LONGFELLOW & HOLMES - Marvelle||


Readers' Guide ~ DANTE CLUB

Joan Pearson
March 27, 2003 - 06:03 am
Whether you are a mystery buff, love the historical, or enjoy delving into the Great Books for the first time in a long time...this book will be sure to grab and hold your attention on some level.

The setting is 1865, the aftermath of the Civil War. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is translating the final cantos of the Inferno along with fellow poets and scholars, when they turn into the detectives to solve the murders, punishments that suit the "crimes" of the victims...just like in Dante's Inferno

To enjoy this thriller, you don't HAVE to be taking part in our discussion of the Inferno, though we'd love to have you join that one too. There will be enough of us here from that discussion to help out with questions you might have regarding Dante's punishments.

The author, Michael Pearl has enthusiastically agreed to take part in this discussion of The Dante Club. Of interest, he is also the editor of the Modern Library edition of Longfellow's translation of the Inferno. We're set! Glad to have you with us! Just don't give away the ending if you've finished the book. That will be the most difficult task of all! The rest is just plain fun!

March 28, 2003 - 12:45 pm
If I cant get the book on time can I still join in the discussion? It sounds like something I have read but maybe the plot has been used before. faith

Joan Pearson
March 28, 2003 - 03:08 pm
OHO! Fae! A good question for our author, don't you think? This book was just released, so you might now know who dun it...but knowing you and your uncanny powers, I wouldn't be surprised if you figure it out even if you haven't read it! Just DON'T tell! Do join us here...I'll meet you "down" in the Inferno.

March 28, 2003 - 03:44 pm
This is exciting; a Great Book discussion on Dante and this mystery! This is my first time in Books where the author generously agrees to participate. Count me in.

FAITH, The Dante Club may be at your local library. My library has it but I was #48 on the waiting list. I finally opened my piggy bank & bought the book (B&N has a super price).

JOAN, JO and PAT, love the heading.


March 29, 2003 - 04:13 am
I went in my piggy bank and bought the book. I love historical mysteries, and I want to know more about Nicholas Rey. I would like to know more about the Civil War too. I can't promise to be an active participant, but I will follow along with the reading everyday.

Joan Pearson
March 29, 2003 - 08:37 am
Marvelle, we are all delighted to have Matthew Pearl participate in this discussion. Will you check the best seller list in your Sunday paper and see where The Dante Club is in your part of the world? We are fortunate that this busy author will be in our midst.

And Hats...of course lurk, but once you get into this book, you will find it soooo unintimidating (unlike the Inferno itself), that I'm sure you will find yourself actively participating. Your insightful comments are ALWAYS appreciated, I hope you know that!

Waiting for Jo ...last I heard, she was reading the book...let's hope she doesn't read to the very end, or she'll have to sit on the the identity of the perpetrator all month! ahahaha... Glad to have you and broken piggy banks aboard!

Jo Meander
March 29, 2003 - 10:02 am
Joan, here I am! I can take no crediat, Marvelle, for the great heading, but I'm reading and willin' to keep up with things here once we get started. We have a wonderful group, and I'm grateful for that!

March 29, 2003 - 03:48 pm
Durn! I'll be gone smack-dab in the middle of this discussion, but I may still try to participate....

March 30, 2003 - 08:29 am
I have ordered both books and hope to have them when the discussion begins.

March 30, 2003 - 08:39 am
Matthew Pearl in an interview said that you don't need to know Dante's Inferno in order to enjoy this mystery. He was glad, however, that readers got excited enough about Dante to read the actual Inferno. I'm reading both the mystery and Longfellow's translation of the Inferno because it is a great chance to read, learn, and have fun at the same time.


Joan Pearson
March 31, 2003 - 07:10 am
Mme! "Smack-dab in the middle?" That'll work. As long as you come back. How long will you be gone? I'm sure M.Pearl - and the rest of the assembled will enjoy your comments - you have a way of getting right to the heart of the matter, telling it just as you see it.
And Jo, pull up a another chair for George too, will you? He'll brave both discussions - some of us will be reading THE INFERNO OF DANTE at the same time, drifting back and forth into discussions of the poem and the mystery. We're hoping this venture will enrich both discussions!

Everyone is welcome, spread the word! We start on 4/15.

Matthew Pearl
April 1, 2003 - 10:09 am
Dear all,

I'm so happy you'll be reading my novel, The Dante Club, as well as Dante's Inferno, and that Joan was kind enough to invite me to participate. I look forward to a lively and thoughtful discussion. As for me, I'm happy to talk about the history, the fiction, the writing process, the publishing process, just about anything (except for one question I got at a booksigning in San Francisco, which was "how much money did you make on the book?").

Joan Pearson
April 1, 2003 - 11:18 am
Matthew! You found us! Super! The man with the answers. We look forward to having you in our midst. I'll bet even you don't have the answer yet to the San Fran question. Your book is really hot!

Big Welcome to our own Dante club.

Ann Alden
April 1, 2003 - 02:02 pm
Joan, I am 77th on the library list so will take a brief trip up to the local B&N to price it there. This book really sounds good and its nice to have new mystery to read as I am partial to them.

Welcome, Matthew! We are all looking forward to hearing from you when this discussion gets started.

April 1, 2003 - 04:08 pm
Welcome, Matthew!

Thank heaven I have time to go get the book. I thought this discussion was starting today. So glad that it isn't.


Joan Pearson
April 1, 2003 - 05:53 pm
Super, Ann! And Maryal is going to be a roving player too, back and forth between the Inferno and the mystery! I've heard that Fran O will be making her way here as well. The more the merrier! The more lips that need to be kept zipped. I refuse to read the ending, until we get there. We're going to discuss this book in parts, not considering the end until the last week. So if you don't want a punishment to suit the "crime" you'd better not give it away!

Tomorrow evening Matthew Pearl will stop in Georgetown in DC as part of his exhausting book tour. Will tell you all about it tomorrow, although we will have him in our midst to answer our questions...................

Jo Meander
April 1, 2003 - 07:15 pm
The AUTHOR! GREAT!!! WELCOME MATTHEW!!! And welcome to all who have joined our discussion! It will surely be a lively one, with the author involved and the opportunity to bounce back and forth between hell and history!

April 2, 2003 - 01:09 pm
I haven't read "The Inferno of Dante" since college, But I love mysteries and hope that enough will come back to me as I read "The Dante Club." If not, it will be a good excuse to reread it. I will try to get "The Dante Club" before the discussion starts. I'm new to the Book Group, so will probably lurk for a while before joining in.

April 2, 2003 - 03:01 pm
Welcome, horselover !

I think you will find this to be a friendly group.

April 3, 2003 - 11:09 am
I got an English translation of "Inferno" from the library, but had to buy a copy of "The Dante Club." It's a very popular selection, which pleases the author, I'm sure.

April 3, 2003 - 11:32 am
horselover (I really like your name, by the way)--I bought the book today too. Since it is on the bestseller list, it is 20% off, at least at Barnes & Nobel.

Joan Pearson
April 3, 2003 - 12:51 pm
Horselover, welcome to "the club"...both discussions? This is great. Last night Matthew Pearl appeared in DC on his book tour - among other things, he told us his publisher stipulated that The Dante Club NOT be a "smart" book - one that required famliarity with Dante's Inferno...but he added that he hoped the book would entice the reader of the Historical Fiction to look into Dante's work. M. Pearl was so enthusiastic about the book - you might want to read hear some more about what he had to say. Remember, he will join us here to answer other questions that you may have.
Matthew Pearl on tour in DC

Again, welcome to the club, horselover!

April 3, 2003 - 07:02 pm
please add my name to the dante club discussions. thank you.

Joan Pearson
April 4, 2003 - 12:51 pm
antoinette, you are welcome! I see you are in the Inferno discussion too. Wonderful!

April 8, 2003 - 07:24 am
Both books have arrived and I look forward to the discussion. The Inferno looks a little daunting so the discussion should be a big help.

April 8, 2003 - 11:55 am
I hope no one reads the beginning of "The Dante Club" right after a meal, unless you have a strong stomach. Just a friendly warning.

April 8, 2003 - 11:58 am
(heh)(heh heh)

I know exactly what you mean.

Joan Pearson
April 9, 2003 - 04:45 pm
Do you suppose Dante's corresponding scene in The Inferno will be as graphic as this, horselover? Matthew? We'll have to be on the lookout for this...

April 10, 2003 - 10:49 am
Joan, At the beginning of "Inferno," Dante has:

These wretches, who never were alive, were naked and beset by stinging flies and wasps

that made their faces stream with blood, which, mingled with their tears, was gathered at their feet by loathsome worms.

Somehow, this does not seem as graphic and horrible as Matthew Pearl's detailed description of the dead judge. In "The Dante Club," you actually feel slimey after you finish reading that part.

April 10, 2003 - 11:30 am
Whoa, horselover! Wait. Don't give away any of the plot until we begin on the 15th (tax day+hell)!

Matthew Pearl
April 10, 2003 - 11:33 am
Horselover, you're right that Dante's description is quite succinct -- as are almost all the descriptions in his poem. We might think of it like the Bible, which describes rather large events in a number of lines. Look at Genesis, it's just a few lines about life in the Garden of Eden and the Fall of Man that Milton inflates into his mammoth epic Paradise Lost! So it is that in trying to grasp the impact of the details of such literature, our perspective must be of greater length than the original -- Dante, for whom there have been thousands of pages of commentary for each line of his poetry, is no exception. Besides the description of the Neutral's physical punishment, also look at their lamenting earlier in the Canto to get a sense of the depth of their pain, which makes Dante ask Virgil: "O Master, what so grievous is/To these, that maketh them lament so sore?" Dante invites us, perhaps, to investigate and ponder the details further by his brevity.

One note: in medieval times, it was believed that maggots or worms (the two were not distinguished) generated themselves out of blood. (if you think about it this would have made sense, as dead bodies were found with maggots in it). Of course, in "The Dante Club" it's a different type of maggot, as we'll see...

April 10, 2003 - 12:55 pm
Whoa is right! My copies of both books arrived but I have not had the opportunity to begin either. I do find Matthew's post intriguing and am looking forward to his commentary.

April 10, 2003 - 01:51 pm
Sorry, georgehd. It's just that i found Joan's question so intriguing. Matthew's post was also interesting. It's absolutely true that the skeletal descriptions of events in the Bible have given rise to a multitude of novels inspired by those stories, from "Moby Dick" to "Jaws."

I will try to restrain myself until April 15.

Has anyone ever seen the TV show, "CSI." There is a lot of info about maggots, and the modern day use of them in crime solving.

April 10, 2003 - 03:35 pm
Ah yes, horselover, I have seen CSI which I love. Haven't missed very many of them.

Joan Pearson
April 10, 2003 - 06:47 pm
I cannot resist entering the discussion here...not going ahead into the story, Mr. George, but I do think some of the remarks in Professor Watkin's preface to the book are relevant to this maggot "pre-discussion."

When Professor Watkins was preparing his remarks for the preface, he had concluded that Matthew's 'expansion of Dante's brevity' "advanced fable rather than history." Thanks to Lexis Ne xis he was able to pull up an amazing account of a young Massachussetts boy in in 1989, who suffered convulsions and then died from this same dangerous blowfly, screwworm species thought to have been extinct. During the autopsy, 12 of these maggots were discovered in his blood. It is believed that this case was a "laboratory-assisted renewal of the insects for research purposes." Interestingly, in 1865, when Longfellow was translating The Inferno there had been a maggot epidemic in MA, which resulted in the death of many livestock and some humans.

Professor Watkins then had a group of eight teaching fellows go over The Dante Club "line by line" and has since, changed his tune. He ends his preface with the caution:
"Please, if you continue, remember first that
words can bleed."

I'm scared. I hope Matthew will expand on this when he returns...

  • SN policy permits the DLs to post graphics and photographs if they enhance the discussion. If you have such material to post, send them on to us and we'll get them up for you.
  • ALF
    April 11, 2003 - 11:54 am
    Joan was right. I can not NOT have my own copy to write and make comments in and Matthew's kind acceptence to join us prompted me to go to my local bookstore and purchase The Dante Club. I also purchased The Inferno translated by John Ciardi, whoever the heck he is. It says he's a distinguished poet and professor having taught at Rutgers and Harvard U. He is no longer with us but has joined the depths of Dante's journey, I 'spose.

    I spent a good deal of time @ the bookstore trying to choose which would be best for our translation. One of the books had drawn each circle and made comments about each one. Another had the text in the original form and the explanation on the next page, but this cover caught my eye and Ciardi was the winner. I am now going to the couch with Mr. Pearl, er-ah, Mr. Pearl's book I mean, and begin my adventure into HELL! Taa-taa


    Joan Pearson
    April 11, 2003 - 05:01 pm
    Knew you wouldn't be able to resist, Andy. Welcome! Be sure to read Prof. Watkins preface...fascinating.

    April 11, 2003 - 06:16 pm
    Not everyone thinks maggots are horrible:

    The Inuit people once considered live maggots (fat and protein) a delicacy in their diet, and as a goodwill gesture always offered their guests the first morsels.

    A loaf of bread, a glass of wine, a juicey maggot, and thee.

    April 11, 2003 - 06:36 pm

    Some of you may be interested in this "Conversation With Matthew Pearl." I was surprised to find out he was a vegetarian, and so cannot eat maggots.

    April 11, 2003 - 07:09 pm
    Thank You for your clickable as I did enjoy it So Much.

    April 12, 2003 - 05:10 am
    horselover:  Thanks for the link, I enjoyed reading it.  Our Matthew is quite a guy.  He understands passion for literature.  Imagine - being contacted by Longfellow and Lowell's descendents.  What a marvelous thing to happen for Matthew.  I loved this one:

                         "As a writer of historical fiction, I believe you don't want to
                         fictionalize gratuitously, you want the fictional aspects to prod and
                         pressure the history into new and exciting reactions."

    Is that not what Dante was also attempting in his writing of Inferno 600+ years ago?

    He equates being a vegetarian with being non-violent!  I must think on that one and if I were him I would expect Stephen King to purchase the book not borrow it.

    Joan: I always get my $$$ worth when I purchase a bookI've read the preface by Watkins.  Maggots have long been used in medical treatment for decomposing of rotten tissue.  As mentioned, CSI frequently has Grissom examining maggots because they grow at constant rates and their dimensions lead to clues in regard to time & conditions of death.
    In fact, the forward is all that I did read yesterday.  After work I shall make my descent.

    April 12, 2003 - 07:32 am
    Horselover - ditto. Your link was most appreciated. Will start the book this weekend.

    April 12, 2003 - 01:27 pm
    Andy--Thanks for the name. Yes, it's Grissom (aka my favorite actor currently on TV along with whoever plays the male lead on Law and Order Criminal Intent--the one with the face that tells soooo much) who is the special expert on bugs on CSI. I have learned most of what I know about the lifespan of insects from that show.

    Looking forward to this discussion.

    April 12, 2003 - 03:45 pm
    Can anyone imagine a Police Chief conspiring to keep the identity of a Chief Justice, who is the victim of a gruesome (not Grissom, haha) killing, a secret today? Now there are reporters camped out at every police station, waiting to pounce on any bit of news and beat it to death.

    Joan Pearson
    April 13, 2003 - 06:04 pm
    Hello! Just in from a whirlwind trip to the forest lakes of New Jersey and then a night on the Jersey shore (yes, yes, we had lobster on the ocean!) Came in to see this nice surprise...Matthew Pearl has put us on his official web page- lookee here:

    And SN has put up two nice banners today too. Of course we are hoping for more participants, but you are all so enthusiastic that we shall have a grand discussion any way you look at it! Thanks for the link to the interview, horselover. I've been inundated with more in email. Need to get some dinner and will then look at everything closely...

    April 14, 2003 - 05:27 am
    The Dante Club is number 21 on this week's NYTimes!

    Joan Pearson
    April 14, 2003 - 05:42 am
    Maryal, I read the NY Times Book Review...YESTERDAY. Dante Club was #13 in the early eition! NY TIMES BESTSELLERS (hardcover fiction) 4/13

    So looking forward to opening day tomorrow!

    April 14, 2003 - 09:17 am
    As a great outing for New England area clubs, you can arrange a private group tour of the Longfellow House in Cambridge, in some cases given by author Matthew Pearl!

    Sounds like something those of us on the East Coast might consider.

    April 14, 2003 - 01:19 pm
    I checked out Matthew's Official Website and left a message. The webmaster has done a superb job for him- quite impressive. Tomorrow I'm going to hell!

    April 14, 2003 - 05:56 pm
    Hmmmmmm---I guess I must have read the wrong best seller list. Anyhoo, the news is even better. Congratulations, Matthew.

    Matthew Pearl
    April 15, 2003 - 05:56 am
    Is it coincidence we're starting our official discussion here on Tax Day? Dante, in fact, had much pecuniary trouble in his life, and survived by the charity of his protectors after being exiled and stripped of his wealth. Another good timing: The journey of the Inferno begins midnight of Good Friday, which is this Friday of course. You may want to get lost in the woods that day to celebrate. Actually, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan every year (this is the 10th) has an "all night" Dante reading at their church on Thursday night -- not quite all night, really, from 9pm to midnight. They have various folks read from the Inferno, this year they asked me to do so and I gladly agreed, among others slated to read are Frank McCourt and Harvey Keitel. In fact, I'm leaving for NYC for Passover today, but look forward to joining any discussion underway here when I return.

    Joan Pearson
    April 15, 2003 - 06:24 am
    Good morning, Matthew! Yes, there are several coincidences surrounding our April 15 start date...not the least of which is tax day - can't help but think of
    Dante's contrapasso concept - punishment always arises from the crime itself, not from the amount of damage it has caused to someone else; therefore it is always appropriate for the offense.
    We'd better keep this in mind from the start. We are discussing a murder mystery. Some of us have not finished the book. Some couldn't put it down and already know who-dun-it. Can you think of a worse crime than to reveal the culprit? We ask only one thing of you ~ that each week you check the discussion schedule in the heading and refrain from referring to anything beyond these pages in your posts. Now don't forget...
    Punishment for your crime will arise from the crime itself, not from the amount of damage it causes to another. It will be appropriate to the crime...and swift!
    It sounds to me like the Golden Rule, in reverse. Let's abide by BOTH of them, and we're sure to have a grand time on so many different levels. I loved the way we are pulled into the thriller aspect of the novel from the very first page, didn't you?

    ps. I'd love to hop a train up to NY to the Dante reading...Frank McCourt too? He has that devillish twinkle in his eye, doesn't he? We look forward to hearing all about it when you get back, Matthew. Sounds like so much fun!
    A happy, happy Passover to you.

    Jo Meander
    April 15, 2003 - 08:38 am
    Wow, wouldn't that be a great way to end Lent? Wish I could be at St. John the Divine on Thursday evening! I visited there once, ane it vibrates with atmosphere. It's more of an aesthetic place today than a religious one, I think. I do believe they even have jazz concerts! Maybe Matthew will fill us in when he returns.
    I agree, Joan, absolutely. I deliberately did not go beyond the first canticle because I have trouble in discussions when I have finished and others have not. It drives me nuts, because I have already formed conclusions I cannot discuss, and I would rather share in the gradual unfolding of events this time.

    April 15, 2003 - 08:56 am
    Hi, all! I got the book yesterday (last one on the shelf at Borders) and hope to catch up today. Spent all day yesterday doing taxes at the AARP free clinic (or whatever it's called).

    Alf, in my yout' I absolutely loved John Ciardi's poetry (wonder where I put his book). I'll bet his Dante translation is lovely too.

    April 15, 2003 - 09:08 am
    "Punishment for your crime will arise from the crime itself, not from the amount of damage it causes to another. It will be appropriate to the crime...and swift!"

    In real life, this is very often not true. Punishment is influenced by plea bargaining, by victim's impact statements (which are now allowed in most states), by the race and/or sex of the defendant, by Supreme Court decisions on the death penalty, and by the defendant's ability to pay a competent lawyer. Only rarely, in the case of a particularly hideous crime, is this the primary factor in punishment.

    April 15, 2003 - 10:36 am
    Yes to question 10: Would it be helpful to look at some of Longfellow's poems to understand him better? I've included a link of Longfellow's complete poems. His first book of poetry was Visions of the Night, published after the death of his first wife, Mary Storer Potter.


    Longfellow didn't write all sweetness and light as I once assumed. His first wife Mary accompanied him on his language-prep trip to Europe in 1834. During the trip they discovered she was pregnant. She was in ill health but they kept travelling; she miscarried and died.

    Imagine the grief and guilt of Longfellow! This shows in his first volume of poetry Voices of the Night, in the poems "Prelude" about grief, "Hymn to the Night" about reuniting at night with spirits, and "A Psalm of Life" about the need to continue with life and its occupations. You see a gradual gathering up of Longfellow's strength as he copes with grief.

    By the start of this novel in 1865, after the 1861 death of his second wife Fanny Appleton, Longfellow hadn't reached the comfort found in "Hymn to the Night" nor the affirmation of life in "A Psalm of Life." Some of the lines I find most moving and telling of Longfellow are in the 17th stanza of:


    There is a forest where the din

    Of iron branches sounds!

    A mighty river roars between,

    And whosoever looks therein,

    Sees the heavens all black with sin,

    Sees not its depths, nor bounds.

    This is pure grief and guilt following the death of Mary, his first wife. Not at all the "Village Blacksmith" of the bouncing rhythm and optimism.


    April 15, 2003 - 01:22 pm
    Matthew:  What a wonderful treat to have you here greeting us today.  I hope you enjoy your trip to NY.  I personally would give my eye teeth to join you for the readings.

    Joan & Horselover:  I'm not sure I agree with Dante on his contrapasso concept.  Punishment should not be meted out in accordance with the crime alone but in conjunction with the anguish, misery and agony that is inflicted on others..
    There are many unlawful crimes, many unrightous acts but what about the perpetrator of an a shocking  felony- the vicious, unethical scoundrel that abandons all morals and ethics?  These guys are not merely repulsive  but they are offensive, amoral offenders of justice.

    Yes, I felt drawn in right  from the get-go as Chief Kurtz investigates a terrible, nauseating , days old murder of a high official.  (What an oxymoron that is.)  Are there any other kind?  The details as mentioned by Nell Ranney seem most important in the solving of this murder, particularly as she describes the teeth, caked blood and flies massing about the body in the yard.  The maggots enshrouding the corpse were of particular importance.  His widow tells the Chief that Boston has eaten him alive.  NOW that is an important assertion, I'd say.   Remember - maggots can determine the approximate time of death, depending on their sizes and configurations.

    For once I have not read ahead of the assigned pages, so I will remain unaware right up to the end.  I love murder mysteries and will keep guesssing who this culprit is throughout the story.  Quietly of course.

    MMe:  I am thrilled that you have joined up with us on our mystery tour.  It is always a pleasure to follow your insights.

    April 15, 2003 - 08:10 pm
    Reading "The Dante Club" (and perhaps poking into "the Inferno") is going to be a real education for me. I just got it yesterday, and am already having to do a little research (note link to Fugitive Slave Act below.)


    Regarding quest. 7 and Mrs. Healy's suspicions about her husband. At this point I think she thought his death might be linked to perceived mistakes made as a judge forin her conversation with Rey she exonerates the judge's deeds as being required by law. Rey's story let her know that her husband "did the right thing" when he could. As for the judge's other mistakes, it will be interesting to see. They must have been doozies, according to some.

    This is going to be a fun book to read -- to pick out what's true and what's not, to find out more about these literary folk. (Thanks for the link to Longfellow, Marvelle.) I already have lots of questions, so will be lurking at least, for sure, and maybe you will answer them.

    April 15, 2003 - 09:46 pm
    Ann, thanks for the link. What an odious law that was!

    We know from the conversation between Nicholas Rey and Mrs. Healey that the judge was a kind man. He helped fugitive slaves himself until the Fugitive Slave Law (FSL) was enacted in 1850 and then, as a judge, he chose the law over his personal morals...or should I say morality? Was this choice right? Did the judge 'abandon all morals and ethics?' -- to use Andy's words spoken in a different context. If Healey did abandon morals and ethics for the law, should he have? Healey sent a free man into slavery (a life sentence) and most certainly to an ugly retribution for escaping initially.


    April 16, 2003 - 07:36 am
    Exactly why is it that Manning is so opposed to the translation of Dante's Inferno? Does the priggish Manning of Harvard really care about the society or is it his personal fear of the "wrath of hell" that makes him so threatening? I mean this is Boston and it is Harvard where each one of the triumvrate reigned at one point.

    I love Dr. Holmes, our medical expert. He is so full of himself but I must agree with his observation on "profound originalities" becoming far too plentiful. Heck ,we see that every week in the New York Times. How many times have you purchased one of those "best, spell binding, intriguing, well written novels" (blah-blah-blah) and find yourself scratching your head wondering who on earth could have critiqued such garbage?

    Was there really a clerk named Samuel Ticknor, I wonder? Is he green with envy as he climbs the publishing house chain?

    April 16, 2003 - 08:50 am
    Marvelle, Thanks for your link, and the info about Longfellow's wives. It's interesting that, in those days, there seem to be many more widowers, while, at present, there are so many more widows. This is probably the result of the poor quality of medical care then (despite Dr. Holmes), and the danger this posed to women in childbirth. It was really quite risky (almost torture) to have children in the 1800's.

    Another interesting difference was the state of law enforcement in Longfellow's time. Matthew describes the detectives as made up of "former rogues themselves." The only one who seems to defy this description is Nicholas Rey, the lone black detective. Yet he is the only one who cannot carry a gun, or arrest anyone without the presence of another officer. Boston obviously needed affirmative action.

    It's also interesting that Good Friday once fell on March 25, and now is almost a month later. I wonder if there will be a tape of the reading at St. John the Divine? It would be nice for those who can't be there to be able to hear it!

    April 16, 2003 - 10:27 am
    ALF---I think that Manning is against the translation of the Commedia because the world view is Catholic. There's a hell, a purgatory and a heaven. Staunch New Englanders do not want to hear such foreign dogma.

    Joan Pearson
    April 16, 2003 - 10:31 am
    Horselover, I agree with you...in our hell here on earth, punishment is negotiable, isn't it...a sliding scale, depending on who you know, how much $$$ you have, how good a lawyer you can afford. Not so in Dante's hereafter...Andy, it seems that in Dante's eyes, the INTENTION to commit a crime, the willful DECISION to do wrong, is the serious, punishable offense, regardless of the outcome.

    Yaaay, perceptive readers, Mme. and Pedln have books in hand and are speed-reading to catch up! Super! More sleuths on the trail...

    Thank you so much for the link to the Fugitive Slave Act, Pedln. That was sure a neat way to introduce Nicholas Rey into the story, wasn't it? A personal connection. If Judge Healey had once helped him stay in Boston, he can't be such a bad guy others perceived him to be once he passed the Act, which sent freedmen back to slavery...or could he? Marvelle, even though the judge once did a kind deed for one slave and did not directly do harm to countless others, if he did abandon his morals and knew what he was doing was wrong, then his crime would have been punishable in Dante's Hell, wouldn't it? As Ednah Healey noted, Boston was "eating him alive"...

    The maggots seem appropriate punishment then. Andy, you bring up Nell Ranny - wasn't she something else? I think I admire Longfellow's women. She managed to get the Judge's body infested with the flys and maggots into the house and then picked the maggots, one by one from his bleeding wounds. Why did she do this? (Didn't the blowflys come at her?) Why do you think the Chief is so desperate to keep her quiet about hearing the judge's voice after she got him inside. What's the big deal about the maggots feeding on live flesh? Shall we start the list of clues? ...hopefully this will help us to solve the crime before the culprit is even revealed. We'll definitely consider the Judge's "maggot enshrouded body" that Andy sites as an important clue. Do we add his teeth? What was the importance of his teeth being out of his mouth? Shall we add the fact that Judge Healey passed the Fugitive Slave Act...that's relevant, isn't it? Motive?

    Marvelle, many thanks for the link to Longfellow's poetry. Just lovely. The link is in the heading. His life then was not all sweetness and light before Fanny's death, then, as those on the outside suspected. To be able to express ones pain and sorrow in art is therapeutic, a blessing, isn't it? He appears to have lost this ability after Fanny's death, hasn't he?

    What is it about Dante's Inferno that captures his attention...even draws him back into life? Why this particular project?

    April 16, 2003 - 10:35 am
    Maggots don't feed on live tissue. Correct me, Andy, if I am wrong. If the Judge had spoken then he would still be alive and the maggot infestation would not have occurred yet.

    Joan Pearson
    April 16, 2003 - 10:41 am
    EDIT: Maryal, we are posting together! hahahaha

    I think that Manning is just representing the Harvard Corporation, which is opposed to the Dante translation getting published by its own famous poet/professors. It's Catholic...and it is also in Italian...not classic Greek, Latin, Hebrew. I guess I'm not clear about what attracts the famous poet/professors to Dante in the first place.

    Doesn't the Chief think this is strange that the maggots could be present if the judge isn't dead? Does he think that the judge's cry just didn't happen? Is he not uncomfortable surpressing this bit of evidence?

    Jo Meander
    April 16, 2003 - 10:48 am
    Marvelle, thanks for the poetry! It's helpful to know that Longfellow lost two wives, and that the poems after Mary’s death reflect the dark humor that descended upon him at that time. His grief is evident, and makes even more understandable the way he reacted to losing Fanny. No wonder he had difficulty expressing himself in poetry afterward. The translation must have been doubly important to him as a distraction after her passing. The daughters must have been a great comfort, also. There are several places where his references to them are very touching, but I don’t think they are in this first section.
    Pedln, thanks for the link to the Fugitive Slave Law, which makes it evident that Healy might have paid dearly for returning a runaway slave: heavy fines and least six months imprisonment were the penalties, according to the document. He did the right thing when he helped young Nicholas Rey to settle comfortably in Boston, and the wrong thing when he returned the fugitive slave, but under the circumstances he was legally caught in a way that would have jeopardized his position and his entire life in Boston. It was still wrong. Right is sometimes painful.
    ALF, Manning’s priggishness about The Inferno reflects the attitude of most of the Harvard Community at that time, including that of The Harvard Corporation, holder of the institution’s purse strings. The Inferno was viewed as a “Catholic” work, reflective of the tastelessness of popery and vicious in its condemnation of sinners to all those colorful tortures. Manning threatens Fields with having his publishing business undermined if the Corporation withdraws its support (p, 14) if Fields does not forgo the publication of Longfellow’s translation. And President Hill tries to press Lowell into giving up the translation on p. 31: “You must own that such frightful notions of God could not be sustained to our Protestant ears.” I love Lowell’s rejoinder: “Yes, we rather condemn people for eternity without the courtesy of informing them.” What is her referring to there? How does the way Harvard students were treated at the time reflect the beliefs of its founders?

    Jo Meander
    April 16, 2003 - 10:49 am
    Joan, I think I have read in two places that these critters eat only live flesh!

    Jo Meander
    April 16, 2003 - 10:56 am
    Clues: 1. Blood in the house, on floors and banister

    2. flys

    3. teeth beside neatly-folded clothes in Healy's bedroom

    4. white flag over body

    5. mound of legal papers on the floor in the study (where Nell dumps body out of wheelbarrow)

    April 16, 2003 - 11:45 am
    Oh, I hope the clues go up in the heading so we can track them!

    Puritans, intensely antipapal, were the prevailing influence in early Massachusetts history. Under that influence, Harvard College was established in 1636 "lest an illiterate ministry might be left to the churches" and "to provide for the instruction of the people in piety, morality and learning."

    Before Harvard College was established, all education was relgious. The Harvard Corporation -- which wasn't from the college but acted as overseer of the college -- was limited to state officials and a specified number of Congregational clergymen. The last public grant to Harvard College was in 1814. It wasn't until 1843 that other than Congregationalists were eligible for election as overseers of the College. This information gleaned from www.newadvent.org, the Catholic Encyclopedia.

    From the above it appears that the Harvard Corporation, and Manning, was anti-Catholic and only after 1843 would there be a process set up for change.


    April 16, 2003 - 12:09 pm
    I found the following information in response to the issue of the anti-Dante stance of Manning of Harvard Corporation and questions concerning attitudes towards immigrants. Even some of the rabid anti-slavery crusaders were anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic. See Boston's Irish History for an overview. The day after Reverend Lyman Beechers sermons against perceived Catholic Church influences, rioters attacked and burned down in 1834 the Ursuline Convent

    Today the more well known group of anti-Catholics belonged to the Know-Nothing Party. They kept their organization fairly secret and if a member was asked about the Party Organization they would reply I Know Nothing! , hence the popular name for the Party. For a short and clear rendering of the anti- feelings of the times, see Anti-Immigrant Sentiment which has some cool and telling graphics.

    The Reverend Lyman Beecher is known today as the father of Harriet Beecher Stowe and Henry Ward Beecher, and as being against slavery. His anti-Catholicism, including his incendiary sermons against the Catholic Church, are little remarked on (even in this linked biography).


    April 16, 2003 - 01:40 pm
    Who is Margaret Drabble? Since the woman referred to is wicked, I assume that she went to Hell but at least she was on time.

    How was Holmes "purgatoried in the Authors' Room"? page 18 bottom. Does this imply that the teller of the tale is Catholic? The existence of an Authors' Room is interesting - do they exist today, Matthew? Have you ever been purgatoried? What fun!

    April 16, 2003 - 01:45 pm
    Marvelle, I did find out who Drabble is but do wonder the reason for the quote. I see that there was a discussion in January. Was the Seven Sisters a good read?

    April 16, 2003 - 01:55 pm
    George, I didn't care for Seven Sisters which is Metafiction but I get a kick out of the quote which shows different levels of judgment. Eventually, I'll replace the wickedly punctual, or punctually wicked woman, when I find another quote that intrigues me as much or more.


    Ella Gibbons
    April 16, 2003 - 02:53 pm
    I do love a mystery and all of you have stated the case very well and brought important clues to our attention; however....

    there are a few items of interest in these first 55 pages that drew my interest to the case of Kenneth Stanton introduced by Professor Watkins in his preface - as he warned us this death "throws wide open the closed portal of Dante’s arrival." The blowflies, apparently extinct for 50 years and historically unknown to Massachusetts, apparently have appeared in 1989 due to a research project.

    But there are very strange blowflies that caused the death of Judge Healey in the year of our story which is ________. Mr. Pearl goes to great length to describe them:

    ”The insect….gurgled loud as a train’s engine…...about twice the size of a housefly and had three even black stripes across its bluish green trunk…..bulging eyes, of a vibrant orange color….something between the two, something yellow and black too. Copper: the swirl of fire."

    Is there any connection at all between these two deaths, both caused by blowflies?

    Jo Meander
    April 16, 2003 - 04:10 pm
    Ella, I believe that Matthew Pearl intends for us to make that connection: the maggots that killed K. Stanton (is he real or fiction, by the way?) are supposed to be the the same type found on/in Judge Healy's body.
    I think the MAGGOTS are a clue, and so is that strnge GROAN that Healy produces when he is supposed to be dead.

    Jo Meander
    April 16, 2003 - 04:22 pm
    George, I think Holmes is "purgatoried" because he would have preferred a solitary reverie among the literary mementos on the wall that often include his name rather than having to confront Fields about the check for his poem: the usual amount has been reduced, and he feels wounded and inferior to the other poets. He thinks they must be considered better than he is, because they are probably getting the full hundred dollars!

    April 16, 2003 - 05:11 pm
    Here's part of an article in the Encyclopedia Britannica on "larvae":

    "In contrast to highly specialized larvae, about half the fly species have larvae known as maggots. The maggot has lost the complicated head capsule of primitive flies; its pointed anterior end contains one or a pair of mouth hooks. The blunt posterior end has a pair of posterior spiracles (external airholes) that appear to the naked eye as black spots. Microscopically the spiracles are seen as a complex pattern of slits or pores that are useful in distinguishing species.

    Although maggots show structural uniformity, they are diverse physiologically. Most maggots feed on decaying organic matter, but there are wide differences in the food preferences of different flies. Eight “waves” of maggots have been distinguished; each wave attacks dead animals in a strict sequence as decay progresses from the newly dead corpse through rigor and putrefaction to mummification. Although some maggots appear only during a clearly defined stage of animal decomposition, the large voracious maggots of many blow flies feed on any animal matter, including living tissues."

    The only maggots I have ever seen were laid by flies in my garbage can many years ago in Illinois during a very hot summer. I opened the lid to put something else in, and the whole surface MOVED.

    I can't imagine pulling maggots off a host one by one.


    April 16, 2003 - 06:26 pm
    I've only read the first 55 pages and am hooked on the writing and characterizations -- feel already like I know Longfellow and Company. I intended to read further but....you know how it goes. If my research touches on anything that occurs later in the book it's purely unintentional; or else Matthew Pearl has layed the groundwork for future events in these first pages.

    Maggots, euwwweh!


    April 16, 2003 - 06:38 pm
    Thomas Sims, the fugitive slave, was a real person; Judge Healey is fictional. The Fugitive Slave Law (FSL) of 1850 had Northerners divided. Some supported it as being the Law and in hopes of keeping the South in the Union (Daniel Webster, Oliver Wendell Holmes); others did not (Thoreau, Emerson, Lowell).

    Dickinson, Whitman, and the FSL

    Drawing: Police take Sims back to slavery

    Morality vs duty or morality vs. law is still an issue today even if the topics change. Is justice a question to be decided by morality or law? The unrest of today is just a mirror of the unrest of the past. We see it in Dante's beloved Florence, in Boston of the 1800s, wars of the 20th and 21st Century....morality is still an issue.

    Need to take a break for dinner. More later.


    Jo Meander
    April 16, 2003 - 07:46 pm
    This is part of the article I found when I looked up cochliomylia hominivorax discussed in the preface:
    The New World screwworm fly, C. hominivorax, is a true obligate parasite of mammals. Female screwworms do not lay their eggs on carrion; instead they lay them at the edges of wounds on living mammalsor on mucous membranes associated with natural body openings such as the nostrils and sinuses, the eye orbits, mouth, ears and vagina. Virtually any wound is attractive, whether natural, for example from fighting, predators, thorns or disease or from tick, insect or vampire bat bites, or human-inflicted ...."
    The article goes on to describe the life cycle of the creature. It's yukky, but it does clarify the activity of the creature mentioned in the "Watkins" intro before the story of Healy's disaster.

    April 16, 2003 - 10:11 pm
    It's important as a clue that Judge Healey ruled in favor of returning a fugitive slave under the FSL of 1850 even though he personally was against slavery.

    Would the murderer have deliberately placed the maggots on the judge in some way as a way of signifying his sin?


    Joan Pearson
    April 17, 2003 - 05:53 am
    Good morning! Oh, my, you have all been busy gathering clues. We don't want to miss a one of them...Our Pat Westerdale has been kind enough to start up a page which will be inserted into the bottom of the heading. Will you check it out and see if there are more clues we should add? If you post here, we will add them to the list.

    Marvelle, yes, the Judge had a decision to make and he chose to enforce the law rather than follow his own moral code, his conscience. Dante's contrapasso, isn't it? Justice decided by morality or by the law? Dante says that punishment arises from the crime, not by the damage done, but by the very decision to go against ones' conscience.
    It occurs to me that the judge was already being "eaten alive" by his decision, as Ednah Healey described it. Sounds like a Dantesque punishment to me. The murder wasn't a necessary punishment...overkill. (I thought it really interesting, but not too surprised) that Oliver Wendell Holmes was FOR the decision to return runaway slaves! We need to watch him!)

    Here's Pat's page of clues to date (Thanks, Pat!)
    Clues leading to the Culprit

    Did you notice the little worm she added? Cute! She must be following this! More on that particular blowfly/maggot in a minute...

    Joan Pearson
    April 17, 2003 - 06:34 am
    Well, Ella! What a surprise. Yes, we do know that you enjoy a mystery. Your eagle eyes are very WELCOME here. Yes, yes, this particular blowfly you describe is not the ordinary housefly. I do think the author wrote the preface so that we would make this connection...as Jo pointed out yesterday. (Do you suspect that the preface was fiction...historical fiction, based on fact, of course, but fiction, nonetheless?) This fly's larvae are unusual in that they feed on living flesh...livestock and even some human cases have been confirmed. If you see anything with big orange eyes that look like this...run, don't walk.

    SN policy allows DLs of a discussion to post relevant photos.
    If you have any to share, post a link-we'll upload it.

    An important fact (might it be a clue?) is that this blowfly was not identified until until 1858...The first reported case of screwworm was made by Coquerel in 1858, from a human sample collected on Devil's Island, off the shore of Guiana.
    Up to this time, the appearance of maggots would indicate that the tissue on which they were feeding had been dead. I think the question we need to consider is whether Chief Kurtz would have known about the "new" living-tissue feeding maggot. Probably the inept coroner did not know it.

    The point is that the new maggot, the cochliomyia hominivorax was not something widely known during this period...who would know about it in Boston to use it as a murder weapon? Who knew about the existance of the maggot and knew Dante?
    Happy Sleuthing!

    Joan Pearson
    April 17, 2003 - 07:04 am
    Marvelle, I meant to thank you for the informatiion explaining the make-up of the Harvard Corporation. So these guys were not Harvard professor/dean types, but rather "state officials and a number of Congregational clergyman" who were anti-Dante publication. Didn't you just LOVE Field's response to Manning's veiled threat to withdraw all Harvard's publishing accounts if he published Longfellow's translation? As soon as Manning left, he advertised the translation!!! In the New York Tribune of all places! Why there, why not in Boston? hahahaah, Longfellow hadn't even finished the work! Loved it! Really like Fields!

    I must add that I'm still not sure what attracts the whole club with such zeal to the Inferno. They each seem to have different motivations, don't they? What is it about Dante that comforts Longfellow? Perhaps we have to read more of the poem to understand that...

    Jo Meander
    April 17, 2003 - 09:29 am
    Oh, Pat, I do love the little worm-detective!!!
    Joan, I just reread the intro material to INFERNO, and in M. Pearl's preface he points out that Longfellow's opening sonnet "imagines the act of translating Dante as entering a cathedral...as an intimate revelation of the translator's need to escape pain, to enact a spiritual release." Later he says ,"Dante's poem translated unspeakable emotions into representational form for Longfellow...." Lino Pertile, in his intro, says, "I suspect...that Dante's moral strength in the face of his stinging exile may have become a source of energy and courage, a model through which Longfellow could bear his loneliness and temper the rawness of his untimely widowhood."
    They both shed light on L's choice of a project after Fanny's death when he was unable to write his own poetry. That bit of Pearl's about translating "unspeakable emotions into representational form" grabs me when I put it beside some of the more horrifying unspeakables in The Inferno: is this how bad Longfellow's grief was? Evidently.

    April 17, 2003 - 11:42 am
    No trial provides a better basis for understanding the nature and causes of evil than do the Nuremberg trials which took place after WWII. Those of us who watched the trials expecting to find sadistic monsters were generally disappointed. What was shocking about Nuremberg was the ordinariness of the defendants. We all learned that men may be good fathers and kind to animals--and yet commit unspeakable crimes.

    It was decided at that time that "obeying the law" was not a defense for committing "crimes against humanity." How many of the compromises made in the name of preserving the union would, today, be regarded as crimes against humanity? How many of those "good" men like Judge Healey and even Dr. Holmes would, today, be thought guilty of war crimes or genocide. When everyone agrees to obey and enforce unjust laws, they can create their own Hell on earth.

    April 17, 2003 - 12:10 pm
    Joan:  Holmes loved the easy going sharing of information between his friends and the "brilliant spark" that was brought out during their isolation and their analysis.  They were great minds "segregating"  their diverse viewpoints as the translation progressed. I do feel that Holmes is the odd-man out here as the savagery of "the medieval nightmare" disturbed him.He came from a hell's fire and brimstone family upbringing and he "feared it would usher in a new Hell."

    Remember, too, his goal of becoming America's most famed novelist.

    Longfellow WAS the greatest of translators and this process must have afforded him companionship in his own isolation as he had pretty much declined most social obligations by this point.  He said, " I have done this work when I can do nothing else."  They also needed his name to sell the Dante book when completed.

    The confident, scholarly Lowell was compelled to join them as he understood Dante's Inferno.  I love this line of Matthew's:

    "Dante's Hell is part of our world as much as part of the underworld and shouldn't be avoided, but rather confronted.  We sound the depths of Hell very often in this life."

    April 17, 2003 - 12:21 pm
    What in the world does Dinanzi mean? this was the first thing that the beggar uttered prior to going thru the window. Is this a foreshadowing her?- Rey, as he descended, couldn't escape form the blurring words the man had chosen --You who Enter. You who Enter. Will our black policeman join us traveling the depths of Hell?

    Why all of the sudden does Putnam join us here? Other than spying for Augustus Manning and forewarning Holmes that his future will be in jeopardy, why is he sneaking about? Of what importance will he be, I wonder?

    April 17, 2003 - 01:50 pm
    Alf - I too noticed the word DINANZI and wonder if it is a clue??

    I am struck by Matthew's choice of words and his construction of sentences. When reading about Flaubert, I learned that he (Flaubert) spent hours searching for the right word, the correct phrase - writing and editing over and over. It was an obsession with him. I wonder if Matthew would comment on this when he rejoins us.

    April 17, 2003 - 02:02 pm
    Jo and Alf, appreciate the tie in to Longfellow's need to translate the Inferno. I have the Matthew Pearl edition of Longfellow's translation of the Inferno but will now reread the intros which I'd quickly read the first time. My forgetfulness proves that its dangerous to be so casual when reading!

    Alf I don't see how Lowell understands the Inferno, he seems so calm and self-possessed, but apparently there's something more to Lowell if he can "understand" in the way I take to mean he has been there or is there in Hell. Is this true of Lowell? What about the depictions of the rest of the Dante Club members? There may not be answers until later in the book.

    Horselover, excellent point about the Nuremburg trials and the ordinariness of the defendants who committed unspeakable crimes. And Joan, yes I loved Fields active defiance to Manning's threats too! Right on!


    April 17, 2003 - 02:02 pm
    If you type Dante and "dinanzi" into Google you get all sorts of Italian pages. You then hit "translate," and usually the word is not translated. It is simply left in Italian.

    However, I think the use of "dinanzi" we are looking for is in the inscription over the Gates of Hell, the last three lines:

    Dinanzi a me non fuor cose create
    se non etterne, e io etterno duro.
    Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate.
    (Divine Comedy, Canto 3, 6-9)

    Here's Ciardi's translation of these three lines:

    Only those elements time cannot wear
    Were made before me, and beyond time I stand.
    Abandon all hope ye who enter here.

    And here's another (sorry I lost the source):

    Before me nothing but eternal things
    were made, and I endure eternally.
    Abandon every hope, who enter here.

    Soooo, I think that Dinanzi may mean "nothing" or "no thing" as in "shade." See Joan's comment above on shades.

    I'm still working on it.

    Jo Meander
    April 17, 2003 - 02:09 pm
    Thanks, Maryal, for posting the translation. The poor devil who dived through the window also muttered "you who enter, you who enter"... didn't he? I do think that's a clue, George. "Dinanzi," too.

    April 17, 2003 - 02:34 pm
    Jo, we were posting at the same time.

    Maryal, according to the Collins Dictionary "dinanzi" is translated to mean:

    (verb) ahead;
    (prep) as in 'dinanzi a': in front of; and also in the presence of, before as in al presento ~ a me, or ~ad una tale situazione, faced with such a situation.

    In this case I think it might mean 'dinanzi a~' or in front of. The Longfellow translation reads 'before me' and the passage in Canto III that you've quoted is translated as:

    "Before me there were no created things,
    Only eterne, and I eternal last.
    All hope abandon, ye who enter in!"


    April 17, 2003 - 02:37 pm
    Ah yes, Jo, he did indeed say "Voi Ch'intrate" which Matthew Pearl translates for us in the book, "You who enter."

    Poor detective patrolman Rey gets those whispered words stuck in his head. He very much wants to know what they mean.

    April 17, 2003 - 02:39 pm
    Hey, Marvelle, thanks. That certainly makes more sense. I don't have an Italian dictionary. So, Dizanzi is a preposition!

    April 17, 2003 - 05:00 pm
    Maryal, here's the online version of the Collins Dictionary . It's pretty basic but would do for a rough translation.

    The words on the Gate to Hell reminds me of a reverse-Genesis.


    April 17, 2003 - 05:00 pm
    I was really intrigued by the relationship of Dr. Holmes and his son, Wendell Jr., or Wendy, as his father likes to call him. The relationship seems to have been close, but competitive. Wendell Jr., who was in law school at the time of "The Dante Club," eventually became even more famous than his father, and was definitely more morally sound on the subject of slavery than his father. His mother, Amelia, who also appears as a character in Matthew's story, was a strong abolitionist and Wendell Jr. followed her lead. His father, it is said, was not particularly supportive of the movement to outlaw slavery. In his senior year at Harvard, Wendell Jr. left the University to enlist in the Massachusetts Volunteers.

    Later in life, on the night of his 90th birthday address, Oliver Wendell Holmes, having served as a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, told a friend:

    "I wish that my father could have listened tonight for only two or three minutes. Then i could have thumbed my nose at him."

    Jo Meander
    April 17, 2003 - 05:01 pm
    How about the two personalities -- Holmes and Lowell? A no doubt facile distinction came to me just now after reviewing our posted questions: fear and energy. Holmes is preoccupied with himself as a successful poet and physician-teacher, and he fears losing the position he occupies at Harvard and in the literary world. He looks at himself in the mirror more than once in this first section, seeming to wonder what others see and, above all, what they think of him. He fears that his involvement with the Inferno translation threatens the success of his unpublished novel. He seems self-conscious and worried about his own future as well as the impression he makes upon others. Lowell is the opposite: he is energetic in his defense of Longfellow's work and eager to see it published. He, like Fields, has no fear of the Harvard Corporation and what effect it could have on his position at the university. He he is unmoved and even defiant when President Hill tries to influence him against the Inferno project.

    April 17, 2003 - 05:15 pm
    Jo, You are right. Lowell is definitely the stronger figure intellectually. Dr. Holmes was neither a great doctor nor a really great author. He probably knew this inwardly, which was the source of his fear of losing his reputation.

    Joan Pearson
    April 17, 2003 - 05:37 pm
    Hi everyone. Am at work right now...almost time to go home. Can't read the posts until then, but just had the thought that this is the night for the marathon reading of the Inferno at St. John the Divine in Manhattan. Our author is in heady company...

    Maundy Thursday Dante Reading
    I keep reading the first Canto of the Inferno, looking for where it says that Dante's visit through the depths of hell begins on Good Friday. I'm thinking that we'll find that information in later Cantos, but think it's interesting to note that tonight.

    Talk to you all in the morning after reading your posts...

    April 17, 2003 - 05:58 pm
    Jo and Joan, You asked whether poets today enjoy celebrity status -- I think, while he was still living, Robert Frost was somewhat of a celebrity. I believe he even spoke at JFK's inauguration ceremony. T.S. Eliot was also well-known while still living, and is still celebrated in the popular musical, "Cats." Dylan Thomas was also a popular figure, and Sylvia Plath achieved a cult following that still endures.

    Joan Pearson
    April 18, 2003 - 04:54 am
    Good morning! Horselover, I remember being caught under the Dylan Thomas spell....and memorizing lines from T.S. Eliot! Robert Frost's "miles to go before I sleep"... Yes they WERE giants back then. Today? Can you name the current US Poet Laureate? Do you have a favorite modern poet? Your mention of Frost at JFK's inauguration brought to mind the ubiquitous Maya Angelou, certainly a recognizable poet of our time. Probably gets rock-star recognition wherever she goes. We need to remember that this is how it is for the Dante Club poets at this time. Everyone recognizes them, their private lives are not so private...and everyone is aware and interested in what they are doing, writing.

    At this point in the novel, we seem to have two different stories evolving, without much obvious connection between the two.

    There's the drama surrounding the publication of the translation of Dante's work and the fleshing out of the members of the Dante Club and then Judge Healey's murder - very suspicious weapon and motive yet unclear. There are a few very weak links connecting the two stories at this point.

    Nicholas Rey knew the judge as a child, Nicholas Rey is working on his murder case when one of the rounded-up suspects in his custody flings himself through the glass to his death, but not before whispering the Italian words to Rey.

    You sleuths have identified the words as Italian, as lines from Dante, but Rey as yet is in the dark, so we çan't really count them as clues, can we? I'm wondering why the leaper whispered THOSE PARTICULAR words to Rey. Is he insinuating that there will be more killings, that this is only the beginning, that we are only now entering the gates of hell?

    Besides Rey there is another connection between the poets and the murder...Lowell is somehow related to Judge Healey. Can you think of anything else? At this point, no one is connecting the dots between Dante and the murder.

    I'm off to look closely at the points you brought up yesterday on the Dante Club characters...

    Joan Pearson
    April 18, 2003 - 08:00 am
    The Dante Club is made up of poets, some more famous and gifted than others, but poets all. They meet each Wednesday night to consider one canto. Do you get the idea that they translate together...they are poets, do they translate the lines into poetry do you suspect? Or do they translate, and then Longfellow transposes the translations into poetry? It IS interesting to look at each member individually, because they are all so different.
  • Longfellow - Thanks for helping me to understand better what draws him to Dante after the death of his wife. Jo, the idea of "translating unspeakable emotions into representational form"...(the process sounds very much like Lowell's "Proof of poetry".) Sounds.really beneficial - therapeutic. By the time Dante reaches Paradiso, he finds his Beatrice waiting for him there (Longfellow has already translated Paradiso and Purgatoria - saved Inferno for last, must opposite from the way Dante wrote the Comedy) I can see Longfellow gaining strength and hope from translating Dante's despair, yet courage and fortitude in the face of his pain. Wasn't it Lowell who talked him into the project? Was Lowell trying to help his friend out of depression when he suggested the translation?

  • Lowell - Jo writes of his energy. I see that. He seems to be the energizing force in the Club...the decision maker. Does he have the temperament of a poet, Marvelle? It would be interesting to look at some of his poetyr. Why is he not concerned at the threat to his position at Harvard? He is a recognized poet, a professor of the Living Languages - and conducts the Dante Seminar, taking Longfellow's place...he knows Harvard's views on the classics/vs.living language. (Jo asked an interesting question the other day about the way Harvard regarded its curriculum, its students. Makes you wonder what they thought about the controversy.) Matthew P.puts these words into Lowell's mouth (did research provide you with this, Matthew?:
    "The proof of poetry was in Lowell's mind that it reduced to the essence of a single line the vague philosophy that floated in all mens' minds, so as to render it portable and useful...ready to the hand."
    I love that. Can see better how transposing the poetry of Dante would be a help to Longfellow - reducing his emotions into useful, portable concepts.

    Actually this sounds like Lowell - a no-nonsense approach to viewing inner feelings, vague philosophy. I NEED to look as his poetry again!

    Oliver Wendell Holmes - as Andy puts it...is so "full of himself"...but is he? Jo brings up the "fear" factor. What do you think? Does he really believe latest is the great American novel? Even his wife does not. What we do know is that he doesn't want to see the Dante translation published, taking the spotlight from the publication of his own book. He must have less than thrilled at Fields leak to the NY Tribune about the about-to-be-published translation.'Yes, tension within the group...and yet they are certainly friends. We need to keep an eye on him...his ambitions make him weak, open to moral lapses, perhaps? Have you ever read Autocrat at the Breakfast Table? I have not. Do you recommend it?
    What I find interesting...Holmes is a writer, a poet and a man of science too. What sort of a doctor was he? He taught medicine, didn't he? He was applauded when he entered the "arena"...Horselover, why do you think he was not successful at what he did?

  • Joan Pearson
    April 18, 2003 - 08:20 am
    Can you hear the steady beat of the Civil War drums behind everything we are reading?

    Interesting to note that Wendy served in the War...also that Longfellow's oldest (but very young) son went off to War the day that Longfellow began his translation of the Inferno. Talk about feeling out of control, anxious and the need to retreat to another world...to Dante's world.

    It is interesting to hear that Lowell and Wendy are friends, especially after reading the bit that horselover posted that indicates how Wendy feels about Dad. More tension between Lowell and Holmes!

    George, yes, Matthew's choice of words and sentence structure continue to get my attention too. Almost as if the novel was written 100 years ago. Here's a word that caught my eye that I've been meaning to look up...chiaroscuro - any idea what that means?

    Andy, I don't know if there was a young green-with-envy Ticknor...I'm guessing that there will be a number of red herrings tossed in to divert our attention from the real bad guy. But I suppose we DO need to keep an eye on him too...

    April 18, 2003 - 09:53 am
    Joan, chiaroscuro is a term used in art and particularly painting. It refers to the use of light, shade and darkness in the work. Rembrandt is a master of such work.

    I found the following interesting "The force of Dante's poetry resonated most in those who did not confess the Catholic faith. ...This was why Holmes feared the Dante Club: He feared that it would usher in a new Hell, one empowered by the poets' sheer literary genius." "Words can Bleed." Is this an omen?

    Holmes seems a very selfish egotistical sort; are these the traits that cause one to go to Hell? I am looking for "hellish' traits in our cast of characters.

    The myterious man was found at the horsecar office. "He could have been coming from anywhere". Aha, I thought, the SARS virus in the 1860's. What was this man spreading? And later, same paragraph, "don't poke around that leaper... We've got enough trouble without calling the world down on our head for a man that died at our feet". Sounds like Chinese officials.

    And the offer of a reward on page 48 - Demonish greed is what makes the public respond. Another hellish trait.

    And on page 52 - in support of the Fugitive Slave Act. Compromise principals in order to avoid conflict. Another hellish trait.

    And I am puzzled as to why the author choose to include the first black policeman in New England in this tale about Boston, Hell, Poets etc. I suspect that Rey will prove to be a most interesting character, possibly the only one who is not corrupted by his society.

    Some time ago "shades" was posted and I cannot remember what was said. It can refer to a spector or ghost or more likely comes from Greek and Roman religious thought of "spirits of the dead inhabiting Hades".

    April 18, 2003 - 10:30 am
    "that strange GROAN that Healy produces when he is supposed to be dead." JO, It might interest you to know that, medically speaking, it is not uncommon for a body to appear to "groan" when expelling air at the moment of death or shortly after. Sometimes, the body may even appear to move as rigor sets in. Perhaps this is what the maid witnessed.

    JOAN, Dr. Holmes was better known as a writer than as a doctor. In a biography of Wendell Jr., his father is described as "one of the most talkative and entertaining personalities in Boston." Dr. Holmes first went went to law school, but dropped out and received a medical degree from Harvard in 1834. He did practice medicine for a short while, but when he was appointed professor of Anatomy, he quit practicing medicine to concentrate on lectures and writing. After his success with "The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table," he tried to repeat the success with "Poet at the......." Much like Hollywood does today with Rocky II, III, IV, etc.

    The terrible story of Fanny Longfellow's tragic death reminds me of the death of Frank Lloyd Wright's wife. A disgruntled employee sealed all the doors of his house except one. Then he set fire to the house, and as people tried to escape through the one open door, he killed them with an axe. Frank Lloyd Wright, who was not home at the time, was never the same afterwards. It was somewhat the same for Longfellow. He was not in the room, and was overcome by guilt at being unable to save his wife.

    April 18, 2003 - 10:38 am
    I think that the order in which Longfellow translated the Divine Comedy is most significant. Still grieving the death of his beloved wife, Fanny, he has no creative juices, but he is a linguist and he can still translate. I think he begins with the Paradiso because he wants to read about the heaven he hopes Fanny is in. It would have been more logical to begin at the beginning. But grief is a powerful emotion and dictates his actions.

    Dante the character, on the other hand, must begin at point minus 1 and travel all the way through hell to get to purgatory which he must travel through in order to get to the celestial city, Longfellow moves backwards.


    Jo Meander
    April 18, 2003 - 10:43 am
    horselover, why do you tink Lowell is more at peace with his first wife's death than Longfellow is with Fanny's death? Is it the obvious reason that he remarried and Longfellow did not, or is it the violence Of Fanny Longfellow's death that keeps the pain alive for him? Difference in temprament in the two? (I never heard that story about FL Wright's wife. Wow!)
    I knew about that after-death sound that can emit from the corpse, but when I connected it with the maggots (one hates to write it!) eating only live flesh, it makes me wonder about the whole ghastly event, and how soon the poor man is supposed to have died after being attacked. We are not sure of much, but I guess it's safe to say he was attacked!

    April 18, 2003 - 10:57 am
    Another reason for grief in this period hovers over the whole book. The date is 1865. The Civil War has only this year reached its end, having started in 1861. The war is there behind the characters, behind Rey who served in the Mass. 55th, the sister company of the famous 54th (Glory). Many of the young men in Boston have served in the war; some have seen horrors; others were buried.

    Jo--The wife Longfellow lost was his second wife, Fanny, and the mother of his three daughters. Apparently he also had two sons who are older. They may have come from his first marriage which lasted only four years, I think. (I looked up a Longfellow biography a few days ago and am working with a possibly fallible memory here.)

    April 18, 2003 - 01:16 pm
    Longfellow didn't have any children by his first wife. They were newlyweds when she miscarried and died. The baby didn't survive.

    Longfellow was in the next room when his second wife Fanny's light summer dress caught fire. He put out the flames with a rug and by folding her in his arms but she died the next day. While Longfellow suffered burns on his face and hands (he couldn't shave anymore), he eventually recovered.

    I think Longfellow might have left the translation of the fiery Inferno to the last moment because he needed to heal (through visions of Paradiso and Purgatario) before writing about a place he'd visited physically and emotionally.


    April 18, 2003 - 01:36 pm
    Thanks, Marvelle. I guess the two boys were also the children of Fanny in that case. Astonishing how many men at this time period (and earlier) had more than one wife because the first died, sometimes in childbirth, sometimes of infections of one kind or another.

    April 18, 2003 - 01:53 pm
    Hi, I'm new at this. My first impression is that I've been exposed to experts on maggots. In further reading, I see this is not the entire picture. I'm not a big mystery novel fan, but this one has historic appeal and I think I'll learn alot. I'm also reading the online Inferno by Longfellow, something I've wanted to do for a long time. So, I'm along for the ride and will make every attempt to contribute something to the already erudite postings. I wonder if the few bloodstained maggot remains that Nell did not know were in her apron pocket, might be a clue of some sort. I'll get back to you when I've read more. Ruth

    April 18, 2003 - 01:53 pm
    Most maggots do not eat live flesh. In fact, maggots are the world's greatest decomposers. Flys of all kinds lay eggs in warm, moist places, ie., dead carcasses of any variety, and the eggs hatch in 8 to 20 days. The larvae (maggots) feed on the material nearest to where they were hatched. Forensic people use the known facts about insects of all kinds to determine the time of death of bodies discovered way after the fact. Today, hospitals use maggots to clean wounds that are too difficult to clean without further damamging the good flesh. Maggots can and do live on the decaying flesh of live animals (including humans). Humans can ingest material infested with fly eggs and have them hatch inside and cause a world of trouble--eaten alive as they say. The screw worm fly (mostly irradicated in the U.S.) will eat only live flesh.

    The beneficial use of maggots was first noticed by doctors treating the wounded of the Civil War (1860-65).


    April 18, 2003 - 04:38 pm
    James Russell Lowell is a distant cousin of Justice Healey. Healey was the administrator of the Harvard Corporation.

    In answer to a question about Lowell, he doesn't have the temperment of a poet. "The proof of poetry was in Lowell's mind that it reduced to the essence of a single line the vague philosophy that floated in all mens' minds, so as to render it portable and profitable ... ready to the hand."

    Poetry is neither philosophy nor ideas but words that string together and strike at the listener for a gut reaction (not an intellectual nodding of the head; or detached approval of the poem's 'idea'). I looked at Lowell's poetry and was severely disappointed:

    Poems: James Russell Lowell

    Poem: Present Crisis by Lowell

    The poem "Present Crisis" was written in 1844. In 1910 when the leaders of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) had to choose a name for their new publication, they agreed that it should be The Crisis.

    I'll look into Lowell and Holmes for a bit more info.


    April 18, 2003 - 04:50 pm
    JO, I do not think Lowell was more at peace with the death of his first wife than Longfellow was. Lowell suffered from what, today, would be called periods of clinical depression. The death of his first wife brought on one of these bouts of melancholy. He tried consulting Dr. Holmes for this condition, but since little was known about how to treat depression until very recently, the advice he received did not help him at all. Eventually, he remarried his daughter's governess, also named Fanny. I guess this was a popular name at that time.

    Howzat, I think we are all agreed now that maggots can eat dead flesh, either on living or dead bodies. And that maggots can be used by forensic scientists to help determine time of death.

    Maryal, Wendell Jr. did fight in the Civil War, one of the bloodiest wars in U.S. history. He was wounded three times, and was once nearly killed. He fought in the battle at Antietam, one of the bloodiest of the war, when 6,000 men were killed and 17,000 wounded. Wendell Jr. was one of the wounded. His experiences in the war affected him profoundly and influenced his relationship with his father.

    April 18, 2003 - 05:19 pm
    I wanted to post some things on Lowell before reading pages 56-97 which we'll start discussing on the 21st -- which is very soon. I need to read!

    Lowell graduated from Harvard with a law degree in 1840 but decided that he could reach the public with his messages better through poetry and became a writer. He was a scholar, editor, and essayist on writing. A long poem of Lowell's that was popular in his day is "Vision of Sir Launfal" on the brotherhood of man.

    He's definitely one of the Boston Brahmins, more so than either of his friends. Lowell's father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were graduates of Harvard. In 1780 Lowell's great-grandfather introduced into the state's Bill of Rights the clause abolishing slavery in Massachusetts. "All men are created free and equal."

    The town of Lowell MA was named for the family. An uncle was the founder of the Lowell Institute in Boston. Lowell's father was the pastor of West Church in that city.

    Lowell himself was an abolitionist. All the sources I've read about Lowell calls him a conservative. More than anything else, I see Lowell as a politician and lawyer who wrote.


    April 18, 2003 - 05:44 pm
    Neither Lowell or Holmes were individually threatened by the Civil War, except that Holmes' son fought in the War. As a doctor with a vow to save human life and as a father, Holmes had more to lose than Lowell therefore more to fear. From the poetry I read by Holmes, I'd say he wasn't up to Longfellow's standards but he was better than Lowell. Much of Holmes' poetry deals with companionship and good cheer.

    Poems: Oliver Wendell Holmes

    Of the poems in the above link, "The Last Leaf" is considered a nice example of Holmes poetry. For Joan (?) who asked about the Autocrat, I've included a link. Two prefaces are interesting -- To the Readers 1882; The Autocrat's Autobiography 1858. A charming writer although not a great poet.

    Autocrat at the Breakfast Table

    Matthew Pearl has inspired me to look for copies of the Breakfast-Table series (3 books). I know they're popular in antiquarian book circles but hope they aren't too costly.


    April 18, 2003 - 06:13 pm
    horselover:  Thanks for the info on "Wendy".  Mr. Holmes was quite full of himself , wasn't he?   Matthew makes this fact known to us by this use of adjectives depicting Holmse's character. i.e. "boot stomping (from his young barbarians) 50 adoring sons, he felt 12 ft. tall ( instead of 5'5  ) What is he Napoleon?   the "gold" standard. revered ,  I think Matthew is trying to paint us a picture of Holmes .  He took "stock of the many notables in attendance, he was part of a pocket of celebrities."  All of these descriptions illustrating Holmes'es image MUST be important.  How about this one? "this was Oliver Wendell Holmes business, his literary fate ."

    The upper region of holmes'es classroom was known as the MOUNTAIN?  Is this a reference  to the MOUNT of joy?

    April 18, 2003 - 06:56 pm
    the following NY Times review might be of interest.


    April 18, 2003 - 08:26 pm
    Great review, George. Thank you.

    We're only 55 pages into the novel and have barely meet the characters so I'm not able to judge any of them but it was funny Alf, about Holmes and that episode with Lowell. Thanks for mentioning it.

    James Russell Lowell felt much like Sir Launfal, the grail-seeking hero of his most popular poem, as he galloped through the iron portal of Harvard Yard. Indeed, the poet might have looked the part of gallant knight as he entered today, high on his white steed and outlined crisply by the autumn colors, had it not been for his peculiar grooming preferences ..." (29)

    Its nice to see all the characters developing, with their peculiarities, weaknesses and strengths like the flesh-and-blood people they were. Despite the differentiation in characterization though I don't know that we've met the murderer yet. Will look over these first 55 pages and see what else is there. We still have until Monday to discuss this section of The Dante Club.


    Jo Meander
    April 18, 2003 - 09:36 pm
    Very interesting review, GEORGE, thank you! I like especially the observation that Mr. Pearl keeps his narrative "sparkling with erudition." Then he lists some of the important historical sidelights the author weaves into his story, heightening the novel's interest in ways not included in the typical whodunnit. The reviewer has highlighted things that have made the book most appealing to me and, I suspect, to most of us in this discussion.

    Jo Meander
    April 18, 2003 - 09:46 pm
    Joan, when I mentioned the treatment of Harvard students I was thinking about the austerity of the life they were supposed to live: no congregating in groups of more than two, etc. (I can’t find the page! Maybe it’s in the next section.) It sounded more like reformatory than place for higher learning, and suggests that the Puritan view of life, including hard work, humility, obedience and silence, was influential on Harvard’s campus in the 1800’s. Then I thought about President Hill’s remarks to Lowell about the terrible descriptions of punishments in The Inferno, and Lowell’s reply: “Yes, we rather condemn people for eternity without the courtesy of informing them.”
    This sounds like the Calvinistic belief in predestination promulgated by the Puritan ancestors of New England. (Weren’t the Harvard founders Puritans?) . If you were damned, you were born damned, and there wasn’t a damned thing you could do about it! If you were fortunate, you were among the few elect whom God has decided to save, but that salvation would have nothing to do with your own efforts. In a famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” Jonathan Edwards describes how the sinner (he meant everyone) was dangled by God over hellfire at the end of a spider’s web filament. Presumably the soul would be dropped into hell fire without any chance at earning redemption, because it came into the world with its ultimate destination already determined. Is that what Lowell is referring to? Is he implying that the Calvinist descendents of New England are crueler than the “Catholic” Dante for assigning individuals to hell without granting them the opportunity for influencing their fate?

    April 18, 2003 - 09:59 pm
    Holmes has been an enigma to me since beginning this book. Truthfully, I never before really paid him much heed and probably couldn't differentiate the father from the son. But now I'm curious, and believe like Alf and many of the rest of you that he was "full of himself," and definitely looking out for Holmes.

    He taught at both Dartmouth and Harvard, and according to Gale Publications, "his ability to hold his students' attention was legendary." Maryal, interesting your comment about so many young wives dying in childbirth during that period. In the early 1840's Holmes, along with the medical community, was very concerned about childbed fever which spread through maternity wards. Holmes deduced it was spread by doctors carrying it from patient to patient, and recommended vigorous hand-washing and other sanitary measures. Unfortunately, his advice was largely ignored.

    Up till now I've never been a fan of "historical mysteries ," but am thoroughly enjoying The Dante Club and this discussion. I just finished reading the MP on Historical Fiction link in the heading -- what a fantastic picture, Joan, and lucky you to be there. Was that the Barnes and Noble acros from the Harrington?

    Jo Meander
    April 18, 2003 - 10:03 pm
    Horselover, Marvelle, ALF, and everybody, what are we to understand about that conflict between Holmes and "Wendy"? How does the author make that conflict evident?
    Horselover, did you notice in the bathtub scene where Lowell is in a reverie (right before he is sent for to investigate the noises coming from the Longfellow house)that he acknowledges he has a hard time remembering Maria now, in spite of the initial grief and suffering? As a character here, so far he seems to be very confident and comfortable in his circumstances -- vocation and family life.
    WELCOME, MACRUTH! I'm glad to see this discussion blossoming!

    April 19, 2003 - 05:26 am
    Will Holmes walk the path?

    April 19, 2003 - 05:42 am
    What bathtub scene, Jo? I've scoured (pun intended) all 55 pages and haven't come across it. What page is it on?


    Jo Meander
    April 19, 2003 - 06:31 am
    Marvelle, so sorry! It's p. 92, in our next section, and I think what happens with me is that I try to stay just a bit ahead, and I still get mixed up! Sorrysorrysorry!!! I answered your email a while ago, hope you got the reply! Love the pun!

    Jo Meander
    April 19, 2003 - 06:34 am
    ALF, I'll have tolook again at that mountain reference! You'e piqued my wonderment!

    April 19, 2003 - 09:02 am
    Alf--Speculating about the mountain where the upper reaches of Holmes' class sit. I think this is simply a description of the oldstyle lecture halls with auditorium seating, each row higher than the next.

    Since Holmes conducts lectures in anatomy and uses corpses to demonstrate to the large body of students, the rows have to quite steep so that even those up the "mountain" can see.

    My guess is that the reference to the mountain has more to do with the steep climb to those upper rows although of course it could also remind us of the mountain in the Commedia.

    I love the description of the foot-stomping. It shows the reader how popular Holmes was with his students. Unfortunately the very talents that make him a good lecturer may make him a poor father, once who dictates and refuses to listen.

    Thanks, Jo. I had a dim memory that Holmes' son served in the Civil War. If he was at Antietam, he endured the single bloodiest day of the war.

    Joan Pearson
    April 19, 2003 - 09:35 am
    "Piqued your wonderment", eh, Jo...I feel like that every single time I come in here!

    If it isn't macruth! WELCOME!...in case you all don't know this, it is her first time posting ...and her first exposure to maggots too - is that right, Ruth? Shall we add the bloody maggot remains in Nell's apron to the list of clues? What do you think?

    Howzat, you are right, most maggots don't have an appetite for living flesh...they like it "cured". But some do. The cochliomia hominivorax as described in the Preface do. Very rare for these parts...unknown until 1858...and NOT in America at that Hmmm...the killer has got to have some foreign supply house. He might know something about science, biology, medicine too.

    <Speaking about the Preface, what do you all think of C. Lewis Watkins' comments about Matthew's book? Do you think there IS a C. Lewis Watkins - or do you think he is part of Matthew's historical fiction?

    Matthew had something to say about the responsibilty involved with writing Historical Fiction at his visit to Georgetown earlier in the month...not just creative juices flow. Scrupulous attention to the history and real-life details of the period are required. Pedln, I think that's why I'm enjoying this so much...the author is so familiar with the characters, the literature AND with the period. No, not OUR Barnes & NOble...but the one on M St. in Georgetown. Remember the bus ride to the C&O Canal ride. Very close to where we got off the bus. ~

    Maryal, I bet there's some thunderous foot-stomping going on over at the Academy when you put in an appearance!

    April 19, 2003 - 10:13 am
    When I first began reading The Dante Club, I assumed that the preface was written by Matthew Pearl, under the name of a fictitious professor. I have some evidence for this conclusion.

    The "professor" mentions, tongue in cheek no doubt, the "paltry fee" he is to be paid by the publisher. Not the sort of remark an editor would leave in.

    Secondly, the tone of "Under the full force of my critical acumen, I found these essential facts" is just a little too professorial, even for the more erudite. Many professors probably think they possess such critical acumen, but would not claim it publicly in a preface.

    Pearl even has a little fun poking humor at himself in "Watkins'" Preface: "Prof. Watkins" claims to have given Pearl's manuscript to 8 of the 14 teaching fellows in his employ (this IS reminiscent of graduate school where pretigious professors like "Watkins" get students to do the scut work), and then he writes, "They have analyzed and cataloged the philological and historiographical precepts line by line, noting with flickering interest the minor mistakes that are the fault only of the author's ego." [my Italics]

    Way to go, Matthew! Masterfully done!


    Joan Pearson
    April 19, 2003 - 10:57 am
    Yes, yes, yes, it was the " ego" comment that made me pause, MaryAl...ha, ha, ha...charmingly self-effacing is Matthew!

    Thank you all for fleshing out the authors! Have you noticed that Matthew has written thumbnail biographical sketches of the poets?...click the pictures and you'll find them. So, you seem to be saying that as poets, Lowell and Holmes had better not quit their day jobs. I'm concluding from this that the Wednesday night meeting of the "poets" was primarily a translation session. The actual poetry-writing Longfellow's job. Do you get that feeling?

    I've got to read Lowell's Vision of Sir Launfal...am amused at Matthew describing him as Sir L. on his white horse, galloping into Harvard Yard! Thanks for the links to his poetry, Marvelle And horselover, the description of young Wendy's war experience brings his father into sharper focus for me...as an abolitionist. Are you sensing at all that the murders are somehow connected with slavery, racism or the war? Or with the publication of the Dante translation. Can't figure out who would commit murder to take the wind out of the publication...surely murder is an extreme measure. Murders like this are not committed out of passion, either. So calculatingly deliberate. Has to be a crazy, a fanatic with some real axes to grind. Yet someone with a knowledge of Dante...

    Did racial slurs and stereotyping have any impact on you?

    April 19, 2003 - 11:31 am
    Someone wants to actually read James Russell Lowell's "Vision..." That's dedication! (but you may want to skip some lines)

    Lowell's The Vision of Sir Launfal


    Jo Meander
    April 19, 2003 - 12:38 pm
    The first thing thatgave mepause was the "paltry fee" line. Didn't think a "real" Prof./critic would complain in print.
    Joan, my take on the D. Club's work sessions is that Longfellow has already translated,and they are making notations and comments with an eye to refining the translation and the poetry, trying to help him to arrive at the best possible version. Lowell may be the one to spot a translation gaff because he teaches the language ... or he teaches Dante and has students translating the language? Here I go again! I'll have to go back and look! Didn't he take over a teaching assignment that Longfellow had before he retired?

    April 19, 2003 - 01:39 pm
    The members of the Dante Club and families have just been introducted to us and are not, therefore, fully defined but from these first 55 pages I'll speculate on Holmes Sr & Jr:


    -- His personality drew him to medicine and poetry

    -- Supported the Fugitive Slave Law (he wasn't pro-slavery) to avoid the conflict

    -- Worried about Jr. going to fight in the Civil War

    -- Imaginative (good for his poetry)

    -- Intuitive and compassionate

    "I tremble to look at Longfellow's house...Their [Longfellow and wife] happiness is so perfect...that no change...could fail to be for the worse." (Holmes Sr. 40)

    -- Timid & easily stressed

    -- Not argumentative?

    --Tries to be optimistic & to ignore the bad things of life (how he fights stress & he has stress-induced asthma)

    "I never can go all the way through to Lucifer [in the Inferno] .. Purgatory and Paradise are all music and hope, and you feel you are floating toward God. But the hideousness, the savagery, of that medieval nightmare! Alexander the Great ought to have slept with it under the pillow." (Holmes Sr. 43) Hmmm..a pacifist medical doctor, perhaps? Maybe we'll see later.

    -- Sociable and loves to talk, talk, talk (does he listen though?)

    -- Craves approval (students, son, public, other writers, friends); feels inadequate?

    -- Worries about the success of his next book because of possible backlash on his support of the FSL; his wife Amelia worries too; his recent works published just before and during the War were not well received.

    "I wish Wendell would not publish anything more, Mr. Field.... He'll only call down newspaper criticism, and where is the use?" (Amelia 51)

    Speaking to Fields "If anything should happen to me before I get the story done, you wouldn't come down on the widow for money, would you now?" (Holmes Sr 52) Sounds like he's only half-jesting.

    Putnam of Harvard Corporation threatens Holmes about the Dante project "Dear Holmes, your future will be hitched to Dante. I fear what shall happen to your poetry, your name, by the time Manning is through, in your current situation." (Putnam 37)

    -- May need money and to keep his Harvard position (not earning enough as writer because of the FSL backlash?)

    -- A better writer than James Russell Lowell but not as good as Longfellow



    -- His personality draws him to the study of the Law

    -- Argumentative?

    -- Lays down the law to his father (not vice versa)

    Sr. supported the FSL and at the dinner table Jr. digs at him by talking about Healey and he insults his father more by turning away from him to say it: "They say they are raising a subscription to name a chair after poor Healey at the law school. Do you believe it...? After he ducked the Fugitive Slave Act, too, for all those years. Dying's the only way Boston will pardon your past, for aught I know." (Holmes Jr. 40-1)

    Jr. here is indulging in a little crime and punishment. Perhaps that's why Sr. yearns for his students' approval, his "fifty adoring sons waiting on his every word"

    -- Was wounded three times in the Civil War; a decorated hero

    -- Is proud of his wartime service

    Mention had already been made in the book about Jr. bravery in the war but at the dinner table its " 'Why Father,' said Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., hero, with a small grin...." A subtle way for Matthew Pearl to show that Jr flaunts his war record in his father's face? Whatever the reason, there's pride and hostility from Jr.

    There will hopefully be more in the pages to come about Junior and certainly more about Senior. From the link George posted it seems that Matthew Pearl had a lot of documents at hand to flesh out 'his' writers. I enjoy learning about them and about Boston.


    April 19, 2003 - 04:26 pm
    Jo, I certainly do understand how easy it is to get ahead in the reading. The story is getting sooo interesting.

    "What are we to understand about that conflict between Holmes and "Wendy"? How does the author make that conflict evident?" Wendell Jr., at this time in his life, is very aware of his father's fame. He probably had many of the problems that most children of famous parents have in living up to the parent's expectations and achievements. In "The Dante Club," we see that "the younger Holmes made no secret of his feeling that he would have made a better doctor than the elder, as well as a better professor, husband, and father."

    Of course, neither he nor his father could foresee the fame that Wendell Jr. would achieve in his lifetime. Interestingly, Wendell Jr. comments that "the tendencies of the family and of myself have a strong natural bent for literature." In his long career as a judge, he wrote all his own opinions, speeches, essays, and scholarly articles.

    Holmes Sr., as Matthew describes him, is very vain. Much is made of his hand-made boots, specially crafted to make him look taller. Stopping at a mirror, he is well aware that "his face is not a very flattering likeness of himself," and that Jr. is better looking.

    I love the way Matthew brings these "dead" poets to life. We are already getting to know them well as individuals, with all their strengths and weaknesses.

    Matthew Pearl
    April 19, 2003 - 06:20 pm
    Hi all! What a pleasure to return to Cambridge and read all of your thoughtful, incisive, and intelligent posts about the novel and about Dante. I think it's obviously best for me not to comment on upcoming plot elements -- except to say I hope your clever and quick analysis doesn't overtake surprises later on! In any case, I shall certainly have to write more novels soon in the hopes that you all will be willing to discuss them here. What a special forum and a terrific energy in your group.

    I'd like to address as many of your questions that I can... if I've overlooked any, please remind me!

    Before getting to the novel, just a word of report on the St. John the Divine event: it was such a unique evening, with readers ranging from film director Arthur Penn to Dante translator Michael Palma to editor George Plimpton to Frank McCourt. The cathedral is gigantic, and several hundred people came just to listen to Inferno: how heartening to witness. I've done many speaking engagements since the release of The Dante Club but somehow reading from Canto III (the gates of Hell) in that setting was the most intimidating -- and memorable. I hope to paritipcate again next year, and if any of you find yourself in New York City, do remember it's an annual event.

    First, on the preface. There was a wire story about the confusion whether it was "true" or not. You can find that online at http://www.upi.com/view.cfm?StoryID=20030401-024555-5823r

    The reference to "paltry fee" was my jab at Random House for what they do pay for prefaces, specifically for my preface for the Modern Library Inferno (Modern Library is part of Random House).

    Alf, you asked about Samuel Ticknor. He is based on William Ticknor's son (Howard Ticknor).

    Georgehd, you brought up the Authors' Room: I wish they had it today! Instead, I always feel rushed away when I vist my publisher or agent. There's simply nowhere to sit. They probably don't want their authors lounging around complaining.

    Several questions about the word "purgatoried" -- O. W. Holmes was a wordsmith, coining phrases and words such as Boston Brahmin, Atlantic Monthly, anesthesia... "purgatoried" was another word of his invention, and I liked the idea of using it in the narrative texture of Holmes -- particularly because of its tie to Dante.

    As for my own writing, I do revise and edit constantly. I have the tendency to scrap hundreds of pages and start from scratch -- not my editor's favorite quality of mine!

    April 19, 2003 - 06:47 pm
    Matthew, having just finished Madame Bovary I want to comment on writing well. Descriptions of Flaubert indicate that he spent much time writing, revising, choosing the right word and phrase; it seems to me that his work reflects his artistry. Your book, it seems to me, shows that same kind of care and thought.

    I am reminded of an experience I had when I was an art dealer. A well known artist had a show and reception at one of New York's best galleries. I was invited by the artist's girl friend. I spoke to the artist at length and we seemed to have some kind of rapport. So I commented that this show was not his best work (in fact I thought it was terrible). His reply to me applies in every artistic field. to paraphrase. "No this work is not very good. However, the gallery insists that I have a show every 18 to 24 months and so I have to produce." Unfortunately art cannot be forced.

    Matthew Pearl
    April 19, 2003 - 06:55 pm
    Thought some might be interested to see the cover for the Dutch edition, "De Dante Club":


    (and thanks George, for your kind words!)

    April 19, 2003 - 07:41 pm
    I like the cover very much, Matthew. And I notice they kept the blood drops. Thanks for fixing the link.


    Jo Meander
    April 19, 2003 - 08:57 pm
    Thanks, Matthew, for joining us and for sharing the info about the reading of Dante at St. John the Divine. It is an impressive place, and my imagination tells me that The Inferno is well served by that atmosphere. Also glad to hear that the "Watkins" creation is just that -- part of the fiction!

    April 19, 2003 - 11:05 pm
    Thank you Matthew for your welcome greeting to me after I signed your guest book. I'm just getting into this and loving every minute of it. Perhaps some of us can make it to NYC next year for your reading at St. John's. What a perfect setting. Macruth

    Jo Meander
    April 20, 2003 - 07:52 am

    Fran Ollweiler
    April 20, 2003 - 12:57 pm
    I was very lucky to be able to pick the book up at the public library, and will start it tomorrow, now that I know where you all are at.

    Matt, I am so happy that you are joining in. It adds so much to have the author participating. Thank you for being so gracious.

    Speak to you soon....Love, Fran

    April 20, 2003 - 05:35 pm
    Did Longfellow actually see anything in the dark outside his window? Or was it related to his daydreams about Fanny's death? Or perhaps related to the robberies and muggings in the neighborhood? Or, as seems likely, related to the gruesome murders. If the eyes are connected to the murders or murderer, why do they appear at Longfellow's house? Does the murderer know about the Dante Club, and will its members become targets, or worthy opponents for the killer to match wits with? What role will the black policeman play in aiding these middle-aged amateur sleuths?

    What an intriguing set of questions Matthew has left us with at the end of the next section.

    April 20, 2003 - 08:49 pm
    I'm probably stating what everyone else has already figured out, but I'm new here, so forgive my humble ramblings. If The Dante Club has already worked with Longfellow on Paradisio and Purgatory, and now are discussing the Inferno (we know Longfellow translated it in this order), and it is now that the murder occurs, doesn't it seem obvious that the murderer has to be in the Dante Club or very close to it? Otherwise, who knows where the Club is in their work? And as we all know, the murderer has to be someone familiar enough with the Inferno to pattern the killings after the descriptions of Hell's punishments. It's the timing that interests me. Why didn't the murders begin when they were doing Paradisio? Am I stating the obvious?

    Jo Meander
    April 20, 2003 - 08:49 pm
    horselover,great questions! I vote for #4!

    April 21, 2003 - 09:09 am
    I am well past page 100 as I am eager to "know"!. I am also eager to see what questions will come up for this week. Have done lots of underlining.

    Augustus Manning - I think he bears watching. He knows what is going on and he is against it. His Puritan ethic bothers me.

    Horselover, what questions are you refering to in your post 145?

    I am also trying to read and understand The Inferno in the other discussion group. I wonder if some of you who are more familiar with the original work would care to comment as we discuss Pearl's novel.

    April 21, 2003 - 09:23 am
    georgehd, Those were just questions I was asking myself after reading the section we are up to now.

    April 21, 2003 - 09:44 am
    thought that this link would be of interest to Longfellow fans.


    Jo Meander
    April 21, 2003 - 10:46 am
    GEORGEHD, thanks for the link. I had actually forgotten many of the things he has written. He was probably my first real intro to poetry when we read some of his narrative poetry in junior high school. I remember loving it. I sure liked it better than arithmetic and pre-agebra!

    Jo Meander
    April 21, 2003 - 10:49 am
    I have to go back and check details, but it seems to me that Greene's sleepy detachment actually allowed him to focus more purely on the academic pursit. There was no ego-involvement, competition or ambition in this aged don, as me meet him. When the others are upset over unwinding events outside the library and the Dante work, he seems to be unconscious of the turmoil and peacefully involved with the work at hand.
    (I love the picture of the study, but I hope there were some softer seats!)

    Joan Pearson
    April 21, 2003 - 11:12 am
    The Easter bunny left some surprises at our house yesterday so am running later than anticipated. Will be back later to do some serious "clubbing" with you all, but want to make a few quick observations before I have to leave.

    Matthew - the reading sounds "heavenly"...wrong word, I know. But I'd have loved to be there. We are reading/deciphering Canto III of the Inferno in our Great Books'discussion this week and would welcome any comment from you to help us on our way. As others have expressed, we are grateful for your comments here. Thank you!

    The "clever and quick analyses" of our group Matthew refers to are all fair as far as solving the mystery go...As Long as NO ONE goes ahead to reveal any of the surprises BEYOND the discussion pages, stated in the heading!

    This week we will NOT venture to share what we have gleaned beyond 97. Admittedly, this can be difficult for those like George, who have forged ahead. If you have read ahead, PLEASE take particular care - this is a mystery - we don't want it solved by speed readers. No fun in that, I know you'll agree.

    Fran O...so happy you finally got the book. Read up to page 97 and you are all set!

    macruth, you bring up interesting points. I'm not sure about when the Dante Club began to meet, not sure whether they worked with Longfellow on Paradiso and Purgatorio...does anyone know for sure? It was my understanding that they are there to work with him because Inferno might be too painful for Longfellow to proceed alone.

    horselover - I do believe there was someone outside Longfellow's window - but what on earth would the murderer hope to find by looking in his window? No idea!

    Jo, watch him, watch old nodding Greene. I think he may be important. The descriptions of his unsuccessful sermons and lectures have resonance in this section too. I'm going to try out one of those chairs now. How comfortable can horsehide be!

    April 21, 2003 - 03:43 pm
    Looks like the killer has gone from Canto III to Canto XIX to find the model for his next murder. Is the Dante Club up to that point in their translation? It seems that they are, since Dr. Holmes finds "something in the murder ... so familiar."

    Longfellow is the first insomniac I've heard of who describes his sleepless nights as "rather peaceful." He says that "even after the long insomniac watches of the night he could still feel rested at daybreak." No doubt those of us who have also suffered bouts of insomnia would like to know his secret.

    April 21, 2003 - 06:38 pm
    Craigie House Stairs

    Lots of interesting items about Longfellow in the above link. Click on the stair picture to enlarge.

    Longfellow's Dante Portrait

    The portrait of Dante at Longfellow's Craigie House (courtesy of Matthew Pearl) is a litho copy of the fresco by Giotto, discovered in 1842 under a layer of whitewash at the Bargello in Florence. For the "freely" restored fresco see:

    Giotto's Dante

    More later....


    April 21, 2003 - 07:40 pm
    Dibs on the dark leather chair in the far left corner! (Okay, okay, I'll share.)

    This is a cozy room dedicated to books and friendship. There are books everywhere in this reading room -- in the cases and haphazardly scattered, obviously being read and set down for another book, then picked up again. The round table is loaded with books. Lots of chairs for friends to sit and chat about books. Artwork and personal bric-a-brac for interest and a crackling fire in the winter. This study is the heart of the home and invites all of us to have a seat and share our thoughts about Dante, literature, and writing and learn from each other.

    SN Books is a virtual re-creation of Longfellow's study where we all find a chair and sit and talk Books. Just like the members of the Dante Club, we're all individual personalities, with special interests and sometimes differing opinions, but we're brought together by our abiding love of Books. Longfellow's study is one of the most inviting, welcoming, and comfortable rooms I've seen. Even if we don't have a separate study in our 'real' homes, we can find one here at SN Books.

    I'm going tack a copy of this study photo on my wall as a reminder of our shared love of books -- a love shared among SN members, and Dante, Longfellow, Holmes, Lowell, Fields and Greene. Couldn't find better company!


    April 21, 2003 - 08:36 pm
    Question 3: "How do Holmes and Lowell differ concerning the judicial career of Judge Healey?"

    Holmes believes Judge Healey ruled properly, according to the law and not popular opinion. "He knew the best of himself....He knew his place was the courthouse, not the barbaric arena of politics." (Holmes 54) Whereas Lowell believes that Healey, who believed in abolition, should have ruled on Sims based on current beliefs and morality rather than enforcing the law; to do otherwise was cowardly. "Would you ever have ruled as cowardly as Healey, Wendell? If I had proposed that it had been your choice, would you have sent that Sims boy back to his plantation in chains?" (Lowell 54) Can State judges rule contrary to law? Did they in the 1800's and do they today?

    Matthew, what is the difference between the mask of the law and pragmatism in law? Is there any?


    Joan asks "Are you sensing at all that the murders are somehow connected with slavery, racism or the war. Or with the publication of the Dante translation?"

    Yes. I think the first part of The Dante CLub shows those issues; and not just racism either but bigotry of many sorts -- anti-Catholic, anti-Irish, anti-Immigrant, anti-Black.   There's a common thread that runs through Dante's Inferno and The Dante Club which is crime and suitable punishment. We keep hearing of justice and the first victim is Judge Healey, a jurist, who sent the fugitive slave Thomas Sims back to slavery in 1851(?). Healey is against slavery but he supported the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 in order to avoid conflict.   It was an inflammatory issue before and after his death so it obviously was an infamous case.

    Thomas Sims was a real person; Judge Healey is fictional

    -- but Healey's trial decisions on Sims and the Webster murder trial are based on the career of an actual person, Lemuel Shaw, the chief justice of the judicial court of Massachusetts, serving from 1830-1860. Shaw died a natural death; he wasn't murdered; it's his decisions in Sims and Webster (rather than the judge personally) which are included in this novel.


    Lemuel Shaw (1791-1861), graduated from Harvard Law in 1830. He was Herman Melville's father-in-law. Shaw was an eminent jurist and his rulings still are cited today in briefs (obviously not the FSL). He was the son of a Congregational minister in MA and was educated at home. (Are all Boston Brahmins the sons of ministers? We keep running into these sons!)

    For a photo of Shaw CLICK HERE

    Then click on the second blue heading on left side of page, identified as Lemuel Shaw, ca. 1850.



    April 21, 2003 - 09:00 pm
    Justice Lemuel Shaw presided at the Webster Murder Trial.

    This was a ground-breaking murder trial because there was no clearly identifiable victim. There was only circumstantial evidence. Chief Justice Shaw set some precedents regarding evidence, and forensics played a pioneering role. Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, in an early application of forensic evidence, testified regarding the condition of the body parts as well as to the character of Webster. Nathan Cooley Keep was the expert witness on Forensic Dentistry

    Justice Lemuel Shaw's charge to the jury has been debated (and cited) up to the present time.

    "What is reasonable doubt? It is a term often used, probably pretty well understood.... It is the state of the case which after the entire comparison and consideration of all the evidence, leaves the minds of the jury in that conviction that they cannot say they feel an abiding conviction to a moral certainty, of the truth of the charges."

    "The true rule respecting probative value to probative character ... the capacity of the evidence to establish a fact, to prove something of circumstantial evidence is well settled. It is that the circumstances must be said to produce a moral certainty of guilt and to exclude any other reasonable hypothesis, that the circumstances taken together should be of a conclusive nature and tendency leading on the whole to a satisfactory conclusion and producing, in effect, a reasonable and moral certainty that the accused and no one else committed the offense charged."

    "When the existence of all the facts necessary to establish the fact to be proved -- and the fact to be proved here is the identity of the person who was responsible for the death of [the victim] -- when the existence of those facts necessary to establish a chain of circumstances to prove that it was this defendant who committed the act has been established to your satisfaction, when you are satisfied to a moral certainty on each of those facts, then that circumstantial evidence has established the evidence of the main fact to be proved."

    People still debate Webster's guilt and I understand that PBS is airing a program on the Webster Murder Trial in July.


    April 22, 2003 - 05:42 am
    I keep thinking about the leaper and went back to reread that section. Forgive me if these thoughts were posted before. What is the leaper so afraid of? Did he recognize someone? Does the leaper know Latin? It would appear that he did. How come?

    Why has Pearl choosen Rey to be the good smart cop?

    Healey was dead for maybe four days. Does anyone know how long it takes for the body to be filled with maggots? How long does it take a blow fly egg to hatch?

    Joan Pearson
    April 22, 2003 - 08:11 am
    Loved the comments on the Dante/SN Bookclub Online, Marvelle! There are many similarities, despite the differences. For instance, we have no cherry cobbler and cognac following our sessions here. Now THAT is where the Dante Club has it all over us. One thing that we have at our fingertips is the vast resource of the Internet! Imagine what the D. Clubbers would have done with this resource! I can see Matthew squirming as we close in on some of the clues through these links. Is this fair, Matthew? We really don't want to spoil the story by our use of the Net. You call it. If we were a face-to-face book club, we'd be pooling our own background knowledge and insights arising from the text in our discussion. We wouldn't know how long the maggots take to develop inside a wound, nor would we have links to forensic dentistry which might/might not explain why Judge Healey's teeth are found with his folded clothes.

    Wouldn't it be a shame if we solved the mystery using these links before we read the novel?

    This is not to say in any way that the links are not helping us to appreciate Longfellow's poetry or to get the feel for the period. We are! And thank you all for what you bring here! Marvelle, I loved the first link to Longfellow's poetry, highlighting the lines we are all familiar with. That's definitely a keeper. The Dante statue photo, we'll use in the near future. Longfellow's muse. Marvelle brought the photo of Longfellow's study to our attention too.

    Joan Pearson
    April 22, 2003 - 08:34 am
    horselover, you mention that the more recent murder resembles Canto XIX...that Holmes recognizes the similarities during the autopsy of the Reverend Talbot's corpus because they had just finished viewing the proofs. Was that it? At this point it seems that the poets are working on varying stages of translation/publication. They haven't finished the work, we know that. They are translating and editing printers'proofs during these sessions. Don't remember what they were doing with Canto XIX ...but it is because of the recent attention to this canto that Holmes is immediately reminded of the punishment in this circle of hell. This is the very first connection any of the Dante Club makes between either murder to the Inferno, isn't it? No one has conneced the dots to Judge Healey's murder yet.

    Here's is a drawing of Mendelson's circles of hell. (SN policy permits related graphics in posts IF posted by DL(s) of the discussion. If you have something you'd like us to post, we can link them to the SN gallery for you and post them here.)

    The Reverend Talbot murder in the XIX the Canto puts him all the way down to the 8th circle of hell (pretty low, eh?)...the "Simonists" under "Fraud".
    Someone in the Inferno discussion has suggested that that the drawing you see here is not legible. Will you look at it and see if you can read "Simonists"? Which works for you? I'm concerned about how long it takes to load the larger(second) one. Keep in mind that whichever you choose, it will not load every time you open here, but rather will be accessible only if you click the thumbnail showing here...

    The fact that the second murder occurs in the VIII th circle and those of us working on "translating" the Inferno are only approaching the first leads to an interesting reading schedule there, but we have SO much to talk about the Judge's murder right now - he's way up there in the "Neutrals" - that we can put off deciding what to do about the Reverend Talbot for the short term. Imagine the numbing shock when Holmes recognized the similarities, the burned feet, the dirt on the upper part of the body..

    Joan Pearson
    April 22, 2003 - 09:15 am
    I'm certain that we will see connections between Judge Healey's murder and his judicial decisions once we read Canto III of the Inferno this week. Matthew mentioned reading Canto III on Holy Thursday this week. Those of us who are reading this discussion will report here what we learn. Stay tuned.

    Marvelle it is interesting to read of the Webster trial. It was a judicial decision that Judge Shaw/Healey made based on the existing law, wasn't it? What is the role of a "judge" if not to interpret existing law - despite one's own personal beliefs. Can a judge recuse himself from a case? I'm curious as to what you think the "sin" of Judge Healey may have been. Do you see a difference between his ruling on the Fugitive Slave decision and the John Webster murder decision? Or are they part of a pattern? I note that the "Neutrals" are not really in Hell, but they will spend eternity at its gates.

    George...the maggots "enter a wound"...did you see that? They seem to grow in numbers 'exponentiallÿ' once they enter? Don't know how long Judge Healey has been lying out there. OUT there? Don't like the way Ednah is tearing at her skin either.

    Somewhere we read that "Longfellow was being eaten alive" by his grief. Perhaps translating the Inferno is taking a greater toll on his subconscious than it appears. He is consumed with the translation...I think this would explain the insomnia. To sleep, perhaps to dream. Wakefullness is one way to avoid nightmares, isn't it?

    Greene nods through the translation...but when he's awake, he is quick to grasp. It was Greene who recognized the message from the leaper was Italian. As Jo observed, Greene doesn't have the ambition or rivalry or anything on the line as the others in the Club do...so he can focus better on the matters at hand. George, I don't know if the leaper knew Latin, but he did speak Italian...to me that indicates that he was an Italian...perhaps he knows Bacci. Is that how you spell his name...the immigrant Italian teacher recently let go by Harvard.

    Lots to talk about...need to get over to the Inferno and see what's smoking...

    April 22, 2003 - 09:25 am
    Joan, I'm interested in the idea of justice. Does it exist in a tangible sense; can it be defined? What is the difference in judicial decisions; are there different legal approaches to the law; and is private justice ever morally called for? We can see examples of what I think are private justice on a large scale -- such as the invasion of of Panama (Noriega sp?) -- these were decisions made outside the legal process; as well as what we see in the pages of The Dante Club.

    If no one else wishes to pursue this theme of justice and to keep strictly to the plot then that's acceptable to me.

    I'd decided to limit posting of links to any I didn't think affected the solving of a mystery. That meant I had to read ahead in the novel which I did this weekend. I'd like to know what Matthew thinks about the links. I'm quite content to research and not share them if that's for the best.


    April 22, 2003 - 10:42 am
    Marvelle, You say that "Lowell believes that Healey, who believed in abolition, should have ruled on Sims based on current beliefs and morality." But when talking about the institution of slavery, we are speaking of eternal laws which govern humanity. In this sense, Judge Healey's refusal to do anything but go along with current law was immoral and sinful. His was the same excuse as that of the judges during the Nazi era in Germany; they were only following current law.

    All judicial decisions are interpretations of the law. That's why they are called "opinions." State courts often rule contrary to what the Supreme Court will ultimately decide. We all saw an example of this in the last Presidential election. Therefore, Healey, who could have ruled otherwise, was a coward. The judge is chosen as the first victim of Matthew's serial killer precisely because he is a coward. His punishment is chosen because he is one of "the wretched souls of those who lived without disgrace yet without praise." He was one of "that wicked band of angels, not rebellious and not faithful to God."

    April 22, 2003 - 11:50 am
    On the matter of Judge Healey and whether or not he made the right ruling in deciding to send the Sims boy back to slavery: It really doesn't matter if he did the "right" thing according to the existing law. What matters is that the murderer believes he deserves to die.

    Joan, I can read "Simonists" on the smaller map, and the larger one does take a long time to load. However, we must keep in mind that I am accustomed to deciphering student handwriting. Heh.

    April 22, 2003 - 12:42 pm
    I am ruling out a female killer - moving both bodies had to require a fair amount of strength. I also see Holmes as too small to do the dirty deed. So I have eliminated at least half the people in Boston. I just wanted to tidy up my suspect list.

    I had no trouble loading and reading the right hand diagram. There was an enlarging tool in the lower right.

    I see no reason not to consider the idea of Justice, though this could take us far afield. Laws are not necessily just. However, civilized societies must IMO create laws which are in fact obeyed. If the law is not obeyed there must be consequences. A person, because of personal belief can disobey a law and feel that he is justified in doing so. But that person may have to face legal consequences of his disobediance.

    The United States was founded by people who disobeyed the law out of conscience. Martin Luther King disobeyed the law out of conscience. I think that most of us would agree that men and women whom we esteem highly may have broken the law.

    A major problem arises when very powerful people chose to break the law; their power may be political, religious, economic etc. These people may not care at all about Justice.

    I am not sure what Dante would have thought about all of this and perhaps some of you can enlighten me.

    April 22, 2003 - 03:33 pm
    georgehd, I don't see how you can rule out a female killer, when it was the maid who moved the Judge's body from the river all the back to the house!

    Maryal, It IS most important what the murderer thought of Judge Healey's decision, but in order to solve the mystery, we have to get inside his/her head. Dante, I suspect, according to Canto III, would have regarded the Judge as a coward, one of those lost souls who were not faithful to God's law.

    Joan Pearson
    April 22, 2003 - 04:09 pm
    horselover, marvelle, george - have you read Canto III in the Inferno? If so, will you go over to that discussion and comment on it? We need some conversation in there. Am afraid that folks got intimidated by Canto II. Maybe we need to get right into III and then later talk about how Virgil gets Dante to overcome his fear and enter the gates...

    I do agree, the murderer is holding the Judge responsible. After reading Canto III of the Inferno, I'm thinking that Dante would too. Need to look again at the details of his decision on the Webster case.

    Ella Gibbons
    April 22, 2003 - 06:22 pm
    JOAN, I'm not intimated and will go over there soon, I am attempting to keep up with both books, but it is a struggle!

    Last evening I finished reading our assignment through pages 97. I loved this line of Holmes - Oh, but we shall live much longer through our intellectual pursuits, according to an article in the last number of the Atlantic concerning learning's salutary effects on longevity."

    All those who are reading THE INFERNO and THE DANTE CLUB, take note - you have just increased your life span - even though you have gone to hell and back doing it! Hahaha

    Again, Holmes mentions the sorrow of the war when he comments about the fathers going to the cemetery to visit their sons instead of going to commencement and likens that experience to hell. He says "For many I think we need no other Hell than what we have just come out of."


    Lowell speaks of Dante's "second life, his life as he will live on through the poem for hundreds of years."

    On the other hand, Mead (speaking occasionally) believes that Dante died in exile and his "poverty is his great final failure."

    Lowell speaks of the poem as a "chronicle of our inner lives." Notice the "our" - I think Joan has spoken of this before, it is a journey of our own that we undertake when we read the Inferno - all the envy, pride and lust.

    Do all of you agree that, as Lowell says, "sometime in the middle of our lives, we all, each one of us, journey to face a Hell of our own."

    Is this what is referred to in modern times as "the middle-aged crises?"

    Of course, this is not getting to the murder clues, but I underlined those passages and wanted to get them off my chest, so to speak.

    April 22, 2003 - 06:49 pm
    I see your point Horselover, I will now include the maid but no other females (they probably would not know Latin).

    Seriously - that is back to the book. Is there a connection between the burning death of Longfellow's wife and his interest in the Inferno?

    I will admit that the Inferno is a real struggle for me and as I just started Canto IV, I will go back and reread III. I am sort of thinking of the Inferno as a 13th century science fiction,horror story or something akin to it. I do not have a classical background so many of the references go by me. Why was this book deemed so important in the nineteenth century continuing to today? What is the purpose of causing such fear in people? Maybe these comments should be in the other discussion.

    April 23, 2003 - 05:04 am
    george--Just a thought as to why scholars in the nineteenth century would have found the Commedia such an intriguing work. They would have recognized most, if not all, of the Classical allusions since they were classically trained. For the most part, they all knew Latin, and some knew Greek. I don't know how they found their way around all of Dante's references to contemporary Florentines though.

    Matthew Pearl
    April 23, 2003 - 09:29 am
    Hi all, I don't know if there's currently any topics upon which I should elaborate (without giving anything away!), but I did want to say how impressive your discussions have been. Also, you've collected and arranged such helpful links to recruit the internet itself as part of the discussion -- I didn't know about those images of the Longfellow House available on the web! I've been giving some "Dante Club" tours of the Longfellow House to private groups and book clubs, and I'm glad we can have an online version here. Marvelle, I believe you put a link to the Giotto portrait. That's actually the portrait as it's been repaired on the Bargello fresco. At Longfellow's house, it's the print made from the damaged image. You can see that here:


    I tend to like the damaged portrait (with a hole in the eye where a nail had been) as a symbol for the Dante Club and their movement. This was the print that Longfellow and Lowell displayed in their houses. The fresco had been whitewashed over by the Italians over the centuries and then an American helped to lead to its rediscovery. So this was a symbol for the Dante Club of their goal to "rescue" and revive Dante from European neglect -- to give him a proper home, as they would have seen it. When the Florentines took over the restoration effort, they pretty much destroyed the portrait, changing the colors because the originals were, in the 1840s, politically charged.

    Lowell used to give copies of the print to all the students who completed his Dante seminar as a reward for their work. A nice treat!

    It's great also that you've brought in Lemeul Shaw's history here -- he was indeed the basis for Judge Healey. Thanks for finding those links.

    April 23, 2003 - 09:37 am
    Maryal, About those Florentine references, we need to keep in mind that Dante was involved in politics in Florence at this time, and also involved in a family feud like the one in "Romeo and Juliet." These autobiographical events find their way into his poetry. For example, in Canto XIX, which is the model for Reverend Talbot's punishment, Dante complains that it was greed that caused the clerics to "boldly take your stand against King Charles." It was these political events which resulted in Dante's eventual banishment from Florence, and even in a death sentence for him. Like Shakespeare, Dante takes these worldly political plots and turns them into beautiful poetry. You could say that Dante was a kind of Rumpelstilskin.

    Joan Pearson
    April 23, 2003 - 01:23 pm
    George asks a very good question here about the importance of the translation of the Inferno to the Wednesday evening Dante Club members. Why is it so important - some are risking careers and contracts to go ahead with the publication.

    Maryal points out "the scholars of the 19th century...would have recognized most, if not all, of the Classical allusions since they were classically trained"...The Dante Club members ARE classically trained, but they are also professors of Modern Living Languages. They are aware of Dante's work...written in ITALIAN, not Latin. It is so important because it is the oldest document of its kind written in a living language. They think America is deprived of the great work because it has not been translated into English in America. They want to teach it in Harvard, along side the classic Latin, Greek, Hebrew classes. And that seems to be the problem.

    Matthew! Hello there! I thought your comments interesting concerning the portrait of the Giotto fresco, how the nail hole under the eye was a symbol of neglect - of the Dante Club's goal to ""rescue" and revive Dante from European neglect." Are you saying then, that the reading of Dante was neglected in Europe in the mid 19th century as well?

    George - You also asked about Dante's purpose in taking pen to paper? Super question! Did he just want to scare people? What do the rest of you think?

    Joan Pearson
    April 23, 2003 - 01:50 pm
    We are pleased, (and relieved), Matthew that you appreciate the links to the Shaw/Healey/Webster trial. links R us ...and Marvelle is the best! Could not get over the link on forensic dentistry. The one that in which the victim's body was identified by the recovery of his false teeth. (Remember the bit of evidence, Judge Healey's false teeth are found with his neatly folded clothes after his murder?) And it was the evidence of the false teeth that led to the conviction of John Webster and his execution when Judge Shaw/Healey ruled they were admissible evidence. Just amazing research, Marvelle. And Matthew is not at all intimidated by our fact-finding methods here!

    That said, I need help in understanding what Judge Healey/Shaw did that was morally wrong in this case. I'm probably forgetting something major, but certain that you can tell me. Was it because Webster was convicted on circumstantial evidence...in the absence of a body? Marvelle, I'll be looking for the Webster Murder Trial in July.

    Judge Healey was a coward? The murderer is familiar with law, at least with the details of the Webster conviction (and the false teeth of the victim) and also is familiar with Dante (with the translated Dante) ... horselover, you suspect the murderer views the Judge as a coward, punishable as described in Canto III? George, a good idea. Read Canto III again, forget IV. Maybe there are clues there. Look at it as the killer's script!

    April 23, 2003 - 02:45 pm
    OK, I just reread Canto III. The fellow who made the "Great denial" according to Ciardi's note is "almost certainly Pope Celestine V" who based on what a priest said, that no man on earth could live a saintly life, resigned from the Papacy and went to live an ascetic life. The priest who delivered this news promptly became Pope Boniface VIII, a pope Dante believed was responsible for the abuses in the Church.

    BUT, although this "Great Denial" fellow's problem with cowardice led to his position, I think there is a broader reference here. He is grouped with those who were neither FOR nor AGAINST something; the lukewarm. I think it is Paul who condemns these people who refuse to take sides. Which is what our Judge has done.

    Also it is interesting that this group of people who are stung by hornets and wasps, are not even allowed into Hell because then the residents of Hell might have a reason to be proud. Dante places those fallen angels who were not for God and not for Satan in this group, whom "Hell will not receive. . .since the wicked/ might feel some glory over them" (III, 38-9).

    Matthew--I was intrigued to read the story of the original damaged fresco. But a nail hole in the eye? Someone painted over the fresco and then someone came along and decided to hang up a picture? Or put up a coathook? Thanks for the link.

    April 23, 2003 - 02:58 pm
    I agree that the history, the politics, and the constant feuding in Florence is very important to understanding the Commedia.

    All I meant to convey in my comment was that I for one could not follow who had done what without the notes. I remember years ago getting terribly confused about the Guelphs and the Ghibellines and then later, the "white" Guelphs and the "black" Guelphs.

    April 23, 2003 - 04:15 pm
    Maryal, I can definitely understand your confusion. Dante himself must have shared some of our confusion. Florence was a hotbed of Medieval intrigue, and, although Dante personally belonged to the White faction, his wife and her relatives were adherents of the Blacks. Dante had also borrowed money from his wife's relatives, which he could not pay back. This could explain some of his focus on greed and financial corruption; maybe a collection agency was after him. Maybe Dante would have liked to drop his own creditors into a hole and bury them.

    Jo Meander
    April 23, 2003 - 06:01 pm
    Maryaland horselover, where can I read more about the political intrigue? My translations have limited references to things like the Guelphs and Ghibellines.

    April 23, 2003 - 08:02 pm
    R.W.B. Lewis has a book, Dante, which I'm listening to on tape as I commute. Not very far into it yet, but the Guelfs and Ghibillines have already appeared.

    Don't you think that "Guelf" sounds sort of like a combination of a dwarf and an elf with maybe a giant thrown in? I haven't looked yet, but I'll bet the Encyclopedia Britannica online has at least a short article on them.

    April 23, 2003 - 08:13 pm
    Jo---Here's a start, if the link works:


    Jo Meander
    April 23, 2003 - 09:07 pm
    Maryal, thank you! I subscribed to Brittania Online, but an having trouble getting in. Did you start by entering Dante? I'm sure I will get in tomorrow.

    April 23, 2003 - 09:17 pm
    Another Shaw case, brought up because of Rev. Talbot's connection to receiving graft from railroads.

    The case of Farwell v. Boston & Worcester Railroad Corp. was decided in 1842,   It involved a dispute of the liability of an employer for an employee's injuries received during the course of work. Farwell, a railroad engineer, had one of his hands crushed and destroyed because a switchman negligently allowed a train to run off the track. The employer argued in part that the injury was caused by another employee and it was that employee who should be sued, not the Railroad.

    Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw wrote the majority decision. Shaw argued that Farwell was largely responsible because he had chosen to take a more dangerous job and was well paid for that job, and that there was an unwritten contract between employer and employee. This case decision demonstrated the increasing support of the government for the burgeoning corporations.   It limited the liability of employers for work-related injuries and was a loss for labor. The following link on this decision is rather lengthy which is why I summarized the case for those who don't want to read the entire link (but I may have left out something important).


    See also AOL DECISION

    The AOL decision is more for comparison and a reminder that such issues are still with us today.


    April 23, 2003 - 09:32 pm
    I wrote about the Ursuline Convent in post 70 in reference to questions of anti-Irish and anti-Immigrant sentiments but there were a lot of anti-anything feelings around. I hadn't realized at the time that The Dante Club would mention the burning of the --

    Ursuline Convent

    -- in this section of the book (56-97). So I've posted the link again in connection with the murder of the fictional Reverend Elisha Talbot and to note that Lemuel Shaw was the chief justice at the trial of the accused leaders of the burning.



    "The Irish immigrants in Charlestown and Boston had often felt the extent to which they were unwelcome. The convent may have been welcomed by the upper class New Englanders who could afford to send their daughters there [for their education], but it was also an object of suspicion and dislike, especially on the part of the lower classes, and the Congregationists...."

    "In early December the accused leaders of the mob were brought to trial [for arson and burglary], Justices Shaw, Putman and Morton presiding. The Attorney General protested the early date of the trial, because general approval of the attack...made it difficult to get witnesses. All those he approached had received threats.

    On the old Charlestown Bridge a warning was posted: 'All persons giving information in any shape or testifying in court against anyone concerned in the late affair at Charlestown may expect assassination according to the oath which bound the party to each other.' '

    Court decisions: "The justices did not allow the Prosecution to question jurors on their anti-catholic sentiments. The Defense Attorney was allowed to state that the convent did not have charity as its object and that the nuns who came to testify were pretending to have colds as a result of the riot [and having to escape at night across a damp field]. ... The bishop and the mother superior were cross-examined on the morality of convent life."

    "The leaders of the riot were found not guilty after a 10 day trial. John R. Buzzell, the prime defendant, was quoted in the newspaper: 'The testimony against me was point black and was sufficient to have convicted twenty men, but somehow I proved an alibi, and the jury brought me victory of not guilty, after having been out for 21 hours.' "


    April 23, 2003 - 09:56 pm
    Obviously, there is a thread running through The Dante Club of judicial decisions in 1800's Boston. Shaw's involvement in the actual cases are not clues leading to the fictional murderer IMO but, because Shaw is such an eminent jurist, his rulings are used as a measure of the times of The Dante Club. That's why I think we keep seeing Shaw's name in connection to the real cases.

    About the Webster Murder Trial? I'm not sure why its included except that it was an exceptional trial involving Boston Brahmins. It doesn't relate directly to any 'punishment' by the vigilante that I can see, and its for this reason -- its unique unrelatedness compared to the other cases which are loosely tied to the fictional murders -- that I want to keep the Webster Murder Trial in mind as we continue to read and discuss The Dante Club. So there has to be some reason the Webster is included and I bet Matthew isn't telling!


    April 23, 2003 - 10:44 pm
    Horselover mentioned Longfellow and that "even after the long insomniac watches of the night he could still feel rested at daybreak." I think that's because he had company from his Fanny during the night (sleep is a kind of death where one can join with ghosts).

    In the book Voices of the Night there's the "Prelude" which is Longfellow's introduction into Hell with his first wife's death. Then comes the "Hymn to the Night" where he feels his wife's presence and is comforted. Only later in "A Psalm of Life" does the poet get on with living and working. In The Dante Club, however, after the death of Fanny, his second wife, he's stuck in the comfort of the night and cannot proceed emotionally.

    From "Hymn to the Night"

    I felt her presence, by its spell of might,
    Stoop o'er me from above;
    The calm majestic presence of the Night,
    As of the one I love.

    The night then is Longfellow's heaven and peace while day brings back reality and absence and Hell. "...sometimes, in the pale nimbus of the night lamp, Longfellow thought he could see her gentle face staring at him from the corner of the bedchamber, here in the room where she died. At these times, he would jump with a start. The sinking of the heart that followed his half-formed joy was a terror worse than any nightmare Longfellow could remember or invent, for whatever phantom image he might see during the night, he would still rise in the morning alone." (86)

    Lovely, expressive writing!


    April 24, 2003 - 08:14 am
    Jo--I typed in Guelf. Britannica Online can be slow sometimes. Could you read the link I put in? It comes up for me.

    Joan Pearson
    April 24, 2003 - 08:33 am
    Good morning!

    Yesterday, George asked a good question ~ why did Dante write The Divine Comedy? Was he trying to scare people? This morning I came across a letter written by Dante to Can Grande which may in some way begin to answer George's question.

    Who is Can Grande? Remember when we read of the hound, the grayhound that one day would overcome the leopard, the lion and the she-wolf, the beasts which hounded Dante into Hell? We never did come up with an explanation of whom this "hound" might represent. We're not alone. Those who study Dante are not of one mind about this either. Mark Musa, in notes accompanying his translation, has this to say about the hound
    "It seems plausible that the Greyhound represents Can Grande della Scala, the ruler of Verona from 1308-1329...whose 'wisdom, love and virtue' were known to Dante."
    So, that's who Can Grande was, a virtuous ruler who might someday overcome whatever the beasts represented, greed, fraud, etc... Here is a revealing letter Dante writes to Can:
    "The subject of this work must first be considered according to the letter, then be considered allegorically. The subject of the whole work, then, taken in the literal sense alone, is simply "the State of souls after death," for the movement of the whole work hinges on this. If the work be taken allegorically, the subject is "Man- as, according to his merits or demerits in the exercise of his free will, he is subject to reward or punishment by Justice..."

    The title of the work is "Here begins the Comedy of Dante Alighieri, Florentine by birth, not by character."
    Does his letter shed light on Dante's reasons for writing this work?

    Now, will reheat the coffee and sit back and read your posts...

    April 24, 2003 - 10:28 am
    Hello, fellow Hellions! I've been away for the week with the grand kids BUT I have continued to read each night. I am on track in both discussions. I shall return later today to post some thoughts on both.

    April 24, 2003 - 10:30 am
    I am sooo much enjoying reading this book along with this group! Usually I read mysteries, interspersed with "serious" literature, as an escape, and do not think a great deal about the characters, setting, or background. But this book has so many interesting aspects, aside from the murders and the mystery, that I am learning a lot from Matthew and from the comments of this wonderful group.

    Marvelle, It is not uncommon for those who have lost loved ones, particularly a spouse, to suffer from sleeplessness for all the reasons you mention.

    Today, in New York State, a State Supreme Court Judge was arrested for bribery and corruption, accused of selling verdicts and lenient punishments in return for gifts. I guess human nature is little changed since Dante's time. Remember the 1980s when a popular business mantra was "Greed is good."

    Joan, I think one reason Dante was writing this masterpiece may have been to help him deal with the grief of his banishment. Throwing oneself into work is a well-known therapy for grief, as Longfellow himself discovers.

    Jo Meander
    April 24, 2003 - 10:49 am
    Joan, I thought the greyhound was Christ! I guess the context of spiritual suffering and the suggestion that the greyhound would be the one to someday bring resolution to the suffering was what made me think that. As we know, a symbol can function on more than one level, and the other three animals represent sickness in the human spirit. We await healing throughout eons of spiritual alienation, and I thought that's what the greyhound was to bring. I need to read the section again, and even more I need to read about Dante's involvement in the political clash between church and state.
    Marvelle, thanks for all the information on Judge Shaw and on the burning of the Urseline convent. You have provided us with important information about the political and social environment affecting the story.
    Maryal, I will try your method of making the search if Brittanica readmits me! I signed up and provided tham with everything requested last night, and they welcomed me then told meI wasn't registered when I tried to do a search! I'm sure it's a fluke that will pass or at least that I'll be able to straighten out. Thanks again! I also found more info in the introduction to the Hollander and Hollander translation of The Inferno.
    Georgehd, I never thought about the possible connection between the fire that took Fany's life and Longfellow's subsequent dedication to The Inferno project until you said that! It would be tempting to think there was a connection between the two "fires" if he hadn't been a Dante scholar before her death. So I guess We can't be sure!

    April 24, 2003 - 11:49 am
    I'M LATE, I'M LATE!! Just got my copy of The Dante Club from the library. I had been on the 'hold list', but apparently it was misplaced. I have some reading to do to catch up. My immediate response to the opening chapter is to wish Mr. Pearl had been somewhat less thorough in his horrendous description of the corpse. ...Babi

    April 24, 2003 - 12:37 pm
    Hi, BaBi. Yes, isn't it horrid?! Hahahaha, keep reading.

    You're not terribly late; the book is a compelling page-turner and you'll catch up in no time. I particularly like being "introduced" to some American authors whose works I haven't read often enough -- not just their works though but feeling like I'm getting personally acquainted. Enjoy!


    Joan Pearson
    April 24, 2003 - 12:37 pm
    BaBi is here at last! Now where are Mme and FranO? You get past the maggots soon enough, BaBi, although I'm not sure we've heard the last of them! We have a running list of clues in the heading - is it time to add some more? What do you all think? Any hard evidence, or is it all circumstantial?

    As I read the posts I can't help but wonder whether we're going to catch this guy (gal) because of the details, the clues, or will there be a set of philosophical connections that lead us to the perpetrator? I am having the best time with this. There are a bunch of shady (shade-y) characters, which I've been dismissing as red herrings...the guy in the checkered vest, the disgruntled Bacci, the bitter Mead. (a nightmare of a student, isn't he? He hates the subject, hates the teacher and is just smart enough to cause trouble>) There is a good number of people familiar with Dante and an axe to grind...

    Jo, the thing I remember about Dante and the Guelphs...he was with the Whites who were AGAINST PAPAL control of the state - for separation between the Church and State. I'm thinking of the Harvard Corporation and the fear of Introducing the "Catholic" Inferno, the fear of the Papacy and the growing Catholic immigrant population. Then there is the Reverend Talbot...look at his diatribes against the Irish immigrants and their superstitious rituals...and the Papacy, regarded as a menace to religous independence in America.

    I see Dante, the Harvard Corporation and Rev. Talbot in agreement regarding their opposition to papal interference. Strange bedfellows!

    Marvelle, thanks for taking the time to explain the Webster case again - Judge Healey does not seem to be caught in any sort of moral failure in this one...BUT the same Judge, Healey/Shaw is also connected to the RR case, and therefore loosely connected to the Rev. Talbot. Enough to stand up under scrutiny? The only thing I see is a murderer who has had it with the Brahmins and the way they stick together against the immigrants - If the murderer is not an immigrant, he is in sympathy with them...or maybe not.

    Is it time to look closer at the Reverend Talbot? His punishment, buried as he is, feet to the sky is that of the Simonists Dante places down in the lower regions of hell. This is a far worse punishment than Judge Healey's (isn't it?) What is Simony? Has anyone picked up the Inferno to read Canto XIX? horselover? Marvelle? Maybe there is a clue down there...but it's so dark!

    What do you think? Are we any closer to solving this thing? Do you have any clues to add to the list? How about Rev. Talbot's murder/punishment resembling Dante's punishment of the Simonists?

    Marvelle, lovely post on Longfellow's insomnia...and I agree, beautiful writing on Matthew's part. Matthew makes much use of simile in this book...as did Dante in the Inferno. So did Virgil, come to think of it! Let's watch Matthew here!

    April 24, 2003 - 01:03 pm
    The fictional Rev. Talbot is also connected with the railroad as well as the burning of the Ursuline Convent, both of which the real Chief Justice Shaw heard in trial. That's two connections. I suspect that our famous Shaw and his trials are used as allusions to the theme (whatever that may be) and certainly not clues.

    Simoniacs in Canto XIX of the Inferno are the evil churchmen. My Webster Dictionary defines simony: the sin of buying or selling ecclesiastical preferments, benefices, etc.; named supposedly after Simon Magus who tried to purchase apostolic powers.

    I'd say a simoniac was 'someone who sells/buys religion, and religious favors.' Simon Magus saw the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles John and Peter and he tried to purchase this power for himself. Peter berated Simon for thinking he could buy the gift of God.

    Canto XIX (Longfellow translation) says it all:

    O Simon Magus, O forlorn discples,
    Ye who the things of God, which ought to be,
    The brides of holiness, rapaciously
    For silver or gold do prostitute....

    The punishment is described further on in the canto:

    I saw upon the sides and the bottom
    The livid stone with perforations filled,
    All of one size, and every one was round...
    Out of the mouths of each one there protruded
    The feet of a transgressor, and the legs
    Up to the calf, the rest within remained.
    In all of them the soles of both were on fire;
    Wherefore the joints so violently quivered,
    They would have snapped asunder withes and bands.
    Even as the flame of unctuous things is wont
    To move upon the outer surface only,
    So likewise was it there from heel to point.

    The pilgrim Dante addresses one sinner who is Pope Boniface VIII and Boniface tells him that there are others under him and when new simoniacs arrive he too will be pushed down further into the hole and "after him shall come of fouler deed / from tow'rds the west a Pastor without laws."


    April 24, 2003 - 01:05 pm
    You poor lost souls. The description of Judge Healey's body is just the first course of our meal. We are in for some scrumptous treats. Dante's Inferno feeds on the fears of his readers. What does Pearl's book feed on - I do not think it is fear. I am enthralled because....(fill in the blank). This book is significantly different from most murder mysteries because of its dependence on a previous work of literature.

    Now is anyone tempted to read the last few chapters. Isn't that an enticing idea? Where does that put me in Dante's scheme of things?

    April 24, 2003 - 01:52 pm
    Joan, Mead can't be the killer because he was with Lowell at the Dante seminar when Reverend Talbot is supposed to have been murdered.

    Wouldn't it be fun to guess (without reading ahead, of course) what will be the next punishment from "The Inferno" to be carried out by the killer? Perhaps the next victim will "suffer from the thirst that cracks your tongue, and from the fetid humor that turns your belly to a hedge before your eyes!" Or maybe there will be two victims frozen together as in Canto XXXII? Anyone care to speculate?

    Did you know that in 1882, long after he had completed his translation, Longfellow inaugurated the Dante Society, which continued to meet at his house on Brattle Street in Cambridge?

    April 24, 2003 - 02:36 pm
    In Canto XIX, Dante meets those who try to corrupt the things of God. Ciardi explains this as a "bolgia lined with round tube-like holes (debased equivalents to baptismal fonts) and the sinners are placed in them upside down with the soles of their feet ablaze. The heat of the blaze is proportioned to their guilt." He describes just as the Simoniacs made a mock of holy office, so are they turned upside down in a mockery of the baptismal font. The oily fire that licks at their soles may also suggest a travesty on the oil used in Extreme Unction(last rites for the dying) he explains.

    The Reverend Talbot spoke in a series of public debates on the dangers of the rise of Catholic churches in Boston. He was guilty of accepting bribes fom RR builders by recruiting men from Germany and the Netherlands to come to Boston with the false promise of a place to worship and a job building these railroads. Many of these men died and the monies he kept for himself.

    He locked it out of his mind and made each decision in life with an eye toward thoroughly skewering the wrongheadedness of others. At the moment of his death he raged that it was him instead of others dying.

    I'd call that corrupting the things of God, wouldn't you?

    Jo Meander
    April 24, 2003 - 02:45 pm
    Georgehd,I agree that Dante does just that -- works on the fear in his readers! Right now, for a reading experience I prefer Matthews's novel! Maybe when I'm finished with both works I will feel differently, but I'm not counting on it!
    Joan, I'm not ready to dismiss Bachi or his cohort in the checkered vest from the list of suspects. Too obvious? Red herring? Do you think the solution is going to be outrageous, against all understanding of the character as we have come to know him (her? but what her? I can only think of Mrs. Healy and her maid Nelly, or Mrs. Holmes, whom we really don't know much about.) No, there has to be some logical association between the culprit and the crime. It can't come out of the blue, or we will yell BOO!
    I've started to check Greene's remarks, and I found that he was the one who brought up the fact that Good Friday fell on the same date in 1300 as it did in the year of the novel's events -- "Greene tried to sound casual in returning to his preferred topic." p. 61.. But why is 1300 a big deal? Dante didn't start writing The Inferno until 1306. Is 1300 the beginning of his exile, or the year that his political involvement caused the exile to occur later?

    April 25, 2003 - 01:47 am
    Jo, Dante was exiled from Florence in 1302. The year 1300 is the Jubilee Year as declared by Pope Boniface VIII who was one of Dante's enemies placed in the Inferno. Dante had been excommunicated by Boniface.


    The Christian Jubilee of 1300 was a time of rejoicing and of pardon for sins for those who made a pilgrimage to the city of Rome. Dante re-centers his poem on the terrestrial Rome to include the spiritual journey of the soul to celestial Jerusalem.

    In the Middle Ages 24/25 March was the date of creation, of the fall of Adam and Eve, of the Annunciation and of the Crucifixion. While Boniface set the Jubilee Year as beginning January 1st, Dante chose 24/25 March as the beginning of his poem to align with the traditional dates and also because Florence, his beloved city, was the city of the lily and the Annunciation.


    Matthew Pearl
    April 25, 2003 - 05:38 am
    Just a quick note before running off this morning... 1300 is the year in which Dante SETS the Comedy. Dante is lost in the dark woods, supposedly, the night of Good Friday 1300. He rises to Purgatory on the morning of Sunday Easter (ressurection anyone?). You're right, Jo, that Dante isn't exiled until 1302 and probably didn't start the poem until around 1306, but that's his trick. By setting the poem in the year 1300, he can have the characters in the afterlife correctly "predict" or prophecy the future!

    Joan Pearson
    April 25, 2003 - 06:56 am
    Thank you for clearing that up, Matthew ! We've been wrestling with the question of the 1300/1306 date in the Inferno discussion too. So. Dante has set the whole excursion through Hell in a three day period - between Good Friday and Easter Sunday when he is resurrected from Hell. He wrote this "episode" when in exile in 1306, but set it in 1300, the same year Pope Boniface had ordered his exile. Got it! Thank you and Marvelle for this information!

    horselover, in answer to George's question about why Dante wrote the Inferno suggests that "one reason may have been to help him through the grief of his banishment. Working oneself through grief is a well-known therapy as Longfellow discovers."

    On page 87 the Dante Club:
    "Longfellow often thought of the two things Dante must have yearned for the most as he wrote the Divine Comedy while sitting in exile from his beloved Florence.
  • The first was to win a return to his homeland, which he would never succeed in doing;
    * the second was to see his Beatrice again, which the poet never could."
  • I agree with you horselover, Longfellow was finding the same connection with his Fanny as he threw himself into the translation, vicariously experiencing a reunion with her as Dante with his Beatrice. No wonder his insomnia didn't have an ill effect on him! His late night translations were therapeutic for him.

    There are other similarities between Dante and Longfellow, I think. We're told that young Dante seldom spoke unless questioned. Longfellow seems to be like that too, doesn't he? Doesn't he seem to be "removed"...kind of spacey much of the time when the Club is meeting? Preoccupied? Are poetics like this? When he DOES speak, they do pay attention, don't they?

    Joan Pearson
    April 25, 2003 - 07:41 am
    Is Dante writing this as a political piece, stating his views, writing of the excesses of the day, punishing his enemies in an attempt to win entry into Florence? Writing himself out of exile? What do you think, George? And in the process, managed to scare people by making them aware of their own transgressions and having to answer for them one day?

    Thank you all for the definition of Simony, the Simon Magus connection. (Andy's back!!!) , The Reverend Talbot has been "executed" because of the improper use of his holy office. It was helpful to learn what Canto XIX had to say about the way in which he was buried alive...a perversion of the baptismal position. When Marvelle posted the actual lines from Canto XIX, I couldn't help but visualize those "feet of the transgressor"...and wonder about the significance of the burning of his feet. What is your understanding of the significance of the burning feet? I note that Boniface is down there suffering with the Simonists. Does Dante feel with Boniface out of the way, getting punished for the ill-usage of his office, that the reasons for his banishment will finally be lifted?

    So many thoughts generated by your posts. Will save them for another time, but can't resist one further observation on "feet...

    Joan Pearson
    April 25, 2003 - 08:07 am
    Jo, you're right. We aren't ready to eliminate anyone just yet but ...there "has to be a logical connection between the culprit and the crime. Do you thnk we have already met him/her? Your mention of Mrs. Healey reminded me of something she SAID which I paused at and underlined because I thought it a very strange thing for her to say. Right "BEFORE the Talbot murder takes place, she puts an ad in the paper, annoucing a $10,000 reward for her husband's "murderer", in which she announces the true nature of her husband's death. (What does she understand the "true nature" to be?)
    "Ëdnah Healey now imagined specific machinations by which the villain might suffer and repent. Her favorite brought the murderer to Gallows Hill, but instead of hanging he was stipped bare of clothes and set on fire, then permitted to try (unsuccessfully of course) to put out the flames."
    Now what in the world did you make of this? Were his feet burning? Does this connect in any way to the Talbot murder/punishment? Keep in mind that this is said BEFORE the Talbot murder even takes place?

    But my bigger question concerns the fact that both punishments in the inferno involve the feet, the stinging and the fire, both sets of sinners unable to reach the source of their agony. Why feet? Why not hands, eyes? Why feet?

    April 25, 2003 - 09:03 am
    Joan, unfortunately I do not know how to answer your question about Dante and his motivations. I am moving quickly through this book as I find it a real page turner, which should please Matthew. I cannot say the same for The Inferno, where I remain bogged down, perhaps never to escape.

    A couple of thoughts have occurred to me regarding both books in a way. Why did Dante organize sins in the way he did and is the order of the murders in this book connected to that organization? Is the order of the murders connected with the progress of the translation? Because if there is a connection, then the murderer must know how the translation is progressing. And that would seriously limit our suspects.

    The characteristics of the Dante Club members is taking shape in an interesting way. I am finding Longfellow almost too perfect - a calm, gentle intelligent man - very likable. A Grandfather type.

    On page 43 there is a very interesting section that begins, "Dante's Hell is part of our world as much as part of the underworld, and shouldn't be avoided" And continue on to the end of the next paragraph. Note -"Holmes feared the Dante Club: He feared that it would usher in a new Hell, one empowered by the poets' sheer literary genius". How do those paragraphs fit into the overall scheme of things? I do not have an answer yet.

    Lowell is a strange mixture. On page 92 we learn of his black thoughts of suicide which seem so out of place with the rest of his character.

    April 25, 2003 - 10:31 am
    georgehd, Lowell suffered from chronic bouts of depression, and even consulted Dr. Holmes about it at one point. Since not much was known about depression at that time, Holmes "recommended punctual retirement by ten-thirty at night and cold water rather than coffee in the morning." This latter prescription would probably cause more depression than it cured. In any event, Lowell comments that, "It was for the best that Wendell had turned in the stethoscope for the professor's lecturn."

    It is unfortunate that so little was available in Lowell's and Longfellow's time for dealing with depression and grief. Today, their mental suffering might have been helped, but their poetry might have suffered.

    Jo Meander
    April 25, 2003 - 11:03 am
    Marvelle, Matthew, Joan and Georgehd: all your comments are informative and provocative, or maybe I just have a bit more energy today! Thanks, Marvelle, for the info about the jubilee year, and Matthew for pointing out how Dante used the predating of Inferno: "By setting the poem in the year 1300, he can have the characters in the afterlife correctly "predict" or prophecy the future!" Apparently that date gave him an extra opportunity to use his literary slingshot on his adversaries.
    Joan, now we need to add Mrs. Healy to the list! She speaks of death by fire for the culprit, and then Talbot suffers like the simoniacs in hell, but I don't think his feet were on fire, were they? Her possible knowledge of The Inferno style of suffering could be a red herring, too, a coincidence of sorts.
    Oh, YES, the feet were on fire! I remember now how hideously charred they were at the autopsy, where Holmes backs away from it all!

    Jo Meander
    April 25, 2003 - 11:30 am
    I think Mrs. Healy believes that Boston killed him in the sense that feeling had risen against after he had the slave returned as dictated by the Fugitive Slave Law. His murderer was acting in response to that feeling of outrage experienced by those who disagreed with the law, abolitionists, mostly? (Healy was an abolitionist too, and therefore acting against his own moral sense in placing a temporal law above a moral one.)
    Georgehd, that's a great question! If the murders all correspond to the order in which the cantos are being translated, that will be a great clue! Have any of the poets indicated what section they were working on? I'll have to check. Feel free to beat me to it!
    horselover, maybe suffering stimulates the artist, and maybe sometime it burdens him to the degree that he can't produce anything. In Longfellow's case, the death of Fanny, his second wife, seems to have paralyzed him. He found he could work on the traslation of Dante's work, but could not write his onwn poetry any more. Ater his first wife's death he was able to write quite a bit, and the verse (I read this elsewhere, this isn't my first hand observation) reflect progess from grief and darkness of mood and spirit to a peaceful and loving acceptance of her passing. He was even able to think about her spirit visiting him in tranquil moments. Not so after Fanny's death. Generally speaking, I think the artist is stimulated by his/her own life events if the gift is already within. I think many suffer and produce nothing because they aren't really artists.

    April 25, 2003 - 11:30 am
    Poor ole Holmes, I feel sorry for him. As Harvard's Prof. of Anatomy and Physiology, he left a bit to be desired, did he not? You could literally feel him flinch, blanch and nearly swoon, himself, (like Dante did when entering the circles) when the body of the Reverend was being examined and discussed by chief Kurtz and Prof. Haywood. He was right to fear that the Dante Club would usher in a new hell (pg. 43.)

    Jo Meander
    April 25, 2003 - 12:04 pm
    Alf, yes indeed, he does leave much to be desired, as we find him here. Matthew, was he really that bad, that self-centered???) Horselover quotes Lowell's reflection upon Holmes's lack of empathy in her last post:” It was for the best... that Wendell had turned in the stethoscope for the professor's lectern;"
    I think the rest of his thought adds to our understanding: "he did not have the patience to see suffering through to the end."
    That's exactly how I see Holmes. He is blind to his own limitations and without empathy. He seems to expect things to go his way without inconvenience to himself, without having to accept the type of struggles and sorrows that Dante did, for instance, when he was grieving and writing in exile. It irritates Holmes that the publication of The Inferno translation may proceed and even interfere with the publication and acceptance of his own novel. He fails to see the irony in his expectations for his own success, even while he is participating in the work to bring Dante's masterpiece to the American reader, Dante who lost his love and his beloved city and still continued to write. Also, he is working with Longfellow, who is still suffering from his own loss, and with Lowell, who has already struggled with grief and depression. I think his self-centered attitude is the reason for his son's scorn. Someone, maybe Manning, referred to him as "a clubbable man," and his son says that he thinks he would be happy clinking glasses anywhere. "Wendy" believes that Lowell's commitments are genuine, but those of his father seem shallow. (I can't find the passages at the moment.)

    April 25, 2003 - 12:38 pm
    Jo your description of Holmes is perfect.

    Jo Meander
    April 25, 2003 - 12:39 pm
    Thanks, George! That's been on my mind for a while. Now we need to do some character contrasts!

    April 25, 2003 - 02:16 pm
    Holmes problem is that he has too much empathy and his protection from that emotional deluge is to retreat into the refrain of "let's everybody be happy" which is unrealistic. Lowell has nothing to lose with his stances on issues of the day. His involvements seem to be reactions and of-the-moment. Distant? Lowell is physically courageous which is the opposite of Holmes who we must remember is a doctor. Holmes did some pioneering work in the causes to the spread of physical diseases so I don't feel it's safe to consider him incompetent as a medical doctor -- just too empathetic to be around evidence of suffering.

    Both Lowell and Holmes are dilettantes (sp?) who write poetry outside of their jobs. Both are lecturers (Holmes more successful) and Lowell is highly successful as an editor and essayist.

    From what Matthew writes of them, I'd say that Lowell, the poet-editor with a law degree, is analytical and sees through to the center of issues. Holmes, the poet-lecturer with a medical degree, is emotional and empathetic and sees through to the center of people.

    I think Lowell has submerged his feelings -- such as not remembering his first wife's face; while Holmes subverts his feelings -- "be happy." IMO these are two men coping with reality in very flawed and extreme ways.

    Both are egotistical: Lowell's depression and need to control is a form of self-centeredness; Holmes preening into mirrors and constantly jabbering is another form of self-centeredness. Holmes is aware of his conceit; I would think that Lowell, as with most depressives, is also aware.

    I like the description of Longfellow as spacey. The second tragedy seems to have left him with a certain fragility and saintliness which he shows in many ways, including being both father and mother to their children. Longfellow fills the void left by Fanny's death through his attempt to understand and translate the Inferno. He's treated more like Virgil by his poets, isn't he? He's their guide and touchstone.


    April 25, 2003 - 02:57 pm
    Having joined in late, I trust you all will be patient with me if I dig around in old ground.

    Personal history re. Dante's "Divine Comedy": I tried reading The Inferno, and found myself wholly out of sympathy, even antipathetic, to what I was reading. Since it was giving me no pleasure and even irritating me, I dropped it. Perhaps I would have done better to begin with the third canto on 'Heaven', as Longfellow did. It is entirely likely, tho', that I would disagree with Dante's view of heaven as much as I disliked his hell.

    Two particularly pleasing (to me)quotes from Mr. Pearl: his definition of poetry, via Lowell, "The proof of poetry was...that it reduced to the essence of a single line the vague philosophy that floated in all men's minds, so as to render it portable and useful, ready to the hand."

    Secondly, on page 42, the phrase "from the insightful position of ignorance". I love it! [And I've been there more than once!]

    My plea for Mr. Holmes in the discussions just posted...he was the most vulnerable of the lot at this time, in terms of his position with the college and his reputation and standing. I'm inclined to cut hims a bit of slack.

    On Lowell's depression... some of his poetry suggests painful losses in his family. A child, if the poem I'm thinking of is autobiographical. Has this already been discussed? ...Babi

    April 25, 2003 - 05:23 pm
    Babi, I can relate to your feelings about the Inferno and I just want to say if you have the time, give it a chance and get through the first three or four cantos. The reason I say that is that I am getting a mini classical education, which I never had. There are a number of web sites that can help in understanding the book and I assume that your version has copious notes at the back. I do not understand many lines - I do not even read every line but it is becoming more interesting to me. I do not believe in Hell but find Dante's conception both strange and wonderful in a way. Dante has stood the test of time and I feel that I need to give him a chance to engage me. So every day or two I struggle with him.

    It may be a hell of a struggle but I do hope to finish the book; it is my cod liver oil for the day.

    April 25, 2003 - 05:35 pm
    Jo, I think the problems Holmes has as a doctor stem, in large part, from the state of medical knowledge at that time. Very little was known about disease and its treatment, so there was little the doctor could do or prescribe that would help. It is hard for us to imagine now, when biology and medicine are making major advances almost daily (today is the anniversary of Watson and Crick's discovery of the structure of DNA, and this is also the week that the entire Human Genome was mapped).

    I agree with you that suffering will only be transmuted into art if there is creativity to start with. But so many great artists and writers were depressed, it's hard not to wonder about the connection (Poe, Hemingway, Jackson Pollock, Van Gogh, to name just a few). Perhaps Longfellow's translation of Dante was a work of art in itself even if not an original work.

    Jo Meander
    April 25, 2003 - 09:11 pm
    horselover, I think you are right about the limitations of medicine in Holmes' day, and that he, like his colleagues in the field, did the best they could. I do not question his knowlege or even his good intentions (he's a mixed bag, ego included), but his prescription for Lowell's depression, punctual retirement and cold water rather than coffee, seems a bit short of the mark for a friend who is down in the very deep dumps. Could he have talked to him, commiserated about his loss and his state of mind? Cold water and sleep are beneficial, but if Lowell actually came to him in a poor frame of mind and spirit, surely he could have shown empathy by indulging him with some time and conversation. Lowell seems to think he is lacking in that area, even years after the depression has faded.
    I agree that the translation is a type of creativity. The poet/translator has to make the images and themes of another author vivid and accurate for readers of his own language, and that requires creative use of that language.

    April 26, 2003 - 06:58 am
    Georgehd: If you truly are enjoying the road to hell go on to a book store and pick up the paperback (only six bucks) of the Inferno, translated by John Ciardi. It makes the reading very easy and understandable. It is described as a "version definitive for our time." It damned near beckons you.

    April 26, 2003 - 08:11 am
    George--I second ALF's recommendation of Ciardi's translation. It is superb. And the notes are wonderful. And you're on to something. The first four cantos are, to my thinking, only preface. The really interesting stuff begins in Canto 5.

    Babi--I think your revulsion of hell is understandable! Who among us would want to live in Dante's hell for all eternity?

    April 26, 2003 - 08:47 am
    Thanks to Alf and Maryal; I will order that translation but will not have it until mid May when I am in the US. In the meantime I will continue to struggle. Remember that I live in Hell so the struggle seems appropriate.

    April 26, 2003 - 10:43 am
    I think "The Dante Club" as well as "The Inferno" raises the question of God's justice. If God is merciful and forgiving, how should we regard these terrible, vindictive tortures of the damned.

    Justice on earth is obviously very imperfect. We have those like Judge Healey and Reverend Talbot who are respected, admired, and rewarded by others despite their "sins." They must be murdered in order to receive "justice."

    Jo, We should probably not be too hard on Dr. Holmes. After all, vain as he is, he is willing to go down in the filthy hole to dig further at Longfellow's request.

    Jo Meander
    April 26, 2003 - 10:56 am
    horselover, is the "filthy hole" a reference to something coming up in the next section, or are you referring to The Inferno itself? I am indeed prepared to give Holmes credit where it is due!

    April 26, 2003 - 12:11 pm
    LOL!! George, you almost had me convinced, 'til you described your Dante reading as your "cod liver oil" for the day. This is not an enticement, George. (*~*) (I'm still grinning.)

    I think the common view of "God's justice" and "God's mercy" was considerably more stringent in Dante's day. Didn't the Catholic Church preach a Hell very much in accord with Dante's views? Then, this was an age where people witnessesed the horrors of plague, with it's heaps of dead and dying. I don't think there are many of us here who could look on death and hell in quite the same way. ...Babi

    April 26, 2003 - 12:46 pm
    Babi said something interesting in her last post. "Then this was the age .....with its heaps of dead and dying" Have any of you seen photographs of the Civil War battlefields? Pretty grim stuff. I remember reading a book called "Andersonville" which was about the largest Federal POW camp and was somewhat factually based. The title could just as well been "Hell". The opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan are probably not nearly as bad as what soldiers witnessed during the Civil War.

    April 26, 2003 - 01:09 pm
    I'm wondering how much an anatomist like Holmes was supposed to know about mental disorders and depressions? Were there specialists in 1865 Boston for Lowell to consult, or was it commonly believed that depression stemmed from physical causes? Perhaps Matthew can help us out.


    April 26, 2003 - 03:04 pm
    BaBi and Georgehd, Susan Sontag has recently published a book, "Regarding the Pain of Others," which may interest you. She writes about how difficult it is to communicate the terrible horrors of war so that those who are not experiencing them can actually feel them. She talks about some of the famous photographs of war that most of us have seen, which still failed to prevent future wars. War is Hell, but it is also exciting, at least until the wounded and dead are all around you. I think until men experience these horrors for themselves, they feel immune from harm. As Dante says:

    I am made such by God's grace that your affliction does not touch, nor can these fires assail me.

    April 26, 2003 - 03:21 pm
    Just to let you know I'm still reading Matthews book and keeping up with the assignments. I'm not confident enough to post, but lurking around the edges and listening carefully. Love all the links and will try to find Ciardi's version of the Inferno. Ruth (hiding under the table in the study).

    April 26, 2003 - 08:50 pm
    Ruth, you can pass us little notes from under the table (unless Trap eats them first!)


    Jo Meander
    April 26, 2003 - 09:28 pm
    Yes Ruth, just sneak us a little message now and then! I won't tell anybody!

    Matthew Pearl
    April 27, 2003 - 06:57 am
    Hi all. Today I'm giving a "Dante Club" tour of the Longfellow House to the members of the Dante Society of America. I think I've mentioned that I've given it a few times before and it's a fun step through history, at least for me. I am reminded of it by Marvelle's post as one of the things I point out is where Trap stole a partridge one Wednesday evening while the Dante Club members were in the study translating... Regarding the question about Holmes and depression, there was certainly recognition of depression but in different terms and with less nuances than we have; Holmes's challenge is, as you rightly point out, finding the patience to remain empathetic. The image the characterizes him for me is the report, from several historical sources, that he would constantly shift from one foot to the other. A need for constant shifting and changing -- not unlike the "Neutrals" in Canto III of Inferno... speaking of feet, those of you reading Inferno might note Canto I, line 30, where Dante implies that as he wakes from the dark wood he is limping. Feet in medieval times were considered symbolic of one's moral state, and the limp here a reflection of Dante's moral imbalance at the start of the journey (it gets more technical than that, but that's the essence). The feet burning in the punishment of the Simonites is more about a general inversion, though, just as the Simonites have inverted the purpose of the church. I'm sorry to hear some are finding Inferno slow-going -- do try another or a second translation, sometimes readers click with one translation but not another.

    April 27, 2003 - 07:25 am
    Feet were considered symbolic of one's moral state Matthew? Holy smokes I need to reread these cantos as the references to feet are numerous.

    Good grief my feet are the most sensitive part of my body. Does that mean my morality needs a review? At times, they sting and burn! I am doomed I believe.

    Thank you for that information, Matt. Isn't this fun?

    April 27, 2003 - 10:12 am
    I was absolutely stunned to see Matthew put Holmes in the same category as the Neutrals: "The image that characterizes him for me is the report, from several historical sources, that he would constantly shift from one foot to the other. A need for constant shifting and changing -- not unlike the "Neutrals" in Canto III of Inferno."

    It's true that Holmes is fearful of damaging his reputation (and his source of income). When he desperately tells Longfellow that they "mustn't tell anyone" about the Dante connection they have discovered, Longfellow accuses him of keeping "your hands in your pockets." And Dr. Holmes himself is stung by Wendell Jr.'s criticism of his father's attitude toward the war and the Fugitive Slave Act.

    Still, Holmes seems to be a much more sympathetic character than the Neutrals. I think he recognizes his faults and would like to change them. Hell would be a very crowded place if everyone who ever waffled on an important issue or sat on the fence were to be eternally damned.

    April 27, 2003 - 12:29 pm
    Horselover, I think Holmes is absolutely a Neutral. There may be self-interest there but I think mostly uncertainty. That hampers his decision-making. Did you notice how he reacted to the bodies? Holmes' personal journey into the Inferno, like Dante's pilgrim.

    I think Holmes' fear for his reputation and income stems from the damage done by his support of the Fugitive Slave Law. Obviously, he's worried (rightly I imagine) about money and losing his job. He didn't end up on the 'winning' side of the FSL and he's in a fragile position because of this.

    Wonderful insights on feet! Hope someone with the technical know-how posts Matthew's information into the Inferno discussion.

    I like the Mark Musa edition of the Inferno which is the Indiana Critical Edition. Not for Musa's poetry -- I prefer Ciardi, Pinsky, and Longfellow for the beauty of their translations -- but for the little footnotes and synopsis which clarifies each canto and makes it an easier read. There are essays too which I plan to dip into near the end of the discussion. I'm reading the Musa translation in tandem with the Longfellow.


    Jo Meander
    April 27, 2003 - 01:38 pm
    My feet are killing me.

    April 27, 2003 - 02:08 pm
    Horselover, I thought you quote most appropriate. It is so easy to be unaffected by the hurts of others, especially in a society that is accustomed to seeing people knocked over the head on TV, and bouncing up insisting they are okay. Not to mention the daily horrors reported by the media from all over the world. I fear we have become enured.

    Matthew, I was especially interested in your comment on the medieval symbolism of feet. I have found that in dreaming, the feet often symbolize personal foundations, such as character, morals, etc. A limp would certainly indicate some imbalance or weakness in that department.

    It had not occurred to me to watch for symbolism in the Divine Comedy that is still relevant today. I'll have to keep that thought in mind. ..Babi

    April 27, 2003 - 03:54 pm
    "Long ago, Lowell pointed out the misfortune which comes of reading only Hell, and that a real love for Dante was to be known or measured by one's interest in and affection for his Paradise and Purgatory. In such degree as we come to know The Divine Comedy must we come to know its author, Dante, every line of whose works proves him to have been, and to be, one of the noblest of earth's sons." From "Dante, How to Know Him" by Alfred M. Brooks

    I wonder if we are missing something by concentrating on "The Inferno" because this is where "The Dante Club" is up to in the translation?

    Jo, I know this is past where we are currently discussing, but you are all going to love the slapstick comedy scene in Chapter X. I'm not giving anything away, but I did not realize Matthew could be sooo funny.

    April 27, 2003 - 04:38 pm
    Some interesting info about Dr. Holmes, a complex character who was not Neutral in all things:

    "Oliver Wendell Holmes, doctor, poet, writer, and jurist, was, of course, two people -- a father and a son with the same name. The elder Holmes was born to a New-England Calvinist minister in 1809. He studied medicine at Harvard, then went on to do research. His verbal brilliance may've cost him the focus you need to be a great scientist. Once he wrote, "I like nine-tenths of any matter I study but I do not like to lick the plate."

    His love of words may've come from his stepmother -- a fine wit herself who lived to 93. She once told him, "Life is a fatal complaint, and an eminently contagious one." That curious remark is mirrored by one of Holmes's best contributions.

    In 1843 he took just 21 days to dash off a monograph: The Contagiousness of Puerperal Fever. That dreaded childbirth disease was killing mothers at an alarming rate. While the concept of contagion and the existence of germs were known, no one had connected the two. Worse yet, contagion carried the same aura of moral deficiency that some people still attach to it.

    One distinguished doctor, commenting on Holmes's ideas, wrote,

    I prefer to attribute [these deaths] to accident, or Providence, of which I can form a clear conception, rather than to contagion of which I cannot form any clear idea.

    So Holmes's colleagues pooh-poohed his idea that childbirth fever might be contagious. Four years later the combative Hungarian doctor, Ignaz Semmelweis, also suggested contagion. But he offered effective means for fighting it. "Wash your hands," Semmelweis demanded. And it worked, though no one knew why.

    Holmes fought other battles people weren't ready for. He tried to get women into medical school. He fought anti-Semitism. But he wouldn't support abolition, because he'd turned against Calvinism, and Calvinists were deeply opposed to slavery. Abolitionsim struck him as Calvinist self-righteousness. At the same time, his son, the Supreme Court chief-justice-to-be, went off to fight for the Union cause in the Civil War. He was wounded three times and very lucky to come home alive.

    But still, Holmes understood the folly of trying to live a logically consistent life. It shows in his poem about the wonderful one-hoss shay. That shay was so perfectly built it lasted a hundred years to the day. Then it wore out all at once and collapsed into a pile of dust. What a wrenching metaphor for the doctor's hopeless ideal of keeping quality in human life -- to the end!

    But Holmes came close. He lived to 85. Then, one day, sitting and talking with his son, he simply stopped breathing. Like the wonderful shay, he too wore out all at once."

    Jo Meander
    April 27, 2003 - 08:25 pm
    horselover thank you for the information on Holmes, especially the metaphor! Do you get the impression that the notion we can have quality for our entire lives and then "go all at once" is an idea of our own time? Exercise, vitamins, surgeries, diets -- there isn't anything that could be done to prolong the quality of our existence that isn't being marketed. So if one, by the miracles of medical science and enlightened activity and nutrition, lives to be 105, let's say, can they be in perfect shape and then just collapse like a rag doll? Will everyone be "a wonderful one-horse shay"?

    Joan Pearson
    April 28, 2003 - 04:37 am
    Good morning, sinners!

    The best part of being off for the weekend is sitting here with a just-brewed coffee and reading all of your posts since Friday in one sitting.

    Reading so many posts at once gives me a prospective I don't have when considering each one at a time. Maybe this is what happens when you read Inferno too closely, considering each "sinner" instead of the sin, considering the sin, without considering the punishment.

    George and BaBi, I see three worthy perscriptions suggested for your difficulty in getting into the spirit of the Inferno, which after all is the key to understanding why it has endured.
  • try another translation - two are recommended here, John Ciardi's and Mark Musa's. Longfellow's is historically significant as it was the first American translation and also written by a beloved American poet, but the more modern approach may be easier to decipher.
  • have patience - believe those who tell you that the "cod liver oil" goes down with scarcely a notice, once you get past Limbo...
  • read the poem as "everyman" - put yourself into it, rather than regard it as something that may have been relevant in 1300. Look for relevance today.

  • My own observations after reading your analyses of the members of the Dante Club, and the chapters we will be considering this week, VI - VIII,:
  • I see Longfellow as Virgil, as a guide, a "touchstone" for the Clubbers as you noted, but now I am seeing strong semblances to Dante himself. Both wandering, searching and a guide to others at the same time. Hmmm...do we all play this dual-role in our own lives?

  • I'm looking at the punishments in the Inferno...beginning with Canto V and am not seeing a vengeful, exacting God - but rather "poet Justice". The punishments appear to be the logical results of the excesses. I guess what I'm saying, is whatever your beliefs in a personal God, an afterlife, the existance of Hell, you will find the message that you will get yours, one way or another. Someone here put it earlier...the "what-goes-around, comes around" syndrome. It's when you come to this realization, that you stop looking so closely at the sin of the individuals in the Inferno and start looking at your own shortcomings for which you will eventually have to pay the price. It's when you reach this self-examination stage that you really get into Dante, as EVERYMAN.
  • The feet! Thank you Matthew! Let's all take care of our feet or pay the price! I'm reminded of Matthew's description of Holmes - "shifting from one foot to the other as though standing on hot coals"- wonderfully put! Think about it! I wonder whether we are so intent on turning the pages to solve the mystery if we are appreciating Matthew's writing, his use of simile and metaphor...so appropriate to the Inferno. As you "stumble" over them, will you share them with us?

    We open this week with the poets'first recognition that the two murders are related. Do all of the poets agree that someone has used Dante to murder two of their "own set? What is their first reaction to this realization?

    ps. Jo, in answer to your question... I think that physically many of us will go to pieces all at once like the shay,(what a comforting thought!)...but morally, no. Little lapses here and there, but nothing that can't be "righted" along the way, before our time is up.

    April 28, 2003 - 05:14 am
    Welcome back. Is there any way you can put Matthew's post on FEET over in the Inferno Discussion?

    I think we need it there too. Someone else already suggested this, but I forget who.

    Joan Pearson
    April 28, 2003 - 05:36 am
    It was Marvelle, and yes of course, I will put "feet" in the Inferno discussion...have been posting Matthew's thoughts there all along and will continue to do so. I'm working on it right now...as fast as I can before red dog needs her walk!

    Jo Meander
    April 28, 2003 - 07:33 am
    Joan, welcome back! Great questions above and great post! Thanks too, for the comforting post on our inevitable deterioration. Evidently you believe in a forgiving God, as I do. (If He isn't then... ah, me!!!)
    I do begin to see the closeness of Longfellow's experience to Dante: each in a sense is an esile, Dante literally so, and Longfellow for a time from his own life's work due to his grief over Fanny's death. M. Pearl describes him alone in that last section of our last reading, where he is having his morning coffe and sifting through unanswered letters as he thinks about the wandering Dante, missing Florence, beholding "the towers of the feudal castles cresting the distant hills ... he felt how arrogant are the strong, how much abused the weak Every brook and river reminded him of the Arno; every voice he heard told him by its strange accent that he was an exile. Dante's poem was no less than his search for home." His work on Dante seems to be participation in the search. Our author says a few pages later that "...he was not chasing after a fitting style to render Dante's words this time... He was chasing after Dante."

    Jo Meander
    April 28, 2003 - 07:40 am
    I'm behind. Can you indulge me in a few more comments on two characters in the last section? I promise to catch up today and to talk about what we are supposed to be talking about, or shut up!
    Early in the conflict over the Inferno (p.30), Lowell says that he “would not suffer the fellows of the Corporation to sit in judgment of a literature of which they knew nothing.” He seems willing to face any threat to his own academic activity and to his position in that community if some personal loss would ensure the fruition of Longfellow’s Inferno project. The Harvard Corporation represented by Augustus Manning threatens the life of the intellect and academic freedom. Their desire is to prevent interest in books written in an alien tongue and reflecting a belief system even more disturbing than the language. When Holmes raises the possibility of delaying The Inferno’s publication until they can enlist the support of other respected authors and philosophers, Lowell states his belief that “those damned fools at Harvard are still in a white heat trying to close down my Dante course. … Once they start throwing books in the fire, they shall put us all into an inferno we won’t soon escape, my dear Holmes.”
    (Do you agree that they do present such a threat? Could anything like this happen now?
    His positive view of Dante, his energetic commitment to the work is evident in and out of his classroom. (p. 43) “Dante’s hell is part of our world as much as part of the underworld, and shouldn’t be avoided . . . but rather confronted. We sound the depths of Hell very often in this life.” During a Dante Club session he comments (p.56) “ Dante writes like Rembrandt, with a brush dipped in darkness and a gleam of hellfire as his light.”
    Holmes thinks that “Lowell, as usual, would have every inch of Dante at his tongue’s end: he loved Dante’s poetry, body and mind.”
    On p. 43 Lowell says that “Dante’s hell is part of our world as much as part of the underworld, and shouldn’t be avoided. . . but rather confronted. We sound the depths of Hell very often in this life.” Later, he tells his students that (p. 67) “Dante’s theme is man – not a man.” And that “Somewhere in the middle of our lives, we all, each one of us, journey to face a Hell of our own. …From the very first line…we are involved in the journey, we are taking the pilgrimage as much as he is, and we must face our Hell as squarely as Dante faces his. You see that the poem’s great and lasting value is as the autobiography of the human soul. Yours and mine, it may be, as much as Dante’s.”
    His commitment to the work is evident and he shows me, as reader, a way to look at Dante’s intentions, even though I haven’t arrived at the place in my understanding where I can say I am sure the work reflects my own spiritual struggles and journey. I can’t say that it doesn’t either! Do those of you reading The Inferno (I think that is most of us) see in the work the “autobiography of the soul”?
    Longfellow and Lowell's views of Dante's work seem to reinforce each other.

    Jo Meander
    April 28, 2003 - 08:37 am
    My other character is Ticknor, Longfellow’s predecessor as the Dante professor.
    Holmes tells Fields that he should be the one to enlist Prof. Ticknor in their Dante cause, and goes to sound him out on the subject. Ticknor, in a purple velvet skullcap and slippers, takes in Holmes’s high quality clothes, necktie, and handkerchief. He looks down his nose at the commercial activity of selecting and publishing things for the public to read, as Fields and his cousin William T. are doing. In regard to Longfellow’s translation, Holmes says to T., “You always said how important it was to spread knowledge of foreign cultures to the educated class.”
    Ticknor replies,” We must work to understand our foreigners, Dr. Holmes. If we do not conform newcomers to our national character and bring them in willing subjection to our institutions, the multitudes of outside people will one day conform us.”
    When Holmes asks him what he thinks the chances are that the public will embrace Longfellow’s translation, “A mist clouded Ticknor’s jet-black eyes. ‘I had not thought it possible that I would live to see an American translate Dante, and I cannot comprehend how he will accomplish the task. Whether or not the ungloved masses will accept it is a different question, one that must be settled by the popular voice, as separate from that of scholarly lovers of Dante. On that bench of judges, I can never be competent to sit,’ Ticknor said with unrestrained pride that brightened him.
    Ticknor had wanted to be the one to introduce Dante at Harvard, but didn’t get the opportunity. He loves D. “as Longfellow does.”
    What will his role be, if any, in the unfolding of events? He does not seem like a benign presence. He is snobbish, distracted by superficial matters of appearance, and somewhat envious of Longfellow’s achievement. He reminds me of the modern outcry against the non-anglo cultures “invading and taking over” our country and foreshadowing a future when “we will be in the minority.” Ticknor thinks we have to make sure we get the uneducated newcomers in our thrall, so to speak, so that they can’t change “us.” Given those negative impressions, I still find his final comment interesting:
    “…when I grow to believe that when we hold out hope that Dante shall be read widely, we fall prey to pedantic folly. ……Do not ask what brings Dante to man but what brings man to Dante – to personally enter his sphere, though it is forever severe and unforgiving.”

    April 28, 2003 - 01:33 pm
    Two very meaty posts, Jo. I must admit I had dismissed Ticknor as ineffectual, which may be a mistake.

    I reacted most negatively to the Harvard 'Corporation's desire to control academic studies, to be able to bar any that did not carry their stamp of approval. I can think of nothing that would be more deadly to the academic growth and relevance of an institution of learning. I am wholly in sympathy with Lowell's stand.

    The more we learn about the murders, the more one would expect the identity of the murderer to become apparent. How many men are there in Boston with the knowledge of Dante, knowledge of the secret sins of the victims, and access to esoteric insect species. That second is most important: knowledge of sins that most people, including our socially "in" group of the Dante club, do not know. The list becomes more exotic as we go on, but I believe I would be getting ahead of schedule to mention those just yet. ...Babi

    April 28, 2003 - 05:52 pm
    Once they start throwing books in the fire, they shall put us all into an inferno we won’t soon escape, my dear Holmes.” (Do you agree that they do present such a threat? Could anything like this happen now?)

    Jo, Something like this has happened now. How many newspaper stories have you read about taxpayers trying (and often succeeding) in removing books from library shelves? And what about those states where it is a crime to teach the theory of evolution, or use textbooks which explain this scientific theory? Science has made great strides since 1865, but human nature changes little, if at all.

    I've been thinking, as I read this book, that maybe the reason God does not punish the sinners until after death is because, in life, there is always the possibility of change and redemption. The sinner has until the very last moment the opportunity to recognize the wrongs he has done and redeem his life. However, once life ends, the punishment for sins must not only be just, but (according to Dante) "contrapasso." It must somehow remind the sinner throughout all eternity of the nature of his sin.

    What makes Lowell say, "Our Lucifer knew how to transport these insects." Aren't flies and amggots found wherever flesh is left to rot? Why would Lowell suspect that they were transported?

    April 28, 2003 - 07:19 pm
    My personal copy of the book arrived this week, so I can return the library copy which already has several holds on it. And I've started marking and writing in it -- a first (for me.)

    I've been thinking a lot about Lowell's students. Surely there must be several former members of his Dante classes still in the Boston area, and at least one has devoured the Inferno. I don't think we've met the murderer yet, unless it turns out to be Augustus Manning. I'm not reading the Inferno along with you, but do appreciate the parallels and comparisons that you all bring to this discussion.

    The characterization and lives of the poets are what have been interesting me most in this discussion, especially Holmes. Have we been picking on him? I've been trying to find out more about him, and offer up this quote about him by William Dean Howells, a contemporary of the poets and a later owner of the Atlantic.

    "He was not a man who cared to transcend; he liked bounds, he liked horizons, the constancy of shores. If he put to sea, he kept in sight of land, like the ancient navigators."

    Howells met with Holmes at meetings of the Dante Club, as he mentions in the essay found here: http://howells.underthesun.cc/holmes/holmes1.html

    April 28, 2003 - 10:38 pm
    I've enjoyed catching up on everyone's posts today; the insights of the group are exciting. In the Inferno discussion Joan asked for individual translations of the Francesca & Paolo punishment from Canto V so we could compare them. I posted part of the Musa translation about that punishment and hope others will post other translations, with or without comments. It'd be appreciated.

    The words of Tennyson that 'stunned' Holmes were:

    ". . . you and I are old;
    Old age hath yet his honor and his toil.
    Death closes all; but something ere the end,
    Some work of noble note, may yet be done . . . ." (Lowell 114)

    I think this, the first part of the quote, is what convinced Holmes. He had to think about it a minute but he was the one person of the group who'd really need to be moved to act; to place himself outside his safety zone. Holmes is moved IMO into thinking that he could still act and be honorable and wipe out any mistakes of the past or at least diminish the mistakes. The idea of being detectives to stop the murders and save Dante needed Holmes cooperation for it to succeed. And both poets continue with:

    " . . . . that which we are, we are./ One equal temper of heroic hearts./Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will/To strive, to seek, to find--" (Holmes 116)

    "To strive...to seek, to find . . ." (Lowell 116)


    In The poem "Ulysses," Tennyson based the personality of Ulysses on Dante's description of him in Canto 26. In Homer's "Odyssey" none of Odysseus' companions make it back to Ithaca but in the Inferno, Dante keeps the companions alive so that Odysseus/Ulysses will be the "evil counselor" who urges the mariners on to disaster. Tennyson celebrates Ulysses' restless quest while Dante condems it as a "mad flight" (folle volo). The poem picks up at the peaceful close of Ulysses life.

    Tennyson's "Ulysses"

    The above link has an unusual, but short, heading. I chose this website because the double-spaced lines were easier to read than some of the other links.


    April 28, 2003 - 11:06 pm
    Ann, we posted about Holmes at the same time. The quote you provided was perfect for Holmes especially "if put to sea, he kept sight of land...." Holmes was a reluctant man of action and of decision but I believe we'll also talk about each of the Dante Club members.

    Anybody who wants to read the Tennyson poem but who prefers another format, please let me know. I have a few others links of the same poem and I can post one of them.


    Joan Pearson
    April 29, 2003 - 07:59 am
    Marvelle, that is a wonderful link to Tennyson's Ulysses...perfect! Will insert it into our growing collection of links in the heading. Such a stirring poem...a call to action that even Holmes is unable to resist! Pedln, the W.D. Howell's quote, describing his contemporary, his friend Holmes as one who likes bounds, who likes to keep his eyes on the horizon (his horizon up to this point had been to stall the translation publication and get his own great American novel published) ...indicates how deeply Holmes was moved by Tennyson's' words.

    I'm interested in Matthew's insertion of the poem about Ulysses into the story at this point. Marvelle writes that Tennyson based this poem on the character Dante has placed in Hell - the "evil counselor who "urges the mariners on to disaster." What interests me is the notion of this "evil counselor." Since we are looking for a murderer with motive, with knowledge of Dante and Italian as well as someone who knows "how to transport the these insects" , shall we consider that we have MORE THAN ONE SUSPECT? An "evil counselor" as well as a "hit man" who stands to gain something in some way?
    (horselover, I think we have established that these insects which infected Judge Healey are NOT the type of flies who produce the screwworm maggots found in Judge Healey's body. These are the foreign-to-these-parts insects which enter into a wound and feed on living tissue. So, these flies would have to have been "transported" into the country from abroad. They were first discovered in New Guinea in the 1850's. We need a suspect who has been seen down at the docks, perhaps?)

    Joan Pearson
    April 29, 2003 - 08:14 am
    Once the poets decide to stop the murderer themselves, they are making the same list of suspects that we are. They are looking at lists of those who particated in classes in the past too, BaBi, Pedln. There's a thought! Maybe we haven't met the killer yet!!!

    IF there are more than one culprits...IF there is indeed an "evil counselor" - then I have to believe we have at least met him. My short list of candidates would have to include August Manning and dear old Professor Ticknor - (Jo's post brought my attention back to him.)
  • Manning - he's dead-set against the publication of the Dante translaton. Why is this? He holds the strings to the money bags...which support all of Harvard's publications. Why should he OR the Harvard Corp. be concerned about this publication. Lowell asserts that the powers that be are intent on closing down his Inferno seminar. (hell, there are only two students in there! Why make a deal over this? Surely not commit murder over it!)
    Jo those are marvelous images, examples of Matthew's writing you bring here! One of the best - "Dante writes like Rembrandt, with a brush dipped in darkness and a gleam of hellfire as his light." Matthew has described elsewhere the research work that goes into writing historical fiction. That includes reading what his characters have written, published works, letters, etc. Sometimes I can't distinguish between what Matthew has expressed and what the poets have written. In any case, there is much to admire here.

    Manning and the Harvard Corporation seem to want to limit any foreign invasion of its ivory tower of learning. That would explain why they would wish to maintain the status quo...teach the classics and "burn" any book that would dilute the curriculum in any way.

    * Prof. Tichnor - he is Manning's polar opposite. He would have liked to have been the one to introduce Dante ...not to the students of Harvard exclusively, but to the Italian immigrants as well. He would like to change Harvard's complection as strongly as Manning would like to preserve its ivory white tower.)
  • georgehd
    April 29, 2003 - 08:49 am
    Just a thought about flies. Because New England is so cold in the winter, some species of insects might not survive whereas they could survive in warmer places (even in Hell).

    Because I have finished the book, I hesitate to post because I do not want to give anything away. Just wanted you to know that your posts are very interesting and are opening up new dimensions to the book. I do have some thoughts about the end of the book that I will post at the proper time.

    Joan Pearson
    April 29, 2003 - 08:50 am
    Jo, am thinking of your question on the Inferno as an "autobiography" of the soul. We have entered Dante's world mid-way his autobiography. We get flashbacks to his "salad days"...it seems he has lost the love of his life, Beatrice, because he was unworthy of her. There are intimations that his was a wild youth and she, a virtuous maiden. He's looking to mend his ways, facing up to his sinful ways, considering the error and resolving to change before it is too late. If he can do this, he will reach the Heavenly heights where resides the blessed of the blessed.

    Jo, are you asking whether Dante's autobiography resembles ours? We are each writing our own. The details will differ...is the story the same? What is interesting to me is that Dante wrote this poem some 700 years ago. Have we changed so much in this long period of time so that there is no longer relevance to our own lives? How do our autobiographies differ? If we keep this question in mind, we might assume the role of EVERYMAN.

    horseloverYes, I think that is what Dante is saying about the eternal punishment. For some who have different views of God, or an afterlife, there is always the consideration that unless one repents and atones for wrongdoing in this lifetime, there is NEVER an opportunity to right that wrong. The sinner live on in infamy.

    Joan Pearson
    April 29, 2003 - 08:58 am
    George...the setting for the story is March or early April I think. Were you surprised to find some of the flies still living in the Healey library? Are you concerned that Loweell got stung? Oops...shouldn't ask you! You've read the book! Don't answer! On my way over to the Inferno. I KNOW you haven't finished that! ahhaahaa

    Jo Meander
    April 29, 2003 - 10:12 am
    I'm going to be late for an appointment, but I have to say that in the middle of the night I thought that there had to be two involved in this crime: the planner and the executor, or assistant executor, with the planner, of course, having the intimate knowledge of Dante. I'll be back, God willing.

    April 29, 2003 - 10:15 am
    Joan when I try to access the growing lists of clues above, I get a blank page. I tried reloading but it is still blank. Has anyone yet mentioned the fact that the obituary of chief Justice Artemus S. Healey had a typo? Healey's middle name was Prescott. Why would this be reported as such if not important to our solving the crime? any thoughts on that?

    Also, any more thoughts on the flag found at White Oaks? Is this representative of the "ever flowing banners?"

    I missed this the first time around but rereading this chapter Matthew says:"Fields knew his poets were right. If they went to the police, their standing would be in limbo, if not in actual jeopardy." Is he saying that these fellows are the virtual pagans?

    April 29, 2003 - 10:21 am
    Joan, finishing the Inferno - or is the Inferno finishing me? Only kidding as I am finding the other discussion a great education.

    As for flies - I assume that if they are inside a house they can survive.

    I raised this question before and don't remember an answer. Is the order and timing of the murders important? If so, that is a clue. Our GROWING list of clues seems to be stuck on 8. Are there clues associated with the second murder? The bits of paper (letters) is some kind of clue, though I could not figure out what they meant.

    April 29, 2003 - 12:03 pm
    Lowell "stopped cold, noticing how the heads of the flies seemed to have the expressions of dead men!" I love that- superb writing. If I were Lowell, I think I'd have become quite undone when the flies went up his pant legs. Is he to suffer also after sustaining an abrasion on his ankle?

    I love the picture we have of Patrolman Rey. He's so classy, this dude. "He had the rear gift in a man of allowing himself to be silent before speaking, so that he said just what he meant." My husband is also blessed with this ability that I do NOT have. My flair for conversation far exceeds my talents & common sense. I wonder which Circle/Canto that would qualify me for. Rey is analytical, careful and precise. I love the way he handled our safe cracker who attempted to threaten him as well as his convincing Chief Kurtz of further investigation at the rectory. The scraps of smudged information still alude me as I try to put all of these pieces together.

    How far can we read this week? It's not posted above.

    April 29, 2003 - 12:25 pm
    Rats! I've read too far ahead, and now I must wait until the appropriate time to say some of the things on my mind.

    The more I learn of Lowell, the more I like him. I also suspected, on reading of the insect on his leg, that he had been bitten (stung?, invaded?).

    I feel strongly that Holmes identified with Tennyson's words: "made weak by time and fate". This made him all the more resolved that the next words "but strong in will", should also be true. Matthew is doing a great job of making these men come alive for us, in all their weaknesses and all their magnificence.

    I had not considered the possibility of two 'Lucifers'; a planner and an enactor. It would help resolve some of the problems of finding all the necessary factors in one person. But somehow, I can't see Manning as one of them. I have the impression he would not care in the least what sins Talbot and Healy were guilty of, so long as they were supporters of Harvard a'la Manning. ....Babi

    April 29, 2003 - 12:38 pm
    Joan, You say, "I think we have established that these insects which infected Judge Healey are NOT the type of flies who produce the screwworm maggots found in Judge Healey's body. These are the foreign-to-these-parts insects which enter into a wound and feed on living tissue. So, these flies would have to have been "transported" into the country from abroad. They were first discovered in New Guinea in the 1850's. We need a suspect who has been seen down at the docks, perhaps?"

    As far as I can tell, the reader knows, from the Preface, that these are the transported flies, but The Dante Club does not find out until much past where we are discussing now that these are the flies you described. The chambermaid thinks they look strange, and Lowell thinks they look strange, but they have not actually been identified yet.

    April 29, 2003 - 12:58 pm
    I know that Poe was a bit of a madman but did Longfellow really lend him money, become insulted and deeply mourn his passing? What a mostdisturbing thought it is that he insulted these poets in such an evil way.

    Jo Meander
    April 29, 2003 - 05:39 pm
    horselover, yesterday you mentioned the frequent removal of certain books from library shelves and the bans of teaching evolution. Do you remember "Inherit the Wind," the play based on the Scopes Monkey Trials and Clarence Darrow? And how about the frequent dust-ups over Catcher in the Rye? Ironic that many parents wanted it removed from the curriculum in their children's schools. Besides being a very good and engaging story about the difficulties of adolesence, it is a cautionary tale for parents. I agree that "human nature changes very little, if at all." We can find the modern equivalent of The Harvard Corporation without much searching.

    Jo Meander
    April 29, 2003 - 05:44 pm
    Pedln, thanks for the link to the essay on Holmes. That quotation characterizing him fits the character as Pearl presents him perfectly! And thanks for Tennyson's Ulysses. Very enjoyable, especially with this reading. It is particularly moving to one in and even beyond the age group of our poets.

    April 30, 2003 - 01:12 am
    Andy, I don't think Poe actually insulted Longfellow. Poe was a writer and editor and he was well known as a literary critic. He was also well known as someone who wrote tongue-in-cheek and for his literary hoaxes.

    Poe had been criticized for plagarism himself and when he took Longfellow to task, he deliberately committed errors in his essays, and then someone named Outis angrily replied exposing those errors. Most people assumed -- and rightly I believe -- that Poe was Outis.

    Poe conducted his own literary war with himself in a few essays on the "plagiarism" of poets and the questioned intelligence of the critic (Poe) and the doubtful reliability of Longfellow's defenders (also Poe) in their outraged replies to Poe's essays. Longfellow would have been aware of this I think.

    The Longfellow war was more an inquiry on poetics as well as a way to spur readership for Poe and his magazine. One of the ideas in Poe's essays about this matter is that poets talk to one another through their poems; they converse over the centuries in their poems. We've seen that already with Homer's Ulysses/Odysseus in his works, Dante's reply with his Ulysses in Canto 26 and a further reply in Tennyson's poem on Ulysses.

    "What a poet intensely admires, becomes ... a portion of his own intellect. It has a secondary orignation within his own soul -- an origination altogether apart, although springing, from its primary orignation from without. The poet is thus possesed by another's thought, and cannot be said to take of it, possession ...[and in time it's forgotten] but the frailest association will regenerate it...it springs up with all the vigor of a new birth ...." from Poe's essay "Plagiarism -- Imitation -- Postscript to Mr. Poe's Reply to the Letter of Outis" Broadway Journal, April 5, 1845)

    I simplied -- perhaps over-simplified -- the Longfellow war. This particular war was a hoax, double-talk was the norm, and all the battlng correspondents were probably Poe himself. (But it doesn't mean hat Poe wasn't trying to nudge Longfellow for "being asleep on velvet" -- I interpret this remark of Poe's to mean not striving, and instead taking his ease.)


    April 30, 2003 - 06:26 am

    Joan Pearson
    April 30, 2003 - 09:00 am
    Good morning, Sleuths!!

    So much to take in since yesterday. Wow! First, I want to agree with JO - we are readily identifying with these poets, who are in our "set"...our age group. And I agree with Babi, when she says that Matthew is doing a wonderful job bringing them to life for us. From where does this understanding and insight come, Matthew? You seem so in touch with our stage of life for one so young.

    Does anyone else have the same problem Andy experiences with the list of clues in the heading? It's not blank to me...in fact I just read through them and think it is high time we add to the list. (Andy, yes I think there is a clear parallel between the blank white flag found at Judge Healey's murder scene and the Neutrals empty banner in the Inferno - the Neutrals who stood up for nothing in life, marched behind no banner.) What do you think? Can you read the list in the heading? Have we MORE CLUES TO PUT ON THE LIST?

    horselover...Of course, you're right! Thank you! WE read the preface and know all about these rare live-tissue-eating maggots, but Lowell doesn't! So, why would he put the idea in our heads that the killer would know how to "transport insects" - unless, as George points out, this is just NOT the time of year for flies in Boston - of any kind. That would explain Lowell's assumption that they had to have been brought north then?

    Marvelle, thanks for the explanation of the Poe/Plagiarism reference. I love the idea that poets communicate with one anouther through their poetry. The fact that Longfellow attended his funeral indicates that there were no deep resentments between the two, doesn't it? So I can take Poe off my list of suspects? ahahaa

    BaBi - you've eliminated Manning's complicity in any way - what of Professor Tichnor? I'm looking for the brains in the outfit, not only the one who is carrying out the murders right now.

    Andy , the description of Rey's silence before speaking, reminds me of Longfellow too, doesn't it? There are contrasts to be made between these two men I think. I'm also reminded of Shakespeare's "Men of few words are the best men." So Rey is one of the good guys and will not make the list of suspects. Easy to rule him out. You mention the "typo" in Judge Healey's obituary notice...so I stared at his name for a while. With the "S" put in place of the "P", his initials would then be ASH. Does that mean anything do you think?

    George, the only thing I see as far as the order of the murder following Dante is that Judge Healey's Neutrals are found at the gates of Hell, the Reverend Talbot is down in the Eighth Circle...so if there is order, the next will be guilty of even greater offense, placing him even further down in the 9th circle. Hey! There can't be another murder with our Danteans on the killer's trail, now can there be? That would be dreadful. I've been wondering what right the poets have to keep the information about the killer from the police. Aren't they risking someone's life by taking this upon themselves? Was this a responsible decision? Does it occur to you that they are acting out of fear, the fear that because they know Dante, they will become suspects (isn't this a preposterous assumption?) and the real killer will continue. How do you feel about this? If you were one of the poets, would you have insisted the police be told? What would G.W. Greene have said, had he known what was going on?

    April 30, 2003 - 10:12 am
    Andy, I like your quote, "Men of few words are the best men." It reminds me of my youth when we were all searching for the strong, silent type.

    George, You are correct; the poets are trying to protect themselves. Longfellow says, "Even if the police wanted to trust us, even if they did trust and believe us, we would be under suspicion until the killer is caught." And he is also worried about the future of his translation, "And the, even with the killer caught, Dante would be tainted with blood before Americans saw his words."

    Lowell agrees, "Let us make certain we protect ourselves first..."

    Fields also agrees, "Heaven help us. We'd be ruined."

    Is this the responsible thing to do? They not only keep information from the police, they also lie to the police, giving officer Rey a false translation of the leaper's words. They are all guilty of obstruction of justice.

    I have switched to a new translation of "The Inferno" by Robert Pinsky. He was, until recently, the Poet Laureate of the US.

    April 30, 2003 - 10:43 am
    JOAN, I don't think I would say I eliminate Manning's complicity in any way. I don't think he is the murderer, or is directing the murderer. I do think that the battle between Manning and the Dante Club is a contributing factor in some way, and Manning's actions are making matters worse. These are too large a part of the story not to be significant.

    The poets clearly did fear have the connection of the murders to the Dante Club know, and not without justification. They would not have been free of suspicion just because they were poet/patricians. (Look at the recent hanging of Professor Webster for murder.) And society of that day, especially in Boston, was perfectly capable of turning their backs on persons so tactless as to become involved in nasty scandals, even if innocent. I do think Holmes reacted too hastily in misleading Rey as to the translation, but at that point they knew Rey only as a policeman.

    On Clue #7 above: "What does Peaslee mean when he says "the war has lined the whole place with money"? I took that to be a reference to the profits that many people made from the war. There have always been those who profited greatly from wars. It makes me wonder now if one of these war profiteers might be a future victim. ...Babi

    April 30, 2003 - 10:47 am
    One clue is the strength required to commit these crimes. To take off the clothes from the inert body of both victims and to haul Healey's body downstairs & to the riverside and the strength to dig the deep hole and place Talbot's body in it head first.

    Healey could possibly have been awake and took off his own clothes but highly unlikely since the blow to his head was done in the bedroom and not at the river with his false teeth left along with his clothes. I'd say some clues then are:

    Clue 1 -- strength of murderer

    Clue 2 -- Murderer finds it necessary for victims to have a semblance of death before torment (the victims were rendered senseless while the murderer prepared them for the torment; rather like the Inferno when the body dies first and then the soul is tormented in Hell).

    Clue 3 -- Premeditation and planning (the murderer knew when the victims would be alone and when there'd be enough time for him to stage the torment before and after the 'semblance of death')


    April 30, 2003 - 10:54 am
    And the biggest question still remains: HOW did the murderer know these victims were guilty of sins matching the Inferno sins? He might possibly know of one from personal knowledge. But both? And we all know this isn't over yet. There will be others. HOW DOES HE KNOW?..BABI

    April 30, 2003 - 12:14 pm
    How does the murderer know whom to kill. Why Matthew told him to do it.

    April 30, 2003 - 03:30 pm
    BaBi, If the killer is a madman, and he can be a madman even if a Dante scholar, he would not necessarily have to know about the victim's sins. He would only need to BELIEVE that the sins existed. Maybe he is a madman BECAUSE he is a Dante scholar. After all, there were people who thought his exile had driven Dante himself mad.

    Does anyone think it is strange that the poets all fear being suspected of the killings, but none of them seems to fear becoming a victim of the killer?

    April 30, 2003 - 04:11 pm
    There you go, George points the finger of suspicion at Matthew! Should we add Matthew to the short list?

    Horselover, great question! Why wouldn't the poets fear death?

    I think HOW the murderer knows who's sinned (and how they've sinned) may not be in front of us right now. First we had the murder of a legal man; now the murder of a church man. I can't assume at this point that the victims have actually sinned.

    Preachers like Talbot were immensely famous and I think he'd be talked about. Rousing preachers in 1800s America were the Rock Stars around whom the "fans" congregated. Talbot's sermons against Catholicism -- in reality the sermons of Rev. Lyman Beecher -- may have incited a mob to burn down the Ursuline Convent. Talbot accepted consultation fees from the railroad for recruiting workers from Europe. Can these actions symbolize simony, using one's position in the Church for profit and influence? [the buying and selling of Church favors]


    The particulars of Talbot, his actions, and the Second Church allude to historical events. Are those events also acts of simony, or not?

    Two preachers with immense followings in Boston were Rev. Lyman Beecher, a Congregationist and Theodore Parker, the Unitarian minister. Both were made famous by using their pulpits to speak against slavery and intemperance and for women's right. Both were charged with heresy.


    LYMAN BEECHER, from newman.baruch.cuny.edu: "He was a prominent opponent of the growing 'heresy' of Unitarianism, though as early as 1836 he was accused of being a moderate Calvinist [for his stance on abolition and temperance] and was tried for heresy and hypocrisy but was acquited.....[paraphrase] He gave six famous sermons on intemperance which greatly added temperance reform. When his church in Boston, Hanover Church, burnt down it was discovered that a merchant who rented the basement of the church, used it to store jugs of liquor. It was then that Beecher realized he wasn't as popular as he'd thought and he eventually moved West." (The unspoken words before this last sentence indicates public disapproval and censure I believe.)

    From Lyman Beecher we have mention of scandals in the basement/underground, sermons for causes which made him famous, preaching against Catholicism and the Ursuline Convent is burned.

    But are LYMAN BEECHER AND/OR ELISHA TALBOT guilty of simony? Can a preacher use his pulpit for political or social purposes and not be guilty of simony? There was a special investigation committee formed after the Ursuline burning and their report hinted that a larger conspiracy was behind the burning instigated by prominent men of the community. Could BEECHER be blamed for the merchant's liquor in the church basement? And couldn't the consultation fees that TALBOT received from the railroad just be a reasonable payment for services rendered; but that Talbot is so zealous in his beliefs that he personally feels some guilt?


    April 30, 2003 - 04:44 pm
    The allusions in Talbot's murder also remind me of Theodore Parker, the minister who preached abolition from his pulpit. I think Matthew is giving us these allusions to expand on the questions of justice and the issues of the day (ours and our ancestor's day); rather than saying anyone is guilty.


    From womenshistory.about.com (part of Julia Ward Howe's bio): "Parker, a radical on women's rights and slavery, often wrote his sermons with a handn on his desk, ready, if necessary to defend the lives of the runaway slaves who were staying that night in his cellar on thir way to Canada and freedom." Parker was part of the Underground Railroad but had come to believe that violence was the only way that would end slavery. He was one of the "Secret Six" who financed John Brown's raid at Harper's Ferry, Virginia.


    When the raid failed and Brown was hanged, many of the Secret Six fled the country, fearing prosecution for their involvement. Parker went to Europe where he died of tuberculosis and was buried there in Europe. The next link has additional photos of the grave near the bottom of the page.


    The connection of Parker to the simony and punishment of Rev. Elisha Talbot is the Underground Railroad, preaching against slavery from the pulpit, financing the 'War' of John Brown, and the grave in Florence. The Harper's Ferry incident was a short fuse that influenced the start of the Civil War -- it isn't the primary or only factor because wars are not that simply begun.

    Again, I don't believe we're given certain inarguable proof of any church man's guilt. IMO the allusions guide us into questioning our perceptions of history and justice.


    April 30, 2003 - 05:15 pm
    Some of you have asked "Why weren't the poets afraid of being victims of murder?" I think it's because they knew the sinners of the Inferno and their terrible deeds so well. They could not equate anything they'd done with Dante's victims. They are more concerned with protecting their reputations, AND, Longfellow especially, protecting Dante and the upcoming translation.

    Horselover, I think you're right when you say that a madman need only perceive a wrong or a sin. It doesn't actually have to be there.

    And someone asked, "How did the murderer know about these so-called sins and those who had committed them?" This is Boston, Cambridge really, in the days before TV, radio, telephones, etc. The educated elite spent their leisure conversing, discussing, and no doubt, gossiping. I can't imagine that it was an overwhelmingly large group, so there were probably few secrets. As has been mentioned before, those in the public eye were talked about considerably. Good heavens, am I saying that our murderer must be a Boston Brahmin?

    Marvelle, I liked your input about Lyman Beecher. Throughout this discussion you have had an uncanny knack for putting us in touch with information that can only enhance our reading and discussion. It is appreciated, for sure.

    Jo Meander
    April 30, 2003 - 06:40 pm
    The poets decide that because their own reputations would be affected and that Dante would be tainted with blood, they had better keep quiet and pursue the truth about the murders themselves. An obvious obstruction of justice, if justice can be served only through official action, but maybe they thought they were taking care of justice themselves. And if they hadn't taken on the investigation themselves, M. Pearl's story would be much less interesting!

    April 30, 2003 - 06:41 pm
    I think I may have discovered somewhat of a red herring. Here Longfellow, Holmes, Lowell et al. are concerned that they might be suspects or the the reception of the translation of the Commedia might be "tainted with blood" (105). Thus they choose not to reveal what they know to the police.

    BUT although Longfellow was the first American to translate Dante into English, he was not the first to translate it into English.

    I got curious so I looked it up. The first complete translation of the Inferno into English was that of Charles Rogers in 1782.

    The first translation of the whole Commedia was done by Henry Boyd, pub. 1802.

    Another translation of the Inferno was Nathiel Howard's in 1807. Another translation in 1812 by Joseph Hume. And so on.

    All of these dates are quite a while before the 1865 of our novel.

    Thus we do not have to have a murderer who reads Italian and read Dante in the original. It could be anyone with an access to one of these prior translations.


    April 30, 2003 - 08:41 pm
    Jo, I am not sure about the obstruction of justice charge. I suspect that the legal system and the police system at that time was much different from today, if only because the community was so small. I imagine that men who felt they represented the interests of the community and felt themselves just, also felt that they could take the law into their own hands. And note that the one policeman, Rey, who is really good at what he is doing, is removed from the case. I also suspect that the police force then was not necessarily the most informed group and probably needed all the help they could get from private citizens. These are only my conjectures and are not supported by any factual material.

    Jo Meander
    April 30, 2003 - 10:55 pm
    Maryal, you are the good detective. So the murderer could be one who never read Dante in the original, or one who did. Up until now, no one has mentioned other English translations predating Longfellow's. Interesting, indeed.
    One of our questions asks if Europeans were more likely to be acquainted with Dante than Americans. I'm going to take the risk and say I'll bet they were, especially Italians. The Leaper, as we call him, was quoting fragments of the warning over the gate in a frightened, deranged manner. We cannot know for sure, but let’s assume he was a native speaker of Italian who had been involved in something that shook him at his center to the point that he was not in control of himself. He saw something or did something that drove him mad, and now he can’t live with the memory. Not only that, it reminded him of whatever he knew of Dante, and the two things in combination, what he had lived through and what he understood of Dante’s Inferno, were enough to force him over the edge – through the window! The idea makes it hard for me not to consider him one of the suspects. (It’s the middle of the night and I feel like Sherlock Holmes! I can’t believe that the rest of you haven’t already thought about him as definitely involved in these murders.) Is the behavior of the Leaper on the clue list?

    Joan Pearson
    May 1, 2003 - 06:26 am
    Clues! We've got clues! Will add them to the list momentarily!

    They do suggest a few more questions for you to consider:
  • Murderer's strength - does this clue eliminate anyone? I am thinking of the Nell Ranney's strength when she dragged the maggot-infected body of Judge Healey into the house. Can you imagine doing that? Wouldn't your first move have been to call the police? How would you explain or understand her bringing him into the house?

  • Premeditation and planning - This HAS to include a detailed knowledge of the Inferno, doesn't it? Maryal notes that there were other translations available in Europe/England at this time. Does anyone know how widely read or how available they were? I remember reading somewhere that interest in Dante declined between the 1700's and the mid 1900's. Am wondering why the renewed interest and where and the extent. I guess, I'm still inclined to believe the murderer is getting his/her information from the Longfellow translation proof sheets, or from the Dante Seminars at Harvard.

  • The leaper's behavior - knowledge of Dante's words in Italian..Jo, you bring up the leaper as a suspect. He speaks Italian, he quoted Dante as he leapt to his death. Yes, he did see something. Was he involved somehow? He died BEFORE Rev. Talbot...but he could have been involved with Judge Healey's death. This suggests again, more than one culprit. I still like "evil counselor" and accomplices to carry out the acts. But I also believe the accomplices had their own reasons for agreeing to commit murder

  • horselover, I'll have to agree with you, this killer is a mad madman. "Mad" in both senses of the word. Someone with an ax to grind...and crazy enough to believe that these murders will get results. Now who is that? What possible results could he hope for?

    Pedln, I think the poets were waiting for Longfellow to speak, to make the moral decision for them. It is Longfellow who points out that they will be the prime suspects, and even when the real killer is finally caught, Dante will be tainted before the Inferno is even published. ~ horselover...an interesting question...why don't the poets fear death? They are so intimate with the sins of the Inferno...don't they see themselves as sinners in any sense? Can that be the reason they do not fear death? Veddy interesting

    BaBi, I think Marvelle has answered your question about how the killer knew of his victim's "sins"...(I agree with Pedln, Marvelle does have an "uncanny" ability to ferret out these cases and connect the dots for us. We are indebted to this kind of research ...and thinking!)

    One thing that isn't clear YET...the money that is found in the hole beneath the Reverend's head? I'll bet any money (hahaha) that the amount in that bag turns out to be $1000. If so, how did it get out of the Reverend's safe, into the hole? We do have an "uncanny" safecracker on our list of suspects, don't we?

    Shall we descend into the Underground today and examine the second murder scene? How did Longfellow know that the loot was in the hole?

    May 1, 2003 - 08:37 am
    Joan, some time ago I eliminated women as suspects. Why? I do not think that they have the strength to carry out the two murders so far uncovered. And more importantly, there are no really strong woman characters in the book.

    I think the MAN must be deranged, be familiar with at least part of The Inferno, and must have had some experience to cause him to be deranged. The MAN need not have read the entire book and as has been pointed out, could have access to the proofs.

    I think that other English translations are a red herring; they are not mentioned in the book and there is no reason to suspect that anyone whom we have met so far has read them.

    Does the book comment on what the Five Members of the Dante Club actually thought about Hell? What was their conception of an afterlife? They were not Catholics.

    I think that Longfellow deduces that the loot is in the hole by interpreting Dante's words.

    Jo Meander
    May 1, 2003 - 09:31 am
    I remember reading that $1000 was stolen from ... Talbot? His study or somewhere personal to him? Longfellow is confident that whoever stole the money would bury it beneath the upside doewn corpse because the killer knows Dante well enough to know that the simoniacs have their ill-gotten gains underneath their heads where they can "guard" it or horde it for all eternity. The killer/robber thinks that's apropriate and fitting for Talbot. He didn't really wantthe money.
    In my sleepiness I forgot that the Leaper couldn't have been in on the second murder, but he could know about the first. Also, when Nell dumped the body into the wheelbarrow, I wondered at her gutsiness and strength and also whhy she would't call the authorities right away, but I concluded that she was so loyal that she couldn't stand to leave the judge's body out there, so unprotected and vulnerable and even embarassing for the family.

    Jo Meander
    May 1, 2003 - 09:35 am
    Sorry about the misspellings, but as they will surely occur, I can't stop to fix them all the time.
    Now I'm thinking maybe there is ONE planner and multiple actors???
    Homes upside-down in that hole: it's the one scene that really challenges suspension of disbelief, given his fastidious and nervous temperament, but then Longfellow asked him to do it!

    Matthew Pearl
    May 1, 2003 - 09:50 am
    I'm afraid I feel far behind! I was very under the weather for a week and then my computer broke for several days... so, alas, I apologize for being absent through such wonderful discussions. I need Virgil to lift me up and carry me along as he does with Dante several times in the Inferno. Really, I am incredibly impressed with the care and insight that you all generate through your conversations. I know I've said this before and excuse me for being repetitive, but I feel I must reiterate it. Alf, I believe you mentioned the parallel of the Dante Club with Inferno's Pagans of Canto IV -- I think this is something that definitely influenced my approach. Those of you who aren't in on the Inferno discussion, you might want to read Inferno IV (it's quite short), as it's a remarkable moment, when Dante meets Virgil's companions in Hell, including Homer, Lucan, Ovid and Horace. They speak with one voice to greet Virgil -- only Virgil is given a voice of his own. In any case, one of my "lost chapters" on my website (the one before the current one) was a description of a painting of Limbo with each character described, in which I found parallels to each member of the Dante Club.

    Someone mentioned Sherlock Holmes -- many of you certainly seem related to him in your ability to deduct and examine! An interesting note: the fact that Oliver Wendell Holmes and Sherlock Holmes share a last name is not coincidence. Arthur Conan Doyle, author of Sherlock Holmes stories, said OWH was his favorite poet and apparently he named the character after him. Another connection across literary boundaries! In the original manuscript of The Dante Club, there was a scene in which young Arthur Conan Doyle was visiting America and met O. W. Holmes while he was out and about with the Dante Club looking into the murders.

    Maryal, I believe it was your post that mentioned earlier translations of Dante into English. An interesting subject indeed! But we must look beyond the dates: most of these British translations were not available in any great number at all, and certainly not in America. Henry Cary's was most popular (after S. T. Coleridge praised it) but, again, didn't make an impact in America. With the rivalries between American and British literature (something that isn't stressed in The Dante Club, but mentioned here and there), there simply wasn't a rush to embrace a translation by a British writer.

    Finally, Dr. Holmes. Great discussion of how the Tennyson poem illuminates his character. There's also a Shakespeare Sonnet (CX) that guided me in thinking about his character and its constant fluctuations -- "made myself a motley to the view." I tried to include it here, but for some reason couldn't get the lines in the right place. But here's a link:


    May 1, 2003 - 10:16 am
    Maryal, You say, "Thus we do not have to have a murderer who reads Italian and read Dante in the original. It could be anyone with an access to one of these prior translations."

    I really don't think Matthew intends for the reader to be concerned with English translations, since the whole story revolves around Longfellow's translation, and the murders are somehow related to what part the group is working on at the time.

    I do agree with George. It isn't physical strength, or the lack thereof, that makes the women unlikely suspects, but the fact that they are not strong characters in the book.

    It's true that today we are always told not to touch or move anything at a crime scene, but Crime Scene Investigation was hardly very scientific in 1865. I think the maid was only trying to help her master and his family, and did not think about destroying evidence.

    Matthew does not give us a very flattering portrayal of the police force of that time. Except for Patrolman Rey, he describes them as former criminals, ready to plant evidence, take bribes, and collect rewards themselves.

    Jo Meander
    May 1, 2003 - 10:21 am
    Matthew, thank you for all the information and for the sonnet! The characteristic it suggests is the characteristic Wendy finds annoying in his father. Holmes, I assume, was not fickle in love, as the speaker in the sonnet seems to be, but he is a "flitter" isn't he? It is important for him to make impressions everywhere. He doesn't seem as dedicated to the translation as the others are.

    May 1, 2003 - 11:47 am
    Thank you, Matthew, for clarifying that the British translations were not really available in America at the time. So our killer still either reads Italian or has access to a translator, or the translations.

    Joan, I feel it is stretching coincidence too far to say that the killer could have simply "believed" his victims guilty of the sins. When the Club can identify at least one instance of a sin befitting Judge Healey's death, and the author has Talbot himself identifying the sin of simony for us, surely the killer had more than a madman's 'belief' in making his choices. The fact that $1000.00 exactly was taken from Talbot's safe and buried beneath his head confirms that the killer knew what he was doing, mad or not. I do agree he was mad; only madness could commit these crimes.

    It occurs to me that 'flitting' tho' Holmes may be, it is he who seems to be the clearest thinker in unraveling the mystery. Yet perhaps it is not so much 'clear' thinking, as intuitive. ...Babi

    May 1, 2003 - 03:14 pm
    BaBi, I agree that Holmes is the central figure in the detecting. And now that Matthew has told us that Sherlock was named after him, this makes sense.

    May 1, 2003 - 04:21 pm
    Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw presided at the hearing concerning the arrest of Franklin Sanborn, one of the Secret Six, in connection with John Brown's raid at Harper's Ferry, Virginia.


    Walt Whitman, among others, attended the trial, waiting to set Sanborn free if necessary. The courtroom was packed. The arrest ended in Shaw's court because Sanborn had petitioned his arrest. In F.B Sanborn vs. Silas Carleton, Shaw had to determine if the arrest by Carleton was legal.

    From walden.org: "The arrest was made by Silas Carleton, a citizen and inhabitant of Massachusetts; and in his answer, under oath, he shows a warrant to Dunning R. McNair, sergeant-at-arms of the Senate of the United States, and says that the sergeant-at-arms entered an order upon it, delegating the power to Carleton to make the arrest. [Carleton's defense says that] there is no conflict in this case between the authority of an executive officer of the United States and an officer of this Commonwealth."

    Shaw's decision on April 4, 1860 reads in part:

    "Suppose that the Senate had authority, by the resolves passed by them, to cause the petitioner [Sanborn] to be arrested and brought before them, it appears by the warrant issued for that purpose that the power was given alone to McNair, sergeant-at-arms, and there is nothing to indicate any intention on their part to have an arrest made by another person. There is no authority, in fact, given by this warrant to delegate the authority to any other person.

    "It is a general rule of the common law, not founded on any judicial decision or statute provision, but so universally received as to have grown into a maxim, that a delegated authority to one does not authorize him to delegate it to another. Delegata potestas non potest delegari. Broom's Maxims (3d ed.) 755. This grows out of the nature of the subject.

    "A special authority is in the nature of a trust. It implies confidence in the ability, skill or discretion of the party intrusted. The author of such a power may extend it if he will, as is done in ordinary powers of attorney, giving power to one or his substitute or substitutes to do the acts authorized. But when it is not so extended, it is limited to the person named.

    "On the special ground that the respondent [Carleton] had no legal authority to make the arrest, and has now no legal autority to detain the petitioner [Sanborn] in his custody, the order of the court is that the said Sanborn be discharged from the custody of said Carleton."


    May 2, 2003 - 04:10 am
    Matthew:  Thank you for joining us again.  We hope that you are feeling better at this point or we may have to find a Dr. Holmes to treat you.  We trust that you've not been bitten by anything "strange" lately.  We are not the ones who deserve this praise. You've written a masterful mystery for us to dissect and then solve.  Beware, Matt, we can do this!  The sleuth that I am, I am still working on why these letters are scattered throughout and why in bloody hell this dude chose to strip the murdered and fold their clothes so neatly.

    I'm aggravated -- as my notes just have a "question Matthew about the Hyperion."   Was this modled after Fanny?  I'm sorry Matt, I can't find the reference in the novel at this point,

    Babi:  You spoke of intuitive and I've wondered throughout if Fields was so bloody intuitive in his ability to predict what books/authors would be popular with particular customers then WHY can't he get a better handle on the perpetrator?

    JO:  I loved the way that Holmes hung, suspended, sweating and panting with only Longfellow to brace him.  I could feel his fear and revulsion, couldn't you?  At least his feet were being held by a beloved, trusted friend.  The Rev didn't fare so well, did he?  (The Simoniacs within the pitra livida, the "livid stone."  Wonderful writing- didn't you love that?)

    horselover:  When it comes to police forces, not much has changed since the 1800s.  Let us not forget the OJ debacle and the Rodney King mess, the brutal beating that was administered by the NYPD  to a Haitian (?)etc.

    Please, Joan, Jo, Maryal, someone tell me how far into the book (page please) should I be in this discussion?

    Joan Pearson
    May 2, 2003 - 04:30 am
    Good morning, Andy!

    Am making my way in here through the Inferno discussion right now...but saw your question about page numbers and feel COMPELLED to comment...
    EVERYONE - there is a schedule published in the HEADING that gives you the page numbers and the chapters beyond which it is strictly forbidden to comment! This is a murder mystery...we are making every effort NOT to comment ahead for fear of spoiling things for those who have NOT read beyond the discussion schedule pages! Already THREE of our group has gone beyond these pages and posted new-found clues and information here. What to do? We are coming into the home stretch. Chances are so great that one of us will give away the ending. Foul! No fair! What to do? Will write a letter to our entire "club" this afternoon and beg for folks to adhere to discussion schedule.

    If you look at schedule above you will see that until Monday we are discussing no further than Page 138. Please consider other readers here who have not read beyond these pages!


    May 2, 2003 - 04:57 am
    Since I finished the book a week ago, I will stay out of the discussion until the end.

    Joan Pearson
    May 2, 2003 - 05:44 am
    George, please don't do that. Your posts are right on the mark! Just be extra cautious since you know stuff we don't, watch where you step! HAHAHA...go over to the Inferno discussion and you'll see why that is funny right now! Will you try?

    May 2, 2003 - 05:50 am
    Oh no, George. You don't need to stay out of the discussion just because you've read whodunit.

    What I generally do if reading ahead of the schedule, is put a post-it in the book which alerts me to not go beyond the marked post-it. I also write brief notes to myself of what I can discuss within the schedule.

    The notes have an additional benefit since I'm a visual person who needs to write things out in order to know what I'm thinking. With the notes,

    -- I can hone into what interests me within the section under discussion

    -- I can see what my thoughts were in the previous sections and connect them to the present one under discussion

    -- I know what I cannot discuss because those notes are not yet on the schedule; and I put those "advance" notes aside for the moment

    Since I'm a visual person, this works best for me and I can keep the parts of the book under control. I haven't read to the point of knowing whodunit in The Dante Club but if I had, the notes would help me know what not to reveal.

    Even if I've read a book to the end I learn so much from the other participants, from the questions DLs ask, that I wouldn't want to miss the discussion and being a part of it. What I think I know from reading the whole book often turns out to be only a portion of what I learn from actively participating in a discussion.

    Please keep posting, George, because we'd miss you.


    May 2, 2003 - 06:06 am
    Good grief, my clues URL doesn't work, now my heading isn't there? Where, pray tell is this information at? I have "For your consideration until May 4, but I don't see any page numbers. I'm sorry.

    Everybody, stay right where you are, don't anyone leave. I'm the dunce here and felt compelled to ask. I've read past page 138 but didn't dare speak up. (That's unusual, hey?)

    Joan Pearson
    May 2, 2003 - 06:38 am
    Andy, it is GOOD that you speak up ...about not seeing the Growing list of clues in the heading (do you still not see the listed clues?)...as well as the discussion table. Maybe others can't see it either. I'll copy what I SEE in the heading here...tell me what you see if anything???

    Discussion Dates Chapters/Pages
    4/28 - 5/4
    VI-VIII ~ pgs.98-138
    5/5 - 5/11
    IX, X ~ pgs.139-205
    Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now?

    May 2, 2003 - 07:00 am
    Joan, thank you for posting that table above. I can NOT see it on my screen in the heading . The only thing that I see are the questions to be deliberated and discussed. Thank you I will keep note of the page references when I post and continue into next weeks discussion. I do not have a clue why I can't see the list of clues but when I click on it, I r/c a blank page. On the tool bar it says "Document done."

    Thanks again.

    Joan Pearson
    May 2, 2003 - 07:48 am
    Andy, I am at a loss! Need to know if anyone else can not see the schedule box in the heading. Will post it the information elsewhere in the meantime.

    How about the list of clues? It is the last line on the heading...I'll bring the link here. Tell me what you see?
    Growing list of Clues
    Andy has no clue! ahahahaahaaa...we'll fix it Andy. Hang on.

    May 2, 2003 - 08:01 am
    that link comes up with a blank page Joan. Don't make yourself nuts about this a;lthough I would like to know myself why the schedule can't be seen.

    May 2, 2003 - 08:49 am
    1. Blood in the house, on floors and banister

    2. orange-eyed flys

    3. teeth beside neatly-folded clothes in Healy's bedroom

    4. white flag over body

    5. mound of legal papers on the floor in the study (where Nell dumps body out of wheelbarrow)

    6. maggots on Judge's body

    7. the groan from Judge Healy when he was supposed to be dead. (Maggots at this time were known to feed only on dead tissue)

    8. Fugitive Slave Act - Judge Healey widely criticized for enforcing the return of runaway slaves - against his conscience.

    9. Murderers strength

    10. Premeditation and planning

    11. The leapers behavior - knowledge of Dantes words in Italian

    May 2, 2003 - 09:50 am
    Reporting in,Webtv gets the link that you are talking about Do no about the computer yet tho but will check a bit later and let you know if I don't get it on the computer.


    Jo Meander
    May 2, 2003 - 10:32 am
    I'm loving this! Damnation and balls o' fire, indeed! Also, whoever told me I would laugh and enjoy chapter X, I think it was horselover thank you! I am having the best time reading -- it's hard to stop and ponder things. Now remember, dear readers, no comments beyond chapter VIII, p. 138, or our leader will be laid up with apoplexy!!!

    May 2, 2003 - 10:43 am
    Good grief, Andy. No wonder you've been asking where we're at and I remember you asking about clues. My webtv picks up the clues and schedule fine.

    I learned from experience about keeping track of the schedule yet I like to read the entire book -- novels, not mysteries -- in one sitting for pure pleasure prior to a discussion. Something else I do to stay with the schedule, I pencil in the schedule on the post-it I use to mark the last page of the current section we're discussing. And before the week's discussion begins, I also take 10-15 minutes and thumb through the section to refesh my memory.

    If you think I must have a lousy memory because of all my reminders to myself -- well, you're right!


    May 2, 2003 - 11:21 am
    ALF- I'm laughing over your comment about Fields and his limited 'intuition'. Actually, don't you find that our 'intuitions' are better in our own particular fields? It's familiar ground, after all.

    You also raised the question of why the victims were stripped and their clothes neatly folded. I haven't been following the Inferno discussion, but am I correct in believing those occupying the pertinent regions were nude? The simoniacs, of course, were partially buried. And I had the impression that maggots were seen in wounds all over the body, suggesting to me they were also nude. Our killer adheres as closely as possible to Dante's descriptions.

    The neat folding of the clothes suggests to me a person perfectly in control, a cold and precise executioner. Everything is done formally, even ritually. Our killer is not sloppy, in any sense. Make sense? ..Babi

    Jo Meander
    May 2, 2003 - 11:27 am
    BaBi, YES! That makes wonderful sense to me! At first I thought the killer must have caught Healy changing his clothes, but the idea that the stripping would make the execution more Dantesque and the mark the executioner as methodical just fits so well!
    What do you all think about Lowell's trip to the Healy's with Fields? What kind of information does he gather? Why does he stop at that sandy spot when Richard Healy leads them out to where Nell finds the body? And why doesn't Richard want Nell to have any private conversation whith the two visitors?

    May 2, 2003 - 11:58 am
    Joan:  what did you do?  what has happened?  I just retried my URL for the clues and can now see a little green maggot up in the corner dressed in a Holmes outfit.  Sherlock, that is, not Olivers!  I can see them now.  I feel like a character from Suramago's Blindness.  Thank you kindly for that.  Am I the only one that wasn't able to access that URL?

    Alas, the discussion dates are also visible at this point.  I'm redeemed, thank you Joan, thank you Dante.  Oh now I am getting carried away.  I fear I shall be with all of you in the depths of his Inferno for a long time to come.

    May 2, 2003 - 12:53 pm
    OK - you have convinced me and I am back. I read with interest how Alf could not read part of the page. Now we may be on to something interesting. Who knows - this may happen to any of us. Perhaps the discussion leader is keeping us in the DARK and as we are separated from each other, we cannot really communicate the important clues that we come up with individually. In this way, the discussion leader totally controls us and there is no way that any of us can reveal what we really know. I feel like I am in Hell (and I am).

    May 2, 2003 - 04:56 pm
    "Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now?" Joan, You should definitely be hired for the next Sprint commercial!

    I'm thinking more and more about Manning as the killer, or the brains behind the killer. In order to hate Dante with such a passion, he must be familiar with "The Inferno." And he is such an uptight ass (can I say that in mixed company?), I can see him folding the clothes in a neat pile.

    What is the significance of Peaslee? He is a lockpicker and safecracker.

    Joan Pearson
    May 2, 2003 - 07:07 pm
    horselover - should have said, "can you see me now, can you see me now"...all's well that ends well. Our ( GEORGEIS BACK - his old sweet self suggesting DLs are deliberately obfuscating the clues! hahahaa Andy sees the schedule in the heading...and the list of clues. I'm wondering how many others could not see it and didn't know it existed!

    Peaslee...has a way of opening safes and doors and could have broken into Talbot's place and stolen the money...but I don't see the brains there.

    Manning HAS been on my short list too...EXCEPT for some thoughts about the killer's knowledge of Dante.

    At this point, no one will disagree that the killer had to be familiar with the Dante translation...but the more I consider both the Healey murder scene AND Talbot's, I'm thinking that this killer needed to have an EXTRAORDINARY knowledge of Dante. Who can that be? Here are the two examples I can think of right now...maybe you can think of more -
  • Lowell is able to identify the sandy spot where Healey was found - from these lines describing the Neutrals environment in Canto III-
    "...a tumult that goes on forever in that dark and timeless air
    Even as the sand doth when the whirlwind bkiws" How much of a clue is that? ...Even Fields who has been part of the Dante Club all this time is not familiar with this ...Lowell has to spell it out for him. When rereading this section, I must say I am concerned about the blowfly bite that Lowell sustains...and wondering if Mme. Healey is being eaten alive by maggots, the way she is clawing at herself...

  • Longfellow tells Holmes to dig beneath where Talbot's head was buried because of this line:
    "Stay here for though art justly punished,
    and keep safe guard over your loot."
    OVER your loot. It has been said that Holmes is NOT an extraordinary translator, but it took a Longfellow to take that one word "over" and consider that with words we are told Peter Magus said to Simon in the Acts of the Apostles - "May thy money go to destruction with thee."
  • Wouldn't you agree that the killer has to be a translator of Lowell's or Longfellow's caliber...and not only translate, but really comprehend Dante's meaning? I'm not sure Manning is of this caliber. Who is? Professor Ticknor for one...
  • I enjoyed so much reading all the posts today. Really impressive...and hilarious too. Don't you know this is a serious poem? Alright, Holmes-in-the-hole was comical. Kicking his feet in the air. It did seem so out of character, didn't it? It shows how far these poets will go for Longfellow.

    I agree with all who note the reason for the naked bodies...they are all naked in Hell. (Do you get to wear a choir robe in Heaven? Sackcloth in Purgatory?)

    Matthew, fascinating that Sherlock Holmes was named after O.W. ...so he is to be considered the super sleuth, not Lowell? Will read Shakespeare's Sonnet CX at work tomorrow. I did reread Canto IV in the Inferno once more and did get the feeling the collegiate group of poets would be comfortable here. (It's amazing how easy it is to reread the Cantos, once we pulled it all apart to examine it. Since each Canto is not long, it IS a good idea to reread before moving on...)

    May 2, 2003 - 10:35 pm
    Ha, George is right about the DLs obfuscating the clues! (Although not deliberately I'm sure!?) I just noticed this:

    Question 6 asks "what of the bit of paper with the letter "h" on it that is ground underfoot into the dirt in the underground vault? Is this clue lost forever? Does it bring to mind some lines from the Inferno?"

    Answer: the bit of paper is more than likely a clue BUT it has 2 letters on it, "a" and "h". (See page 127, about 1/3 down the page.) Can we list this as a possible clue? Does the fact there are 2 letters change or eliminate the last question about lines from the Inferno?


    May 3, 2003 - 08:51 am
    Joan, I was also concerned about Mrs. Healey and possible maggot infestation, but I believe if that was the case she would have been dead by now.

    I doubt if there are translators of the caliber of the Dante Club elsewhere in Boston, which has me considering what exactly happens to the club's translations as they finish each Canto. We know they are sent to a printer. There is no reason to suspect the printer, at least not at this point. Who else might have access to these translations?

    I pretty much dismissed the pieces of paper with 'A' and 'H' on them; there simply isn't much one can do with an 'a' and 'h'. We'll have to wait and see if more bits of paper surface, with more info. ..Babi

    May 3, 2003 - 10:20 am
    I'm thinking that at the Talbot murder scene we have a bit of paper with two letters and that piece of paper doesn't belong there. It's out of place and for that reason I think it's a clue. Yet I wonder what lines of the Inferno are suggested here?

    Also, Joan(?) mentioned the newspaper's misprint of the judge's name as 'Artemus S. Healey' when his middle name was actually Prescott. Our Poets discounted that typo but I agree with Joan that it could be a clue of some sort. She mentioned (if I remember correctly) that the judge's initials would be ASH.

    These two clues, as well as the ones we've already listed, may be red herrings but we can't know that at this point. Were there other clues people mentioned that aren't on the list? I'm trying to remember but am drawing a blank except for the typo of the judge's name.


    May 3, 2003 - 10:57 am
    Joan, Manning could have access to information about the poet's translation and achedule through the printer, and he might be able to gain this access by using pressure regarding Harvard's other publications.

    I admit to reading ahead in preparation for the next section you have listed in the heading (Yes, I can see it now! Haha). Without getting into specifics, which is not allowed, I would like to say that Matthew's writing gets better and better as the book goes on. Scenes of great comedic skill are interspersed with scenes of such sweet, sad beauty (like the ones with Longfellow and his daughters). And over all this looms the horrors of Hell, which Matthew seems to make even more terrible even than Dante. Taken altogether, this is what life is like for most of us -- periods of laughter and joy, times of sweet sadness, and also tragic events over which we have very little control.

    The ways in which each of the poet's and translators deal with these various aspects of life is one of the more wonderful elements of the book for me. I'm looking forward to the next part of the discussion.

    May 3, 2003 - 11:10 am
    I just read back in the posts and it was ANDY who first mentioned the clue of the newspaper typo of the judge's name. Sorry ANDY for not crediting you with that first insight.


    May 3, 2003 - 12:19 pm
    Horselover, your post 212 is right on.

    May 3, 2003 - 04:15 pm
    Can people not drop hints based on their advance reading about what's ahead in the book, please? Because it spoils it for the rest of us? Joan's posted the reading/discussion schedule to be followed. Please, please, please no hints or innuendos, or knowing asides.


    May 3, 2003 - 06:35 pm
    Thanks George. I don't remember what I wrote in "212," unless you typed 2s instead of 3s, and meant "313."

    Matthew Pearl
    May 4, 2003 - 07:47 am
    Hi Everyone... Joan, you asked about "Hyperion," which was written in 1839. Longfellow did indeed model the main female character on Fanny -- this was a form of courtship. She was none too happy about it and it actually caused real tension! Resonates with O.W.H. Jr. who didn't appreciate Dr. Holmes creating a story around Jr.'s war injuries and Dr. Holmes's "hunt" for him. It's an interesting notion: the idea of being involuntarily enslaved into a work of literature. Of course, Dante does that from the beginning to the end of the Divine Comedy! It's another way of considering the inherent violence, so to speak, in writing. When I give talks about the novel, I often discuss the "violence" of translation -- in which one is radically transforming a work of literature -- and which, of course, is literalized in the story of The Dante Club.

    There was also a question about the state of undress of Inferno's sinners. Although many illustrations over the centuries have been inaccurate about this, ALL the sinners are naked except for the Hypocrites, for whom part of the punishment is to wear heavy lead cloaks which are gold on the outside (thus a symbol of their sin, appearing one way externally but altogether different internally). Dante would be wearing clothes but Virgil would not. Almost all illustrations depict Virgil clothed.

    Joan, you're right that the cantos of Inferno are actually quite short and lend themselves to very fruitful re-readings. For those interested, I know this has been mentioned, but the punishment of the Neutrals comes from Canto III and the Simoniacs come from Canto XIX.

    Hope everyone's having a great weekend!

    May 4, 2003 - 07:58 am
    Horselover, I did err; it should have read 313. Perhaps I have sinned.

    May 4, 2003 - 12:10 pm
    This is from a pamphlet published in 1855:

    The Reverend Samuel B. How, "Slaveholding Not Sinful."

    "The mass of American people have never considered the holding of slaves as at war with the Declaration of Independence...and that it is not against natural justice and Christianity, we shall now endeavor to prove."

    "God took Abraham, a slaveholder, his children and his bought slaves into covenant with himself without expressing the slightest disapprobation of his holding slaves."

    "The security of property and the security of the owner in the possession of it, lie at the foundation of civilized and Christian life, and where they are unknown men are wandering tribes of barbarous, ignorant, rapacious, debased...The attempt to deprive others of property...is to strike a blow at the very existence of civilization and Christianity."

    "Let us suppose that slavery was exterminated by violence, and that every slaveholder was compelled to relinquish all his slaves, would this better the condition of the world?..It would merely let loose a multitude of ignorant, unprincipled, immoral men, and give them the power to follow the promptings of their evil hearts."

    I think it helps to recognize that the attitude toward this terrible practice was not the same then as it is in our own time. It may also cast a new light on being neutral.

    May 4, 2003 - 02:34 pm
    Slavery, just think of the under paid in America today.

    Joan Pearson
    May 5, 2003 - 04:50 am
    Good Monday morning!

    Sometimes we seem like Monday-morning quarterbacks when we consider our thoughts and questions from the previous week. A whole new set of clues...and George...a whole new set of "obfuscations" from the author, to place alongside!

    BaBi...When I read your comment that the letters, "a" and "h" were not insufficient evidence, I immediately thought of "ha" - hahaha,...Matthew laughing as these letters were lost for eternity, ground underfoot by Holmes' boot. Also, the misprint of Healey's initials - ASH - included the letters "A" and "H". - Sure enough, 12 more letters have turned up. Have any of you had more luck with these 14 letters than Detective Rey has had with the 12 he found? Did you notice the "B" is a capital letter?

    horselover suggests that the printer would have had access to the Dante translations. Hmmm...Manning does try to strongarm Houghton, doesn't he? But even with the printer's proofs, I'm not sure a laymen could read so much into a translation, unless he had more intimate knowlege of it. Maybe all he needs is to comprehend what Matthew refers to as the "violence" of the translation". (Matthew, would love to hear more about the whole translaton process. Longfellow has referred to the translation process, but I lost my notes) Longfellow DID say he planned to "descend among the "printers devils - the Malabranche of the Riverside Press" though - My note is out of context - why would he say that?

    I'm thinking we have way too many clues and not enough murders! Maybe we have a whole organized gang of killers and once we have entered all the clues into our notebooks, we'll have identified each and every one of them. I'm beginning to think that Matthew is the guy in the checkered vest and bowler hat slipping in and out of every scene in Cambridge - I've lost track of the number of suspects we find him speaking with. I think Matthew has written a role for himself here! hahaha

    Matthew...your mention of Longfellow spotlighting his relationship with Fanny in Hyperion - Andy had asked about this, I believe - about which Fanny was none to happy - resonating with Holmes relating young Wendy's war experience - reminds me of the resentment of AA Milne's son, Christopher Robin. There really was a Christopher Robin who never forgave his father for "enslaving his childhood" - There are a number of unhappy relationships between fathers and sons in Dante CLub...even Dante's son is mentioned ..."Sons beat out fathers." We need to take a second look at some of these, perhaps?

    Matthew suggests again that we reread Canto III on the Neutrals and Canto XIX on the Simoniacs. If Detective Rey heard this advice, he'd put that at the top of his "must do" list. Has Matthew "buried" other clues which a close reading of these two Cantos may reveal?

    I don't know about you, but I am no closer to solving this mystery than I was 100 pages ago. More clues, more suspects...besides the women - and the poets, have we eliminated anyone? Methinks we have huge cache of clues, leading in every direction...and at least three major themes which will most likely reveal motive for the killings.

    I guess I'm still hung us over Holmes blatant mis-translation of the words Rey gave to him...and Longfellow's unsigned letter to the police. These seem to be major miss-steps by our amateur sleuths, would you agree?

    What are your thoughts this grey Monday morning?

    Jo Meander
    May 5, 2003 - 10:51 am
    Joan, I'll take a swing at the last one -- the "misstep" by Longfellow:
    When he decided that The Dante Club could proceed with its investigation, he believed that their motives for doing so differed from those of the Boston police. He and his Dante group were in the game to protect the reputation of The Inferno from blame for the horrible crimes. The police, on the other hand, needed to serve justice by finding the murderer(s). The conviction and punishment of the culprits would still leave the possible Dante influence hanging in the air, and that was where the Club had to be involved. Their fervent belief in Dante's work convinced them that they had to protect the author and his creation and the translators from being held responsible for the crimes. Longfellow had Holmes rebury the money, which had been stolen from Talbot's safe, and then sent the note leading the police to find it themselves because his own activity might otherwise be considered obstruction of justice.
    (Matthew in bowler and checkered vest popping in and out of scenes does add to the fun!)

    May 5, 2003 - 11:47 am
    I play a lot of word games, and am usually pretty good at unscrambling letters. I gave those paper bits a try, beginning with pulling out the name Dante and trying it from there. No luck. No matter how I turned them, I couldn't make any sense of them. Perhaps other letters are missing.

    You notice that Longfellow is not taking the Cantos sequentially. We have Canto III and Canto XIX, both of which tie to the murders. If the murderer is following the same sequence as the translators, then it appears there must be a direct tie. UNLESS another murder occurs which copies a Canto which the Dante Club has not transcribed. That would let the Club off the hook. Hmm,...plot-wise, that's not likely to happen, is it? ...Babi

    Jo Meander
    May 5, 2003 - 09:47 pm
    BaBi, my guess is that there will continue to be some tie-in to the translation, continuing the logic of the plot. That's why the connection of Manning with the printer is intriguing.

    Jo Meander
    May 5, 2003 - 09:57 pm
    Joan, Longfellow's ideas as stated on p.145 indicate that he believes The Dante group is working toward the same end as the police --stopping the murders. "Only the Dante Club was working primarily with what they could find literarily and the police with what they could find physically." His note was intended to be helpful, but I wonder how he would expect an anonymous note to be considerd helpful without raising any suspicions about the sender. I still think that most of the group, especially Lowell, wants to defend Dante.

    May 6, 2003 - 12:14 am
    I'll tackle the Inferno's Canto III and the Dante Club's bits of paper with the mixed-up letters on them. (I'm taking a wild guess at the relevance of certain lines in Canto III, comparing it to the Dante Club and could be entirely mistaken.)

    Dante's pilgrim and Virgil enter the gates of Hell over which is the warning inscription. As they enter:

    Here sighs and cries and shrieks of lamentation
    echoed throughout the starless air of Hell;
    at first these sounds resounding made me weep:

    tongues confused, a language strained in anguish
    with cadences of anger, shrill outcries
    and raucous groans in time to slapping hands,

    raising a whirling storm that turns itself
    forever through that air of endless black,
    like grains of sand swirling when a whirlwind blows.

    -- Musa lines 22-30

    This is the place of the Neutrals and sounds a lot like the Babel that the otherworldly Longfellow enters with Holmes as his guide:

    "It was strange for Oliver Wendell Holmes being out with Longfellow like this, to see him pass among the common faces and sounds and wonderful, terrible scents of the streets, as though he were part of the same world as the man driving a horse team with a sprinkling machine to clean the street. Not that the poet had never left Craigie House the last few years, but his outside activities were concise, confined. Dropping off proof sheets at Riverside Press [the Malebolge, the Evil Pockets?], dining with Fields at an unpopular hour at the Revere or Parker House. Holmes felt ashamed for having been the first one to stumble on something that could so inconceivably break Longfellow's peaceful suspension. It should have been Lowell. He would never think to feel guilt at forcing Longfellow into this bricked-up, soul-confusing Babylon of the world. Holmes wondered whether Longellow resented him for it -- whether he was capable of resentment or whether he was, as he was with so many unsavory emotions, immune." (123)


    Now this following is mere conjecture and may have nothing to do with the message of the mixed-up letters. I don't think are we talking solely of Longfellow but of literature and the life of literature. Are all writers Neutrals? -- that is, not really living in this world. Can you safely be a Neutral if 'words bleed'? Is literature effective and safe? Writers want to communicate, to converse with readers, but perhaps what each brings to a work means what is spoken and heard is like the Tower of Babel in Babylon.

    Then again, perhaps the mixed-up letters are red herrings and are meant to confuse? And all the thoughts on literature and the literary life are totally wrong.


    May 6, 2003 - 12:30 am
    'And the whole earth was of one language, and they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach heaven . . . And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and have all one language; and this they begin to do . . . let us go down and there confound their language that they may not understand one another's speech . . . Therefore is the name of it called Babel.' (Genesis II:1-9)

    From The Dictionary of Classical, Biblical, & Literary Allusions, eds. Abraham H. Lss, Kiremjian & Goldstein:

    "The story of the tower of Babel in the land of Shinar (Babylonia) preserves confused memories of the Babylonian ziggurats, great towers in the shape of stepped pyramids, used for ancient sanctuaries. [Genesis' Tower of Babel] is a symbol of man's aspiring arrogance, rebuked by God. The name Babel (literally, 'the gate of God') is a Hebrew rendering of the name BABYLON. In modern English, Babel simply means a noisy confusion."


    May 6, 2003 - 05:43 am
    You raise some interesting points for deliberation. For example, can anyone actually be immune to emotions? I've asked myself that question many times over the years and have always come up with the same answer: NO. Noone is exempt from sentiment and emotional thought. One can however become unresponsive to these feelings. That's different. Immunity actually exhonerates and makes you invulnerable to said emotions. I don't think as humans that is possible. Now, mind you we're not talking histrionics here but merely a reactive display to an emotional stimulus.

    What a strange question to think about. Can you safely be a Neutral if 'words bleed'? Is literature effective and safe? Writers want to communicate, to converse with readers...

    Words bleed? I've never heard that. Words certainly can cause agony and grief. and by golly , you're right they can "cause blood toflow." I love that, thank you for that thought. hmmm like the depths of hell, so, too, are the depths of our emotional reactions.

    May 6, 2003 - 07:14 am
    What great characterization Matthew wrote for Signor Bachi. I absolutely love this line: "A red-faced Bachi thrust his head from his half-window, so he seemed to be growing out from the ground. " (the little worm that he is.) Could he be mixed up in this mess with his hatred for the "Ameri Canti?" I love the translation to "bitter dogs." It's exactly his sentiment for the Americans who are trying to "rip Dante from his rightful birthplace and make him an American! " What gall these poets have, hey? I doubt if he could get his nose out of the bottle long enough to do any harm other than spit and sputter his WRATH in a drunken stupor. Interestingly we learn about our leaper Lonza who Bachi tells us became crazed, feeling guilty of everything in his life .

    "He gave up his soul for FEAR, little by little, until there was nowehere left in the universe but Hell. He stood on the precipice of eternal torment in his mind." Imagine what that would feel like? Is that as Dante felt, do you think when he wrote the Inferno?

    May 6, 2003 - 08:15 am
    Andy, I can't take credit for 'words can bleed." In the preface to The Dante Club titled "Caution to the Reader," Professor C. Lewis Watkins ends with "Please, if you continue, remember first that words can bleed."

    We're seeing how words can bleed in the Boston murders as well as the influence of judicial words on the unrest within Boston in the 1800s. I still think the bits of paper can be considered a physical clue but they also relate to the theme of "words can bleed" with the mixed-up letters signifying miscommunication of a dangerous sort.

    Boston was a sleepy town pre-1843 until the influx of fugitive slaves and immigrants and other influences. By 1865 Boston was a babel of different languages, religions, cultures, races, and classes -- hence the streets of Babylon in which Holmes and Longfellow walk.

    Communication is always a writer's concern and in this book we have the additional one of translation. Someone in Boston has misinterpreted Dante's Inferno and believes s/he can assume the power of meting out 'justice' which Dante only attributed to God. Chief Justice Shaw's ruling in the Harper Ferry's arrest comes to mind: "A special authority is in the nature of a trust. I implies confidence in the ability, skill or discretion of the party intrusted. The author of such a power may extend it if he will .... But when it is not so extended, it is limited to the person named."


    May 6, 2003 - 09:06 am
    Forgot one other influence in Boston of 1865 -- and a major one -- is the experience of war, its divisions and violence.


    May 6, 2003 - 10:21 am
    Marvelle, You wrote, "Can you safely be a Neutral if 'words bleed'?" I don't think writers are Neutral. It's been said that "The pen is mightier than the sword." Writers do influence events. Pamphlets are what roused the colonists to revolt against the British. And, of course, the power of Dante's images has set off this killing spree in Boston.

    I wonder why, in Chapter IX, Jennison is so passionate about fighting the suspension of the Dante classes. He tells Lowell, "What of standing up to Manning and the Corporation, on behalf of the future geniuses of America?" Does he have his own reasons for wanting to help Lowell fight the Corporation?

    What do you guys think of R.W.Emerson's comments about Longfellow, in Chapter X? Emerson seems to regard Longfellow as a minor poet, one that does not rouse the reader to action, but leaves him "complaisant." He complains, "When I read Longfellow, I feel utterly at ease--I am safe. This shall not yield us our future."

    I would be interesting to compare Emerson with Longfellow. Emerson does not share Longfellow's love of Dante. Waldo calls Dante "a curiosity, like a mastodon--a relic to put in a museum, not in one's house." Of course, The Dante Club and SN can never agree with that!

    Joan Pearson
    May 6, 2003 - 10:52 am
    EDIT horselover, we were posting together...will need some time to get through these ideas before turning to Emerson...hold the thoughts? I thought that whole exchange between Holmes and Emerson fascinating and revealing...even though Emerson was a master of double-talk.

    Yes, Marvelle, I'd say the war, the divisions that followed...and the violence were major influences and Boston itself very much a Babylon. Yet Cambridge, Harvard Yard remained apart from the confusion, the disruption of the social order...just across the River Charles. It is just a matter of time before the anger and resentment against the priviliged erupts and someone ferries the Fury across the river. Yes, I do see Longfellow as Dante being led through the streets of Boston, (Babylon)...immune, not damned to the "noisy confusion" and suffering of these residents. Does it affect him in any way? As a linguist, you'd think he's be fascinated by the cachophony of languages. He seems not to hear. I'll go read that part again.

    Andy, your post on Bachi shows him as one of the ANGRY we are reading about in the fifth circle of the Inferno....angry enough to become one of the Violent of the sixth circle we have to ask? For some reason, I don't think it is Bachi, although he certainly has the anger, the resentment, the knowledge of Dante.

    You also ask "can anyone be immune to emotion", exempt from sentiment as Longfellow appears to be when passing through the midst of Babylon with his guide, Holmes? I expect there are some cut off from emotions...for their own protection from misery. Perhaps Longfellow is in this category right now, not yet fully recovered from Fanny's death. He still can't write his own poetry. But he can translate Dante's emotional journey through hell.

    I worry about the poets as sleuths. They seem somewhat out of touch. If there are more murders while they chase down clues from Dante, aren't they in some way responsible for not sharing what they know with the police? Jo, I understand what you mean - the poets feel they can solve it without the police, want to protect Dante, find the murderer and then what? Won't it be very clear that someone used Dante's words to commit murder? Won't someone eventually "kill" Dante?
    I worry that Longfellow in his desire NOT to obstruct justice and send that note to the police directing them to dig further in the vault...is going to backfire on him. Imagine writing such a note with such damning information and being identified as the one who wrote the note. Why, Longfellow is risking being the prime suspect!

    And I still can't get over Holmes providing the bogus translation of of the leaper's words. Surely this can be construed as obstruction of justice! What do you think of the poets' resolve to solve this themselves? I see it as a LOSE-LOSE situation. If they don't catch the murderer, more lives will be lost. If they do and it turns out to be someone who used Dante's words to justify the murders, then Dante will be found guilty. What is the best outcome the poets are hoping for?

    BaBi, Marvelle...I had a thought late last night about the letters found in the vault. Let me find my notebook where I copied them down.

    May 6, 2003 - 11:16 am
    So much good stuff to think about here. It is evident, I think, that the other members of the Dante Club all look on Longfellow with a kind of reverence. And it was never said that Longfellow seemed to be immune to emotions, only to unsavory emotions. The reverence is not due solely to his poetic skills, surely, but also to the man himself. As others have noted, the scenes with his daughters are so tender, and reflect an most admirable and gentle father.

    Bachi is undoubtedly bitter and angry, but I don't think his is the personality that would commit these murders. The volatile little Italian vents his anger and scorn quite freely. Isn't it true that those with a verbal outlet for their anger are less prone to extremes of violence?

    I would note that the message sent by Longfellow wasn't to just any policeman, but was directed to Rey. My own opinion of Rey grows higher with everything I learn of him; I suspect Longfellow trusted his acumen as well.

    To repeat something concerning Rey that was posted much earlier: "He had the rare gift in a man of allowing himself to be silent before speaking, so that he said just what he meant." That is sufficient for me to pay close attention to whatever Rey may have to say....or not say. ...Babi

    May 6, 2003 - 11:28 am
    I think BaBi has a good point. Patrolman Rey is, so far, the real hero of this story. Despite all the handicaps he is working against, he has gained the trust and respect of the poets, and the Chief of Police, and is persevering in his search for the killer.

    Joan Pearson
    May 6, 2003 - 12:38 pm
    BaBi, horselover, I see Rey at the center of everything...right there with Longfellow. They both share similar traits...we've heard the same said of Longfellow and his gift of remaining silent until he had something to say. When he spoke, everyone listened to him as well.

    Here's what I thought about last night before dozing off (I can actually read what I wrote on my pad - Rey- Everyman and then those letters.) Consider Rey as Everyman, invited by Dante to visit the scenes of death. Rey, the mulatto, not one race but somewhere neutral. Rey, the one who winds up with all the undecipherable notes and letters in his hand. Isn't that a coincidence ...that he is the one the leaper whispered to, the one who spots the letters in the vault, the one to turn up at the Healey's, at the Longfellows? Marvelle, he would be the one at the Tower of Babel, attempting to make sense of the noisy confusion.

    Here's what I saw in the letters (shall we add them to the list of clues?)
    e - di-ca-t-I-vic-B-as-im-n--y-e Then there are the letters a and h which are still down in the vault, ground into the dirt.

    The "B"is capitalized, so I started there. Being a graduate of Benedictine schools, I spotted Benedic first thing...but stop there. In latin, the Benedic comes real close to blessed. Could the letters spell Italian or Latin words? I don't know that there are references to the "Blessed" in Hell, but there are in Heaven. How are you on your Beatitudes (Sermon on the Mount?) - made to the chosen people, promising the Kingdom of Heaven:

    "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
    Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
    Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
    Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
    Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
    Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
    Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
    Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
    Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake" (Matt 5:3-11 KJV).
    What do you think of Rey as Everyman? And the BENEDIC ...the message of the Beatitudes? Blessed are the POOR in spirit found in the vault? All I can say is that this made perfect sense at midnight...

    May 6, 2003 - 01:28 pm
    The idea of Rey as everyman appeals to me; the fact that he is neutral is also interesting. I had not thought of him in that way.

    May 6, 2003 - 04:26 pm
    It's tempting to think of Rey as everyman. But he is too smart and too courageous to be everyman. He is also part of a persecuted minority, and has had to overcome much more than everyman in order to be successful.

    Joan Pearson
    May 7, 2003 - 06:53 am
    horselover...I guess I'd agrue that Everyman has his own "persecutions" to cope with one way or another...Rey IS courageous, but so must Everyman be - to face the challenges of each day. He is smart, but doesn't have all the answers. He is given more information than he can process. Don't you identify with that? ahaha

    You asked about the "merchant prince", Phineas Johnson yesterday...questioning his motives for wanting to help Lowell fight the Corporation. I'm wondering about his motives too. Yesterday, when rereading reasons for Bachi's rage, which Andy brought up, I came across a little tidbit which is sticking in the back of my mind.
    Bachi came to Boston to seek his fortune, one of 300 Italian immigrants in the area at this time. He gets a pretty good job teaching Italian at Harvard, marries an Irish lass...who finds "supplementary passions" after their marriage, takes off, taking everything he has - except for her "hearty keeness for drink."

    As far as I can tell, Harvard fires him because he is both a drunk and poverty-stricken. (I don't fault them for this, do you?) Anyway, he's desparate...to support himself, he is teaching Italian to spoiled, disinterested merchant's daughters. We are told that little Arabella's father had "a yellow-stained smile, as though he washed his teeth with gold." Now, I'm wondering if this merchant, whom Bachi views with such distain...is not the same merchant prince, Phineas Johnson. Hmmm...have we removed Bachi from the list of suspects too soon?
    What of Phineas Johnson? He admires the poets...thinks that some of their respectability will rub off on him, but do you understand why he warns Lowell to beware of Manning? What could he know? I think we need to reread this section again. Are you reading the Inferno? Do you remember Minos warning Dante not to trust what the denizens of Hell tell him along the way? Is Phineas including Manning, et al as worthy hell-bound? I'm wondering if Manning will be next...

    These two chapters are chock full of possible suspects, red herrings and just plain interesting character-sketches. Are you enjoying the ride?

    May 7, 2003 - 09:45 am
    I am off to the US tomorrow and will probably not be posting - though I will try to read what you all are doing. I will rejoin around the 19th. Happy sleuthing.

    May 7, 2003 - 09:59 am
    Joan, You wondered if this merchant whose daughter Bachi was teaching and "whom Bachi views with such disdain...is not the same merchant prince, Phineas Jennison. Hmmm...have we removed Bachi from the list of suspects too soon?"

    This may make Bachi a suspect, or it may be a way he came by some information about the murders. Tutors can fade into the background and be a witness to meetings, etc. It is interesting that Jennison seems to have faintly recognized the killer who calls to him from the other side of the street. Was it Bachi, or someone who had been in Jennison's home, and who Bachi would also recognize?

    I think it's also interesting that Dr. Holmes' lecture at the Odeon was on the subject of the Mind/Body connection. In this instance, he was ahead of his time in recognizing that depression and a feeling of defeat can contribute to a poor outcome in illness.

    May 7, 2003 - 10:18 am
    JOAN, you are brilliant! Having picked out Benedic, take another look at what's left. The letter "I" is also capitalized, and in the rest I see the word "victim". Oh, Michael is subtle! So what would we have? "I, Blessed victim?" "...victim I Blessed" "I blessed...(the?)victim? Another hint at the ritualistic, perhaps religious fervor of the murderer? ...BAbi

    Jo Meander
    May 7, 2003 - 10:18 pm
    I think that horselover's clue that Jennison recognized his murderer should be on the list!

    Jo Meander
    May 7, 2003 - 10:38 pm
    Joan, remember Canticle I, chapter 7? The poets had concluded, in essence for the same reasons you state, to stay away from the investigation, to stay silent on the obvious connections to Dante in the style of the murders, because they felt they would be the first ones implicated if the connection was discovered. Holmes was the first to protest any involvement. And then Lowell starts the Tennyson recitation:

    …you and I are old;
    Old age hath yet his honor and his toil.
    Death closes all; but something ere the end,
    Some work of noble note, may yet be done….

    By the end of the chapter, Holmes chooses what Lowell has suggested in the recitation:

    …That which we are, we are,
    One equal temper of heroic hearts.
    Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
    To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

    At this moment,”The Dante Club had been reborn.” They seem idealists here, but isn’t there as element of realism in thinking that in some important ways they are equipped to solve the Dante-influenced mystery? And at the same time, they would fight to save Dante’s reputation so that they could continue their plans to introduce him into the American culture. Those against them and those disinterested would use the crimes to topple those plans. The Danteans saw their involvement as their responsibility, and sending the note was a responsible act. Also, Longfellow did send the note to Rey, not just anybody, as Babi and horselover have pointed out.
    You asked what “best outcome … are (the poets) hoping for?” I think they hope the eventual results of their investigation will yield information enabling them to defend Dante and the project.

    May 7, 2003 - 11:35 pm
    But Jennison isn't dead so he can't recognize his murderer! Someone has come up to Jennison and is recognized but who that person is we don't know. A messenger or cohort of the murderer of Talbot and Healey; or perhaps someone from another circle, or....? Lots of possibilities.


    Matthew Pearl
    May 8, 2003 - 06:33 am
    I like the idea of me being the bowler hatted man! Thanks for that image. The truth is, I wish I could say more and look forwad to when I can share more details of my thinking behind certain things... but at this turning point for the story can't do so without giving things away! I continue to revel in your comprehensive and powerful abilities as readers (something the novel is about in a way!)

    I thought you might enjoy this article about my partitipcation, in a very different way (over speakerphone!), with a PA book club:


    I just gave a talk last week to an Italian cultural society about some of the early Italians in Boston and Cambridge and the bleak conditions they faced economically, professionally and culturally. Much of this went into Pietro Bachi, who was indeed an alcoholic and fired from Harvard. Longfellow once wrote of “Bachi the Italian with his charming accent... who has a cloud of mystery in his life.” Longfellow also wrote, when Bachi was fired: “Poor Bachi! I am afraid it is a hard case with him: with his poverty and his pride”

    Joan Pearson
    May 8, 2003 - 07:50 am
    Good morning,Matthew! We DO understand why you cannot get into the questions we are puzzling over right now, without giving away any surprises! We do look forward to the day when we can hear more about your ideas behind some of the these things. We are so fortunate that we will not have to put down the book with too many unanswered questions! Let's keep a list for Matthew for when we are finished, ok?

    Thank you so much for being here and the comments you are able to share at this point.

    An interesting coincidence...just as you were posting, the very moment actually, I was posting something concerning the same topic you discussed with the Italian Cultural Society... the cultural, social and economic conditions in Boston and Cambridge at this time. (I'm glad mine got zapped and yours went through! We appreciate the time you give to reading and considering our posts!)

    ps. We keep looking again at "poor Bachi. He seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time on a number of occasions, but secretly I doubt he's our man."You are too sympathetic towards him!)

    Will attempt to reconstruct earlier post that never made it here...back soon.

    Joan Pearson
    May 8, 2003 - 08:42 am
    I note that the ladies of the PA Book Club Matthew mentions today do NOT expect to discuss Dante's Inferno any time soon. I note too that our George will be out for a few days - will be visiting the States and pick up another Inferno translation to help him in OUR lively discussion there. Matthew, SN is not afraid to venture into the depths! We'll be looking for you on the 17th, George...

    The list of clues has been updated. I bet we've missed some. Please look over the list and post here?

    BaBi...you see v-i-c-t-i-m. Fabulous! This is exciting. The Rev. Talbot receives the same punishment as the Simonists of the Inferno - buried in holes that represent baptismal fonts, receiving a baptism of fire rather than of water - on their feet, rather than on the head! I am inclined to agree with your conclusion that this hints at the "ritualistic, perhaps religious fervor of the murderer"!

    horselover, I hadn't stopped to give much thought to the topic of Holmes talk, - the Mind/Body connection. There are quite a number of depressed characters here, beginning with the poets...all the way to the mad murderer. We need to focus on Holmes. He is more complicated than meets the eye. What IS i he planning to do with the maggot remains? He seems to be rejecting Dr. Agassiz's "scientific" conclusion of the rare Guinea blowfly. I find him one of the most fascinating characters...

    Jo...I've added the fact that Phineas Jennison recognizes his murderer..."I remember you", he says right before he feels the knife. Marvelle, - he recognizes the man on the street, but doesn't know what's coming. We need to look at that scene again...p.186. Is the character in the shadows speaking aloud or is he thinking to himself the same words the leaper used...which are inscribed at the Gates of Hell..."Through me..."

    (Doesn't the murderer like to see the victim suffer a slow painful death?)

    I think this murder is so important because it is the first time we find ourselves at the site of the murder, WITH the killer.

    Do you see any connection between Judge Healey, the Reverend Talbot and this "merchant prince"? They seem to run the gamut of the upper classes in Boston/Cambridge at the time. Is it time we focus on Jo's question...#10 in the heading...
    In what ways are the changes in Boston's social climate between 1843 and 1865 important to the story?
    Do you think these changes have any relationship to the crimes? Do you think the killer will turn out to be from the academic or from the unpriviliged of Boston/Cambridge?

    May 8, 2003 - 08:57 am
    I haven't read beyond page 205 so this is only my guess. I'd say the murderer will turn out to be one of the disenfranchised whose been affected by the turmoil and violence of the past few years in Boston. Obviously too there are people pulling strings as we often see in society.


    May 8, 2003 - 10:29 am
    Marvelle, You wrote, "But Jennison isn't dead so he can't recognize his murderer! Someone has come up to Jennison and is recognized but who that person is we don't know. A messenger or cohort of the murderer of Talbot and Healey; or perhaps someone from another circle, or....? Lots of possibilities."

    None of those you mention can be real possibilities. True Jennison is not dead when he recognizes the killer, but shortly after that, when Jennison is stabbed in the back, both he and the reader know this is the murderer.

    Joan, I agree with you that Holmes is one of the most interesting characters in this book. I think part of the reason is that his character seems to change the most as the story progresses. The other poets stay pretty much the same: Longfellow is sad but saintly; Lowell swings from manic to depressive; Fields is practical and helpful; Greene is astute but clueless because he's not told about the poet's mission. Holmes, on the other hand, progresses from fearful reluctance to a brave seeker of justice. He also grows as a father to Wendell Jr. Despite his short stature, he seems to grow taller and stronger as the story unfolds.

    May 8, 2003 - 12:03 pm
    Joan and Jo, isn't it also significant that Jennison says, "I remember you.", instead of something indicating a closer familiarity? The murderer would seem to be someone Jennison has seen somewhere, perhaps met briefly, but not someone he knows well. We probably should take a look at the people on the periphery of Jennisons' appearances in the story. (Sorry, I haven't done that yet. I only thought of it on reading your posts.) .,.Babi

    Joan Pearson
    May 8, 2003 - 12:25 pm
    I agree, BaBi, the guy (gee, do we all agree it's a guy yet?) who steps out of the darkness with the "Through me" words is either the killer we're looking for, or working with the killer of the other two. "The next shade needs punishment." (p 186) Have been discussing this with another Clubber, who points out that Jennison did not suffer prolonged pain, (did not receive Dantean punishment) and HE STILL HAS HIS CLOTHES ON. So, what does this mean? Either the killer is not the one who committed the other murders, OR Jennison is NOT dead yet. He does talk AFTER he feels the sharp pain in his back, doesn't he? Stay tuned..and DON'T READ AHEAD! This is too delicious. I'm just happy George is out of town away from his computer today - he'd be hard to silence at this point!

    horselover...Holmes DOES seem to waver, but boy, once he decides to do something, he does it. He went to see Dr. Agassiz as a scientist who would have the latest information on the blowfly. He's a great believer in science and zoology is Agassiz's field. Holmes now realizes that Healey didn't die of a head wound, the insects were released to inflict pain. BUT he does not believe that the insects will have died out...Why doesn't he believe the good doctor? Because Agassiz will not listen to the Darwinian theory. What does he mean by this? And what are the implications?

    May 8, 2003 - 12:52 pm

    Agassiz was an active abolitionist. He was famous for his innovative teaching methods, encouraged learning through direct observations of nature; revolutionized the study of natural history in the U.S.; was an outstanding promoter and fund-raiser. He opposed Darwin's theory of evolution and was distressed that most proponents of Darwinism were not naturalists.

    Agassiz defined "species" as thoughts of God and believed that the geological record showed a series of independent creations separated by eually divine exterminations that cleared the decks for the next divine creation. His Essay on Classifications divided the animal kingdom into 4 branches: Vertebrata, Insecta, Vermes (worms) and Radiata (radially symmetrical animals); within each embranchement the classes could be ranked from lowest to highest; the orders in each class could be similarly ranked, and so on down to the species level, with Homo Sapiens sitting at the very top of the scale of life.


    May 8, 2003 - 01:02 pm
    Joan, I'm reading this passage differently than your other 'clubber'. So far all we have is a painful prick in the back, and Jennison saying take my money, please! The 'clubber' you spoke with must be assuming that Jennison was killed then and there. (We know this is the murderer, from the quote you cited above, as well as the words "Through me the way is among the people lost. Through me.")

    The prick in the back is undoubtedly a knife or other sharp instrument to force Jennison to go with him. At this point, Jennison has not yet been slain. We haven't found the body, and don't know whether or not he will have clothes on when he is found. Nor is it likely that he did not suffer pain; that it an essential in this killer's mind.

    As to Holmes remark re. the insects, Agassiz and the Darwinian theory, I took that to be a reference to nature's ability to adapt in order to survive. Implied, of course, is the possibility that some did survive and will continue to be a threat. Remember the Preface,"Caution to the Reader"? This is what it was about. ...Babi

    May 8, 2003 - 01:06 pm
    Joan, I think you are right--Jennison is NOT dead yet. He is just incapacitated by the stab wound, maybe rendered unconscious. This was the pattern in the other murders, too. Healey was knocked unconscious, then carried to the river and infested with the maggots. Talbot was somehow gotten unconscious, maybe with chloroform or hit on the head, and then stuffed into the hole, where he woke up to suffer his punishment. The killer will probably stick to his pattern as serial killers usually do.

    Marvelle, Thanks for the info on Agassiz. It does make me have somewhat less faith in any of his theories.

    May 8, 2003 - 01:19 pm
    Horselover, we were posting at the same time (it takes me forever and a day to type a message!). Agassiz gave a lot to science and the world. He just believed in divine creation rather than evolution. He felt that humans did not evolve from apes or 'lower' life forms but, throughout the planet, sprang up out of God's thought. Agassiz was an interesting man who brought American science worldwide recognition.

    Question 5A -- Why is Professor Agassiz' explanation of the cochliomyia hominivorax important to Holmes & Lowell?

    Because they feed on live tissue which means that, as Holmes put it "The insects were not ornament, they were his [murderer's] weapon!" (199) Healey didn't die from the blow to the head but as a slow torture from the insects and this fits closely to a Dantean eternal punishment.


    Question 5B -- Why does Holmes suspect that his conclusion that these insects have died out might be wrong?

    Agassiz recounts that he's seen these types of insects in Brazil and Mexico, in warm climates and that they could not live long in the colder North such as Boston. "They are native to this hemisphere ... But only in hot, swampier climates.... How they got here I cannot speculate. Perhaps accidentally on a shipment of cattle or ....No matter. It is our good fortune that these critters cannot live in a nortern climate such as ours, not in this climate and surroundings." (199)

    Holmes believed in the Darwinian theory of evolution which Agassiz did not. The theory is that organic life sprang forth from non-organic matter, exclusively through a natural mechanistic process on a pre-biotic earth. That original life form then evolved into more complex life forms through a natural process of random mutations and natural selection.

    Agassiz did not believe that the insects could evolve and adapt to the Boston environment. Agassiz approached his scientific studies with a priori knowledge, knowing in advance what he would find because that was what he was looking for -- he discounted what did not fit his theory of the divine creation. (As he dismissed how the insects got to Boston in the first place. 'No matter.') As a Darwinian, Holmes questions Agassiz' assumptions that the insects could not adapt and evolve.


    May 8, 2003 - 01:40 pm
    For myself, horselover and other enthusiasts, a link of Holmesian trivia:


    Holmes wrote an article on the stereoscope which said in part: "The mind feels its way into the very depths of the picture. The scraggy branches of a tree in the foreground run out at us as if they would scratch our eyes out. The elbow of a figure stands forth so as to make us almost uncomfortable. Then there is such a frightful amount of detail, that we have the same sense of infinite complexity which nature gives us."


    May 8, 2003 - 06:21 pm
    Marvelle, I just got back from a meeting and found your link to the STEREOSCOPE. Thanks sooo much. I did not know that Holmes was also an inventor. There are so many interesting aspects of his character, he keeps growing in depth all the time. Here's another bit of scientific eye trivia--the image projected on the retina is actually upside down; the brain has learned to transform it so what we perceive is closer to the real world.

    However, I must disagree with you that Agassiz was actually a scientist. No true scientist would approach his scientific studies with a priori knowledge. This is totally antithetical to the scientific method. If you do experiments to try to prove what you have already concluded, and discount evidence that does not fit your theory, you can never arrive at the truth. Believe me, you would not want your doctor prescribing drugs that were developed by someone who had decided in advance that they would work!

    Jo Meander
    May 8, 2003 - 06:42 pm
    horselover, do you think that many "scientists" of that era and previous ones operated that way? They had certain unscientific beliefs, and they allowed those beliefs to limit their capactiy for investigating and forming conclusions based upon evidence. I never thought about this until you said he wasn't a scientist. Then I began to wonder if many like him made contributions to science anyway. He observed the glacial movements through the study of empirical data, for instance. And he must have contributed to the organization of info. on the various life forms.

    May 9, 2003 - 11:58 am
    Horselover and Jo, you got me wondering about the scientific position on the creation of various species. Apparently, until the 1859 publication of Darwin's The Origin of the Species, most scientists were creationists. It was many, many years after Darwin's theory was published before it was generally accepted by the scientific community.



    The anatomist Richard Owen, he of the dinosaur terminology, was one of Darwin's more famous opponents.


    Oliver Wendell Holmes seemed to be receptive to new ideas since he seems to have accepted Darwin's theory while many scientists were still debating the issue. It was such a hot issue for a long time. In the second link here, there's information on Captain Fitzroy of the Beagle who'd allowed Darwin on his ship as the ship's scientist. From the years he was onboard the Beagle, Darwin collected and studied species and developed his theory. Captain Fitzroy couldn't forgive himself -- felt he was partly responsible for this new evolutionary theory -- and he killed himself.

    This sort of passion over evolution, today so universally accepted, is stunning to me.


    May 9, 2003 - 12:46 pm
    "Ah, you. I remember you. What is it you wanted?" (Jennison's last words.)

    I made it my business to follow up the clues (fetch me my deerstalker, please)as to who it was Jennison might 'remember' and address as above. He has only appeared in the story three times.

    p.32: Speaking with Lowell at the Saturday Club dinner. No other persons are mentioned as being present during this conversation. We do learn that Jennison is acquainted with the fellows of the Harvard Corporation, explaining how he knew about the trouble with Lowell over his Dante classes. I cannot see him as having spoken the above sentence to one of these important personages, and certainly not Manning.

    p. 146: Meets Lowell by chance while out driving. The only other person mentioned is his own driver. This person seems too anonymous to be of significance to the plot. Tho', of course, Michael could be really sneaky here.

    p.182-183:Comes to Fields' offices. We find Holmes and Longfellow here, and Jennison is awed at this opportunity to meet them and shake their hands. Even if we cannot accept Holmes and Longfellow as murder suspects, Jennison would never have addressed them as quoted above. There is also a reference to a 'clerk' who told him how to find the correct office upstairs, and another employee, Dan Teal, who shows Jennison out. Teal is at least not nameless. He is the only person mentioned in the story who might elicit the words, "Ah, you. I remember you."

    There are absolutely no grounds for suspicion of this character. But Michael seems to be playing fair with all his clues so far, and I believe Jennisons'choice of words is significant. ...Babi

    Joan Pearson
    May 9, 2003 - 01:07 pm
    EDIT: BaBi, (super sleuth)I was posting the same time you were... Are you suggesting we add the print boy to the list of suspects? Jennison's murderer could have been someone else he remembered...do you think we haven't met the murderer(s) yet? I think if there is more than one murderer, one will be LUCIFER himself!

    BaBi, I agree, the fact that Phineas Jennison says "I remember you" seems to rule out Bachi. But you never can rule out Bachi can you? He's the obvious angry Dantean with so much resentment towards all the HAVES in Boston. And Jennison certainly "has" a lot. Sauntering along the street, with his gold-tipped cane, head back, laughing aloud at something - yellow (gold?) teeth flashing...(do you wonder what he is so pleased about?) He seems an obvious target, though I am not sure which group of sinners he would represent. horselover...a good point - the other victims were incapacitated first before being slowly tortured to death with a contrapasso punishment of some sort. A street-stabbing doesn't fit the picture and we know this is the killer...

    BaBi, are you considering peripheral suspects? Who? Bachi told Lowell..."Keep an eye on your Dante class." Mead? Sheldon? Mead is too obvious, isn't he? Sheldon's fawning makes me uncomfortable but is there any reason so far to suspect either one of these two?

    What sort of progress are the POETS making in tracking the killer? Fields is asking, "Could Bachi be our Lucifer?" Is there anyone else on their list?

    They are working in teams of two...and seem to be picking up bits of information from each incounter. Is any of it helpful or even relevant? What did they learn from Dr. Agassiz? Marvelle...he really existed! Thank you for that information. From the link, we see that he was "one of the most respected scientists" in America - (the year is 1865) Learning that the Darwinian theory was not widely accepted yet (1859), it is not surprising that his science was not questioned, but that Holmes was so advanced in his thinking. I suppose he is a teacher and up on the latest developments. So. What do the poets learn from Agassiz that they can use in their investigation? I think the fact that the blowflies cannot withstand the Boston temperatures indicates that Judge Healey came into contact with them indoors, not out by the river where he finally died. But what bit of information will help them with the investigation?

    The chance meeting with Ralph W. Emerson at Fields' office - the conversation between Holmes and "Waldo" was heavy with innuendo - did you pick up anything (besides entertainment) in this exchange? What does Waldo think of the translation project? Is it important that Professor Ticknor was Emerson's teacher?

    Sorry, more questions than observations this afternoon. I love it when other poets put in cameo appearances, don't you?

    Jo Meander
    May 9, 2003 - 01:37 pm
    Great posts, great info, great sleuthing!!! I'm always surprised when I find out another character is REAL! Matthew has done a fine job of weaving history and personality into this tale! There is so much to comment on, and so many possible clues that I can't keep up! Sooo, I'll do the best I can, and I'll try to catch up with all your provocative observations.

    horselover, I agree that Holmes seems to be the one who grows in this story. His fear and reticence give way to desire for the truth. “Oliver Wendell Holmes was happy to have a task suited to him.(144).” As son as Lowell dropped off the crushed insects and maggots, he rounded up books and began his own investigation. Later, he rejects Agassiz’s belief that the chochliomyla hominivorax (man-eater!) will not survive in this colder climate as they did on Devil’s Island, and takes the specimen removed from Lowell’s ankle to study it further. He has concluded that the murderer used the creatures as a weapon, and he and Lowell now believe that Bachi was not capable of such a vicious plot: to see the victims “suffer, as the shades do in Inferno. A state between life and death, which contains both but is neither.” (200, Lowell). They now believe that Healy was alive when Nell brought him back to the study. Holmes is now fully engaged in the crime solving. Quite a change from his initial response to Talbot’s corpse, and from his reflexive mistranslation of the phrases Rey brings to them.

    As Holmes leaves Lowell to begin his examination of the maggot, he says that “Revolutions are not make by men in spectacles, and the first whispers of a new truth are not caught by those in need of ear trumpets.” and “sons beat out their father’s brains.” (200) Does he believe that the younger generation inevitably improves upon the words and deeds of their fathers? Was it a good thing for Pietro to say that Dante didn’t really go to heaven and hell? For young Wendel to be his father’s observer and critic? For Holmes himself to take the information from Agassiz and improve upon the knowledge? The scene is on p. 201 and I think Joan has asked about it, too. If I missed someone’s response, I apologize. I would really like to read your reactions to Holmes’s observation.

    May 9, 2003 - 01:54 pm
    Greene says "If it were possible to convey an accurate idea of Dante in a single word, that word would be POWER." Dante's Inferno is effectively controlling us 700 years after the fact. Does anyone else find themself thinking about the Inferno when you meet people during the course of a day? We all meet "shades" of the blashemers, thieves & gluttons and I giggle to myself as I ponder what Dante would make of this so many years after describing his torment?

    I am one of those reading The Inferno in conjunction with this tale so I had to skip ahead to read Canto Twenty-eight, the most unpleasant section of the Inferno. Bloody hell, that Canto would scare the bejeebers out of you.

    There's Matthew, again, approaching Edward Sheldon, the student. I loved Lowell's pursuit of this guy as he irritates the conductor profoundly enough to get his gloved hand beaten with a walking stick an ultimately lose him at the tracks.

    Jo Meander
    May 9, 2003 - 02:01 pm
    There are ample reasons to suspect Bachi ...but of what? Marvelle says that the murderer could well be "one of the disenfranchised" and that "there are people pulling strings." My feeling has been that we do have some of each at work in this puzzle. Bachi was fired for drunkeness and poverty, for heaven's sake, a strange reason to fire somebody! Now he is truly bitter and frequently drunk in his impoverished and alienated state! I connect the dismissal from Harvard with the attitude of Manning and the Corporation toward the study of modern language sand Dante. Bachi was probably a thorn in their side that was easy to remove, unlike the respected and tenured Lowell, who took over the Dante class from Longfellow, who took over from Tichnor ((that's an interesting thread!) What papers did Bachi stuff in his satchel when Lowell and Holmes come to visit? What does he mean by "Keep and eye on your Dante class" when they are leaving his apartment? Why is Sheldon talking angrily to the man in the checkered waistcoat and walking away from him in as agitated state? Red herrings or real stuff?
    Did you note the thought of the unknown person confronting Jennison -- "The next shade needing punishment. " Then "Through me the way is among the people lost. Through me." Is he the gateway to the Inferno? He can't mean Virgil, can he? Virgil isn't a punishing presence in The Inferno. Just thinking "out loud."

    Jo Meander
    May 9, 2003 - 02:34 pm
    I'm still wondering why Richard Healy didn't want Lowell and Fields to have any conversation with Nell or to see the study where she brought Healy's body.

    Lowell's thoughts on Bachi:
    "He is the only one outside our club besides I suppose old Tichnor, with a level of understanding (of Dante's Inferno) that rivals our own."
    "He resents us because he believes Longfellow and I sat on our hands when he was fired. And Bachi would rather see Dante ruined than rescued by treacherous Americans."
    "He could have chosen anyone he pleases, so long as they fit the sins he decides to punish and Dante could eventually be exposed as the source. So he could ruin the name of Dante in America before the poetry takes hold."
    His arguments are so good that I suppose it isn't Bachi!

    May 9, 2003 - 06:47 pm
    BaBi, I agree with you. Jennison would not have spoken that way to someone of his own class, but he might have said those words to someone he knew casually such as Bachi (if he was tutoring Jennison's daughter), or a worker at the publisher's or printer's whom Jennison knew casually.

    Jo, There were definitely many so-called scientists in those days who allowed their work to be colored by preconceived ideas or religious beliefs. This is still true in our own time. But the true scientists (truth seekers) who advance human knowledge have always followed the scientific method. Galileo suffered greatly during the inquisition for publishing facts he had determined to be true by scientific observation. He argued that "the Bible had to be interpreted in the light of what science had shown to be true." But it took the church until 1992 to admit it was wrong to accuse Galileo of heresy.

    Jo Meander
    May 9, 2003 - 08:44 pm
    horselover I do believe you, particularly about the difference between those whose vision was/is crippled by preconceived ideas and the scientific truth seekers. Certainly the church was 'way off base with Galileo. My point, which perhaps I stated awkwardly, was that even some of those who rejected scientific method were able to add true information to our store of knowledge, in spite of their limited vision. Their research was good, but their interpretation of cause-effect was unscientific.

    May 9, 2003 - 09:26 pm
    I think drunkeness would be crime enough to be dismissed from Harvard at this time. It set a bad example for the young men, and Harvard was still a primary school for preparing ministers. I doubt that poverty had anything to do with his firing (says the impoverished, but still-working, professor).

    Secondly, Bachi is way too obvious. He is angry at all Americans. He is angry that the translators are going to "steal" Dante. He is angry, largely I think, because he is an alcoholic. Anger is a definite personality trait of the overimbiber.

    Bachi would not do anything to make Dante look bad, as these murders obviously do.

    (Andy--I just read Canto 28. Ah yes, we are in for such treats as we sink lower and lower. We're getting a long way away from those whose sin was simply lust of one kind or another. They are up there in upper hell.)

    Joan Pearson
    May 9, 2003 - 09:35 pm
    Maryal...does the murderer want Dante to look bad...or does he have it in for the poet-translators?

    Is Bachi the poets' chief suspect? DO they seem to have anyone else? Are they getting anywhere, do you think? They must be getting warmer, but do they know what they are doing?

    ps...anyone who feels the need to read Canto 28 has read ahead. No fair.

    May 9, 2003 - 11:58 pm
    So far the Poets haven't pinpointed suspects. Holmes and Lowell decide against Bachi after realizing that it would take extreme cruelty to be the murderer and Bachi may be emotional and a drunk but cruel he isn't. Let's face it, if he wanted revenge it would have been soon after his dismissal rather than later. Now Bachi doesn't have the strength and I think he feels, unnecessarily, ashamed. He's bitter but doesn't seem to be one for retribution (I'm thinking of how he takes the father's further negotiations of his fees; rather meek even if bitter.)

    I read a biography on Longfellow prior to this discussion and there was a brief paragraph or two on Pietro Bachi. Harvard was reluctant to hire him because they didn't approve of Modern Languages yet they had to appease Longfellow. On Ticknor and Longfellow's recommendation, Harvard hired Bachi. Bachi was eminently qualified but he was an immigrant, Italian, Catholic, and teaching Modern Languages. Harvard paid him next to nothing compared to their other professors. One more example of prejudice and discrimination in our 1800s Boston.

    I found the below link (the first few paragraphs interested me) about George Ticknor and also Pietro Bachi who taught at Harvard for 20 years despite being a 'foreigner.' He was born in the late 1700s and died in 1853.

    Collecting Dante in America

    From the link: "Bachi ...was paid a pittance and then dismissed when he filed for bankruptcy in 1844."


    May 10, 2003 - 12:46 am
    There's a thread of deception that runs throughout The Dante Club. We have the leaper who is deception plus and who starts Rey and our Poets on their journey into the Inferno:

    He was slightly built, his dark eyes handsome but worn, with a waywardness of expression. The stranger displayed a chessboard of missing and rotting teeth, and emitted something like a hiss, releasing a stench of Medford rum. He either didn't notice or didn't mind that his clothes were coated in rotten egg....The man's nose and mouth were red and irregular, overwhelming his thin mustache and beard. One of his legs was lame.... The sphinx's paper collar was all but hidden under his slovenly black scarf, wrapped loosely to one side." (27)

    On page 152 we find out the leaper's name was Grifone Lonza. I suspect the leaper represented the three beasts that the pilgrim encounters on the beginning of his journey in the Inferno.

    Lion -- The leaper was already identified on page 27 as a sphinx and Grifone is Italian for Gryphon/Griffin, the mythical beast that is part lion, part eagle. So there's a deception or riddle to the leaper. And he's shown to have the strength of a lion.

    Wolf -- His drunkenness shows the dangerous rapaciousness (incontinence) of the she-wolf.

    Leopard -- Lonza is the name Dante gave to his cat, the lean, bony creature with spotted pelt. The leaper's (Grifone Lonza) chessboard teeth, black scarf and egg-coat imitate the spotted coat of the leopard (changing colors from black to yellow) which signifies deception/fraud.


    Another deception:

    We've noted the man in the black bowler hat and yellow-checkered waistcoat, a gaunt figure with rather a wasted set of features -- intimations of the leopard and deception (and perhaps incontinence). Is there any lion in the man? I think we're supposed to realize either that he's involved in deception/fraud or he's there as a red herring. Bowler hat shows up on pages 34 and 68 but there are other passages too.

    I haven't connected my thoughts on Grifone Lonza to Longfellow, re question 7 about exile; too tired tonight. I hope someone can tackle this question.


    May 10, 2003 - 01:19 am
    Griffins symbolize both wisdom (eagle) and fierce protectiveness (lion).


    There are two stone griffins crouching on my library shelves.


    May 10, 2003 - 04:16 am
    Marvelle, I'm impressed, what wonderful connections you've made for us.

    Joan, Maryal and I will take our demierits BUT you'll be happy that we DID read ahead. shudder, shudder!

    May 10, 2003 - 07:40 am
    Okay, this is going to be long, but you all have given me so much to think about! So it's your own fault.

    Joan, there is nothing so far to suggest any reason to suspect Fields clerk Teal. It is just that I don't think Matthew would have hinted at someone Jennison had met, without ever telling us about that meeting. (Would you do that, Michael? Yes, okay I know you can't tell us.)

    Someone brought up the maggots again, and that gave me another thought. We were asking early on where the murderer could have gotten hold of the maggots. We know that wounded soldiers were infested with these maggots in the war that has just ended. Someone could have brought some of these maggots back with them. (Why they would want to, I can't imagine!) We may be looking for a soldier, an army doctor, or someone else who would have a reason to be on a battlefield.

    Jo, re. your question of Holmes remark about men in spectacles not making revolutions, and those in need of ear trumpets not teaching new truth... I supposed 'men in spectacles' to refer to scholars, who tend to be objective observers and not revolutionaries. And the ear trumpets of course would be old men, who may simply be too tired. If his remark was significant to the plot, do you think we might eliminate scholars and old men?

    The only significance I saw in Richard Healy's reluctance to have the poets speaking with Nell, was that of the well-to-do who definitely do not want the servants talking to others about private family affairs. The 'master of the house' will tell all outsiders whatever he feels they should know.

    Joan, you asked "does the murderer want Dante to look bad?" A very good question! Though that would be the effect of connecting the murders to Dante's Inferno, I wonder if the murderer knows or intends that. In following the punishments of the Inferno so precisely, isn't the murderer associating himself very closely with Dante and his work? If so, he would not try to make Dante look bad.

    Marvelle, thanks for that info. on Bachi and bankruptcy. That would explain his being discharged for "poverty". I believe filing for bankruptcy would have been considered a great scandal and adequate cause for discharging a Harvard instructor. Your examination of the lion/wolf/leopard associations with Grifone was also an eye-opener. Methinks you are a notable scholar yourself. ...Babi

    May 10, 2003 - 09:25 am
    I do think that Bachi would never want to make Dante look bad. Yes, he is against our poets and their translation, but Dante would certainly be contaminated by association to the murders.

    I'm sticking with Patrolman Rey as my main man. These old poets are inventive and charming, but I don't think they are the ones who will solve this murder. They ought to tell Rey everything they know.

    That young man can think.

    Joan Pearson
    May 10, 2003 - 10:46 am
    Oh dear, every time I come in I think we might eliminate or add another name to our list. After reading Marvelle's marvelous connecting of the dots to conclude that Lonza very well might represent the one who drove the sinners - sinnerS into Hell...the excessive, the violent, the fraudulent...

    We've talked about a mastermind working with a hitman. I'm wondering if we don't have ONE LUCIFER and several murderers? One murderer might represent each of the three divisions of sin? So then we'd end up with ONE MASTERMIND and three murderers (if in fact there are three murders!) What do you think? If you think it's a possibility, who would you cast in the role of Lucifer?

    May 10, 2003 - 11:32 am
    What a dangerous question: Who would you cast in the role of Lucifer? So far Augustus Manning seems the only person with the power, the arrogance, and the disdain for humanity to pull the strings. It does seem like Rey is working toward a solution while our Poets are lost in the outside world. Then again, maybe it takes a combination of intelligent action (Rey) coupled with bookish knowledge (Poets) to end the murders.

    Here's one last thing about Grifone Lonza. Lonza killed himself which is a sin according to his religion, Catholicism. In Dante's Inferno there is a strange forest of sucides:

    No green leaves, but rather black in color,
    no smooth branches, but twisted and entangled,
    no fruit, but thorns of poison bloomed instead.
    -- Musa translation, Canto XIII lines 4-6

    Dante "snapped the tiny branch of a great thorn [off a branch and] the blood turned dark around the wound." By this action Dante finally is convinced it is a soul and asks how it came to its punishment. It answers:

    The moment that the violent soul departs
    the body it has torn itself away from,
    Minos sends it down to the seventh hole;

    It drops to the wood, not in a place allotted,
    but anywhere that fortune tosses it.
    There, like a grain of spelt, it germinates,

    soon springs into a sapling, then a wild tree;
    at last the harpies, feasting on its leaves,
    create its pain, and for the pain an outlet.
    -- Musa trans, Canto XIII lines 94-99

    Compare Dante to Grifone Lonza, the leaper: "He crashed through the thick plane of a bay window. One loose shard of glass, shaped perfectly like a scythe, swiveled out ... slicing cleanly through his windpipe .... He dropped hard through the shattered mass onto the yard below."

    "The body unfurled over a thick cushion of autumn leaves, and the lens of the window's shattered glass cut the body and its bed into a kaleidoscope of yellow, black, hectic red. The ragged urchins [harpies?], the first down to the courtyard, pointed and hollered, dancing around the splayed body." (29)


    May 10, 2003 - 12:57 pm
    I wrote out this message yesterday and saved it. Posting it now, I realize that what I said about the intelligent action of Rey and the bookish knowledge of the Poets falls in line with Emerson's idea of the American Scholar. I don't know if Matthew was influenced by Emerson in developing the Dante Club or if I was influenced, maybe its a bit of both.

    Question 8A -- "What do you know about Ralph Waldo Emerson?"

    Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

    Emerson too was an abolitionist. Today he still has a world wide reputation as an original (and the first totally American) philosopher/writer. I recommend the biography "Emerson: The Mind on Fire" by Robert D. Richardson and any edition of Emerson's writings.


    Question 8B -- "What does he think of Dante? Does he sound like his old teacher, Professor Ticknor on this subject?"

    Ticknor says that Americans must understand foreigners and have them conform to the American national character or else "the multitudes of outside people will one day conform us." (Ticknor 73) Professor Ticknor feels that despite Longfellow's enthusiasm and the acceptance of Dante by scholars, it is folly to hope that Dante will be widely read by 'the masses;' that Dante's sphere is "forever severe and unforgiving." (Ticknor 73-4) Basically, he's saying Dante is dangerous and can only be understood by scholars.

    Emerson implies that Dante is similar to a rare collectible rather than a commonly available item -- Dante isn't produced for the masses: "I think sometimes of the days I read Dante under Professor Ticknor's direction, as you did, [this is the scholar's approval of Dante] yet I cannot help but feel Dante is a curiosity, like a mastodon -- a relic to put in a museum, not in one's house." [lack of popular appeal and relevancy to Americans] (Emerson 169)

    Both men are saying that Dante isn't for the public. Here, I disagree with Emerson in that I feel Dante is relevant to the human condition. The Catholicism of the work was a deterrent to many in Emerson's time and is less so today. I do believe that the Inferno's severity will hold back many readers.


    Question 8C -- "Is his sphinx-like response to Holmes question on the translation project, complimentary to Longfellow?" No, not complimentary.

    "What did you think of us, Fields and Lowell and I, I mean, assisting Longfellow in his translation of Dante?" (Holmes 169)

    "If Socrates were here, Holmes, we could go talk with him out in the streets. But our dear Longfellow, we cannot go and talk with. There is a palace and servants and a row of bottles of different-colored wines and wineglasses and fine coats." (Emerson 169)

    It is a riddle of an answer. The comment on a palace is jarring, as well as servants and a well-stocked wine cellar -- all of which implies a privileged life apart from the common man -- and doesn't fit the American image which is part of Emerson's criticism of Longfellow, of being removed from the everyday life of America and that he is cocooned in his study. Emerson says that a scholar must be a man of ideas and action. "When I read Longfellow, I feel utterly at ease -- I am safe. This shall not yield us our future." (170)


    In his 1837 lecture, "The American Scholar," Emerson talks of the influences affecting the spirit of the scholar: first in time and importance is Nature, then the Past (literature, art, institutions), Action, and finally a sense of duty as Individual Man. "The American Scholar" is Emerson's call for a national identity in literature. The lecture is long but I'll post it here if anyone wants to read it in its entirety:

    The American Scholar

    In this lecture Emerson says "Action is with the scholar subordinate, but it is essential. Without it he is not yet man. Without it thought can never ripen into truth.... Inaction is cowardice, but there can be no scholar without the heroic mind. The preamble of thought, the transition through which it passes from the unconscious to the conscious, is action. Only so much do I know, as I have lived. Instantly we know whose words are loaded with life, and whose not."

    Emerson on the changing literature of America where he says we use the past but live in the present in America. "I read with some joy of the auspicious signs of the coming days, as they glimmer already through poetry and art, through philosophy and science, through church and state. One of these signs is the fact that the same movement which effected the elevation of what was called the lowest class in literature, assumed in literature a very marked and as benign an aspect."

    (Emerson continues in The American Scholar) "Instead of the sublime and the beautiful, the near, the low, the common, was explored and poeticized. That which had been negligently trodden under foot by those who were harnessing and provisioning themselves for long journeys into far countries, is suddenly found to be richer than all foreign parts. The literature of the poor, the feelings of the child, the philosophy of the street, the meaning of household life, are the topics of the time. It is a great stride. It is a sign -- is it not? -- of new vigor when the extremities are made active, when currents of warm life run into the hands and feet. I ask not for the great, the remote, the romantic .... I embrace the common, I explore and sit at the feet of the familiar, the low."

    Emerson says that Longfellow's writing puts him at ease and that isn't what he wants in the new literature. He wants a man of the streets, of the American streets, and that's why I believe he sees Dante as not fitting into the American identity of the masses. I disagree with Emerson when looking at the subject from today's vantage point. But in the 1800s we didn't have a national literature and needed a strong identity in order to absorb Dante and other great works of the world without losing our unique identity.


    Jo Meander
    May 10, 2003 - 01:37 pm
    Marvelle, great work, on the imagery surrounding Lonzo and on Emerson. I believe we will be revisiting his theme of ACTION and VIGOR. I've been captivted by his philosophy and that of the other Transendentalists for a long time, and I love the part of his lecture you have quoted.

    May 10, 2003 - 02:57 pm
    Thanks Jo. I apologize for the long posts but Emerson's essay was so long that I thought it might be hard for some to read it online. So I typed out what I hoped might be some pertinent bits. It was only in posting the message on Emerson that it dawned on me how skillfully Matthew had woven Emerson's concepts into his book.


    May 10, 2003 - 05:30 pm
    In Question #5, you ask why Holmes suspects Professor Agassiz may be wrong about the insects dying out. It is probably because Holmes realizes Agassiz's judgement is clouded by his lack of scientific objectivity and his refusal to accept Darwin's work on religious grounds. Holmes, who does accept Darwin's theories, knows that the fittest of these insects may survive and adapt to the colder climate!

    In Question #9, you ask why Rey changes his mind while in President Hill's office. I think it is because he is an astute judge of character and realizes that Manning is looking for ammunition against the Dante Club. Rey also suddenly realizes that the poets lied to him about the translation of the Leaper's words, and wonders "If Longfellow and his poets had recognized the words, why would they go to lengths to keep it from him?"

    BaBi, You said, "There is nothing so far to suggest any reason to suspect Fields clerk Teal." That is true, except on page 19, Osgood (the senior clerk) introduces him to Holmes as Daniel Teal. If you drop out the last part of his first name and the last part of his surname, his name contains Dante. Do you suppose Matthew did this on purpose as a clue??? Or is this another red herring???

    Jo Meander
    May 10, 2003 - 08:25 pm
    Holy Moses! Clues or red herrings all over the place! horselover, that's great!

    May 11, 2003 - 07:52 am
    Horselover, what a great find- which I totally missed. DANiel TEal.

    May 11, 2003 - 08:36 am
    Since Horselover has talked of reading to the end of the book, whether it's a clue or a red herring, all I can do is repeat Joan's

    No fair!


    May 11, 2003 - 09:57 am
    Marvelle, Let me set the record straight again! I did not read to the end of the book. I said I finished the section we are currently discussing ONE day before we began discussing it. I have been careful not to read ahead since then. It was BaBi's post which caused me to look BACK over what we have read for all the references to Teal, especially since Jennison could have recognized him from meeting casually at the publisher's.

    I think as we read more and more, there will be additional clues. This is what happens in a mystery story. We can't accuse everyone who makes comments about the clues of being unfair, unless you want to confine the discussion to only those issues unrelated to the central mystery. Part of the fun in reading a mystery is second-guessing the detective. But guessing in public may change the thinking of others, so maybe we should have a rule that prohibits guessing about the killer altogether until the author reveals him/her. I think I will strictly follow this rule from now on.

    I am not even looking at page 206 'til tomorrow. I will start "The Little Friends" instead. When I get to page 257 of "The Dante Club," I will return to "Little Friends." I hope this is a satisfactory solution.

    Jo Meander
    May 11, 2003 - 12:14 pm
    BaBi, on the “scholars and old men question,” no, I wouldn’t eliminate them. I think when Holmes made that remark, he wasn’t thinking of himself in that category. He felt that they had to rise to the occasion, and he believed that they all could. The emphasis is on action, and I think he believes he still has a choice between an active and a passive role. At this point in the story, he doesn’t use an ear trumpet and he does plan to jump into the investigation. Passivity and involvement are choices at any age.

    horselover touched on this earlier, but I would like to address the Emerson riddle again: I agree that Emerson’s riddle is not a complement to Longfellow:
    ”The spirit of American is suspected to be timid, imitative, tame…. “Without action, the scholar is not yet man. Ideas must work through the bones and arms of good men or they are no better than dreams. When I read Longfellow, I feel utterly at ease – I am safe. This shall not yield us our future.”
    He seems to be implying that Longfellow fails to arouse our passions, to put us on edge, ready to act rather than to dream. My memories of each poet’s work are sharply different. Emerson’s themes are of self-reliance and reverence for creation. I associate Longfellow with romantic, impressionistic stories of early Americans and Native American life. (I was browsing through some of their work the other day, but didn’t get very far.) Maybe Matthew did this deliberately: let Emerson have his say, and then allow us to experience Longfellow as a man of action!

    May 11, 2003 - 02:49 pm
    Someone, a while ago, quoted a definition of poetry that I made a note of: "The proof of poetry was that it reduced to the essence of a single line the vague philosophy that floated in all mens' minds, so as to render it portable and useful...ready to the hand."

    I think this is a better definition than Emerson's, and encompasses all the great poets -- those who rouse our passion and call us to action, and those who distill for us the reality of our lives and thoughts.

    Jo Meander
    May 11, 2003 - 10:17 pm
    horselover, that is Lowell's definition. I'm not sure Emerson had one, exactly, although I would bet that if he did it would be based on themes like self-reliance, action, and nature.

    Joan Pearson
    May 12, 2003 - 04:39 am
    Fellow sinners all,

    Yesterday was mothering day...today, grandmothering...not-quite-two year old granddaughter here for the day. Do you remember what that's like? I hope to steal some precious minutes while (if?) she naps to come and talk to you. So much good stuff to comment on ...plus just dropped off thought-provokers for the heading. Although you come up with the best questions right here!

    Before rescuing Bruce from the Cheerios frenzy in the kitchen, I really want to ask ALL of you to remain right HERE in your seats till I get back. I KNOW for a fact that ALL of your contributions are more worthwhile than whatever leaks, real or perceived may slip out at this point. This is so much more than a who-dun-it...don't you think?

    Bruce is calling for back-up in the kitchen. Later. Have something on Emerson I've been wanting to share with you too.

    Grandma (aka "Meanma")
    ps. How did you get through the pages describing Jennison's "contrapasso"????? What did he dooooooo to deserve this? How can he be considered a Schismatic"?

    Matthew Pearl
    May 12, 2003 - 07:28 am
    Marvelle, thanks for the link to the Stereoscope -- it's something I wanted to work into the novel and never really found a good place, but the idea of combining two separate images into one with multi-dimensions is both scientifically and symbolically intriguing to me in relation to the novel.

    On Emerson, he's definitely a driving force behind many of the motifs and tensions in the novel, even though he appears only briefly.

    I continue to take my (bowler) hat off to all of you for your comments -- though I feel more than ever muzzled by the fact that you're at a turning point in the book!

    Joan Pearson
    May 12, 2003 - 07:48 am
    EDIT: Matthew, Good moring! You came in as I was leaving...we know that "muzzled" feeling - especially those who have finished the book! hahaha...We are saving questions galore for you once the case is solved and one for the books! We are having such a good time with this!

    She naps! So I get maybe a half hour respite. We went to the park to the swings, but little Miss became quite upset at the puddles beneath them. I did some climbing on the play equipment and slid down one of these funnel-like slides with her in my lap - once!

    But she sleeps and I wanted to share with you something on Emerson...before we turn to the gruesome murder scene. Things really pick up in these pages. horselover, we DON'T want to lose you to Little Friends. We're your "little friends" right here and would miss you something fierce!

    When Longfellow goes to Ticknor and tells him that Florence will receive the first American translation to commemorate Dante's 600th birthdate, Ticknor notes that everyone in Boston celebrated Shakespeare's 300th birthdate the year before, but that no one outside of Italy will mark Dante's birth. He commented:
    "Shakespeare brings us to know ourselves; Dante with his dissection of all others, bids us know one another."
    Is this what the Brahmins fear, then...getting to know OTHERS, OTHER IDEAS and DISCOVERIES that threaten the status quo?

    I wanted to share with you something about Emerson - and Shakespeare. You may know I work at the Folger Shakespeare Library in DC. This is America's greatest Shakespeare collection, housing 79 of the rare First Folios of Shakespeare...scholars come from all over the world to study in our Library. Queen Elizabeth herself came to see one of our famous paintings...the Elizabeth I "Sieve" portrait. Henry Folger left his collection, (which continues to grow) TO SHARE WITH THE NATION in 1930 - Folger's main inspiration to begin his collection and then to share it, came from WALDO himself.

    Influence of Emerson The library owes its existence to a chain of events that began to form when the aging Ralph Waldo Emerson lectured at Amherst College in 1879 and stirred the interest of a student named Henry Clay Folger.

    Folger, who was to become president and chairman of the Standard Oil Co., paid 25 cents for a ticket to hear Emerson speak. What the philosopher had to say about Shakespeare caught fire in the student's mind.

    Years earlier, Emerson, summing up the influence of Shakespeare on the 300th anniversary of his birth, wrote a sentence that Folger was to take to heart:

    "Genius is the consoler of our mortal condition, and Shakespeare taught us that the little world of the heart is vaster, deeper and richer than the spaces of astronomy."

    Folger Library/Emerson

    May 12, 2003 - 08:30 am
    Please, NO! Not multiple murderers. There can't possibly be that many people capable of crimes of this degree of horror in dear old Boston! One murderer, please...obsesssed, and singular, in more meanings of the word than one.

    Jo, thank you for your comparison of Grifone Lanzo's death with the suicides of the Canto. Since I am not attempting to read the Inferno simultaneously, this greatly enriched the scene for me. I find myself prefering to believe, however, that Lanzo was out of his mind when he went crashing through that window and was not a deliberate suicide. That prohibition was deeply engrained in the Catholic consciousness of those days.

    I wasn't suggesting, by the way, that we eliminate scholars and (very)old men as investigators, just as murderers of the type necessary to have committed these particular murders. Objectivity and obsession to not match up; nor do old men with ear trumpets normally have the strength of our killer.

    The 'Daniel Teal' to 'Dante' observation was great, Horselover. You have a sharp eye. ...Babi

    Jo Meander
    May 12, 2003 - 08:35 am
    Ohhh good stuff already today!
    Joan, happy grandmothering! I envy you ... my youngest is almost 13! Next, great-grands??? Hope so!
    I haven't done the link yet, but I have to post this thing I have been trying to get to since yesterday or the day before and then drive a kid to work. Great question about the Brahmins and OTHERS!!! It's a launching pad for me right now!

    It was difficult for the immigrants, freed slaves and others displaced or relocated by the Civil War, to fit into the relatively homogeneous and genteel Boston culture. Newcomers like Bachi, Lonza, and Rey faced struggle, conflict and rejection as they tried to make it their home. How courageous those people had to be, to put such formidable distance between themselves and their familiar environments. What desperate optimism, or just desperation, enabled them to believe they could create new and better lives? Eventually, the various groups would change that culture, creating one that accommodated a wide variety of people who brought with them their own histories and customs. But the originals must have often felt angry and lonely in their struggles, like Bachi and Lonzo. The ferment of bad feeling must have resulted in hostilities and crimes considerably less interesting than the ones we are reading about!

    I’m “thinking out loud” here about the theme of exile that obviously includes Bachi and Lonzo and the drunk outside the church who knew Lonzo, and many of the criminals hauled in by investigators after the first murder when Lonzo crashes through the window. Do they have anything in common with Rey, Longfellow, or Dante? If we take Bachi at his word, they do, and I think his remarks indicate the author’s intention. It isn’t hard to see how Rey is exiled or alienated from his surroundings by his color, but his fate is more positive because he is obviously so useful. In spite of his usefulness, he is still disrespected by the “custom” of relegating Blacks to subordinate positions and depriving them of powers granted automatically to white policemen. Rey is not allowed to carry a gun, and he has to suffer the suspicion and alienation from the other members of the force. Bachi says, “Itis a lonely business in America. Most of my brethren who have been forced to come here can barely read a newspaper….There were a few of us here in Boston, years ago, men of letters, men of minds…..Lonza and I were the last of the group who had not moved away or died. Now I am the only one.” He tells Lonza’s story, how he helped with the Catholic mission connected with the Urseline convent, which the rioters burned down. Lonza believed he was being punished for his sins, and he went mad. “Dante became a way for him to live out the sins he imagined he had.”
    “From what I understand, professor, Longfellow has drowned his suffering in Dante for – what is it -- three or four years now,” a comparison that angers Lowell. Then Bachi talks of himself in the same breath with Dante: “The greatest bard had no home but exile. One day to come, perhaps, I shall walk on my own shores again, once more with true friends, before I leave this earth."

    All are in various ways exiles – Dante, Longfellow, Bachi, Lonzo and Rey. We know that Dante was literally exiled; is it grandiose of Bachi to suggest a connection between his state and that of the revered poet? Is Lonzo in any way like Longfellow? Did the author choose the similar name on purpose?

    May 12, 2003 - 09:14 am
    Matthew--Just in case you stop in again, I have a question for you that won't give anything away.

    Longfellow's little dog Trap is mentioned a number of times. He is a terrier with "triangle ears." Did Longfellow really have a dog named Trap, and was this little dog a Jack Russell Terrier?

    Any additional information about Trap would be appreciated. I live with two Jack Russells, and I am always delighted when I discover a pet in a novel.


    May 12, 2003 - 09:25 am
    Joan, I did not know that you worked in the Folger Library, but I think it must be wonderful to work where you are surrounded by such great books. I love the quote you posted, "Genius is the consoler of our mortal condition, and Shakespeare taught us that the little world of the heart is vaster, deeper and richer than the spaces of astronomy." This is exactly the way I have always felt. When I was young and going through the usual traumas of adolescence, I often turned to books for solace.

    You asked, "How did you get through the pages describing Jennison's "contrapasso"????? What did he dooooooo to deserve this? How can he be considered a Schismatic?" On page #213, Lowell asked the very same question, "Why punish Phineas as a Schismatic?....Why Phineas Jennison?" The other poets are also troubled by their inability to explain the killer's mad logic.

    I love the scene on page #237, where a wounded soldier comes to Longfellow's door begging for money. The soldier pretends to have lost an arm by tucking it into his shirt. Greene points this out to Longfellow, who says, "Yes, I know. But...who will be kind to him if I am not?" Returning soldiers were not treated well after the Civil War. Unlike WWII vets, there was no provision for their medical care, or for helping them find jobs and become reintegrated into society. Something similar happened to the returning Vietnam vets.

    There is such deep kindness in Longfellow, which also comes out in the scenes with his children. Matthew is sooo good at creating these different emotional levels--comedy, sadness, nostalgia, suspense.

    On page #257, the image of Holmes "standing on his toes" in his excitement when he returns to the club is absolutely fabulous!

    Jo Meander
    May 12, 2003 - 09:48 am
    Maybe Lowell was "standing on his toes" figuratively, ready to reach beyond what he formerly thought was his grasp, to borrrow another phrase???
    I'm having trouble with Lonza/Lonzo confusion! It's Lonza, right???

    Joan Pearson
    May 12, 2003 - 07:52 pm
    What a day, what a day..."MeanMa" is done in by a little whirling dervvish of a grand-daughter (who never took an afternoon nap)...and was still going strong when her mama and papa picked her up...hands all stained with permanent magic marker (she wanted "blue color"...and that's all I had. So why did I give it to her? We spend quite a lot of time on a stool in front of the bathroom sink playing with bubbles...but the hand remained "blue"!)
    I'm pooped...will be in first thing tomorrow - such interesting posts today. Can't resist this tonight- Jo ~ It's lonza...which is Italian for leopard...

    There are three beasts which represent the sins that hounded Dante off the straight and narrow. Each of the three represents the three major divisions of sin in the Inferno.
    The she-wolf represents sins of Incontinence, lust, gluttony, anger...

    The lion represents the Violent.

    the leopard, LONZA, represents the lowest of the low...the Fraudulent, which are further divided into 10 rings, which include the Simonists, (Rev. Talbot was punished as a Simonist), AND the SOWERS OF DISCORD, which includes the Schismatics. (Jennison received the punishment of the Schismatic. What discord did he sow???)

    ps. Maryal - Famous dog breeds

    Jo Meander
    May 12, 2003 - 09:52 pm
    Why would Lonza be so named? Was he fraudulent? Deserving to be among the lowest of the low? We really hardly know him, unless we are going to find out more in some revelation. Bachi's description of his life (Can we trust Bachi at all???) evokes sympathy more than scorn.
    I wonder if "Lucifer," whoever he is, somehow knew that the poets would become estranged over Jennison's murder? Could he have known that Holmes would break away from the group and that more friction would develop (I'll look it up tomorrow!) If the murderer thought that the event coulc break up the group, he might decide to brand Jennison as "schismatic" in advance, even though Jennison in his lifetime may have done nothing to place him in that category.

    May 13, 2003 - 09:01 am
    I am not lost in Hades - only in the US and thoroughly enjoying the posts (unfortunately I do not have the book with me). This quote was much appreciated.

    "Genius is the consoler of our mortal condition, and Shakespeare taught us that the little world of the heart is vaster, deeper and richer than the spaces of astronomy."

    May 13, 2003 - 09:35 am
    Sounds like little TRAP was a Welsh terrier. I had one of those too! And a sweet smart little dog he was. Name was (this is true) Dmitry Deems Karamazov and my last name. Daughter was at the time reading The Brothers K and she named the dog. We called him "Demi."

    And now back to the novel.

    May 13, 2003 - 11:50 am
    Jo, I don't think the murderer chose Jennison to cause a split in the Club. The concept of ritual punishments has to be of supreme importance to him in order for him to commit these crimes. In some way, Jennison must be guilty of a crime corresponding with the punishment...we just don't know yet what it was. (IMHO) ...Babi

    Joan Pearson
    May 13, 2003 - 02:41 pm
    Don't you just hate it when you vaguely remember having read something that just might be relevant ...and you sit there But I ALWAYS come across something interesting that I hadn't noticed the first time through.

    BaBi, your mention that you didn't think Jennison was chosen to cause a split in the Club - that the punishment must be related to a specific crime...that jolted my memory.

    First, when the poets had their translation session working on the Schismatics...on Canto XXVIII - This was the one I had to search the pages for...because I remembered something about "splitting families"..
    "Here were the Schismatics, those who had divided nations, religions, and families in life and now find themselves divided in Hell-bodily-maimed and cut asunder."p.192
    Then, I remembered a description of Jennison on the day of his assault -
    "Phineas Jennison often laughed to himself in this way while rambling through Boston, the city he had conquered. There was one world remaining to obtain, one where money had severe limits, where blood determined much of ones's status, and this conquest he was about to fulfill, in spite of recent hindrances." p.186
    Do you remember reading that? What did you make of it? Is there a young Phineas Jennison Jr. we have not yet met? How can P. Jennison break through the blood barrier? We've read much of fathers and sons in these chapters...but I don't remember associating P. Jennison with any of these. BaBi might be right...maybe we have not been introduced to the Schism yet. Remember Healey and Talbot? It wasn't until after their deaths that we learned the reason for their "punishment". I'm going to bet that his punishment will be the result of causing a perceived rift in a family...either his own, or in another.

    Poor OWH! He's the one who is suffering from a rift within his own family. Young Holmes has no respect for his father, who clearly loves him. Holmes finds himself at a gruesome death scene once more...this time, he recognizes a friend as the victim. What would your reaction be in this situation? Would you remain silent, or continue with the Dante project and the poets' investigation? Does it seem that Holmes carries the heaviest burden here? Not one of the others has witnessed what he has.

    Jo Meander
    May 13, 2003 - 03:59 pm
    Yes,Joan Holmes does seem to be carrying the heaviest burden. He saw the charred remains of Talbot (part of him!) and now the unspeakably mangled body of Jennison; he even tried to do a post mortem exam. No wonder he had to back away from both sights. I think I would have a reaction at least that powerful. I doubt that I could ever forget it, and I think that when he announces that he has to separate himself from any more activity in the investigation, I understand. Lowell is terribly resentful, accusing Holmes of betraying them by discussing the Dante connection with the police, but Holmes says that's what they should have done in the first place. A very human reaction, and that scene was the one that made me think "Schism!"

    May 13, 2003 - 04:55 pm
    I think Holmes is the appropriate member of the club to witness the bodies. He is, after all, a doctor. The others would most likely faint dead away!

    Jo Meander
    May 13, 2003 - 11:06 pm
    But he hated it! He was unnerved completely by what he saw. One reason is that his nature didn't allow for such gory surprises. The sights of a laboratory, I believe, are quite different: sanitary presentations for preplanned purposes in contrast with those he saw after the murders. Also, he made quick connections between the way the two died and Dante, and the association seemed to intensify the shock. I can't find the place right now, but somewhere he even entertains the idea that he and his friends have somehow let loose the horrors upon Boston just by their preoccupation with the fates of the sinners as Dante describes them. For all his medical training and formal experience, he may be the one least temperamentally suited to the shocking discoveries.

    May 14, 2003 - 07:06 am
    Good morning -- I'm finally catching up on all your posts, (and enjoying them immensely) after having the computer frequently shut down during our many thunderstorms, etc. last week.

    Joan, I didn't know you worked at the Folger. I've never been there, but want to go when in DC again. Thanks for the Emerson info. And I'm glad we finally met him in the novel. I was wondering how he was in LC's "cataloging in print" and Longfellow wasn't.

    Must confess, I've read a good bit ahead -- just couldn't put it down, so I'm a bit afraid to comment. But I agree with Jo, that Holmes has had the worst of it and has seen the most gruesome aspects of the case. He's still my favorite character, poor guy. I know he likes to blow himself up, but I've thought for a long time that he is low on self-esteem. He seems to doubt himself so much.

    I love the way Matthew is putting this puzzle together -- everything fits superbly. You think there is a piece that doesn't belong and all of asudden it fits.

    May 14, 2003 - 08:18 am
    JOAN, I remember those lines you quoted, about Jennison working to get into a world where "blood determined much of one's status". That has to refer to Boston society, don't you think; the blueblood stronghold that dominated the city? It would seem that somehow his actions in the story are motivated by a plan to breach that stronghold. Perhaps he hopes to do so by earning the friendship and support of the highly respected members of the Dante Club. But there is nothing schismatic in that. ..Babi

    Joan Pearson
    May 14, 2003 - 08:19 am
    Pedln...temperamentally, Holmes is probably the least suited to discover the maimed bodies...as Jo says. The clean impersonal lab...or better yet, the classroom are his milieu. Talking about the body and healing...not examining the hopelessly disfigured corpses. And JENNISON was still ALIVE (barely), but alive when he recognized his tortured friend. COme to think of it, Holmes seems the least likely to be sitting in on the Dante translation. He isn't really interested in these punishments, is he? He only joined because he's a people person...these are his friends, and for whatever reason they gather, he wants to be among them. He doesn't even want the Inferno published just yet, because he knows it will get all the attention ...which he is hoping for himself and his new book. He doesn't seem to have any time to work on this book now, does he? Nothing is said about how far to completion it is.

    But what will the affect of this murder have on the progress of the Dante translation. Clearly Holmes has no interest in continuing - but what of the others?

    What was it that made Longfellow rush off to the printer? Were you not shocked when you learned about the timing of the murders? Who in the world???

    Pedln...are you planning to come to DC in the near future? We will be gathering on the US Capitol grounds again this year, representing Senior Net at the National Book Festival. You are all welcome. And this trip, yes, let's include the Folger! I thought it was such a coincidence that we were reading of the Shakespeare's 300th birthday...which was the same day Henry Folger was inspired by Emerson to begin his famous collection and eventually open the Folger Library to the country.

    Joan Pearson
    May 14, 2003 - 08:27 am
    Oooooooooooh, BaBi, I see what you are saying. I read those lines to mean that Jennison was somehow going to overcome the blood barrier with a plan that would permit his own "blood" to enter into the printing world. Ok, so let's look at other ways he might deserve the punishment of the Schismatic.

    What role does he want? He's a merchant. He wants respect. He has it as a merchant prince, but NOT among the Boston Brahmins. How can he break that barrier. He likes the poets. He fawns over them. His interest could be in the publication of the translation. For that reason, I don't think he wants to interfere with the work of the Dante Club. He prods Lowell into completing the translation by standing up to the Harvard Corporation.

    Does he want to take over Ticknor and Sons? Is he after Fields? Where can he cause such a schism that some other interested party wants to make an example of him, wants to see him suffer...wants others to see how he suffered by daring to break through barriers to enter into the elite of society?

    May 14, 2003 - 08:37 am
    What I love most about these posts (aside from all I'm learning) is that they keep prodding new ideas in my brain.

    Joan, you said "He prods Lowell into completing the translation by standing up to the Harvard Corporation".

    Would he do that? Harvard is a bastion of Boston Brahmanism. I can't see a man who is trying to win his way in among them taking a stand against the Harvard Corporation. At this moment, the Dante Club is not in favor with the Harvard group. Could Jennison be lying to Lowell? ...Babi

    May 14, 2003 - 03:20 pm
    Holy smokes, you guys are hot!!!! No pun intended. Great posts, great insights and here I am behind in my reading. I took my book with me to get started on our next chapter, but---- well--- I shall return later this eve.

    May 14, 2003 - 05:09 pm
    I had a house guest, so am just getting to read all your latest, great posts.

    BaBi, Your last post made a lot of sense. You asked why Jennison would have goaded Lowell to take a stand against the Havard Corporation when he (Jennison) "is trying to win his way in among" the Boston Brahmans. You asked if "Jennison could be lying to Lowell?" If he is, in fact, lying to Lowell, maybe Jennison is trying to widen the schism between the Harvard Corporation and the Dante Club. But why???

    Did you enjoy Lowell's little joke about Dante on page #149? Sheldon considers Lowell's question very seriously, and then Lowell tells the punch line "with relish." Matthew is sooo good at these comic interludes!

    Is the National Book Festival an official SN trip, or just a suggested trip which everyone takes separately and then gathers on the US Capitol grounds? When is this gathering? Sounds like fun.

    Joan Pearson
    May 15, 2003 - 08:31 am
    I'm thinking of another reason why Holmes is ill-suited to continuing with the Dante translation...and with the investigation. He is constantly at odds with his own Calvinisitic upbringing...and his more "advanced" way of thinking today. He is a scientist. Dante's hell of eternal punishment is too much the fire and brimstone, pre-destination of Calvinism. Holmes believes in evolution. He believes too that man can redeem himself. He seems to believe the best in people, and not consider their weaknesses, let alone, sin. So the Dante project is difficult for him ...just as it was for Dante himself. On more than one occasion, Dante expresses pity for the souls he meets along the way. Lowell at one point tells Holmes he regards Holmes a "Dante"...

    What DID appeal to Holmes - Dante 's belief that each man writes his own biography - is in control of his own destiny.

    There is a lot to like in this man. Do you remember in the beginning we all thought he was a Neutral, afraid to take a position, one way or another because of his own interests? Do you still feel that way about him now? Is Holmes in any sense of the word, an exilee? (Is there such a word? hahaha

    I hope we get into Prof. Ticknor's reaction to the news that Dante is being used as a blueprint for murder. That man confuses and frightens me. I was MOST amazed to read the description of the Lucifer we will find at the bottom of the Inferno. A dumb blubbering Lucifer...are we looking for the right man for the role?

    horselover...good to have you back. Answers to your questions about our SN Book Gatherings, our Bookfests, can be found over in the Books Community Center. We'll talk there?

    Jo Meander
    May 15, 2003 - 09:25 am
    Joan, early in the book Holmes' negative characteristics are emphasized, and the author uses his son to sharpen a rather negative portrait. (Aren't the very young the sharpest critics, before they have been through the trials that mature us all?) It seemed that his involvement with the Dante Club was more social and relatively superficial, compared to the depth of interst evident in Lowell and, of course, Longfellow imself. I remember that somewhere he said of himself that he lacked their ability and insight into the work, but he was able to admire what he couldn't do himself.
    But I think now that that was a deliberate characterization that gave us the opportunity to see a very rounded and complex human being, amusing in some ways -- like the scene where he's all dressed up for his lecture and they whisk him away for detective work! He is deeply compassionate and committed to the group and their efforts, once he sees the opportunity and the valid reasons for that commitment. He is the most human character in the story for me at this point.

    May 15, 2003 - 09:28 am
    Joan, Your comments about how Holmes' personality and beliefs affect his work on the Dante project were very interesting! I had not really thought about some of these points before. I was concentrating more on Holmes' affect on the other poets, and not so much on the project's influence on him.

    Jo Meander
    May 15, 2003 - 09:35 am
    I can't say I see him as an exile, though. Longfellow I can, because he has been numbed by suffering and alienated from his own writing. The Dante translation has become his effort to find meaning in life's suffering. Dante the exile is Longfellow's leader through the maze, rather like Virgil leading Dante himself. Holmes, on the other hand, seems very much at home in the world, socially connected and happy in his teaching life, even though he experiences some disappoointments, confusion and pain. Those are universals, I think, but do not always result in exile.

    Joan Pearson
    May 15, 2003 - 05:33 pm
    I think of how much Holmes enjoys the company of the poets, how he became involved in the investigation and was really one of the best detectives. Then, with the discovery of Jennison's murder, he announces he can no longer continue. He must RETREAT, he must ABANDON the investigation, he must cut himself off from the company of those he cares so much about and sit alone with his thoughts. Lowell told him that Holmes reminded him of Dante. For the time being, I do see him as an exilee...from the Club, his Florence. There are several characters who appear deeply interested in the news that he has left the translation project- maybe we should consider every one of these?
    Is the murderer trying to break up the Club? To prevent the translation from ever getting into print? Couldn't Longfellow finish the translation on his own?
    Are you surprised at the determination of the poets to speed up the work? What is their motive? Do they think they will be able to thwart further killings? What's the connection?
    Do you think there is any connection between the killings and the Italian Celebration of Dante's birth?

    Do you think that Ticknor is involved in any way?

    Maryal, are you still maintaining that Rey is involved in the murders? What of the rest of you? Your short list of suspects?
    So many many questions going on in my head as I go through the paces of the day...

    May 16, 2003 - 07:33 am
    Drats! I attempted to put a URL here from the Smithsonian Magazine about Ralph Waldo Emerson but I goofed it up. It is entitled Presence of Mind and is a great little article describing his contributions and observations. It says Lincoln, DeTocqueville, Tennyson and Twain all found a way to meet the Sage of Concord. Yet, his fame dwindled and he became known as a spacey ex-preacher who hung out with Thoreau. This is in honor of his birth bicentinnial.

    Jo Meander
    May 16, 2003 - 08:40 am
    I still like Emerson. His idealism has always appealed to me, and there is a line of a poem, "Each and All," That I can't forget (I don't have a good memory, either):

    "I wiped away the weeds and foam,

    I fetched my sea-born treasures home,

    But the poor, unsightly, noisesome things

    Had left their beauty on the shore

    With the sun and the sand and the wild uproar."

    I had to cheat. I wanted to get the full effect, so I opened my old book and looked to get that first line. Then I found I had two words wrong in the part I thought I knew! Never mind, you get the idea. To him, Nature is perfect as it is, and when we interfere, (pick upshells and bring them indoors, for example), we lose the original beauty. I've experienced that, and I'll bet most of us have.

    Jo Meander
    May 16, 2003 - 08:44 am
    There are things I can discuss now, and things I can't, because I have read ahead to about page 300.
    I can say something about Tichnor. Early in the story, I thought that he felt cheated, because Lowell was teaching his old course and Longfellow was going to have the first American translation, and with it the singular opportunity of introducing Dante into the American culture. I got the feeling that Tichnor would have loved that opportunity, even though he didn't think that most Americans would be interested in Dante.
    Then came the more recent interview. Longfellow asks for Tichnor's help in discovering Lucifer, whom they realized had paced his murders “by the progress of their translation.” Tichnor seems almost revolted by the idea of helping, but he speaks his mind on several issues. He has given away all his books, which is tantamount to giving away himself. Then he talks about Washington, his father’s hero, but evidently not his: "Did you ever pause to consider why it is that if you kill one person you are a murderer but if you kill a thousand you are a hero, as was Washington?”
    Then he returns to Dante: "The fate of literature prophesied by Mr. Emerson has come to life by the events you describe (the murders)—literature that can breathe life and death, that can punish, and can absolve.”

    “I know you cannot sanction what has happened, Professor Ticknor,” Longfellow said thoughtfully. “Dante disfigured as a tool for murder and personal vengeance.”

    Tichnor’s hands shook. “Here at last is a text of old, Longfellow, converted into a present power, a power of judgment before our eyes! No, if what you’ve discovered is true, when the world learns of what has happened in Boston… Dante shall not be disfigured… He will be revered….”

    Longfellow:”Dante wrote to remove us from times when death was incomprehensible. He wrote to give us hope for life, Professor, when we have none left, to know that our lives, our prayers, make a difference to God.”

    Tichnor: “You are not after a Lucifer….You are after Dante –it is Dante who decides who should be punished and where they go, what torments they suffer. It is the poet who takes those measures, yet by making himself the journeyer, he tries to make us forget: We think he too is another innocent witness to God’s work.”

    The disparity between the two views is certainly sharp. Tichnor and Longfellow both praise Dante, but for opposite reasons: Longfellow for his capacity to bring man to God, Tichnor for the punishments he metes out to the sinners. The memory of his reaction to the murders hovers over the unwinding events.

    May 16, 2003 - 12:21 pm
    I had to leave home for a week, rather unexpectedly, without access to computers so I apologize for not responding to individual posts and for some of my tunnel-vision posts as I play catch-up and follow a theme in the novel.

    In post 158 I included information on the Webster Murder Trial with Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw presiding and Oliver Wendell Holmes as both a witness for John Webster's character and as an expert on anatomy. At the time I wasn't sure how the trial related as a theme to The Dante Club but I'm fairly certain now that it's the relationship to the trial (and its various aspects of murder) that troubles OWH rather than the Fugitive Slave Law. Some examples follow of what's preying on Holmes' mind:

    -- Manning considers Holmes' vulnerability to pressure: "The panic on the little doctor's face as he watched what befell Professor Webster those many years ago -- not even the murder conviction or the hanging, but the loss of his place, which had been earned in society by such a good name, by training and career as a Harvard man...." (24)

    -- Putnam to Holmes: "...your future will be hitched to Dante. I fear what shall happen to your poetry, your name, by the time Manning is through, in your current situation." (27)

    -- Holmes considering the Webster case and his part in it: "It was during the heart of a trial so many years before that Wendell Holmes witnessed the ponderous, grueling style of speech by which Artemus Healey surrendered his legal opinions....The murder of Dr. Parkman had transpired in the laboratory below Holmes'slecture room, while Holmes was lecturing.... At least the customary rolling laughter of Holmes's students had drowned out Professor Webster's hacking of the body into pieces." (38)

    -- The Poets consider what to do about the Dantean murders and their possible culpability: "....'we are men of great standing in Boston, men of society!' " (Fields 104) " 'As was Professor Webster. The gallows tell us there's no law against stringing up a Harvard man.' " (Longfellow response 104) "Dr. Holmes grew whiter yet. Although he was relieved that Longfellow had taken his side, this last comment pierced him [and he comments] 'At first, every teacher and staff in the school was a suspect -- even a poet like me.... I was put on their list of possible assailants.' " (Holmes 104-5)

    -- Holmes thinks of the Parkman murder and the trial and conviction of John Webster: "Could not the janitor... [fearful of losing his job through Webster's knowledge of his gambling] have secured bone fragments from the Medical College's large supply and positioned them throughout Webster's rooms to appear hidden? Could it not as easily have been he [Holmes] who had found himself in the middle of damaging circumstances?" (247)

    More to follow....


    May 16, 2003 - 01:01 pm
    "...as he took in the hangman's noose, he stopped cold and emitted a choking wheeze .... Holmes had snuck his younger brother John to Gallows Hall in Cambridge just as a condemned man was writhing in his final suffering. It was the sight, Holmes always believed, that had made him both doctor and poet." (248)

    For the section on OWH attending the Webster hanging see pages 246-254. Here's a distrubing, strange poem from the normally positivist Holmes (you may have to scroll down the bartleby.com link for a few spaces; Paphian Queen is Aphrodite, goddess of love):


    OWH (1809-1894) graduated Harvard in 1829 with a BA and in 1836 received his M.D., during which he spent 2 years in medical schools in Europe, mainly in Paris. He began his medical career as a G.P. but shifted into the academic field, becoming professor of anatomy and physiology at Dartmouth (1838-40), and then moved on to the the Harvard Medical School as dean and was the Parkman professor of anatomy and physiology to 1882 when he retired. He never was comfortable with dissection and generally had prosectors, students who did the actual dissections for him. Here are some important timelines.

    1828 -- Burke & Hart discovered (see following post)

    1830 -- Massachusetts Anatomy Act. Dr John Collins Warren persuades the MA State Legislature to allow limited anatomical dissections -- usually bodies of the poor and hanged murderers. (Harvard Medical School moved its campus from Cambridge to Boston, expecting to get bodies from an almshouse there.)

    1831 -- Mount Auburn Cemetary established in Cambridge MA, after a series of devastating epidemics, outside the city limits.

    1831 -- Knox resigns post

    1836 -- OWH receives M.D.

    1838 --OWH leaves general practice for academia

    Conclusion of this to follow...


    May 16, 2003 - 01:59 pm
    Many religions do not accept dissection (including Dante's Catholicism and OWH's Calvinism). Believed to cheat the eternal salvation of the Christian dead, dissection of hman corpses has been controversial since ancient times. Christian doctrine states that one's body must be intact in order to rise with Christ at the Second Coming. If one's body is dissected, then the body and spirit would not be able to enjoy the benefits of heaven after the Second Coming. Consequences for violators who dissected human bodies were harsh, the death sentence being the usual punishment ordered.

    The Massachusetts Anatomy Act of 1830 provided legal means for dissection, but not religious sanction. This is where OWH's conscience may come into play and perhaps why he'd always been uncomfortable with dissection. For instance, when he and Longfellow go to the Second Church [play on the words Second Coming?] to see Talbot's murder scene, the two must enter the catacombs of the city's poor -- the very people that Holmes would have dissected (126-130). The catacombs is filled with broken bones and coffins. It seems the broken bones mean resurrectionists have been there too. In the midst of this (disapproving?) silent audience, Holmes is lowered head-first into the punishing-hole of the Simoniac. No wonder Holmes "kicked his legs frantically" before Longfellow hauls him out -- mimicing the Simoniac in Dante's punishment:

    "his big flat feet kicked fiercely out of anger,
    -- or perhaps it was his conscience gnawing him."
    Musa translation, Canto XIX, lines 119-120


    Stories on American resurrectionists (aka body snatchers and grave robbers) who supplied the medical profession with materials by which they could study, research, and learn:



    Matthew reminds us of the problem of grave robbing: "A wire had been received at the Central Station, detailing an attempt, in the middle of the night, to steal Artemus Healey's remains from his coffin .... Mount Auburn Cemetery had now put the body into a steel coffin and hired another nighttime caretaker, this one armed with a shotgun." (154)


    The most infamous case was that of Dr. Knox and Burke and Hare in Edinburgh, Scotland. Dr. Robert Knox (1798-1862) was an anatomist, as was OWH, and he taught anatomy at the University of Edinburgh's Extramural Anatomy School.


    The school in Edinburgh was so popular with students that the pressure to find bodies for dissection was immense. In 1827 Burke and Hare (both Irishmen) sold to Dr. Knox's anatomy school a cadaver of an indigent lodger who died of natural causes. This easy money led B&H to start murdering old vagrants and other homeless people whose deaths would be likely to pass unnoticed and whose bodies could be sold to Dr. Knox. During the following year they murdered at least 16 people, very likely more, until their crimes were discovered in 1828 which created a public outcry. Burke was hanged and his body used for dissection. Dr. Knox was never convicted of wrong-doing -- the question being, did he know or suspect the true provenance of the bodies for which his school paid money to Burke and Hart? However, Knox was publicly vilified and narrowly escaped mob violence.

    In 1831, under pressure, Knox resigned his position and moved to London. The general public's feeling were well expressed in rhyme which circulated widely at the time, and which OWH (and all anatomists and Medical Schools) would be aware:

    Doon the close and up the stair
    Butt and ben wi Burke and Hare
    Burke's the butcher, Hare's the thief,
    And Knox the boy that buys the beef!


    May 16, 2003 - 03:03 pm
    I have heard that line before, the words Tichnor spoke about one killing making a man a murderer, and a thousand making him a hero. I can't find that specific quote, but I did find this from Edward Young's "Love of Fame" [1725-1728].

    "One to destroy is murder by the law, 
    And gibbets keep the lifted hand in awe; 
    To muder thousands takes a specious name, 
    War's glorious art, and gives immortal fame."


    May 16, 2003 - 05:07 pm
    In my previous posts I attempted to show OWH's tremendous sense of guilt over dissections of bodies that could not be resurrected with a Second Coming. His participation in the Dante translation and the solving of the murders is his own pilgrimage. He must face pity for fellow suffering and his feelings of guilt about dissection. That is why he's the pilgrim facing the physical tortures of the murder victims rather than the other Poets.

    When he sees Jennison 'dissected' so barbarously and the body's involuntary movement, he loses courage and quits the DC. Then Lowell visits and compares OWH to Dante. It is here he realizes the one difference, Dante was a soldier and he was not; but they both understood suffering because OWH was a doctor. The Lowell visit is similar to Virgil encouraging a fearful Dante to commence the journey in Canto II which OWH remembers:

    Day was departing, and the embrowned air
    Released the animals that are on earth
    From their fatigues; and I the only one
    Made myself ready to sustain the war,
    Both of the way and likewise of the woe,
    Which memory that errs not shall retrace.

    -- Longfellow trans, Canto II lines 1-5

    It's near the end of life for OWH (day was departing) and he alone, the only one, was fittest for this war of murder because of his personal war with life/death and involvement in dissection, and his pity (woe).

    Lowell had told him that doing the right thing though the heavens may fall is difficult and OWH remembers Jennison's body 'broken and shredded' and the consequences of failing this [pilgrimage into his soul and the Poets investigation to stop the murders]....and Lowell replies "It could be the greatest calamity but one, Wendell. And that is being afraid of it." (252)

    After Lowell leaves, OWH sees the likeness between Lowell's words of encouragement and Virgil's words to Dante and he remembers the quoted lines in Canto II. This is when he decides to continue with the DC and the murder investigation. It's a combination of Lowell's and Dante's words that influences him to continue.


    Jo Meander
    May 16, 2003 - 08:42 pm
    Marvelle, thanks for he background on Holmes-- good stuff! I agree that he is inspired by both Lowell and Dante. The word for war (guerre or guerra?) appears in that section of Dante he is reading, and when he realizes it, he also realizes that someone in the military (probably during the Civil War) is responsible for the killings, a "Lucifer." That's what sends him running to the Club again, where he arrives and, standing on tiptoe, annnounces that he knows where they will find the culprit. He believes they will find him in or near a military encampment or involved in a military activity.

    May 17, 2003 - 05:34 am
    Thanks, Jo. The clue (can we call it a clue?) that Lucifer is a soldier is an important one. He has to be one of the disenfranchised as were the Vietnam Vets when they returned home to a shelshocked and less than welcoming U.S.

    I was interested in discovering what drove Holmes -- guilt over dissection & not quite so much over the Fugitive Slave Law -- to be a part of the Dante translation and investigation. Now I see why he had to confront so many dead bodies and why the brutally cut in half Jennison temporarily drove him away from the other Poets. Dante and Lowell brought him back.

    As a soldier our Lucifer would be an exile which fits one of Matthew's themes. And the fear/guilt/furor over dissections would have made Doctor Holmes an exile, hence the pressing need for his pilgrimage.


    Jo Meander
    May 17, 2003 - 07:09 am
    I think he was suffering from revulsion and shock when he became an exile. And that was short-lived, because when he calms down he realizes he cannot stop thinking about the "project," the investigation they have begun together. Matthew has created a group of friends and scholars whose need for that friendship exceeds any threat or fear they experience.

    May 17, 2003 - 08:50 am
    The murderer as a soldier fits with the idea that the flesh-eating maggots could have been brought into Boston from the battlefields.

    As an aside, have any of you been following the news stories of the flesh-eating flies? I had hoped the prologue speaking of these insects was simply laying a fictional background for the story. Apparently not; they are real. They are exterminated in the Americas, except for those deliberately cultivated (in Mexico)for the purpose of breaking the life cycle of the insects where they still thrive.

    What made the news is the alarming fact that some un-sterilized flies were accidentally released near the factory. The reports say that the insects have all been found and destroyed, but I don't see how they can guarantee such a thing. A number of animals and a few humans were infected before the clean-up was complete.

    How's that for lending immediacy to the story? Ugh.....Babi

    Jo Meander
    May 17, 2003 - 09:05 am
    Ugh, indeed! I seem to remember a story about such a creature, but the one I heard was at least a year or two ago. I guess they are still with us somewhere! If they wend their way north, there will be a mass exodus for Alaska.

    May 17, 2003 - 10:10 am
    As of page #257, Holmes has still not told the others about his theory that Lucifer is a soldier!!! He only says, "I think I know where we shall find our killer." Are we discussing ahead in the schedule???

    May 17, 2003 - 11:01 am
    Hahahaha, you are funny, horselover. Jo did mention in post 428 that Holmes was running back to the Club to announce his theory of Lucifer as a soldier. (Don't know if anyone else mentioned it?) Good catch!

    I only addressed the words and points in Question 11 and haven't read ahead to know what is in the future; but perhaps Jo/others assume, without knowing, that certain events will happen.

    I'm very interested in the thread woven into the plot. The thread, of actual events and persons and the judicial decisions of Chief Justice Shaw, explores themes of justice, law and morality. More on this later....


    I just saw the revised schedule in the heading. As of Monday the 19th we're discussing pages 258 to the end for the next two weeks.

    Jo Meander
    May 17, 2003 - 04:37 pm
    Sorry! That was a slip, stemming from tnhe fact that I am now ahead in the reading, as I announced a few days ago. SORRY! Yikes! I think I slipped because I was confused about how Holmes was putting certain pieces together(still am!), and I went aback and reread that part about "guerre" or "guerra" (the book is always in another room), and picked up on the war inference after I knew he had told the others his theory. Now, dear readers and posters, I still want to refer to certain things before p. 257 before Monday morning, so I'll be more careful! You can yell at me if I slip, or make remarks that seem to reflect my place in the book, so I'm going to really be on guard!
    How about everybody else? What do you think about questions 6, 8, 9 and 10???

    May 17, 2003 - 06:37 pm
    Jo, Your comment that "Matthew has created a group of friends and scholars whose need for that friendship exceeds any threat or fear they experience" is very perceptive. On page #252, when Lowell comes to apologize to Holmes, he says something similar that confirms your idea. After the formal apology, as he is leaving, Lowell says to Holmes, "It is my happiest thought that with all the drawbacks of my temperament, I have yet to lose a real friend." And Holmes's response shows that he is well aware that preservation of their friendship is the primary goal. "Holmes's gaze met his friend's large and open eyes. 'How have you been these days, Lowell?" he asks. And Lowell responds that Holmes is "one of the few people I can unbutton my heart to..."

    May 17, 2003 - 10:16 pm
    Jo, what a lovely response. Mistakes happen. You ask us to consider some of the unanswered questions in the heading so I'll tackle one of them.

    Question 6 (re pages 223-225): "Why is Mabel Lowell going to so much trouble to inform Rey of her father's work? What is she afraid of? What does she resent in his [Rey's] reaction?

    Trouble: Mabel goes to the trouble of informing Rey because she wants to have an active part in protecting her father and in helping to catch the murderer (She hints that her father's a cranky distracted poet, not a murderer.) She doesn't trust her father's ability to catch the murderer.

    Afraid: She's afraid that Rey might suspect Lowell of being the murderer or conspirator and she tries to divert suspicion by saying that others (Mead, Sheldon) also know Dante's Inferno.

    Resentment: Like many women of the period, she feels she's an outsider, left out of the events swirling around her. Her initial approach to Rey is one of 'we outsiders should stick together.' She mentions his being a mulatto, a New Man in a New Society, different from the Old pre-war society. She insists that he call her Mabel which he finally does. However, when she tries to push her offer of assistance in the investigation to help her father, Rey reverts to calling her 'Miss Lowell,' effectively distancing himself. Mabel resents being placed on the outside of Rey's world and outside his confidences. Even if Rey as a mulatto is outside most of the world of Boston society, Mabel resents the knowledge that she is outside of both Rey's and Boston's worlds. She resents her exclusion as a woman from active involvement especially since she cannot avoid her personal involvement.


    Jo Meander
    May 17, 2003 - 10:49 pm
    Yes, horselover, and the depth of that friendship is more evident as the story progresses.
    I can't remember if any one of us has noted Longfellow's deduction about the relationship of the translation to the murders(question #3). When he realizes that each murder occured very shortly before the translation of the related canto, he goes to printer to check the date when the proofs of each canto was submitted. Longfellow doesn't tell his partners in the work what he fears until he sees those dates, presumably because he wants to make sure he hasn't miscalculated the times each canto was worked upon and completed. The dates Houghton shows him confirms his suspicion that their work is implicated in the murders. The group is confounded by this discovery, not only feeling guilty, but also wondering who with intimate knowledge of their work is more directly connected to the crimes. Longfellow concludes that they have to be involved in the process of discovery; it isn't just an option they can choose or reject.

    Jo Meander
    May 17, 2003 - 10:58 pm
    Marvelle, I was hoping one of you would pick up on that! I could feel her bristling when he tries to politely place her beyond any dangerous involvement with the crimes. I could just imagine how a woman/daughter would feel! I wouldn't want to be on the outside, to be "protected" under those circumstances. I would want to be taken seriously!

    Joan Pearson
    May 18, 2003 - 04:36 am
    Good Sunday morning!
    A long day at work...staffing problems keep me jumping, wearing three hats instead of one, and no time to pop in here during the day. No time to finish the book either, so I'm still "pure"...as far as much of the denouement is concerned...and free to comment on your posts. So many juicy ones! Welcome back, Marvelle...you were missed. So happy to have you in your chair by the fire.

    Jo - "Ticknor has given away all his books, which is tantamount to giving away himself." I sense that Ticknor is in serious trouble, don't you? I am nearly finished with the book...another 50 pages, and expect to find more on him
    Your comment on the way Longfellow and Ticknor view Dante's work IS quite an important one, I think, for everyone reading the Inferno today. For us. For me.
    "Ticknor and Longfellow both praise Dante, but for opposite reasons: Longfellow for his capacity to bring man to God, Ticknor for the punishments he metes out to the sinners."
    If we dwell on the punishments of others, we miss "Dante's capacity to bring man to God".....introspection. Thanks for that post, Jo.

    Marvelle!...your "scholarship," research abilities leave me open-mouthed - speechless! Where did you acquire such skills...not only the research, but the your uncanny insights and ability to tie everything together??? Can only say a big 'thank you' from all of us for what you bring to our table!

    Jo's post - on Dante's capacity to bring man to God - opposed to the punishment of sinners...followed by your explication of Holmes' moral dilemna and then awakening will resonate through this discussion...and beyond.

    Joan Pearson
    May 18, 2003 - 05:36 am
    I couldn't help but compare the concern Mabel Lowell feels for her father and the disdain Jr. exhibits towards his. She is afraid for her father, yet so frustrated to be left out that she feels compelled to go to the police! I cannot imagine doing this! The enormity of her actions!

    Junior just rolls his eyes, putting down his father's accomplishments and activities as nonsense. Has it ever been explained just WHY he feels this way? Is it simply that he was tired of being the child of a noted personage? I know this is historical fiction...I keep hoping for a fictional happyily-ever-after reunion...but fear that Matthew is giving us a documented account of their relationship.

    I find the line between fact and fancy comes so close in historical fiction that they tend to overlap. I've been aware of that aspect throughout. I know that most of the dialog is fiction. But sometimes, when the expression is so beautiful, I find myself questioning whether it is one of the poets'...or Matthew's writing I am admiring.

    Jo Meander
    May 18, 2003 - 09:06 am
    Joan, it's good to raise those two issues at this point. All I can say is don't forget you brought up the child-parent relationship and the historical connections. We should discuss them both next week!

    May 18, 2003 - 11:36 am
    I agree that Mabel Lowell wants to be involved in the investigation, but I believe there was a desire to be 'involved'even before that. She wants to be involved in her father's work, in the translation, in his intellectual life. This is an intelligent young woman greatly frustrated by the limitations placed on her. And bold enough to try and push back those barriers. If she stays in Boston, I fear she will have a miserable life.

    On Manning and his mannerism of forming a steeple with his hands.. An expert on body language would be helpful here. There is something precise about that gesture, the careful placement of fingertip to fingertip. It has a suggestion of superiority, doesn't it? A hint of cool plotting and planning? Anyway, that's how the image impresses me. ..Babi

    May 18, 2003 - 02:42 pm
    Babi, I agree about Manning's gesture. It's one of assured power; it denotes a person's feeling of superiority. How, apropos of Manning, the opponent of Dante's Inferno/Catholicism, to use a gesture in the shape of a church steeple!


    May 18, 2003 - 04:33 pm
    Marvelle, I was interested in your comments about Mabel and her complex relationship to Patrolman Rey and to the rest of Boston society. She is of a much higher class than Rey, yet her life is even more restricted than his because she is a woman! This kind of hierarchy of prejudices was common not just in the 1860's, but as recently as the 1950's. Recently, I watched the movie "Far From Heaven," in which a white Protestant woman, living in a suburban town, discovers that her husband is homosexual. Her identity is so tied to her husband that she does not leave him, but tries to keep up a front for her friends. At the same time, to find some solace, she forms a non-sexual friendship with a "colored" businessman. Circumstances finally cause her friends to find out about her husband's homosexuality and physical abuse of her. They sympathize and offer their support. But when they find out about her relationship with the black man, they withdraw from her entirely. So, until recently, any social relationship with a black man was the worst social sin a woman could commit. When her husband leaves, she has no job, no money, and is isolated from the community.

    It has only been very recently that women have been able to overcome their disadvantaged position in the economy and in society. But now 40% of women make more money than their husbands!

    May 18, 2003 - 09:56 pm
    Horselover, thanks for the information. I hadn't realized that about 40% of the women. Go women!

    The following quotes are some of the odious attitudes confronting New Man Officer Rey in 1865 Boston. They aren't obscure or isolated ideas; abolitionists like Louis Agassiz, as well as Theodore Parker and Samuel Howe (both of Harper's Ferry notoriety) held such beliefs.:

    "Nature produces no mules, no hybrids, neither in man nor animals. When they accidentally appear they soon cease to be, for they are either non-productive or one of the pure breeds speedily predominates, and the weaker disappears.", -- Dr. Robert Knox, Scottish anatomist in the 1828 body-snatching scandal, from his book "The Races of Men," 1850

    "The production of halfbreeds is as much a sin against nature, as incest in a civilized community is a sin against purity of character .... No effort should be spared to check that which is abhorrent to our better nature, and to the progress of a higher civilization and a purer morality.... [the government aught to] put every possible obstacle to the crossing of the races and the increase of halfbreeds .... Conceive for a moment...if instead of the manly population descended from cognate [similar] metis, the United States should hereafter be inhabited by the effeminate progeny of mixed races, half Indian, half Negro, sprinkled with White. In whatever proportion the amalgamation may take place, I shudder at the consequences." -- Dr. Louis Agassiz,1863 correspondence to Samuel Howe

    From multiracial.com: The well-known physician and surgeon, Dr. Josiah Nott of Alabama, took mortality statistics from an 1840 census and developed the mulatto frailty theory to explain the reason this group of "Free Colored" appeared to be dying at twice the rate of "Slaves." He also developed a mulatto sterility theory [both theories repeated by Dr. Knox] to explain his 'observation' that mulattoes were less prolific than either whites or blacks. Nott reasoned that "just as the horse and donkey are different species and produce a sterile mule as hybrid offspring, so too [with] Whites and Blacks...." Concerning the offspring of mixed marriage, Nott's sterility theory asserted that fertility deteriorated through subsequent generations with sterility being the inevitable end. "The more white admixture mulattoes had, the greater their physical problems." Hence, the extermination of two races. -- Dr. Josiah Nott's article "The Mulatto a Hybrid -- the probable extermination of the two races if the Whites and Blacks are allowed to intermarry" published 1843 in the American Journal of the Medical Sciences; reprinted shortly thereafter in Boston Medical and Surgical Journal

    There is a sundering apart in society -- religion, generations, class, race, culture, ideas, and emotions -- and I think it's important to have the mulatto Officer Rey to keep that history and those issues in front of readers. Rey himself is aware of his exile based on his mixed race, but I think we readers need that hope of unity, waiting in the background, that Rey symbolizes while much else in the novel has been divided. This is my theory anyway. One more post to follow...


    May 18, 2003 - 10:25 pm
    Dr. Louis Agassiz came to America in 1846 and he soon met Dr. Samuel G. Morton, a Philadelphia doctor who'd published Crania Americana 1839 and Crania Aegyptica 1844. The first book proposed the different brain capacity of White to Native American to Black, decreasing in capacity with each successive group. Dr. Morton had possession of thousands of human skulls which he studied. In his second book Morton concluded that the elite of Ancient Egypt were Caucasians and the social position of Negroes "was the same as it is now; that of servants or slaves." His explicit charts and tables provided a "scientific" basis for racial theorists but Dr. Morton had grouped the skulls in ways that changed the mean cranial capacity averages to fit his expectations and ignored data that contradicted his assumptions (much like Agassiz and the non-evolving fly).

    In 1850 Agassiz attended a southern conference and there he used Morton's 'scientific' results: "The brain of a Negro is that of the imperfect brain of a 7-months infant in the womb of a white." He put forth his theory, known as polygenesis, that the races had come from separate creations.

    From thoemme.com: Polygenesis was the theory that races were created separately -- they are of different species -- and that they are endowed with different attributes and unequal aptitudes from the start. Races didn't evolve and they were absolute. Nothing could alter their relations with one another. The political lesson of polygenesism was not that Whites had a right to oppress the members of other races; it was that the races had never been intended to interact at all. Black people had been forcibly resettled (slavery) in a part of the planet where God had intended only White people to live. (Here polygenesists preferred to ignore the embarassing presence of Native Americans and of the White encroachment in the Americas.)

    Dr. Josiah C. Nott (of Alabama) and George R. Gliddon published the book Types of Mankind in 1854 and Agassiz supplied a short article and drawings for the book of European and Native American types in humans and animals.

    These "scientific theories" took hold of the national consciousness among abolitionists and slavers alike. Rey as a mulatto faced great difficulties of which he, of all people, would be aware, more so than Mabel Lowell could realize. So far Rey hasn't met (does he ever?) Agassiz or Emerson (who repeated Knox's belief in Anglo-Saxon superiority in an essay called "Race").

    Samuel Howe, the abolitionist, was appointed by President Lincoln to head the American Freedman's Inquiry Commission, charged with formulation policies for dealing with slaves freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. Howe wrote to Agassiz to ask his scientific opinion on whether the "African race...will be the persistent race in this country, or, will it be absorbed, diluted, and finally effaced by the white race...." Based on his existing beliefs which Agassiz' confirmed, Samuel Howe, one of John Brown's Secret Six, was to conclude that

    intermarriage between the races is "immoral and undesirable" and those who favor amalgamation "forget that no amount of diffusion will exterminate whatever exists, that a pint of ink diffused in a lake is still there, and the water is only the less pure."

    I believe it was Knox's book which proposed the superiority of Anglo-Saxons over all other groups (such as Irishmen like Burke and Hare). I wonder if its from Knox's book Races of Men that the popular differentiation of blue-eyes versus black-eyes shows up so much in literature of the day, such as Dr. Holmes poem "Dilemma"?

    This is the atmosphere in which our Poets and Officer Rey must function.


    Joan Pearson
    May 19, 2003 - 04:03 am
    Marvelle, thank you for coloring in the background, the attitudes, the scientific information available to the public in the mid 1900's. Matthew P. knew of Dr. Agassiz, including him in his novel. After reading what you have found, I understand more clearly why he cast a mullato in this prominent role.

    Do you know that you can read "lost chapters" from Matthew's book at his website which did not make it to the final printing? Here is a "lost chapter" on Lieutenant Rey and Stonewater (Matthew, are you still writing these chapters, or were they left on the cutting room floor?)

    Did you note the frequent reference to Rey as a "moke" - by different characters? Does 'moke' have anything to do with the fact that Rey is of mixed race? Do you know the derivation and meaning of the term?

    There were a number of references to Jewish people in this novel as well...only these were always positive. Superior brain power and looks. Not sure, but Lowell usually made the remarks. I'm curious about how Jewish people were regarded- and accepted among the Boston Brahmins at this time -

    Joan Pearson
    May 19, 2003 - 05:55 am
    Good Morning!

    From the moment Holmes connects the dots that lead the detectives to la guère, the action takes off in all directions as the culprit(s) and relationships with the victims come hot and heavy. We realized that the original discussion schedule would have to be scrapped at this point.., but will make every effort to ensure all of your questions and comments will be heard. Above ALL ELSE, Jo and I would like to preserve the give and take, the conversational aspect of this discussion that has been established over the past weeks. Can we agree to continue to talk to one another? Address one another's comments? We hope to add your questions and points for further discussion to the table in the heading...as well as questions you would like to ask of Matthew. If you post a question here, it will immediately be added to the discussion list...and then we will proceed down the list...

    Don't know how this will work. It all depends on you!
    If you have been waiting for this moment to reply to questions from previous weeks, know that they are ALL in the heading, the last link at the bottom.

    So. How did we do? How often were we on the right track with all of our our sleuthing? How many times did we connect the war with the crimes? War with Hell?

    Did you predict the murderer? Was Dan Teal on your short list? Lowell wrote that there are two times that man enters into the dark wood. Did you think that the killer would be a young man midway on life's journey?

    Can't wait to hear your thoughts...and your questions!

    Looking forward to a great week!

    Jo Meander
    May 19, 2003 - 08:39 am
    GO, POSTERS!!!<R> Wonderful information, about the progress of women(horselover) and the academic dialogue on race(Marvelle). I want to express my reactions to that, but I have to leave! Before I go, here's a bit with one of my suspects whom I believed to be a puppet-master behind "Lucifer" before I read to the end.

    The bonfire scene in Harvard Yard is the one leading up to Manning's steeple-finger scene. A group of "august men" are feeding books to the flames including In Defense of Charles Darwin and His Evolutionary Theory. "From a steam-filled window of the grotesquely Gothic granite Gore Hall...Dr. Augustus Manning...looked down on the scene." Lowell enters the library room and tells him "nothing that keeps thought out will ever be safe from thought!"
    Manning tells him that the "newfangled notions of immorality" were being brought into the country with the foreigners, especially those from Italy, and threatening American principles. He calls Harvard "the last fortress for the protection of our sublimity." After Lowell defends Dante, saying that it represents the triumph of the human soul, Manning promises him "Some sensible men will rise up from your circle to betray you, Lowell -- I promise that. " He mentions Houghton and then Holmes: "The miserable little manikin is your Benedict Arnold awaiting instructions, Professor Lowell." His fingers are steepled above his breastbone. With all the steam, heat, fire and duplicity, it's an image of fiendishness, but the fiend fails when Lowell defies him and promises he will always be a man's friend once he has begun.
    Manning’s words and the enclosing gesture suggest a smug expectation of controlling and destroying forces that threaten his insular community. Lowell, who cannot be intimidated or tricked into forsaking his friends or his principles, defeats that expectation.
    “I do not understand how you can put your good name, everything you've worked for your whole life, on the line for something like this. Professor."
    Lowell jerked away. “But don’t you wish to heaven you could, Manning.”
    It’s a battle scene !

    May 19, 2003 - 09:37 am
    The scene between Lowell and Manning is one of my favorites, Jo. When Lowell said, "But don't you wish to heaven you could, Manning?", I wanted to stand up and cheer!

    I don't recall more than two, maybe three, posts connecting the war to the crimes, but it did come up. Dan Teal was on my list of suspects, but until the end I had no hint of a motive nor of his tie to Dante's Inferno.

    Do you see the echo, in Teal's attempt to force Holmes to participate in a killing, of the traumatic action by the Union officer in forcing Teal to execute those soldiers? It is easy to see how the events of the war twisted his mind. ...Babi

    May 19, 2003 - 09:41 am
    According to a book of slang, moke is slang for donkey -- our disdainful thanks go to the influence of Knox, Nott and company?

    I haven't read this last section of the book yet. Shame on me! I also haven't read your new posts or the heading so that way I'll be surprised by the book's ending. I'm furiously, furiously, furiously reading and hope to catch up on the posts and to add my own thoughts later today.


    May 19, 2003 - 10:10 am
    Marvelle, Seeing your examples of faulty scientific information about race all in one place was especially horrible. This is what happens when science becomes not a search for truth, but a search for confirmation of preconceived ideas.

    Even today, the consequenses of these attitudes continues. You have all probably heard about the scandal at "The New York Times," where a young black reporter was found to have plagiarized or simply made up various stories that were printed under his byline. The executive editor explained the length of time it took the newspaper to discover these terrible lapses by blaming it on his own legacy of guilt over racial discrimination in Alabama, and his desire to mentor someone he thought was a talented black intern. Jason Blair may have lost his way because of the pressure put on him to prove that blacks could succeed, and the newspaper did not fire him long before because it, too, wanted him to succeed.

    Patrolman Rey was coping with even greater pressures. His supporters were few, his fellow officers infected with prejudice and hatred, and there were all the temptations to cheat to succeed. The fact that, even when threatened with physical injury, Rey keeps his integrity is a tribute to someone who was, if anything, a superior man.

    May 19, 2003 - 10:20 am
    Horselover, I think someone (Joan?) mentioned the resemblance between Longfellow and Rey and I agree with you both. Rey had to be superior to survive his environment as well as he did. He reminds me of Frederick Douglass the runaway mulatto slave who ended up being a newspaper publisher and a moving force for social change.

    I just found other definitions for moke which in America was used to mean mule or sometimes Negro. The scientists wrote their distorted theories and people like the ruffian police and Peaslee (I think Peaslee said moke) used a theory's words to injure.


    Jo Meander
    May 19, 2003 - 12:05 pm
    BaBi, I have "Yea!" written in the margin of my book by Lowell's speech!
    I have to say I didn't even pay much attention to Dan Teal until the last part of the book, but when he made Longfellow hold that gun, I did think of the way he had been treated and forced to do executions. And what about the paper chewing? Did I miss something? Do the letters on the paper have significance, or are they bits of Dante he is trying to make a part of himself anyway he can! He can't read, so....!
    And what about the depiction of the Civil War? I knew it was bad, but Dan Teal's personal experiece and the details surrounding it exceed any horror I had ever envisioned.

    Jo Meander
    May 19, 2003 - 12:41 pm
    What is your reaction to the way the Civil War is depicted through Teal's experience?
    I knew it was awful, but this narrative takes it beyond anything I had ever imagined. The horror has destroyed Teal. Everything he experienced has changed him, and I wonder how many men have returned from war changed so profoundly. When Holmes holds the gun to Teal's neck, "There wasn't an ounce of fear in the man's face. He was a permanent soldier; there was no one left beneath." There is no better way to say that war destroys people without actually killing them.

    Joan Pearson
    May 19, 2003 - 03:12 pm
    Jo the scene between Manning and Lowell was a powerful one...and you had every reason to think that Manning was evil enough to be implicated. (He was! Though he wasn't the Lucifer we thought him to be.) Will put up your question about favorite culprits into the heading right now. Events spun out so quickly toward the end...I need a review as to the reason Manning was being punished as a Traitor... he was a Traitor to the Dante in Ben Galvin/Dan Teal's eyes - but each of the victims appeared to have been guilty of other sins...in the same category, which Teal was not familiar with. What was August Mannings real sin?

    BaBi, I scrolled down to the "search" button, typed in "war" and came up with a good number of posts on the effects of the war on the murderer. One from YOU - BaBi's post on effects of war profiteering
    "I took that to be a reference to the profits that many people made from the war. There have always been those who profited greatly from wars. It makes me wonder now if one of these war profiteers might be a future victim."
    I did see the echo...the young idealistic Teal who went to war with a loft goal, forced to murder, point-blank. I felt so bad for him. And it wasn't just one time. Can understand how he developed a caloused attitude toward murder in the line of duty. It was interesting to see how the war turned into such a Hell where the enemy was wearing blue and gray.

    Jo! We spent so much time puzzling over those danged letters, only to find that "Dan Teal" is chewing them and spitting them out! As I remember, he was tearing them out of Uncle Tom's Cabin? Shall we put that question on Matthew's list - ask him to solve that riddle for us? Which one of us figured out that Dan Teal worked out to D-a-n-t-e? Was it you, BaBi? At that moment I knew that Matthew wouldn't have given him such a name without a reason and was waiting for him to play a role. Didn't think of him as the Lucifer, or the killer though. We need to talk about him. Is he a Dante? Who really got off the right path into the dark wood? I agree, Jo...we do need to talk about that hellish war, and how it devoured Dan Teal and countless others...

    Joan Pearson
    May 19, 2003 - 03:21 pm
    Turn those pages, Marvelle! ~moke...donkey. A horse and a mule. Is that right? A hybrid? That works. But wait, what's what's a mule? I never keep that straight!

    horselover...was Rey a little too good to be true? Where did he get the fortitude to let the comments and attacks roll right off his back? Didn't he get punched out by his fellow officers? I'm wondering how and why he withstood so much. Was it worth it? Was it because he wanted to prove his worth to the Governor who appointed him? He does seem bigger than life, doesn't he? At one point we spoke of him as Everyman...but he seems to be without faults. hmmm...that's not Everyman then, is it?

    May 19, 2003 - 06:53 pm
    Jo, I think it's wonderful that "those danged letters" are only the result of pages Dan Teal is chewing up and spitting out! Matthew is sooo funny, and this is his final joke on the reader!

    What's really interesting about the killer's identity is that we were all looking for a character who was most like a monster. That's where Manning fit the stereotype--a one-dimensional character with no redeeming qualities. But the real "Lucifer" was not devilish at all, just an ordinary young man whose life was altered by extraordinary historical events. You asked a very good question "about that hellish war, and how it devoured Dan Teal and countless others." The same could be said for all the wars since then. War is Hell, but the soldiers who fight are not the Devil. Most of them, like Daniel Teal, are victims themselves.

    Perhaps Matthew's graphic description of the battlefield horrors was what Professor Watkins meant in the Preface when he said, "remember first that words can bleed."

    Jo Meander
    May 19, 2003 - 09:09 pm
    Also, Teal encountered much brutal prejudice in those who were supposed to be fighting for emancipation. He was surrounded by the enemy, in more ways than one: "I'd rather see the Union dead that won by niggers!' a lieutenant in Galvin's company shouted in his face." (The Union soldiers protested having a Massachusetts Negro regiment.)
    "More than once, Galvin had seen a soldier take hold of a Negro wench fleeing her master and whisk her off into the woods to roaring cheers."
    "...he knew that the blacks would have no peace in the South, slavery or no slavery, and he knew also what those who had not fought the war did not know: that the enemy was all around them at all times and had not surrendered at all. And never, never for a moment had the enemy been only the Southerners."

    Lowell, Holmes and Longfellow conclude that Teal sees Manning as the worst kind of traitor because he is the enemy of the cause he has pledged himself to defend: Dante, and the Dante project of the poets. He knows Manning's schemes from working as a caretaker at the University, and as Holmes notes, "he wears his uniform when involved in his Dantesque mode, whether he is studying Dante or preparing his murders. ...In his sickness, he swaps guarding the Union with guarding Dante."

    May 19, 2003 - 09:40 pm
    I think -- and this is only a guess -- that the discarded letters have to do with Lemuel Shaw. First, there's the obit notice of Artemus S. Healey when the Poets say everyone knows his middle name is Prescott. Well, guess what? Judge Prescott of the Wills and Probate Court was under impeachment by MA state and Lemuel Shaw argued against Prescott who was impeached. I think it had to do with the mismanagement of the court's trust of underage former slaves but Matthew could tell us what it was about.

    So first there's Prescott changed to S. Then there's the spit out bits of paper with the letters h and a at Talbot's murder scene. Holmes trampled them into the ground. So that spells SHA..... Then I think there's Fort Warren which is mentioned but not as a clue and that might be the W -- which spells SHAW. Etc etc. Would like to know if these disembodied letters were clues to the theme of justice and Lemuel Shaw.

    Moke as mule = a mule is a sterile hybrid bred from a horse and donkey. Also, I looked up MULATTO in my dictionary: offspring of one white parent and one black parent; a person whose racial ancestry is mixed; and -- now get this -- it derives from the Spanish mulato which means a young mule.

    Race is only a legal definition and has nothing to do with science or medicine. It's really made up and so I think any word that's used -- white, caucasian, black, negro etc -- is as artifical as the term race itself.


    Found some cool stuff on printer's devils! The identification became popular around 1763 and designated an apprentice in the print shop who did all the messy jobs of setting type, running the press, putting type back in the cases, cleaning up. An underpaid, unappreciated Gofer at the bottom of the heap.

    Printer's Devil


    The second website is stunning. I loved it! Check out the titles on "Printer's Devil," "Pick and Click," "A Poem of the Black Art," and "The Great Cat Massacre." Absolutely amazing stuff. The cat massacre gives a feel for the mistreatment and resentment in the printing trade.

    Coming from a working class and outsider background (Native American and Eastern European) I found the section on Colby, the printer's devil, both hilarious and heart-rending. His firing was a tragedy for him but only an interlude to the Poets and Houghton.


    May 19, 2003 - 10:31 pm
    Here's a question for Matthew: What does Chief Justic Lemuel Shaw have to do with all of this? Or is there no connection?


    I'm almost finished reading the book and have got to the part where everyone suspects Daniel Teal as the murderer. Will be on the lookout for the part about his war experiences. Just another hour or so of reading and I'll have got to the ending!


    May 20, 2003 - 09:19 am
    I hope some of you got a chance to see the PBS documentary Race: The Power of an Illusion. If not, you should try to catch it when it's repeated. Last night, the first hour had lots of information pertaining to our Dante Club discussions. There was a whole section on the scientists of the time (Louis Agassiz, Samuel Morton, Josiah Nott), and how they developed the theories upon which much of society's race prejudice came to be based. It also described what life was really like for Negroes, both slave and freed, during the years when "The Dante Club" takes place.

    One of the wonderful things about Matthew's writing style is the Rashomon-like way in which he goes back to tell the story we have all been following from the poets point of view, now from Daniel Teal's viewpoint. We suddenly see many things in a very different light. For example, we understand what brought them all to the mistaken conviction that Captain Dexter Blight was the killer.

    Isn't it also interesting to find out that Lowell has a "Beatrice" in his own past--a woman he "cannot banish" from his memory. He tells Holmes that "I assure you we all have our own Beatrice, whether living near us or alive only in our mind."

    Joan Pearson
    May 20, 2003 - 10:02 am
    Marvelle, I have a strong suspicion that the more obvious sins, associated with each of the victims are NOT those which prompt 'Dan Teal' to murder - though they wind up in the same circle of hell. Am wondering if Dan was smart enough to make these connections or whether this is our author at work.

    For example, Healey/Shaw Fugitive Slave act was the decision that sent escaped slaves back where they came from. BUT Dan Teal only understands what he overheard in University Hall - that it was Justice Healey who had "refused an assigned position of great improtance - a position that had asked him to defend Dante" to the Harvard Corporation. This is what led to Dan connecting Healey to the Neutrals he heard about in Greene's sermon. The realy delicious thing is that Dan had worked hard in the Underground Railroad before the war, was appalled during the war that the escaped slaves were being returned...and he had NO KNOWLEDGE IT WAS HEALEY/SHAW's FUGITIVE SLAVE ACT THAT WAS RESPONSIBLE!

    I think this is so devillish of you, Matthew! I think it was the same with all of the other murders too. We had the right contrapasso for each victim...just the wrong sin for which the murderer was killing them. We also thought that the murderer was trying to associate the Inferno with the killings so as to ruin the Dante...whereas it was the other way around...

    Joan Pearson
    May 20, 2003 - 10:17 am
    horselover, I was not a little upset to think that I watched the Martha Stewart movie and missed the Power of Race...but I just checked the local listing and see that the Ken Burns'AMerican Stories was on...Baseball. So, will keep alert for it. I think the local PBS stations have some degree of autonomy as to programming...will let you all know what I find. Am on the East Coast.

    Does Dan Teal, our Dante, have a Beatrice? I think he does, but will wait to see what you think once you've given it some thought.

    ps. I'm not about to give up on those letters. I believe they spell something! What do you think, BaBi? Isn't Matthew being too careful with them? I've been keeping score...may have missed a few, but I have h-a-L-i in addition to those in the list of clues in the heading...

    May 20, 2003 - 11:40 am
    To answer somebody's question: No, it wasn't me who first got 'Dante' out of 'Dan Teal'. That may have been Horselover; I'm not sure.

    I do remember, Joan, posting some time back that I did not believe the killer was trying to 'destroy' Dante or the Club, but was instead 'identifying' with Dante and the Inferno.

    The problem of the effects of war on soldiers is still current. How many men came back from Korea, VietNam, the Gulf, etc., so wounded mentally, emotionally or physically that they have never been able to return to the mainstream of everyday life? Is it not true, tho', that it was not the necessity of killing the enemy that broke Galvan/Teal, or even the horrors of the wounded and dying? It was finding that he was going through all of this in a false cause. I am reminded of a scripture that read something like "..there was none righteous, no, not one". For an idealistic young man like Galvan, this was more than he carry. I've never heard of chewing on paper for a dry mouth. And to still be readable when he spit them out? I suspect Matthew was having us on, there. Matthew?..What do you have to say for yourself? ...Babi

    May 20, 2003 - 01:01 pm
    I finished the book some time ago and have been reading the posts but not adding to your discussion. I want to thank all of you for contributing so much to my understanding of the book. However,..

    I tend to read novels quickly and do not take too much time to look up lots of material that may be connected to the novel. I sort of feel that a novel should tell it all without a lot of extra work on my part. I do not feel the same way about non fiction. I do not view this book as a "who done it" work of fiction and therefore did not search too hard for clues. I think that the book is more a work of historical fiction connected with Dante's Inferno. I do not think that Mathhew spent a lot of time thinking of clues for the reader so that the reader could figure out "who done it" on his own. I do not see any way that we could have figured out the final culprit just by reading the book. And that brings me to one final point.

    Ultimately, I was dissappointed in the ending of the book. I almost felt as if the editors had told Matthew to get on with it and stop writing. The ending seemed abrupt to me. I do not think that the book stands alone as a mystery and for that reason, I suspect that the audience may be limited. The reader needs to know something about the history of the era and about The Inferno of Dante. Reading the book from cover to cover will not satisfy the reader. Other material needs to be related to the novel. I see this as a weakness. I am possibly the only one who feels this way and I seem to recall that all of the reviews were positive.

    I am grateful to Matthew and to all of you for opening my eyes to Dante and the Inferno which I had never read and which I hope to complete this month. I now have an easier translation (IMO). I have read historical novels and usually like them. The addition of the murder mystery did not appeal to me. I expect lots of feed back as I think I am alone in these opinions.

    May 20, 2003 - 03:07 pm
    George, You are not totally alone in your disappointment about the way all the details seem to be wrapped up quickly and explained at the end. But this is typical of the popular mystery genre, and I have learned to live with it. If I want more complex development of the ambiguities of life, I try to read more serious fiction. Still I think this book was enjoyable, and we all had lots of fun finding out about the poets and our country after the Civil War.

    Joan, I'm in the Northeast, too. We have two PBS stations here, and "Race:The Power of an Illusion" was on opposite Masterpiece Theater on the other PBS station. The second hour is on tonight, but I think that part will be historically past the time of The Dante Club. Of course, it was also on opposite "Martha Stewart." Did you enjoy that????

    Marvelle, There is a pub/restaurant in my town called "The Printer's Devil," so it must be a term that many people would recognize.

    May 20, 2003 - 03:08 pm
    Please don't go away, George. We still have to month's end to consider the novel and for our summations. I also thought, as you did, that the book was more than a "whodunit."

    I approached The Dante Club as a work of literature rather than a detective story. The surface story of "whodunit" was resolved but not the deeper meanings of the shadow-story. The numerous allusions to Shaw and our history and issues keeps me intrigued.

    I thought the images of deceit and fraud, especially with Lonza and Camp, were authorial warnings about misdirections so I rather expected the FSL to be a red herring. Lots of red herrings here, perhaps to get us to think of issues (past and present).

    I still think Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw was a key figure and now I can mention some "refusals" related to Shaw although I don't know if they fit into the novel. First there was a non-refusal when Shaw agreed to argue for the impeachment of Prescott, a fellow judge. Then Judge Story refused the Chief Justice position and Shaw reluctantly accepted it. Then in 1860 Shaw refused nomination in the Presidential race. I don't see how any of these are part of the "Great Refusal" even the one in 1860. Shaw had retired that year from the bench and died a year later. I imagine he knew in 1860 that he wouldn't be able to fulfill the presidential duties. Perhaps the "Great Refusal" is related to Shaw in some other way.


    I was interested in Dan Teal's near illiteracy and chewing on books, especially Beecher Stowe's famous 'cause for the Union' book, only to spit them out. Heck, I basically do the same with books I don't care about. Anyone want to compare Teal and books to Rey's post-War lack of literary interest because books were 'ideas.' Are the reactions of Teal and Rey to literature the same or very different?

    Horselover, there's a well-known theatre in the U.S. called "The Printer's Devil" too. Funny, but when we start looking for devils we see them everywhere! I think Colby/printer's devil is the industrial age 'free' replacement for the slave system. Colby's lot shows that there's little improvement in the lives of the have-nots. Someone had asked about the term so I posted a couple of links on it and had lots of fun doing the research. I found the vt.edu website fascinating with its three theories on the origin of the term 'printer's devil', including one African influence; and the poems.

    Lots to discuss yet. I'll post later tonight.


    Matthew Pearl
    May 20, 2003 - 03:38 pm
    Let me apologize for the long delay in posting. Things were very busy but I've been anxious to get back to the conversation and am blad to be able to talk freely without fearing I'll give something away!

    I'm sorry, though, to come in on a negative note with Georgehd's post. I suppose I shouldn't comment on it too much, except to say (1) no editor made decisions for me, the book is how I want it, and (2) the audience, by all measures, I think, has not been limited; the book has been on bestseller lists all across the country and abroad (Canada), and will be published in a total of 12 languages in Germany, Holland, France, Japan, Portugal, Italy, Sweden, Spain, Greece, Korea, Croatia, Turkey and England (UK). It seems to find a place in various age groups too. I just visited Phillips/Exeter this week, where the novel has been assigned to the 9th grade English class. Those are just facts, your opinion is of course your opinion. I, at least, am happy with the reception, commercial, critical and from readers almost every day. I believe historical fiction has a special affinity with mystery -- not that mystery is a superfluous addition; indeed, I believe this was precisely Dante's vision of historical fiction.

    On to specifics. Thank you all for such a vibrant and thorough discussion, your comments and queries are endelssly interesting and impressive.

    On the relationship of the Holmeses. This was indeed all taken from their historical relationship. There tensions continued throughout Dr. Holmes's life, when he was old and sick (he outlived the rest of the Dante Club and generally his peers, and was left quite lonely because of that). Wendell Jr. continued to build a relationship as a rather cold though brilliant person (and judge). Joan, I think attaching the Schismatic label to their dynamic is very helpful. I tried to associate various sins from Dante's poem to many parts of the novel.

    Longfellow did not receive ashes -- however, those ashes were indeed collected in 1865 and distributed to a few people! So I thought it was worth incorporating. Part of what I wished to explore were the different incarnations of Dante -- physical and otherwise -- so the idea of his presence in ashes was too appealing to let go!

    Historically, Longfellow did receive a present of fragments of Dante's tomb, which are still at the Longfellow House here in Cambridge!

    As for Teal. I saw him as a warped Dante figure -- thus the name Dan Teal being a sort of twisted, incomplete version of the name. The paper chewing is explained (that is at what point it started) in the chapter on Teal's war experience. It's not that uncommon of a nervous habit -- sort of like chewing ice (which Holmes does). Of course, in the trauma of war strange ticks develop that probably don't otherwise. On a higher thematic level, it occurred to me from Ezekiel, who is ordered by God to swallow a holy scroll. (Ezek. chapters 2 & 3)

    It's part of why I wanted Teal to be semi-illiterate -- the idea of the many different ways literature can be received, processed, digested (literally and otherwise), and incorporated into life.

    Maryal, you had asked about Trap. He was a Scottish (or Scotch, they would have called it then) Terrier! I wish I could show you the picture I have of Longfellow with Trap. They really looked alike.

    Joan you had mentioned the Lost Chapters: these are portions of early drafts of the novel that didn't make it into the finished book. It's just for fun, but I've received very positive reaction from readers to the section! (I wanted the website to be a little different from many of the author sites out there).

    The insects... ah, yes, the reappareance of the Hominivorax is indeed true! They began to appear in the Middle East some years ago -- Iran, Iraq and Libya. And because those are enemies of America, guess what? That's right, conspiracy theories that we kept the insects alive and unleashed them. Don't know about that, but I had lots of fun using them in the novel and consulting some very helpful forensic entomologists. Of course, the conceit of the novel is that it is the murders that bring the insects to Boston, force them to evolve, and allow them ultimately to survive. So the history and the fiction is very much intertwined, getting back to a point Joan spoke about with historical fiction. I think a major tenet of historical fiction is to posture the story as NOT being fictional. Of course, that's what Dante does! When things are most fantastic, he insists he really took his journey.

    Now that we know who the murderer is... I can say that originally I had planned a team of murderers, sort of an anti-Dante Club. Needless to say, this was too unwieldy to juggle so changed my plans.

    Joan, it's funny you mention the positive comments about Jews in the novel. I've gotten several emails over the months asking me why there were the anti-semitic comments from Lowell. I tend to agree with you that they're admiring, but don't feel like I need to decide one way or the other, as they were indeed comments noticed by MANY people who knew Lowell. It was a fascination of his, and perhaps a fetish -- which of course has mixed connotations. We can say it was certainly strange!!

    Marvelle, wonderful biracial information. Some of which I haven't seen. Since there was a good amount of discussion about Rey, a bit more from me: Originally, Deputy Chief Edward Savage, now a very minor character, was the "ally" of the Dante Club. But he wasn't doing anything for me (or the story, I think), so I began to think who could have been an "exile" member of the police, and discovered some basic information on early nonwhite policemen. Nobody has systematically mapped out exactly when these nonwhite members of the police came to each city, but the first were around 1865-66, and so I decided to give Boston a fictional one. The last name comes from a historical African-American policeman in New Orleans, Octavo Rey, who eventually really made an impact on that police force. Rey has been a favorite with readers and some reviews that thought he "steals the show." My plan is to write a series of three novels on Nicholas Rey, beginning with one taking place around 1868, several years after The Dante Club's setting, when Dep. Chief Savage takes over from Kurtz as Chief of Police and promotes Rey to Lieutenant -- setting off a number of developments. That won't be my next novel, but hopefully my third!

    I know I've just touched on many of these topics, so please feel free to ask more specific questions! I can't thank you all enough for such a stimulating and satisfying conversation over the last month!

    May 20, 2003 - 10:22 pm
    Matthew, I'm thrilled to think Nicholas Rey will return in another novel. Picture me standing in line to get the first issue! What is your second book about? Or is that too close to mention right now? I enjoy the thought that Dante had a vision of mystery incorporated into historical fiction.


    Here's some information on the theme of the schismatics.

    The first segregation case in U.S. history was ruled on by Lemuel Shaw.


    Shaw's ruling on segregation introduced the concept of separate-but-equal to American law and upheld the constitutionality of Jim Crow schools so authoritatively that it was cited as precedent by the U.S. Supreme Court in its epic Plessy v. Ferguson decision in 1896 which made the separate-but-equal concept the law of the land until 1954.

    In Roberts v. The City of Boston, Shaw ruled in favor of the right of the school to set education policy as it saw fit.

    From the above link: Shaw's focus was the "question of whether separation by race in public schools violated Roberts' rights to political, social and civil equality . . . . [Shaw] reasoned that separation of the races does not perpetuate class distinctions since existing prejudice in society

    'is not created by law, and probably cannot be changed by law.' "

    A large number of Bostonians refused to accept Roberts as the final word and their opposition paid off in 1855 when the Mass. legislature outlawed school segregation on the basis of "race, color, or religion." Thus, through social pressure and politics, rather than judicial efforts, Boston became the first city in the nation to desegregate its public schools; even as, nationally, the Shaw 1850 ruling was repeated state by state until 1959.


    May 21, 2003 - 08:42 am
    I don't know, Matthew, that Dante Club will be a tough act to follow. Unlike Marvelle, I'm not sure I want to see Rey in another novel. Does sequeling trivialize?

    This book was so impressive. It was a "good read" but also thought-provoking. I have never cared for historical mysteries, but am recommending this to many. Actually, I don't think of it as a mystery, but more a thinking man's book. This is definitely not what one would expect from a recent college grad. Thank you for not pandering to the best seller crowd. There was violence, it was bloody, yes, but with a purpose, and did not include the unecessary stuff found in many current novels.

    I liked the way everything had a purpose -- this character, this event, and how everythng fell into place. An example would be Lonza -- where did he come from -- and we later find out he was helping Bacchi translate. You put all the pieces together without making us think you were doing a quick wrap-up. (With one exception, maybe, but I'll have to go back and read that --Fields and Lowell paying of Camp?) Loved your characterization and am spurred to learn more about Dante, the club members, and the Inferno.

    Lastly, although retired, the school librarian in me says, "the kids'll want to know . . . ." So:
    Since I'm not supposed to list the questions, will make two quick posts.

    May 21, 2003 - 08:43 am
    What prompted you to write this? Was it an assignment or a necessary project for an award?

    May 21, 2003 - 08:48 am
    Your description of Galvin's attempt to learn to read -- "the letters and marks got tangled up in the wrong direction in his head and crashed and turned into each other on the page" made me think of dyslexia or some type of learning disability.

    Did you intend to portray that, have you had experience with a learning disabled person?

    Joan Pearson
    May 21, 2003 - 09:46 am
    Why, Pedln, what a fine summary! I'm sure you spoke for many of us. George, I think Pedln may have hit it when she said this is a thought-provoker that needed to be read carefully - a thinking-man's book. There was so much more going on than finding the culprit. If read through quickly looking for clues, it is easy to miss a lot of what makes this book something special.

    As an aside, I would like to add that reading back and forth between the Club and the Inferno, I am now quite comfortable in the Inferno...the Club provided so much background which makes the inferno so much more approachable.

    PedlnWould you consider submitting this review to Barnes & Noble and Amazon?

    I am going to put your two new questions for Matthew into the heading now and work backwards through the other great points posted since I was in here yesterday - including Matthew's!

    Ah, those chewed up letters! Matthew, one of the reasons I am so happy you are in our midst...I'd be chewing on those letters long after the discussion was over! You write about "the many different ways literature can be received, processed, digested (literally and otherwise), and incorporated into life." I am interested in your response to Pedln's question on your experience with the learning disabled. (Marvelle is still looking for a message there in those letters. Are you sure you aren't keeping something from us?)

    This may take me a little while to get all the new questions up...you've been busy! (I'm not complaining...keep them coming!)

    May 21, 2003 - 10:19 am
    I enjoy mysteries primarily for the background information the writer incorporates into the story. For example, I read the Dick Francis mysteries for all the wonderful details about the world of horse racing I learn while trying to guess the identity of the killer. For this reason, "The Dante Club" was very successful for me. I think we all learned sooo much about this period in our history, and about the evils of racism that persist even today. I think many of us had great fun expanding on Matthew's research with further research of our own (especially Marvelle), and I am glad that we will see more of Nicholas Rey.

    In the PBS documentary, "Race: The Power of an Illusion", they showed how the interaction between the false science of those like Louis Agassiz, together with unreasonable decisions of the US Supreme Court, combined to undermine any freedom the slaves might have achieved after the Civil War. The Supreme Court decided that you had to be white to become a naturalized citizen, and then began a series of decisions to define what was white. The end result was that "white" was what the white power structure said it was! The scientists also put forth theories which "proved" that non-whites were inferior to whites. The combination of this propaganda with the legal and political climate kept all sorts of minorities in the US from achieveing the full benefits of citizenship for many years beyond the time of Matthew's story.

    Matthew Pearl
    May 21, 2003 - 10:22 am
    Hi Marvelle -- thanks for your interest in the next book!; the next novel is another historical thriller using literary history to energize the narrative. It's all different characters and settings, and a bit of a departure in the sense that it's largely fictional characters reacting to a historical event, rather than largely historical characters reacting to a mostly fictional event (as in The Dante Club). Anyone who wishes to can sign up for the Dante Club e-newsletter at http://www.thedanteclub.com/newsletterform.html ... Those people on that email list will receive the first news on the details of the next project when the time comes.

    Pedln, thanks for your comments and questions. I think "mystery" is misused -- or perhaps misunderstood -- often when we talk about types of books. Indeed the idea of the reader "solving" a mystery book is a perennial subject; no mysteries, from the earliest 19th century ones to today, are really solveable. We try, I know! And we might guess correctly, but that process is more or less guesswork. The reader is always in the dark with the most important details, which the author controls and conceals until a point in the narrative when the detective work is over. It's part, also, of what I find the distinction between a mystery and a thriller; in a thriller, there is no pretense of the reader needing to "solve" the story -- usually the mechanisms of violence or crime are given away to the reader but not the characters.

    As for Rey's future stories, I don't think of them as sequels, a concept I feel has been corrupted by modern moviemaking. Sequels in their real and exciting sense have been around in theater and literature all the way back to Oedipus, Orestes, Shakespeare's Henry V, etc. Also, since the Dante Club characters wouldn't be in Rey's future stories (as far as I conceive them), I really think they'll read as part of a series of linked narratives rather than a sequel, if that distinction makes sense!

    As for my writing of the novel, it was simply motivated by my excitement for the material. I first worked with the historical material as a student at Harvard where I wrote a thesis on the historical Dante Club, a subject which had been almost entirely ignored for 50 years.

    I did consider Galvin had a type of reading disability -- which of course would not have been recognized in the 1860s. I have had experience with such problems both in my family and friends -- usually linked with highly creative and accomplished minds. It fit with my concept of a character who was forced to process reading and writing differently, in a way not recognized or formatted by his culture.

    Matthew Pearl
    May 21, 2003 - 10:26 am
    Thanks for your post, Horselover. I'll have to try to catch that documentary. One of the things I'm excited about in thinking about future Rey stories is the opportunity to really enter the various ethnic pockets of 19th century Boston in great detail, as well as navigating the attitudes, traditional and developing, about race. In some ways, progress in relation to race has been much more erratic than linear from the end of the Civil War to the mid 20th century.

    Speaking of documentaries, I've been talking to a documentarian (is that the right word?) about possiblities for developing a Dante Club documentary, not just on the historical translation club but on the volatile cultural circumstances surrounding it, including the Civil War, the immigrant waves, etc.

    Joan Pearson
    May 21, 2003 - 10:42 am
    Matthew! We were posting together! The Dante Club documentary sounds fascinating! Would love to hear more about it! (How about a possible movie?)

    horselover! I really want to see that PBS documentary..."Race in America" - what to do-ooo? Maybe I can call the station and get some information. (the Martha Stewart was not as bad as I expected, quite entertaining I have to confess.) We did learn a lot on the racial tension of the time, didn't we?

    Matthew wrote,
    "I think a major tenet of historical fiction is to posture the story as NOT being fictional. Of course, that's what Dante does! When things are most fantastic, he insists he really took his journey."
    Perhaps it was because of his approach...that the story did have a factual basis...sent us off to find out more of those facts. Yes, Marvelle was dynamite! What was your profession in your 'other life', Marvelle? I am so curious. Did it involve the research skills you exhibit here?

    Your interest in the numerous allusions to Shaw kept us all involved in the far-reaching effects of his decisions on segregation. "[Shaw] reasoned that separation of the races does not perpetuate class distinctions since existing prejudice in society is not created by law, and probably cannot be changed by law."

    As a recent student of the law, Matthew may give us some insights...in answer to your question - "What does Chief Justic Lemuel Shaw have to do with all of this? Or is there no connection?"..Will put that up in the heading now.

    Joan Pearson
    May 21, 2003 - 10:55 am
    hahahaha, Matthew, you are responding to our questions just as fast as we can get them out! (I'll have to get hold of a little red check mark to put in the heading next to those you answered!) Thank you SOOOOOOO much for this!

    One more to put on the list from Marvelle to ALL of us...
    Anyone want to compare Teal and books to Rey's post-War lack of literary interest because books were 'ideas.' Are the reactions of Teal and Rey to literature the same or very different?

    I was particularly interested in Matthew's portrayal of Dan Teal as "a warped Dante" figure -- thus the name Dan Teal being a sort of twisted, incomplete version of the name." We can't forget that he was also a murderer...so he'd be a sinner in Dante's world, wouldn't he be? Is he a sinner, or is he sick? Dante seems not to take sick "sinners" into consideration, does he? BaBi writes of those returning from war "so wounded mentally, emotionally or physically that they have never been able to return to the mainstream of everyday life." For Teal, the war continues, and he is the faithful soldier, not being guilty of sin any more than a soldier in the line of duty is a sinner. Who is the real culprit in this crime? I need to reread the ending. (It did wind up quickly!) I do remember that Dante did not suffer. Was not even implicated.

    May 21, 2003 - 11:19 am
    Matthew, you have hit directly on my long-standing complaint against the Hercule Poirot mysteries. More than any other of Christie's books, these don't play fair with the reader.

    While we did not know the facts about Dan Teal until the end, I felt you were quite scrupulous in telling us everything of significance up to that point. But, as others have said, this book transcended the usual 'mystery' genre with it's wealth of background, imagery and insight. I am counting on finding the future Rey books showing the same qualities.

    A small aside... I was listening to Loreena McKennitt's CD, "The Book of Secrets" as I read the posts here. A particularly lovely piece of music came on, and I stopped to see what it was. It just happened to be "Dante's Prayer". Serendipity! ...Babi

    May 21, 2003 - 11:42 am

    May 21, 2003 - 01:20 pm
    Matthew, I have found your comments since I made my criticism very informative. I also found Pedlin #472 most helpful in examing the way that I approach a book. I want to rethink my ideas about what a mystery is. In retrospect, I probably did not give this book enough time for the various levels to sink in. And to be frank, I think I was put off by trying to read Dante at the same time. The idea of Hell bothers me as I see it as a man made creation to cause fear. But my thoughts here belong in the discussion of Religion and Evil.

    Matthew Pearl
    May 21, 2003 - 02:44 pm
    Hi Joan, I wish I could do those neat things with my text like you do, but I suppose as Books Host you have well deserved special powers! Thank you so much, by the way, for the great and consistent job you did on this discussion.

    In answer to your query, yes, there's been much movie interest and enthusiasm (see this article from the Hollywood Reporter which actually proposes Dustin Hoffman as Dr. Holmes!: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/hollywoodreporter/search/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1882279 ). I'm waiting for the "right" match and think we might have found one with a particularly well-respected independent film producer. The documentary idea is something I'm considering on the side with this one fellow, but I could see it being very worthwhile. I can't remember if I've mentioned the play of the novel that's going to go up in September to you guys, you can see a brief notice about it here: http://u.redlandsdailyfacts.com/Stories/0,1413,217~24272~1384745,00.html

    Marvelle & Joan, if I might respond to Lemuel Shaw discussion: yes, he was quite the model for Justice Healey, and Healey's parallel role in the Fugitive Slave Cases made for a character that could embody one "sin" to the reader or observer/investigator and another "sin" to the lens of the murderer. One thing that always interested me about Dante's vision of Inferno is that many sinners have a collection of sins which are organized by Dante's God-like decisionmaking, but not always organized precisely. Indeed, some sinners-- like Ulysses of Inferno 26 -- there are very valid debates about what sin is being punished at all! As I believe Joan mentioned earlier in the board discussion, this is something I tried to capture through the structure of The Dante Club: even once we pin the blame on the right murderer, we realize the sinners "sins" can be located in different places even for the same punishment. It replicates, in a way, the interpretative differences among readers of Dante.

    Joan, a further point about what you mention, regarding whether Dante recognizes any "sick" sinners. In a way, yes: or at least he punishes sinners who have done nothing "wrong" by any fault of their own. The prime example are the residents of Limbo -- the unbaptized who were born before Christ OR babies who died before they could be baptized (imagine!). Another instance of a borderline case is Pier della Vigna of the Suicides, whose portrayal leaves us quite sympathetic and blaming pretty much everyone but the sinner. It's a tough question that with wrestle with in our legal system all the time when it comes to folks like Teal who kill or otherwise commit clear crimes but were shaped by horrific or traumatic circumstances beyond their control.

    Something in the news recently that reminded me of Teal's absorption of Dante as his weapon: there have been a few murders and crimes recently by people, usually young and certainly misguided, claiming that they thought they were stuck in "the Matrix." For an article about this and other similar phenomena from today, see: http://www.cnn.com/2003/LAW/05/21/ctv.matrix.insanity/

    Georgehd and Babi, thanks for further discussion of the concept of "mystery." I like to think of it in terms of the word's derivation, which would have applied to religious ceremonies in which one would close your lips and eyes (in the original sense of the word); that is, once initiated into a secret, promise not to reveal it. This resonated with me in terms of what the Dante Club had to confront, a crime whose source they recognized but had to keep to themselves in order to protect sacred material (Dante).

    Here's an etymology note from the Oxford English Dictionary... perhaps some of its details will resonate in other ways for you either with The Dante Club or the genre at large: [a. AF. *misterie (OF. mistere, mod.F. mystère masc.), = It. misterio, mistero, Sp. mistério, Pg. mysterio, ad. L. mystrium, a. Gr. , f. *ms-, root of to close (the lips or eyes): cf. MYSTES. In classical Greek occurs chiefly in plural, denoting certain secret religious ceremonies (the most famous being those of Demeter at Eleusis) which were allowed to be witnessed only by the initiated, who were sworn never to disclose their nature. (See sense 9 below.) In the LXX the word occurs only in Daniel and the Apocrypha, where it has the sense of ‘secret purpose or counsel’ (esp. of a king or of God). This sense is found in the N.T., where the word also means sometimes a religious truth long kept secret, but now revealed through Christ to his Church, and sometimes anything that has a symbolic significance. In later Christian Greek became equivalent to SACRAMENT (in several passages the Vulgate renders it by sacramentum, even when it means only ‘secret’; in other passages mysterium is retained). In OF. and English the Christian senses of the word naturally appear earliest.]

    Alf, maybe we'll meet Ednah Healey in one of Rey's future experiences around Boston!

    May 21, 2003 - 03:27 pm
    Joan, You wrote, "[Shaw] reasoned that separation of the races does not perpetuate class distinctions since existing prejudice in society is not created by law, and probably cannot be changed by law." You should definitely watch that PBS documentary on Race. You will see that, in fact, prejudice is created and perpetuated by law.

    If someone can legally be declared non-white, and if non-whites can legally be denied the rights of citizenship, this will certainly create and perpetuate class distinctions. If in addition, the financial establishment can legally red-line areas where minorities may live and thus deny them mortgages, this will prevent them from owning homes and businesses. Prohibiting certain groups from owning property can often prevent them from voting, thus completing their disenfranchisment and separation from the rest of society.

    Matthew, You said, "I think 'mystery' is misused -- or perhaps misunderstood -- often when we talk about types of books." I agree that the mystery genre exists, but is often misunderstood. Its primary purpose is to inform the reader while providing entertainment, not to help the reader solve a crime which is merely a framework for the rest of the structure. The real fun of most mystery stories is to find out some things you don't know about the law, or history, or any other subject the author can make more interesting to the reader. And you certainly have done that!

    Alf, I think Judge Healey's wife kept scratching until her skin disappeared and the maggots ate the rest.

    May 21, 2003 - 03:42 pm
    Matthew, I see on your web site that an audio book is available but it is abridged. I was wondering what you thought of it as I might try it as my first audio book.

    May 21, 2003 - 04:02 pm
    Matthew, I propose Richard Dreyfus as Dr. Holmes!

    What a relief to know that CJ Shaw was a thematic inspiration! I kept worrying, what if I'm wrong and I've taken up people's time spouting off about something irrelevant to the novel? Then again, too many of his cases had been referenced (and I haven't mentioned all of the references either).

    Shaw believed that words do not bleed. At least in the 1847 Webster trial, the great controversy about the proceedings was over Shaw's definition of "malice aforethought" (MA). MA does not mean a planned action; the thought can occur a nanosecond before the act. Parkman was verbally abusive towards Webster and Webster then took up a handy wood log and killed Parkman with it.

    Shaw ruled that words cannot cause someone to act, therefore, Webster was responsible for his actions. (This is a major simplification of the ruling.)


    Oh dear, our Joan finds it cozy in Hell! Joan, please don't put up curtains or redecorate there. We need you back in SN Books so I hope you're only a tourist in the Inferno? The DC and Matthew did make Dante's poem more knowable and intellectually attainable (but just on a visitor's pass).

    I don't have a special background in research but I do have a need to know and my education and employment always reflected that side of me.

    Horselover, I was just sick about missing the show "Race: The Power of Illusion." You can bet I'll be on the lookout for it when it repeats. Often PBS repeats a show within a few days of the original airing so I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

    I find it fascinating how each of us has approached the DC; how we read and interpret. I liked Ann's definition of DC as being a "thinking-man's" work. And it's also a mystery and historical fiction. And Matthew introduces the concept of the religious mystery or sacrament; a religious ceremony in which one closes one's lips and eyes. I like that. I like that a lot. Thanks Matthew.


    May 21, 2003 - 04:03 pm
    Some of you were discussing whether, at the time, they recognized "sick" sinners like Teal who commit crimes but were shaped by horrific or traumatic circumstances beyond their control.

    As a doctor, Holmes appreciates the "defective...design of humankind." And he says, profoundly, "Besides, could not there be a crime that was not a sin?" This is a distinction that is defined differently in medicine, in law, and in religious doctrine.

    Matthew Pearl
    May 21, 2003 - 04:05 pm
    Richard Dreyfus. I never thought of that -- that's a good one! Thanks Marvelle. (not that I have any control over any eventual movie project)

    Matthew Pearl
    May 21, 2003 - 04:15 pm
    Georgehd, thanks so much for asking about the Audio Book, of which there is an excerpt on the Dante Club website. It is abridged, although there is an unabridged version available in libraries read by John Seidman (I don't know if it's available for sale yet?).

    Boyd Gaines, the reader of the abridged, does a fantastic job. Now, of course, I think the abridging takes away a lot of the story (literally!). But I did approve the audio script and so hope we did it as well as possible (if you didn't abridge, it would simply be cost prohibitive, $80-$100 for that many cassettes or CDs). However, it's not the book, just as a play or movie wouldn't be the book -- it's an adaptation. There's nothing wrong with that, in fact I think it can bring a book to life in new and exciting ways, but I do think some readers expect it to be the same and then are disappointed if it's not. Gaines also reads Inferno Canto I from the Longfellow translation at the end of the audio book, and that's a real treat ("a keeper," said one review in the Palm Beach Post).

    Audiofile, a magazine devoted to audio books, had this write-up of the audio book:

    In his literary debut, author Matthew Pearl tells the fictional story of Cambridge icons Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Lowell, and J.T. Fields working to find a vicious serial killer who fashions crimes after scenes from Dante's Inferno. Seasoned actor Boyd Gaines brings the grisly scenes to life, providing just enough of a highbrow Boston accent to the four lead characters to differentiate personalities and keep the listener riveted. His pacing is superb; he speeds through passages of high excitement but assumes a leisurely read to build suspense. His best performance is his reading of Longfellow's lines; he seems to capture the calm essence of the poet with each word spoken.

    May 21, 2003 - 07:35 pm
    Anthony Hopkins with proper makeup as Longfellow. Denzel Washington as Rey. Sean Connery might make a good Longfellow but his accent is pretty heavy. Michael Caine could play some role.

    Jo Meander
    May 22, 2003 - 08:56 am
    After being away for two days, what a tantalizing place to come in! I'm delighted to learn that Nicholas Rey wil reappear in a story of his own, because I thought we parted with him too abruptly. I really want to see him making things happen and having things happen to him ... his destiny! The environment of this novel and the characters were the best parts for me. I really didn't expect to "solve a puzzle." I was along for the ride, and I enjoyed it! Now I get to imagine who should play the parts, and that's a treat, too. I think both ideas about Holmes are great -- D. Hoffman, one of my favorite actors, and R. Dreyfuss, who certainly can look and sound like a poet/academic. Either could be spot-on in the role. I'm looking forward to the movie and to the next book or books, Matthew. Thank you for the first one and all to follow!
    George, Michael Caine has shown his versatility enough for me to believe he could do Lowell. Is that what you were thinking, or did you see him in another part?

    Jo Meander
    May 22, 2003 - 08:57 am
    About thiry or so posts back (it's been a busy week!), Joan said that it was "delicious" that Teal was unaware of who he was killing, in a way, because his entire motivation in his deranged condition was to defend Dante. I'm repeating, I know, but what a beautiful irony that Healy had contributed to the suffering of the Blacks he returned under the Fugitive Slave Act, considering Teal's reaction to the suffering he saw in the War. And all the research that marvelle did becomes even more valuable when we hear that Shaw was the inspiration for Healy. Thanks Matthew, marvelle, and Joan!
    Matthew, I noticed that when the poets go to Teal/Galvin's home and Holmes removes the saber from the wall, first one tiny gnat and then a multitude swarm around the sword, alerting them all to the "deep-set blood on the blade." Are they the the maggots, kept alive as Holmes thought they would be, and metamorphozed into flies, or are they just garden-variety gnats, drawn to the blood and acting as minidetectives?

    One more question: What happens to Burndy? To Camp? The denouement was rapid. I remember the scene in the bar where Rey gets Peaslee to lure Camp into a back room, but the trickery gets subtle for me here. Did Camp want to pin the crimes on the Dante group, to somehow discredit their work as Manning would have wished before they pulled him out of the ice and before he shot Teal? I thought that Peaslee stood to gain a reward for a Burndy conviction, but surely by this time in the story the facts are emerging after Teal's death? Or is it all in the timing? Are we just supposed to take it for granted that Peaslee will discover too late that his efforts in getting Camp out of the picture (and I'm not sure how he does that) are futile as far as his own mercenary cause is concerned? Sorry to be so dense -- believe me, I am!

    Joan Pearson
    May 22, 2003 - 08:57 am
    EDIT! Jo, we posted the very same minute! Will read your post carefully as soon as I get back. You've been missed!

    horselover, dear ~ the search paid off...I see Race-Illusion will run on local PBS tonight at 6 pm and have taped it as we will be having some guests in for dinner.

    BaBi! How eerie...Dante's Prayer playing as you post here. Inspiration, perhaps?

    George ~I can only add to your comment about The Inferno my observation that sin is a man-made creation...by the way, WHERE have you been in the Inferno discussion? How on earth will you finish up in a month? Are you speed-reading through that one too? ahahaha...we are only half way through...won't you come over and help out?
    Marvelle thinks I am making a home by the toasty fire down there...but no, I'm just mired in the sand in the last ring of the Circle of Violence. You guys all need to pull me off the beach of the Blasphemers and Sodomites...and point the way DOWN (which I am told is the only way up! Is that right? How can that be? Should I believe the brochure? At least come down and get me to the Usurers. I'll take them over the sticky issue of Sodomy any day of the week!)

    Am enjoying casting the movie - Matthew, promise to include yourself in the cast - the guy in the bowler hat, perhaps? Remember how Hitchcock used to put in a cameo appearance in his movies? Matthew, write yourself into your next novel, okay...and we'll all hunt for YOU!

    I've got a whole new batch of questions for Matthew, and for the rest of you too...but need to get some things done around here. Will be back in an hour.

    Would like to address "warped Dante's" Beatrice when I get back? Did you notice her?

    May 22, 2003 - 09:11 am
    Yes, George, Denzel Washington as Rey, or possibly Morgan Freeman. How about Danny DeVito as Holmes. I also love Joan's idea of Matthew as an uncredited character to hunt for.

    I know there is still lots to converse about, but our discussion of "The Dante Club" will soon be winding down. I will miss this wonderful, enthusiastic, knowledgeable group sooo much. I hope that all of you will be reading and discussing "The Little Friend" in June. I've read the first forty pages, and it is so well-written and full of the most amazing insights into family life and human nature.

    Joan Pearson
    May 22, 2003 - 12:26 pm
    Let's not close down too early...I know I have a number of things I'd like to talk about. horselover...you are spreading yourself mighty thin next month! Just promise that you plan to continue with the Inferno...I'm afraid of burnout! We don't move too fast in there, as you have noticed. You are also signed on for our next Book Club Online Series discussion - All is Vanity by Christina Schwarz, which follows our discussion of Dante Club. Like this one, we are fortunate to have the author join us. A good number of this group is planning to join Christina and Ginny there. This is a stunning book, powerfully written by the wife of the literary editor of the Atlantic Monthly...wasn't this Field's magazine? What continuity! A "segueway".

    Matthew, reading of your future plans to explore the history of the ethnic pockets of Boston...(I have fond memories of Little Italy- we loved it so much we thought of living there when husband was in Law School...ended up on Mass. Ave...in Somerville (the rent was more affordable)...and also reading of tours you sometimes conduct through Craigie House (pieces of Dante's tomb are there??? they were a gift to Longfellow?). I give up on that sentence and will ask you simply - If we were to get a group together to visit the area, would YOU be available to show us around Longfellow's home? We would love to meet you in person before you move to Hollywood.

    Joan Pearson
    May 22, 2003 - 01:03 pm
    Jo, no you are not dense. You ask very good questions. I have promised myself to go back over those last pages to get a grasp as to what became of all of those characters. And Dan Teal too. I do know that Dante never got any bad press. I seem to remember that Burndy got convicted of something. Isn't this awful? We worked so long to find the solution and we don't remember the punishment for the crime. Was there a contrapasso? Promise to go back over the final chapter tonight.

    If these were the blowflies on the sword in Ben Galvin's house, wouldn't they have caused some harm to Ben and his wife? (haaha, that's right, what ever happened to Ednah Healey?

    Speaking of Harriet, does anyone see her as Dan Teal's Beatrice? He carried thoughts of her all through the war...had no direct contact with her (couldn't correspond) ...but thought of her and her great gift to him...her promise to teach him to read. She had read Longfellow to him before he left, remember? She brought him to Longfellow. She tells the detectives that he hasn't been the same since the war was over...he's never there. Of course not. THe war is not over in his mind. He is still fighting his way back to her...

    I sense that Harriet is his Beatrice, in a strange way. I wonder if Matthew had this in mind when he created their relationship.

    Will be back once I have reread the last pages. In the meantime, maybe someone else here has ready answers to your questions, Jo!

    Jo Meander
    May 22, 2003 - 01:09 pm
    "She tells the detectives that he hasn't been the same since the war was over...he's never there. Of course not. THe war is not over in his mind. He is still fighting his way back to her..." Good one, Joan!
    OK, the flies/maggots haven't harmed Teal or Harriet, but where did the ones all over and inside of Healy come from? From a Southern battlefield??? Via Dan T.???

    May 22, 2003 - 01:51 pm
    Thanks, Matthew!

    And what fun it would be to see a photo of Longfellow and the dog who looks just like him. Scotties are sweet little dogs, and very smart.

    NOW, about poor Mrs. Healey. Is she in restraints? Hopelessly mad? Has she been institutionalized or is there enough money to keep her at home?

    I've enjoyed reading your novel and look forward to hearing more about Rey. I really liked him. But no one older than Denzel can play him (Denzel looks about twenty years younger than he is). How old is Cuba Gooding? He's a good actor.


    May 22, 2003 - 02:56 pm
    Joan, I haven't gotten "All is Vanity" yet. That's why I started "The Little Friend" first.

    There has not been much discussion about Simon Camp, the Pinkerton detective. I wonder if he was modelled on Dashiell Hammet who was a Pinkerton detective before he became a writer. Hammet, of course, was not corrupt. Dashiell Hammet actually began his writing career selling short stories to those "nickel crime magazines" that J.T. Fields loathed. Later, he became famous for his innovative detective fiction, such as "The Maltese Falcon." Several of his works have also been made into movies.

    Was Hammet any sort of influence on you, Matthew?

    May 22, 2003 - 09:02 pm
    Now Joan don't be discouraging horselover. We can do it all! The Little Friend is a wonderful book to discuss. this family finds itself in hell as we continue on the trek with Dante and Virgil.

    May 22, 2003 - 10:01 pm
    How about Jesse L. Martin as Rey? (He's more the right age for a Civil War vet and the right looks too for Rey. In case you're wondering, who is this guy Martin? he's a Broadway actor and currently co-stars in the television series Law & Order with Jerry Orbach. He can effectively portray in his characters that center of stillness quality that receives respect which we've noticed in Rey and Longfellow.

    What an interesting question Joan, was there a contrapasso? I'm thinking of Teal here which may not have been the person on your mind (Brundy?) I'll read the last section again to clairfy my thoughts first before I say anything more.

    Fields published the Atlantic Monthly, Holmes named the magazine, and Lowell was the editor-in-chief for many years.

    More later tonight on Teal --- oh, any ideas for an actor playing Teal?


    Matthew Pearl
    May 23, 2003 - 07:09 am
    You should all certainly get on a plane and come to Cambridge, where I'd happily arrange and give a "Dante Club" tour of the Longfellow House! I've given it about a half dozen times and it's truly a pleasure, and I know with your keen sense of history and atmosphere you would all appreciate the amazing national treasure.

    In the absence of such a field trip, in case any of you are stationed in Chicago, Milwaukee, Atlanta, Kansas City (Missouri) or Seattle I'll be having events at each of those in June. I had the honor of meeting Joan at a Wash. D.C. event and would be privileged to meet other members of this "club." Dates and details at my website at http://www.thedanteclub.com/events.htm

    Simon Camp -- Horselover, I didn't know about Hammet having been a Pinkerton detective, that's fascinating. In the days of Pinkerton himself there were many morally flexible, shall we say, private detectives like Camp. Jo, to sum up Camp's fate: he put 2 and 2 together that the murders were based on Dante, using his discoveries from Manning (who, remember, hired Camp to look into Dante to prove Dante's side-effects could be unhealthy) and from the student Pliny Mead (who you'll recall was anxious to get back at Lowell by spilling the beans about the violence of Dante -- much to Sheldon's chagrin). So he was blackmailing the Dante Club. To prevent this, Rey tells Peaslee -- who is relying on Burndy's conviction for the crime to receive the rest of the reward -- that Camp is going around blabbing that Burndy isn't the culprit. Peaslee and his gang, we must imagine, take care of the rest. I think we'll see more of Peaslee in Rey's future novel, at least as I currently conceive it.

    Insects, for whatever, reason, really appealed to me as a reflector of literature as I wrote this novel -- I know it's a strange match, but I think that's why it struck my interest; the more or less secret lives and ages of survival in the insect world seem to me intriguing analogs to literature. The gnats in Teal's house are just regular gnats attracted to blood, though, not related to the maggots.

    As for Beatrice (to pick up on a thread of thoughts from Joan), her name has come to mean the great love of one's life. But for those of you reading Dante, it's worth asking if this is the case. Dante didn't actually know Beatrice -- he met her probably just once and watched and obsessed about her. When she died, Dante apparently underwent great agony. He idolized her and fantasized a quasi-religious link between himself and Beatrice. What many don't realize about Dante is that he was married and had children. It's difficult to realize this when all he speaks about in the Divine Comedy is Beatrice! Never once mentions his wife, whom we can mention here: Gemma Donati. So that sort of alienation, of inability to deal straight ahead with women, is part of what I see in Beatrice, and something that circulates in The Dante Club in various ways. Teal and Harriet were an example of what happened frequently at the outset of the Civil War: young couples who hardly knew one another rushing into marriage because of the war. Galvin/Teal, undergoing such a radical trauma and effective transformation during the war, knew her even less returning home. So, I think, there is a sense of reworked alienation from the Beatrice-Dante scenario.

    Joan Pearson
    May 23, 2003 - 07:54 am
    I just reread the closing chapters of the novel and hope to high heaven (not to Inferno) that we don't fold this tent for several more days...there is SOOOOOOOOO much to talk about...to unravel, and to question Matthew about while he is still on the line!

    Matthew, what a gracious invitation! Boston/Cambridge is a pricey area, but if we can put our detectives to work to find simple, but affordable accomodations, we will certainly take you up on your offer to be our Cambridge Virgil. Would any particular month be better or worse for you? What is on your Fall calendar, mid to late October, early November? Or will you be off to Hollywood by then?

    In the rereading, I do see those darn flies showing up in the strangest places! In the bar in the last scene, circling Peaslee and company! And Matthew, that tall character at the end of the bar, is he the bowler hat guy? Simon Camp? The one we mistook for you? Well, then! Where are you?

    Poor Burnby! Yes he was an extortionist, but he is "walking the ladder" for murder. What will be his place below? An extortionist of the worst kind? Ahhh, contrapasso! And Dante's good name is saved, the very opposite result for which he was hired by Manning in the first place!!!

    Let's try this...will each of you volunteer to take ONE character...Teal (I'll volunteer for Teal because I'm really into his relationship with Harriet and his dual role as Dante, though warped, and Lucifer, though I'm not sure he IS Lucifer), Manning, Camp, Burndy, Longfellow, Lowell, Holmes and Greene...and follow them through the last chapter and briefly summarize what you learned It is too delicious to wind up with precious time left to comment and question! What do you think?

    May 23, 2003 - 08:51 am
    Now, that's something we have NOT seen in Matthew's writing- redundancy. teeehehee

    Joan Pearson
    May 23, 2003 - 08:55 am
    ahaha, Andy...I'm blaming our system for hiccupping ...and will delete the last two posts, which are clones of Post #503. Well, how about it...will you pick up one of those characters and post what you find of interest about him in the last chapter?

    May 23, 2003 - 09:28 am
    An excellent suggestion. Martin for Rey. He is about the right age and he's good. Bravo!

    Joan Pearson
    May 23, 2003 - 09:34 am
    Marvelle, I just saw that you have more on Teal...will you follow him to his bloody end? I think I see a contrapasso there...

    I'd like to do Holmes if you do Teal...

    May 23, 2003 - 10:16 am
    Matthew, You said,"Insects, for whatever, reason, really appealed to me." I wonder if you saw the recent news story about a baby in Phoenix who was actually killed by ants. From the news footage, this did not happen in a low income neighborhood, but in an upper middle-class suburban home. They reported that the infant had been bitten hundreds of times by the swarm of ants.

    Insects are very difficult to control, and generally the means of control are toxic themselves. As you said, insects have survived for ages, and may outlast humans in the evolutionary sweepstakes. I'm afraid I do not share your fondness for them, but I suppose we will be seeing more about them in your future work.

    May 23, 2003 - 10:39 am
    Joan, I don't think we've spent enough time on Lowell, who is a very interesting character--flamboyant, mercurial, and the driving force behind many of the more agressive actions of the group.

    Another under-appreciated character is little Annie Allegra, who is obviously going to become a writer. She is prominent in many of the tender scenes in the book, and tends to steal the scene whenever she appears. When the book ends, she is preparing her own book of Memoirs to be published, she hopes, by Ticknor and Fields.

    Jo Meander
    May 23, 2003 - 11:43 am
    Yes, marvelle, great choice for Rey! Wouldn't Martin love that challenge? On the other hand, he's already a "detective," isn't he, on Law and Order? But this is still different!
    Matthew,wouldn't the Dante Club clear Burndy of guilt for the murders? The have all the information they need, don't they? Why should Burndy die for murder? A contrapasso for his other evil deeds???
    Joan, I'm up for any character in the mix. I'll follow and summarize, as you have suggested. Wouldn't Cambridge be a great place for a gathering???!!!

    May 23, 2003 - 12:29 pm
    Your suggestion sounds like fun, Joan, but I'll have to just read what the rest of you have to say. My copy has already been returned to the library, and I don't think I could recall enough of the details of the last busy,busy chapters to follow up on a character. I'll be interested to see what the rest of you have to say, tho. ...Babi

    Jo Meander
    May 23, 2003 - 01:04 pm
    How about Jude Law for the part of Dan Teal? He did an interesting job with the part of the photographer who likes dead bodies for subjects in The Road to Perdition.

    May 23, 2003 - 01:52 pm
    Joan, I can do Teal or Holmes -- whichever you prefer. Jude Law would be good for Teal, Jo (he's a difficult one to cast isn't he?) although I haven't seen him in The Road to Perdition.


    Joan Pearson
    May 23, 2003 - 04:49 pm
    OK, let's go for it! BaBi is right! The last chapter was busy, busy, busy! I believe it would really be worthwhile to read through it once more. If we break up the characters, we can each follow one (or two) through to the end and then post here your findings. Others can ask you, the expert, a question...and then what none of us can answer, we'll put up in the heading for Matthew. Sounds like a plan!

    BaBi...you can be the chief Interrogator, okay? You just fire off as many questions as you can think of once the detectives have made their reports.

    horselover...you are a natural to follow Lowell and his part in the denouement (and anything else you'd like to say about him). He probably shares your dislike of those insects, having been host to a maggot or two. Ugh.

    Marvelle, will you take Teal? You are so thorough and he becomes the main character in this last part of the book, don't you agree? All others just become the supporting cast....but it IS fun to see what happened to them at the end.

    Jo, do you want to take Burndy or Camp since you brought them up?

    I'll do Holmes and Longfellow...

    We still need a volunteer to do Manning. He's a big fish...and Greene and Rey...

    Let's see how this works.

    Before we start, I'd like to finish a thread on Harriet as Beatrice. When I was rereading the ending early this morning, I made a few notes...things I had forgotten.
    Before he went to war, Teal met Harriet who fell in love with the poor boy. "She had never met anyone so simply certain of the rightness and wrongness of things without a corrupting concern for politics or influence." She taught him the alphabet so that he could write his name. She read to him...Longfellow's Evangeline - Evangeline and her beau were separated only to find each other when he was dying. When at war, Galvin would hear her musical voice reading that poem.
    He would forward her letters from dead Rebel soldiers (sinners in Hell, like Dante wrote about).

    When the war was over, he dreamed of returning to her. But the war as he sees it is not over yet. The slaves have been freed, but the enemy has not changed, has not been punished. Only when that is accomplished will he be able to leave hell behind to be with his Harriet/Beatrice.

    I certainly see Galvin/Teal as a Dante....but who is Lucifer? Can Teal play both roles? Is he Lucifer? Manning? ...Greene?


    May 23, 2003 - 06:51 pm
    For Marvelle and others who like to do research, Did you know that at the Cornell University Library online site, you can browse through all the issues of "The Atlantic Monthly" around the time of the Dante Club and the post Civil War period? For example, in the April 1865 issue, there is a poem by Lowell (the first editor of the magazine), an article by Holmes, and a story by Jane Austin. It's like being transported back in time.

    Jo Meander
    May 23, 2003 - 10:12 pm
    horselover, that sounds great! It would be nice to see what they were thinking about right in that time and place,and to get a sense of what was current. I have a little poetry by Longfellow, Holmes and Lowell. I think it would be a good idea for us to look at some of their work before we fold the tent. Can anyone access the Cornell library site?
    Joan I'd like to do Manning, who I originally thought was Lucifer. I can do the other two also, if you like.
    Does Dante portray Lucifer as one who punishes or one who suffers along with the other sinners? If the latter, then maybe Teal is both.

    Joan Pearson
    May 24, 2003 - 08:00 am
    horselover, the Cornell U Atlantic Monthly is one cool site...I'll put up the URLs for 1865, 1866, and 1867. Let me know if you find something good...or if you think we should go beyond 1868. I'm at work, so can't play much today
    Atlantic Monthly - 1865

    Atlantic Monthly - 1866>

    Atlantic Monthly - 1867

    Atlantic Monthly - 1868

    ~ Cambridge, anyone? Yes, Jo...it would be fun, I agree. But we need to find a Leo House-type accomodations first, don't you think?

    It would be great if you would take Manning, Jo and whoever else. I haven't been to the frozen bottom of hell yet...had been expecting a formidable Lucifer, but read in Dante Club that he is a defeated, broken Lucifer in Dante's work. So I would expect the same here. Does anyone remember where that description of Lucifer occurs in Dante Club?>

    Marvelle, we seem to be going back and forth with Teal/Holmes/Longfellow. Will you tell me what we finally decided? ahahaha...I'll get to my "assignment" this afternoon after work...

    Have a lovely day, everyone. Is it raining where you are?

    May 24, 2003 - 09:52 am
    Okay, since I am doing Lowell, here is the link to all of his contributions to the "Atlantic Monthly:"

    Lowell was the most agressive and most flamboyant member of the club. This is probably, in some degree, the result of his manic-depressive illness. When the group finds out about Greene's sermons at the veteran's chapel, Lowell and Holmes confront him there. When Lowell speaks, he roars :

    "Lowell roared, 'Tell us everything directly, Greene!"

    Greene is dumfounded, and does not know what they want of him. He looks to Holmes for a calmer explanation, but Lowell interrupts. He is still shouting about the sermon being about Dante. Greene tries to explain, but Lowell interrupts once again. He "lunged forward" and demanded that Greene reveal every moment of his experience at the soldiers home. He is still shouting, and Greene is still confused. Lowell loses his temper, and begins to speak in a choking voice. At this point, Holmes intervenes to calm things down and give Greene a chance to speak. Finally, it is Holmes who elicits from Greene the information they need to know.

    This scene is typical of Lowell's personality. He is an agressive initiator, but requires the presence of one of the others (Fields, Holmes, or Longfellow) to "tame" him and let the plot move forward.


    May 24, 2003 - 12:29 pm
    Before we begin trying to 'identify' Lucifer, shouldn't we recall that Matthew did not bring Lucifer into the story....we did. The readers felt that with the connection to the "Inferno", the guilty party had to be a Lucifer, a manipulative, scheming devil. Dante's Lucifer, however, was a sorry figure, not at all the plotting, scheming demonic tempter. That Lucifer did not exist in the story. The destroyed and imprisoned Lucifer of Dante, however, could only be Galvan/Teal. We would have to ask Matthew if he intended that parallel, but my guess would be that he did. I can't see Matthew missing that one. ...Babi

    May 24, 2003 - 12:54 pm
    Babi--I agree. "Lucifer" is simply the name the poets/translators come up with for the CULPRIT.

    Wasn't it Hannah Arendt who wrote about the banality of evil? We expect it to be something overpowering, right out of some teenage horror film, and when you really look at it close, it is, well, ordinary. Like Teal, poor pathetic soldier who saw too much, accepted war as his reality and then, once the war was over, had to keep on fighting for a "cause." In addition to having a screw or two lose, he is what we would call now suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.

    As for having a Beatrice, of course he doesn't. He has an ordinary wife who probably would do anything to help him and who no doubt wants him to come home. But he has lost that world of domesticity forever.

    Remember that he got the name "Dan Teal" because he was in his close to illiterate way, was trying to sign himself as DANTE ALIGHERI. He must have painstakingly printed those letters, but he only got as far as DANTEAL before he was completely lost. He had heard the name in those fiery sermons, but he certainly never read it.

    DAN TEAL is no Dante. All his acts are destructive. He creates nothing but havoc.

    May 24, 2003 - 01:33 pm
    I was confused, not difficult for me to become so, and I checked back on the detective assignments for the Dante Club. The basic suggestion from Joan is:

    Each of us to make an Investigative Report: take one character, follow them through the last chapter and summarize what we learned.


    Babi -- the Chief Interrogator, firing off as many questions as she can think of once the detectives had made their reports.

    The detectives so far are:

    Jo -- Manning, Camp, Burndy

    Horselover -- Lowell

    Joan -- Teal

    Marvelle -- Holmes, Longfellow

    Did I miss anyone? We still need volunteers for Greene and Rey. If no one volunteers this afternoon I'll take at least one more.


    Lucifer was mentioned by the Poets -- I'm going to check the book now and will come back very very soon and post some page references. I'm curious as to when the name Lucifer was first used and who used it.


    May 24, 2003 - 02:29 pm
    Lucifer was a favored angel in Heaven, aka the Shining One. He was jealous of God, however, and wanted to be God and so he led a band of angels in revolt against God. He was defeated by Michael the ArchAngel and, with his followers, was banished from Heaven and cast down into the depths of Earth. Lucifer is punished in the lower regions of Hell encased in ice up to his chest and he's chewing on three men that Dante considered arch-traitors also.

    The Poets call the murderer "our Lucifer" because, with these murders that imply Dantean punishments, "our Lucifer" puts the Poets at risk and the publication of Dante at risk.

    The Risk: If the Poets went to the police with their information "... we would be under suspicion until the killer is caught. And then, even with the killer caught, Dante would be tainted with blood before Americans say his words, and in a time when our country can bear no more death .... [This} would be an iron coffin. Dante would fall under the same curse in America he did in Florence, for a thousand years to come....We tell no one." (Longfellow 105)

    Our Lucifer: The first use of the term 'our Lucifer' that I can find is by Holmes when he and Longfellow are at the scene of Talbot's murder in the underground: "So how did our Lucifer gain entry here?" (Holmes 127) The Poets discuss Bachi as a potential suspect and Holmes mused "The mention of Longfellow's work on Dante did touch him off like a lucifer match." (Holmes 171) and Fields wonders "Could Bachi be our Lucifer?" (Fields 171). Etc etc.

    The man the Poets are worried about is "our Lucifer" the one who would put them and/or Dante at risk. To me it seems that there could be multiple Lucifers.

    By the way, according to my dictionary

    A Lucifer Match is "a match made of a sliver of wood tipped with a combustible substance, and ignited by friction."


    May 24, 2003 - 06:26 pm
    The next thing Lowell, Fields, and Longfellow find out is that a duplicate set of proofs has been stolen from the printer's safe. When a printer's devil, confesses and says he was paid to do it, Lowell insists that the thief take them to the man who paid him for the copies. They find themselves in the house of Reverend Talbot, where they find the incriminating letters from Manning. The plot against Dante and the translation begins to unfold.

    The poets need to get more evidence against Manning, and Fields remembers that Teal, who works nights at the publisher's, also has a day job at the College. They still do not suspect Teal, and ask him to help them. When Teal finds himself seated next to Lowell in the carriage, he is enthralled by the presence of these great men. (Teal feels he is on the same side as the poets in the fight for Dante.)

    Next Lowell finds out about his "friend" Jennison's duplicity. "I cannot get it through my skull, Longfellow," Lowell says.

    Later Lowell tells Holmes the story about his own Beatrice, the beauty he cannot banish from his memory, and he finds out about Mabel's meeting with Rey. At the Governor's Ball, the poets and Rey realize they have been chasing the wrong soldier.

    Finally, Lowell gets Teal's address from Fields, goes to the house, and finds Harriet Galvin who has never heard of Teal. Lowell and Holmes are about to leave when Lowell sees the portrait of Teal on the wall. Eureka! They now know that Teal and Galvin (a veteran) are one and the same.


    Joan Pearson
    May 24, 2003 - 06:38 pm
    horselover, Lowell, the initiator, the impetuous. Lowell is the spark that gets the poets to act, but I hadn't really noticed until you mention it here that he needs the others to rein him in that temper of his! As I vaguely remember, it will be his temper that gets them into hot water. From your "piece", it is interesting to watch Lowell in the center of all the action - he is the galvanizing force. His own Beatrice interests me. Not much is known about her but I wouldn't be surprised to find her the inspiration of some of his poems, perhaps even making cameo appearances...

    Will check out those Atlantic Monthly articles you highlighted. This is fun! Thank you!

    May 24, 2003 - 06:50 pm
    Lowell was the author of a biography of Abraham Lincoln, and also of a Life of Poe.

    He wrote these sad lines on his 68th birthday:

    As life runs on, the road grows strange
    With faces new,--and near the end
    The milestones into headstones change:--
    'Neath every one a friend.

    Joan Pearson
    May 24, 2003 - 07:01 pm
    I got lost in the Atlantic Monthly links...what a treasure! Those are sad words...we have those headstones of friends to look forward to, don't we? It's hard to match the hot-headed, the impetuous, impatient Lowell with the poet who writes like that.

    BaBi, Chief Interrogator, maam, your post makes me stop and think of Lucifer...is he that powerful? Is he the guilty party in Dante's Inferno? Greene described Lucifer as "Power"..but Dante doesn't think so. Here's Matthew's description of Dante's Lucifer in The Dante Club, p.228. (Marvelle, I got ahead of you with this reference to Lucifer because there is a big yellow post-it in my book marking this passage) - This is Prof. Ticknor speaking:
    "You are not after Lucifer - that is not the culprit you describe. Lucifer is pure dumbness when Dante finally meets him in frozen Cocytus (the bottom of Hell), sobbing and mute. We long for Lucifer to be astounding and clever so we may defeat him, but Dante makes it more difficult. No. You are after Dante - it is Dante who decides who should be punished and where they go, what torments they suffer. It is the poet who takes those measures, yet by making himself the journeyer, he tries to make us forget. We think he too is another innocent witness to God's work."
    Shall we ask Matthew if he intended to portray Teal as the sorry Lucifer, the dumb and imprisoned Lucifer of the Inferno?

    Maryal, Matthew mentions here in this discussion that he sees Teal as a kind of "warped" Dante. I think I dropped the word "warped" when I asked that question. And since I have drawn Teal as my character, I will rebuild my case that as "warped" Dante, he has a Beatrice and her name is Harriet. He is still fighting the war to save Boston. When the war is over, he hopes to reunite with his Beatrice. We now know that won't happen. The poor Harriet then, becomes the forgotten wife at home, his Gemma...

    Have been working on Teal...but now must stop to go over to the Inferno discussion...we need to get to the Usurers tomorrow and we are still mired in sand over there. Can anyone help?

    May 24, 2003 - 09:32 pm
    Joan, I described Lucifer and how the Poets call the murderer "our Lucifer" but hadn't addressed the question of 'is Teal our Lucifer?' I think the roles of Teal and Poets are more complicated and changeable, revolving around God, Dante and Lucifer and the characters' perceptions of each other.

    Horselover, thanks for the link. Such great reading! Lowell's literary reputation rests with his essays which are clear-thinking and erudite. Joan, will horselover's posts on Lowell be added to the heading for easy reference, along with the rest of ours when we report? Or should I write down the post numbers so I can refer back to them?


    May 25, 2003 - 10:37 am
    Joan, I'm glad you called our attention to the quote by Professor Ticknor. It is really quite profoud. People said very similar things about the Nazis after WWII--that instead of finding monsters who were larger than life, we found banal little men who claimed to be carrying out orders.

    Teal is carrying out a plan that has originated within his fevered brain. He has demonized the men whose lives he took so brutally, but he himself is no demon. He is just an ordinary man whose life has been warped by tragic events.

    Great goodness, even saintlyness, are part of human nature; so is the capacity for evil. Dante knew this. His voyage through The Inferno is a voyage through his own soul, where he tries to purge himself of the sins he is witnessing. It is his hope that his search for redemption will gain him admission to Paradise.

    Whether the potential for evil in the world, and in man, is God's work, or the work of Lucifer, is a question still being debated.

    Jo Meander
    May 25, 2003 - 11:31 am

    As they say in the old Westerns, Burndy is going to swing. Rey knows he is innocent of the murders, but he tells Peaslee that he doesn’t have the evidence to clear him and bring the real culprit to justice. In a way I suppose we can agree with that, because Teal is dead, and an investigation would lack the ingredient his conscious participation would provide. But what of The Dante Club and their knowledge of events? Evidently Rey does not want to expose Dante’s involvement with the murders any more than they do! Therefore, he advises Peaslee to get rid of Simon Camp, who professes to have evidence that would implicate someone else and clear Burndy. If that happens, then Peaslee doesn’t collect the rest of the reward he is waiting for. Peaslee had led authorities to Burndy because Burndy was seen outside Reverend Talbot’s home before his safe was robbed of a thousand dollars. (Somewhere--I can’t find it now— I think we were told that Burndy taught Teal to crack the safe.) Burndy is certainly not an admirable character. He has been a safecracker for years, and has been in prison for his activities. After he came to Boston, he targeted the widows of wealthy Brahmins and often took some of the reward money from detectives who wanted to collect some of it themselves after they struck a deal with him to give up the stolen goods. It was probably easier than trying to fence the items he had acquired, and with corruption in the investigative agencies, it could also have been a way to make a predictable living. He seems an amoral and damaged character in the scene where Rey interrogates him much earlier in the novel, shortly after the third murder. Should he hang for what Teal did?

    Peaslee forces Camp into the back room of the tavern where gambling is the customary activity, saying he had to participate in a game of “Buck the Tiger”. The next thing we hear about Camp is that he has fled Boston and then was arrested for years of extortion, including the extortion of war secrets from government officials and tens of thousands of dollars from persons involved with the cases he had been hired to investigate. The second time he tried to extort money from the Dante Club, Fields said, “You are a small and unclean insect.” He is worse than Burndy, but escapes to do jail time for other offences. He certainly earned it, but he is allowed to live, at least. Probably not very well. Prison is bad enough now; I can imagine how much worse it must have been in the nineteenth century. Maybe Matthew thought he got the worst of it.

    May 25, 2003 - 11:31 am
    I guess we'll have to agree to disagre about the portrayal of Lucifer in The Dante Club. I think the reason why Lucifer is Lucifer is imporant to his meaning and purpose in the novel. Lucifer was a fallen angel and he fell because he rebelled and wanted to be God. This is treason against God.

    The frozen pit is where Lucifer ended up but that is only the ending of his story. There are different phases of Lucifer. And in The Dante Club one character thinks someone is Lucifer -- such as the Poets calling the murderer 'our Lucifer' -- and another character sees someone else as Lucifer, and another character takes on the role of Lucifer at some point. Lucifer can be anywhere. (Thankfully, so is God.)


    Jo Meander
    May 25, 2003 - 11:34 am
    I am having computer problems, andprobably won't be posting about Manning today. Joan, could we wait until Tuesday?

    Joan Pearson
    May 25, 2003 - 12:09 pm
    Sure, Jo, Tuesday for Manning will be fine. I'm working on Teal now, but also on Inferno for next week. Need to go to a cookout at 5:30 (in the rain), so I'm not sure how much I'll get done this afternoon. Tomorrow will have almost-two year old granddaughter for the day - little miss finds grandma ("meanma") so much fun, she doesn't want to miss a minute and take a nap...so tomorrow day time looks iffy for me too. I'm trying, but definitely will have done Teal by Tuesday.

    Marvelle, how about we ask Matthew if he intended for any of the characters to represent Lucifer, okay? (I agree, Lucifer is ubiquitous...shows up EVERYWHERE, doesn't he?)

    Will spend some time now getting the reports mounted in the heading as html pages. Will start with the links to the Atlantic Monthly - watch for them in the heading with all the other links...

    Then the html pages.

    ps Marvelle, last night when striking one of those wooden Diamond matchsticks, I thought of the Lucifer match. Do you think I'll think of that whenever I light a match from here on? I'll think of you ...and our time here.

    pps. Jo, how are you going to get your computer fixed over the Memorial Day weekend?

    Joan Pearson
    May 25, 2003 - 12:30 pm
    Jo, a facinating piece on Burndy and Camp! Burndy is going "to swing" "walk the ladder" for something he didn't do. But we've seen these Dantesque punishments before...the sinner undergoes punishment for something he didn't do, but deserves the punishment, nevertheless. But how is this resolved? Rey knows he's innocent, the poets know. Would they really let Burndy die by keeping their mouths shut? (I think it was Burndy who tells Rey that he taught Teal how to break into Talbot's safe) Should he hang for what Teal did, you ask? I don't think that's poetic justice. Did that happen, Jo? Matthew? Did Burndy die with the poets remaining silent... to protect Dante?

    I am more than a little disturbed at this. It's what I suspected, but wasn't certain, hoped I missed something in the reading...

    Camp got what he deserved.

    May 25, 2003 - 01:55 pm
    Horselover, the scene where Lowell learns Mabel has been to see Rey and is involving herself in the investigation is one that left me with a sense of incompleteness. I wanted a better insight into Lowell's reaction to this information. Did he understand Mabel's actions, do you think? I remember at the end of the book we learn that Mabel was later allowed to go on an around-the-world trip with appropriate chaperons. Do you think this is because Lowell realized that this young woman needed wider horizons?

    Joan, inasmuch as Dante is the creator of "The Divine Comedy", Tichnor was right in saying it is Dante who decides who shall be punished. Dan Teal decides who is to be punished in "The Dante Club". In that respect, he is the 'Dante' in this story.

    I think Marvelle may be on the mark in saying the roles of Teal and the Poets (including Dante, I would say), are "more complicated and changeable". I suspect we will not be able to make any label entirely fit any one character. ...Babi

    May 25, 2003 - 02:15 pm
    Every post has been a marvel and pleasure to read. I'm learning so much from each of you. I too don't understand about Burndy. Did he deserve such punishment? Is it for murder?

    I'm working on my input on Holmes and Longfellow and hope it can wait until Monday? My typing is slowed down -- hopefully temporarily -- by a weak right arm/hand. (Yes, even a weak right leg and foot, shades of Dante!) Plus, the way my mind works I constantly reconsider and rewrite.

    Joan, a strike match is forever identified in my mind now with Lucifer.


    May 25, 2003 - 02:27 pm
    Horselover, Lowell's poem was sad. I've copied it below:

    As life runs on, the road grows strange With faces new,--and near the end The milestones into headstones change:-- 'Neath every one a friend.

    I could not help but be reminded of Tolkien's poem about a road, as sung by Bilbo Baggins. This is the part of it repeated in "The Fellowhip of the Ring":

    The Road goes ever on and on 
      Down from the door where it began. 
    Now far ahead the Road has gone, 
       And I must follow, if I can, 
    Pursuing it with eager feet, 
      Until it joins some larger way 
    Where many paths and errands meet. 
      And whither then?  I cannot say.

    May 25, 2003 - 02:54 pm
    BaBi, Lowell and Holmes are at the Governor's reception, looking for the soldier Greene had described, when Rey shows up. Lowell is "aghast" when Rey tells him about his conversation with Mabel.

    "Mabel spoke with you in secret? Holmes did you know of this?" Lowell demanded. Holmes denies any knowledge, but voices his approval of Mabel's actions: "We must toast her, though!" he says. Rey jokes that if he finds out that Lowell has reprimanded Mabel, he will have him arrested. Lowell laughs heartily at this. So it seems that none of the men is seriously angry or disturbed about Mabel's actions.

    However, it's also obvious that they do not take seriously any woman's ability to influence the course of events:

    "Can you imagine that, Wendell?" Lowell says. "Mabel going behind my back like that, thinking she could change things!" At this point, Longfellow shows up along with Mrs. Lincoln and Governor Andrew, and Mabel's indiscretion is forgotten.

    The poets, and also Patrolman Rey, have a certain kind of patronizing respect for women of their own class, but they do not believe women can nor should interfere with the activities of men.

    Mabel's trip to Italy, accompanied by the Fieldses, was not unusual. Young people of her class often travelled to Europe when they came of age. What is interesting is Matthew's oblique hint that Edward Sheldon will travel to Italy to study at around the same time. Is a romance in her future? We'll have to wait for Matthew's next book to find out.

    Matthew Pearl
    May 25, 2003 - 03:52 pm
    Sorry for the pause in my messages... I will certainly miss the conversation when it's all over soon, so I should stay on top of it now!

    Next year, I will probably be living in New York for the year, then returning to Cambridge. My girlfriend, who has just finished Harvard Law School, has a one-year fellowship in New York City. After that, we plan to return to Boston/Cambridge. I will miss Boston for the year (I am not a huge Manhattan person), but my next novel requires some New York research, so it will be good in that respect. The point... I'm afraid I will only be back in Cambridge here and there between August and July 2004, so giving tours will be put on hold! However, if any of you do get to Cambridge individually or in groups, do stop in at the Longfellow House for the regular tour, it's terrific.

    It's great to see so many links to the poets' original materials and excerpts from their poetry on the board.

    And great to read the profound (I think) discussions of Lucifer. I think this matter is interpretive rather than factual, and would be reluctant to push the interpretations of the group in one direction or another. Jo, I think you highlight a key problem: punisher and punished. There are many beasts in Inferno (as those of you know participating in the parallel discussion of the poem) who are clearly punishers. Minos, for instance, the judge who stands at the threshold of the second circle (which is really where Hell starts in earnest, since Limbo, this first circle, is quite different). Or Cerebus, the mindless three headed dog. Other guardians are clearly being punished as well. Cacus the centaur is the most striking example to me, found among the thieves and a tormenter of those thieves -- but also condemned there as a thief himself (separated from the rest of the centaurs whom we've met earlier in more civilized conditions). There are sinners, too, that are obviously among those punished, but also key parts of the apparatus of punishment in Hell. Like Count Ugolino, who chews eternally on his enemy Ruggieri, who had locked him in a tower with his children until he died. So, rejoining Jo's discussion, what of Lucifer? He is certainly tormenting -- chewing the three great traitors in his three mouths (Brutus, Cassius and Judas, who betrayed, of course, Caeser and Jesus Christ). Yet, he too is a traitor, having betrayed none other than God himself. And while he drools from his chewing, he also cries. The merger of the punished and punisher in the figure of Dante's Lucifer, I believe, marks a powerful message of the Inferno.

    Babi, you describe Lucifer as "destroyed and imprisoned" and you are exactly right. Moreover, it's not what we necessarily expect reading Inferno as we encounter earlier figures like Minos (mentioned above, who cautions Dante to beware whom he trusts) and even the fairly mindless Plutus, who screeches and threatens (in an incomprehensible language, Plutus seems to invoke the power of Lucifer, another moment to throw us off the trail). We at least conceive of Lucifer as animate, even if he falls short of Milton's suave, cool and charming Satan.

    Students and first-time readers of Dante's Inferno are invariably disappointed with Lucifer as dante presents him. "Anticlimactic" is a typical reaction. Yet, I believe it's the imprisoned Lucifer that captures evil in a manner most challenging and most significant. It reminds me of the phrase Hannah Arendt, journalist and essayist, used about Adolf Eichmann, the Holocaust mastermind: "the banality of evil." Somehow, doesn't it make evil even more frightening and insoluble?

    In relation to the novel, I did want the notion of "Lucifer" to be fluid and change and fluctuate throughout the novel, just as it does for us as readers of Inferno and for our culture.

    Maryal, related to this point, I enjoyed your great discussion of Teal's naming. I always find the process of naming in narratives fascinating. Dante plays with it often: toward the end of Inferno, he pulls out the hair of a sinner named Bocca demanding to know Bocca's name (until a fellow sinner, appropriately another "traitor," gives it away)... at the top of Purgatory, Dante finally gives us his name, for the first and only time in the whole Divine Comedy, when Beatrice calls it out -- at a moment of accusation that Dante has betrayed her memory. Maryal I think your point that Teal names himself after Dante -- or tries to, accomplishing it only partially, and even that becoming muddled as people call his "Dan" "Daniel" (I can introduce myself as Matt or Matthew and people will always convert it into the other: why?) -- not after Lucifer.

    Remember, though, that there could be some core of truth in that association. Isn't it Dante, after all, who actually creates, in a literal sense, all the torment and tortures of Inferno? That is, isn't it the creative act of the poet that gives rise to the "dangerous" portions of the text?

    Joan, thanks for your comments about Burndy... I think his fate must remain open. That justice ends messily, though, is certainly inherent in Dante's concept (and, I guess, in real life). Virgil, for example, will be damned forever, while a few other pagans get to ascend to Paradise based on fictional loopholes created by Dante. Dante's answer to this? Same one God gives to Job: the answer is beyond the scope of human understanding.

    I can't recall if I've shared a link to my article "Dante and the Death Penalty" (if I have, forgive the repetition!). It touches on what I view as some of the limitations of Dante's concepts of justice:


    And just so we know she ends up happy, Mabel does find romance during her trip (historically) to Europe, marrying a Mr. Burnett a bit later on and living in Elmwood with her children.

    May 25, 2003 - 04:21 pm
    Everywhere I look I am finding information re. Dante. Did any of you here take the course that Ros taught us last year about Narrative Poetry? At the end of one of the assignments to read Longfellow's Paul Revere I just found this side note by Ros:

    Cuddle up with a Brahmin

    Here we are ready to curl up in a comfortable chair, as it were, with Henry W.

    Longfellow was considered part of a group know as the Boston Brahmins. This term derived forom the Hindu label for an educated and highly respected priest, was originated by Oliver Wendell Holmes and referred to the cotrerie of educated and rather lofty literary men wh (one of these was a woman) whose social standing was high and whose values were similarly elevated. Beside Longfellow (as we know, thanks to Matthew) the group included John Greenleaf Whittier, Oliver W. Holmes, James Russell Lowell, Edward Everett Hale (rememeber "The Man Without a Country?) Margaret Fuller, Chas. Eliot Norton and Julia Ward Howe, composer of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic." The leading figure in the group was Ralph Waldo Emerson and the term associated with his beliefs and writings was Transcendentalism.....

    How cool is that? I thought of everyone here as I was reading it. To top off my night, our Great Books Foundation meets on Wednesday and we will be discussing The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Did any of you remember that T.S. Eliot introduces this poem with a quotation from Dante's Inferno? The quote comes from Guido da Montefeltro's answer to Dante when asked why he's being punished in hell. We find this encounter in the Eighth Chasm of the Eight Circle, the realm of the False Counselors. I snuck ahead to read it but my lips are sealed Joan.

    Dante- Dante everywhere and not a poet to find.....

    Jo Meander
    May 25, 2003 - 10:32 pm
    GREAT POSTS! Thank you, Matthew, for the clarifications and extra info, including access to the article on Dante and punishment. My own reaction, which I believe is shared by many, is that capital punishment should be beneath us. As a remedy for crime, it's a crude choice. We should be looking for other solutions, other ways to correct the criminal impulse.
    Thank you, Alf, for the info on the Brahmins and T.S. Eliot's Dante reference. I'm anxious to check it out for myself, but I had to respond first.
    Joan, it really isn't the computer. It's my link to this site that went haywire, but now I think it's ok. I'm sure a techie could have fixed it much sooner. I sort of stumbled on the solution, restoring Seniornet to full-screen so that I could read everything, not a chopped-off version, and move around in the site with ease. Also, I can get to the POST space and see all of what I am posting! A good thing for a bad typist!
    Are we not supposed to refer to parts of The Inferno that aren't scheduled to be read so far? I was just about to, and then I read Alf's post. I don't want to mess up in that regard, but the Lucifer thing is still plaguing me. I'm glad that Matthew intended for this to be a fluid designation, if that's the word(?).

    Joan Pearson
    May 26, 2003 - 04:28 am
    Good morning!
    Matthew, shall we put our sleuths on your next book - researching in NYC, the story will revolve around a literary figure. Is it safe to assume this will be a 19th century setting? Hmmmm... You are going to enjoy the year in New York; it's always fun to get away. Sorry we will miss you if we make it to Cambridge, though. When do you plan to move? If we caught the next train...

    WE can't thank you enough for participating in our discussion of the Dante Club...but also in our understanding of the Inferno. Your comments have made our foray into Dante's poem so much more ...approachable. No, you hadn't included a link to your article on the Death Penalty before. Will save it in the heading for easy reference. This discussion will live on after we are finished, not only in our SN Archives, but as a Study Guide on the Internet. I liked your explanation of contrapasso as a "a counterstrike," the word refers to an act of divine justice that redirects the essence of a crime back against the perpetrator, manifesting itself with slight differences in degree and style in each individual case." Unfortunately, I believe the contrapasso is limited to Dante's realm, not necessarily our system of justice.

    Deep into thought over the Inferno, am sensing that my own sins are going to come back to haunt ...and that my punishment will "redirect the crime back to the perpetrator, manifesting itself with slight differences in degree and style."

    Thank you for bringing that article to our attention. You mention that the contrapasso has no relation to the amount of damage it has caused. I'm wondering if my assumption that the the shades who find themselves in the lower circles in Dante's hell are not there because of the amount of damage inflicted on others?

    Jo, Andy, please DO refer to later chapters in the Inferno in THIS discussion...while Matthew is still with us to respond. We've been doing that in here since the beginning. In fact, we are just reaching the Simoniacs in Canto XIX this week in the Inferno discussion.

    BaBi...Tolkein was quite a gifted poet, wasn't he? We saw that in the Beowulf discussion a while back. Thank you for bringing his poems to us.

    Will have the little granddaughter here for the day...and it's pouring! No walks..no park! Need to batten down the hatches in here very soon. Sooo, in a way, this is my "holiday" - talk to you in the morning. Enjoy Memorial day! Fly the flag in grateful memory. (if the rain stops).

    pps. Will put Matthew's article on the Death Penalty in the heading with other links. You may have noticed that the Atlantic Monthly issues have been placed there too. Oh, and thanks to Pat Westerdale, the reports on Lowell (can add more when you continue, horselover, Burndy and Camp are on html pages in the heading too...do you see them at the very bottom? Good work, you two! Thanks for the pages, Pat!

    May 26, 2003 - 06:54 am
    Whitman in NY? No wait, better yet how about Herman Melville, son-in-law to CJ Shaw?

    The article on Dante and capital punishment was super. Thanks Matthew for giving us that and thanks Joan for the heading links to article and the detectives' reports. Yeah! Techie Jo solved her computer problem! Way to go, Jo.

    I'll be back later today when back from a short trip and will post my own report then.


    May 26, 2003 - 10:19 am
    When the poets arrive at Galvin's house and find out he is also Dan Teal, they alarm Harriet Galvin with demands to see her husband. Then they hear a sound, and Lowell springs into action and captures Pietro Bachi. Impetuous Lowell jumps to the conclusion that Bachi is involved in some plot with Teal, but it turns out that the tutor is merely trying to collect his fee for Italian lessons! And once the others succeed in calming Lowell down, they find out what Bachi was really doing on the steamer bound for Italy on the day they followed him to the waterfront. Bachi, it seems, had his own Dante translation that he was sending to Italy with his brother. They also learn what Bachi was doing on the College campus in the company of Simon Camp. The poets realize that Manning is in danger and hurry to his home, but he is gone.

    The poets stop at Lowell's house where Lowell gets his gun. They go to the lake where they find Manning and Mead naked and submerged beneath the ice up to the neck. Teal is on the bank watching them struggle, and Lowell fires a warning shot. Fields urges Lowell to shoot Teal:

    "Shoot, Lowell, shoot!" Fields yells.

    But Lowell, despite his hot temper, does not like to kill. And Teal escapes. In a daring rescue, the poets succeed in saving Manning, but it is too late for Mead.

    It is now imperative that they find Teal before he can harm the poets or their families, whom he now regards as enemies of himself and Dante. Rey arrives and tells them to leave the hunt to the police. Lowell is, of course, reluctant to stay out of it, but Longfellow calms him with these words of wisdom:

    "A great part of the happiness of life consists not in fighting battles, my dear Lowell, but in avoiding them. A masterly retreat is in itself a victory."


    May 26, 2003 - 01:59 pm
    Horselover, I believe the heart of the matter is your statement: "they do not take seriously any woman's ability to influence the course of events:" The men can afford to be tolerant and amused, since there is no need to take a woman's help seriously. I can remember seeing some of that same attitude 40 years ago, when the men and women would separate to hold discussions that the other gender 'wouldn't be interested in'. I found the men's discussion much more interesting, but when I attempted to inject a comment, I was given these blank looks...as though the family pet had spoken!

    Matthew, you gave me something to think about with your quote of Arendt's "banalities of evil". It is a chilling thought. It is much easier to distance evil from ourselves if we think of it as extremes of thought, temperament and behavior. "Banality" is everyday, and much too close.

    Your comment that "justice ends messily" was also uncomfortably close too home. We have very recently found, down here in the Houston area, that justice miscarried in more than one instance due to sloppiness on the part of those responsible for analyzing DNA evidence. An inexcusable, and very messy, failure of justice. ..Babi

    May 26, 2003 - 03:19 pm
    Oh, BaBi, You are sooo right! When I graduated from college, even though I had a resposible job and was taking courses toward my MA, it was assumed that marriage and children were my ultimate and only goal. Even now, when 40% of women make more money than their husbands, a woman is not taken seriously as a Presidential candidate, there are pitifully few women in Congress, and women are still fighting to get equal pay with men for the same job. But progress has been made and will continue.

    On Memorial Day, we should all remember that women have influenced the course of events. If women had not worked in the defense plants during WWII, we might not have been able to defeat Germany and Japan. The world could have been a very different place today!

    May 26, 2003 - 04:53 pm

    Did all of you see the story about Matthew and "The Dante Club" on PBS's "The News Hour with Jim Lehrer?"

    It was a great opportunity to see Matthew in action in living color!

    Jo Meander
    May 26, 2003 - 10:04 pm
    Drat! I would have loved to see that!
    BaBi, I agree about how chilling the banality of evil is. I was thinking about my own comment on the death penalty yesterday, and wondering about that banality. If evil is a matter-of-fact part of creation and life, then how can we avoid dealing with it in a violent way? And that includes war as well as the death penalty. Will both always be with us? I am sleepy and still sitting here arguing with myself, which is why this probably makes no sense to anybody but me.

    horselover,you said, "It is now imperative that they find Teal before he can harm the poets or their families, whom he now regards as enemies of himself and Dante. Rey arrives and tells them to leave the hunt to the police. Lowell is, of course, reluctant to stay out of it, but Longfellow calms him ...."

    It seems to me that this encounter between the poets and Rey concerning Teal's guilt could lead to Burndy's release. Rey's subterfuge with Peaslee, where he gets him to threaten Camp so that he will leave town and not have a chance to implicate Dante or the Club with his information, is a ploy to protect the poets and the translation project. Rey's knowledge of Teals's deeds could make Burndy's release possible, if the police and the other appointed investigators give credence to the information he brings to them. When he's talking to Peaslee, he doesn't seem to think that he has evidence to release Burndy. If he is never believed, then the irony of the unrevealed truth remains. If they do eventually believe him, and Burndy is released, Peaslee won't get the reward.

    May 27, 2003 - 09:25 am
    Jo, Everything you say is true, but the immediate problem Rey has when he arrives at Lowell's house after the poets have saved Manning is the actual physical protection of the poets and their families. For this purpose he posts guards he can trust at each of their homes. Of course, after Rey is captured by the corrupt cops, the guards are removed, and the poets must protect themselves.

    Joan Pearson
    May 27, 2003 - 11:18 am
    MATTHEW! `why didn't you let us know of the Lerher program? Rats! We all would have loved to tune in to that! Is there a transcript available anywhere on-line? I just checked into the Dante Club's Official Website...see link in the heading here and found this
    Matthew Pearl was featured on the nationally aired PBS program Jim Lehrer Newshour on 5/26/03 as part of a segment on current trends in the publishing industry. (5/27/03)

    horselover Next installment the Lowell report has been uploaded onto your report page in the heading...
    So the hot tempered Lowell spared Teal - as angry as he was. Even with Fields urging him to shoot, he did not like to kill. We need to remember that. Can he remain silent and let Burndy swing for the murders that Lowell knows that Teal committed? What did you think of Longfellow's advice?
    ""A great part of the happiness of life consists not in fighting battles, my dear Lowell, but in avoiding them."
    It sounds close to the quote of Arendt's "banalities of evil" and BaBi's comment - "It is a chilling thought. It is much easier to distance evil from ourselves."

    Jo, if "Rey's knowledge of Teals's deeds could make Burndy's release possible" why hasn't he stepped forward yet? Or do you think the trial is in early stages and there is still time for him to testify? If he doesn't believe he has information, then he won't testify. How much does he know about Teal's involvement that would stand up in a courtroom?

    I plan to follow Teal through to his bitter end this afternoon. Will keep an eye out for Rey in each of the scenes where Rey is present. If Rey is not an eye-witness, it seems that all he has is the poets' suspicion that Teal is "punishing" the victims. It seems to me that the onus is on the Poets to save Burndy by publically sacrificing Dante. Are they ready to do that? Or will they avoid the issue as Longfellow seems to counsel.

    IF they remain silent, when they know the truth, are they assuring their own place in Dante's Hell...among the Neutrals, perhaps?

    May 27, 2003 - 12:44 pm
    I'm going to try for brevity in my reports although normally the words 'brief' and 'Marvelle' don't mix. I will try to hit only high spots.

    When we first meet Longfellow in 1865 he's twice-widowed and raising his children himself with great patience and love. His poetry and persona have made him beloved in the America. His nights are the best time for him for that's when he dreams of Fanny; the days, when he must function in the world, are without her. Longfellow limits his day's activities, rarely leaving his house, not noticing the changes that have occurred in Babylonian Boston, out of touch with reality except with his children and protective friends -- almost as if Longfellow is a shade himself. He no longer writes poetry and instead is translating Dante's Inferno.

    He's considerate of others -- such as remembering a waitress to whom he bows in the street and he offers to Rey that same respect. But that consideration is from a disance as if Longfellow is on another plain of existence from others.

    Longfellow is a leader of others because of his ability to listen, his consideration, and his quiet (not silent) wisdom. Because Longfellow listens, people feel they can talk to him and that their opinions matter; they feel better about themselves and wiser which they reflect back onto Longfellow. There is a tenderness in Longfellow, maternal rather than paternal, which people notice and also return back to Longfellow.

    Despite his grief over Fanny's death, Longfellow seems to have considered taking up a full life again. There's a sense of sadness when he realizes that another romance will not be for him; yet it's his living in the night with Fanny -- his distance -- that was the probable cause.

    "Longfellow was pleased to find in his pile of new mail a note from Mary Frere; a young lady from Auburn, New York, with whom Longfellow had recently become acquainted when summering at Nahant, where they walked many evenings, after the girls fell asleep, along the rocky shore, talking of new poetry or music. Longfellow wrote her a long letter [his letters to other women were much briefer], relating to her how the three girls ask often after her doings; the girls also beg him to find out where Miss Frere will be spending the next summer." (88)

    Then in another section, at another time

    Annie Allegra looked all about the study ... [and] came upon a newly opened letter from Mary Frere...She asked whom it was from. 'Oh, Miss Frere,' Annie said. 'That's lovely! Will she be summering near us in Nahant this year? It is always so lovely to have her near, Father.' 'I don't believe she will,' Longfellow tried to offer a smile.' (353)

    Hovering over these two sections about Mary Frere is the image of Dante/Longfellow's Beatrice. The first letter makes Longfellow think of Fanny's death. With the second letter in the study, comes Dante's Beatrice and Longfellow's Fanny, the inspiration for poem and translation:

    "the only thing he [Longfellow] could do was to stand at his desk with some Dante cantos and translate and translate, to lay down his burden and cross through that cathedral door. In there, the noises of the world retreated... the translator saw his Poet.... Through congregations of the dead, through hovering echoes flying from tomb to tomb, through lamentations below, Longfellow could hear the voice of the one who drove the Poet onward. She stood before them both, in the unapproachable, coaxing distance, an image, a projection with snow-white veil, garments as scarlet as any fire, and Longfellow felt the ice on the Poet's heart melt as the snow does on mountain heights; the Poet, who seeks the perfect pardon of perfect peace." (353)

    Mary Frere never had a chance? With Longfellow's distance -- emotionally wedded to dead Fanny, committed to his children, settlement of age -- there was no room for Mary Frere who became engaged to another. He sends a copy of his Dante translation as an engagement present with the note

    "Your absence from Nahant will leave a gap like that made in the street when a house is pulled down." (364)

    I think it's the last of Longfellow's unexpressed hopes that gets pulled down but he could not commit to another woman and it would be difficult for another wife to accept Gemma's role.



    May 27, 2003 - 01:00 pm
    Oliver Wendell Holmes is a doctor afraid of being around death; afraid of causing death. Like Lowell he talks, talks, talks but unlike Lowell he's a deliberately blind positivist and desperately needs to be popular.

    OWH hasn't had any tragedy in his life. He married once and happily to Amelia and that happiness hasn't been sorely tested. How deep is OWH's love? It is different from that of Dante for his Beatrice, Lowell for his dark lady, Longfellow for his Fanny -- women that are unattainable; out of reach; absent. OWH's Amelia is his only love and is with him still in the novel.

    OWH as a doctor is fearful of death; not for himself but seeing it in others and being blamed for a death: causing or not being able to avoid or stop the death of others. As head of Harvard's Medical School, OWH had students do the actual dissecting. There was the scandal of the body-snatchers in England and in Middlesex Country (which includes Boston/Cambridge) the purpose for dissection at schools such as Harvard. There was the Webster trial for the murder of Parkman where Holmes' lecture hall was above the room where Webster carved up/dissected Parkman's body; where Holmes was a direct suspect and indirect suspect because of his history as a doctor who did dissections and his friendship with a murderer -- Holmes feels emotionally guilty for the death of both Webster and Parkman. He can even understand why Webster would kill to preserve his good name for didn't Holmes think he did the same with dissections? A doctor had to dissect bodies or he had no reputation as a scientist.

    Yet part of being a doctor is seeing someone die and in having to face criticism for not saving a life.   Holmes' pilgrimage is facing his fears with seeing the murdered bodies and traveling to the 'tomb' in the Second Street Church underground. He finally overcomes his fears first by throwing himself towards Pliny Mead and trying to revive a cold, lifeless body even though it seemed hopeless, and was indeed hopeless. He also made a life-and-death decision in the confrontation with Teal/Galvin -- aka Teal -- at novel's end.

    Teal has confused together in his mind God, Dante, Lucifer and Man. He remembers the wartime episode in the woods when an officer ordered him to shot a deserter, a man from his own troop. The officer commands:

    "We're marching for battle, Private. There's no time for a trial and no time to hang him, so you'll shoot him here! Ready .. aim ... fire!"

    Teal remembers the punishment for those who don't obey orders -- officer, "Private, now! ... You want your punishment with them?" and Teal shoots. This is what Teal plans for the Dante Club.   Teal thought he was carrying out Dante's punishments in Boston with the aid of the Dante Club. But the Dante Club (sans Holmes) turned against him, Longellow was Lucifer, the turncoat, the rebel against God who would be punished by having to punish other arch-traitors. Teal had thought Holmes (Michael the Archangel?) would help him. "Two of your men must be punished. You must make Longfellow understand, Dr. Holmes." (350) But Holmes rebels also and Teal places a weapon in the unreacting Longfellow's hands and tells him to punish Holmes. He repeats his officer's words:

    "Mr.Longfellow, on my command. Ready ... aim ..." (356)

    Holmes at first thinks to shoot Teal but Teal is not afraid and Holmes "did not know whether he had sufficient reserves of ... zeal to stop Dan Teal from the destiny he had caught himself in." (356) Holmes, however, found the resolve and turned his weapon on Longfellow, knowing that then Boston's Inferno could not continue, at least in Teal's mind, with Longfellow/Lucifer gone.

    This stops Teal. Holmes, the doctor afraid of death, is semingly willing to disobey and to take a life to end the Inferno. In the aftermath, Holmes is stronger emotionally. He's more confident in himself -- after all he faced his fears -- and doesn't need universal approval as he once had.



    Matthew Pearl
    May 27, 2003 - 01:19 pm
    I didn't know either! I definitely would have told the group. They filmed it months ago and I just assumed it would never air with the war, etc. My grandmother called from New York that it was on, and I caught it a little later when it was on here in Boston. They never tell you these things. Anyway, I now have a link from my website to the page on the Newshour site where you can watch the segment. The Dante Club is only a small part of the segment, but they say nice things about it so that's good!!

    Jo Meander
    May 27, 2003 - 05:16 pm
    AUGUSTUS MANNING (What a guy!)

    In the final chapter, Manning has resigned from the Harvard Corporation and disappeared. “His wife said he had not spoken more than a few words at a time for some months; some said he had moved to England, others heard he had gone to an island in unexplored areas” This isn’t enough to draw any conclusions without referring to the previous scenes leading to this point in the narrative.

    Manning was unwavering in his opposition to the translation of Dante and the promulgation of his works in Harvard classes. He is the worst enemy of Dante, therefore the worst enemy of Dan Teal, who, after his wartime experiences drove him crazy, substitutes Dante and his champions for any cause he might have believed in during his lifetime. When he returns from the war, he finds comfort in Greene’s sermons on Dante.

    Manning is the Traitor as far as Teal is concerned, and the poets would agree. They acknowledge him as the worst obstacle in their path to the publication of Longfellow’s work. When the poets realize that Manning had disappeared, they wonder why Teal did not go after him sooner. Holmes says, “Because he is the worst…. As Hell deepens, narrows, the sinners become more flagrant, more culpable, -- less repentant….”

    From the very beginning, Manning’s sharp attention had been focused upon the members of the Club, evidently in the belief that he could intimidate them one by one into abandoning an activity not in conformation with the conservative curriculum of the University. He had threatened Field’s publishing business and Lowell’s classes and tried to enlist Holmes into helping him bring the translation work to a halt, all in vain. He had bribed Talbot into writing and preaching against Dante, and finally, on the night he is assaulted by Teal, he is in the process of bribing Mead with a miraculously improved class ranking to convince the authorities that the teaching of Dante and the translation of The Inferno resulted in the recent murders

    As the poet’s avenger, Teal’s focus is upon sinners as Dante characterizes them. His final target is Manning, the Traitor: He smashes him with the butt of the rifle; then "he stood there and watched…as the Traitor flailed and crumpled to the floor.” Teal then transports Manning and Mead, nude like the previous victims, to a frozen pond, where he suspends them into the frigid waters through breaks in the ice.

    More than one scene suggests a fiendish Manning, including the one where he watches a book burning from a steamy window in an overheated library room. The fire, heat and steam (no brimstone), his threats to Lowell and the Dante Club, his smug posturing with the steepled fingers, create a devilish image. After Teal attacks him, he suspends him in the ice, like Lucifer in the final canto of the Inferno. Finally, after shooting Teal, Manning weeps in memory of his own suffering as Lucifer does in his eternal punishment, entrapped in ice but continuing the punishment of others. Matthew pointed out that in The Inferno, Lucifer is one of the punished who is also a punisher. Manning inflicts the last punishment, but like Lucifer, his own suffering continues. Teal was probably unaware of all of his sins, which include bigotry, bribery and slander. He is so evil that up until the shooting of Teal, he seems to lack dimension. I’d say he reminds me of Iago in his malignancy, except he does weep in horror over his own suffering, which humanizes him a bit.
    Where is his “island in unexplored areas”? Purgatorio? Inferno?

    Jo Meander
    May 27, 2003 - 05:38 pm
    Joan said, " why hasn't he (Rey) stepped forward yet(if he has knowledge of what Teal did)? Or do you think the trial is in early stages and there is still time for him to testify? If he doesn't believe he has information, then he won't testify. How much does he know about Teal's involvement that would stand up in a courtroom?"

    Joan, I think he knows what happened. He is there when Manning shoots Teal, and the poets seem to trust him enough to explain what lead to this event. I'll bet you find more scenes where he gets information; I'll look, too. I don't think it would be hard for ththe poets to retrace their own steps in arriving at the conclusion about Teal, and I can imagine them doing that with Rey. The more difficult question is, would Rey be believed in court? We aren't going to find out! He has been treated with suspicion and even imprisoned to keep him from continuing his protection of the poets and his pursuit of the culprit. One thing in his favor and that of the Dante Club is the fact that they saved Manning, who now is impotent as far as creating any suspicion of the Club and Dante. He weeps on Holmes' shoulder after shooting Teal! What do we make of that?

    Then you said, "If Rey is not an eye-witness, it seems that all he has is the poets' suspicion that Teal is "punishing" the victims. It seems to me that the onus is on the Poets to save Burndy by publically sacrificing Dante. Are they ready to do that? Or will they avoid the issue as Longfellow seems to counsel.

    IF they remain silent, when they know the truth, are they assuring their own place in Dante's Hell...among the Neutrals, perhaps?"

    I agree! Such a decison seems out of character to me, and the "neutral" label seems to fit!

    horselover,is there any reason to continue that protection of the poets and their families? Would Rey think so? I guess it depends upon whether or not he believes their story or accepts Teal as the lone culprit.

    May 27, 2003 - 07:18 pm
    As the poets hunt for Teal, they meet at Craigie House. They do not know that Rey has been jailed, and that their protective guards have been removed. Lowell wonders why Holmes has not yet arrived, and then remembers calling him a traitor in the presence of Teal. Longfellow begs Lowell to wait for Rey, but impetuous Lowell says, "No, I'm going to find Wendell right now!" Lowell is on the verge of crying.

    As Lowell and Fields are rushing out, they are set upon by Teal who "struck a crashing blow to Lowell's head." He then does the same to Fields. When Holmes finds them later, they are in the underground tunnel where Teal has been living. They are on the floor, "hands and legs tied, gags in their mouths." Lowell is still unconscious. Holmes tries to free them, but cannot, and Fields urges Holmes to leave them and save Longfellow who has become Teal's primary target.

    Longfellow is saved...by Manning, who finally shoots Teal. And Holmes leads the police to the underground tunnel to rescue Lowell and Fields.

    In one of the final scenes, we see Lowell and Fields waiting to meet with Simon Camp, who of course, never shows up as he has left town in a hurry. Lowell gaily suggests they spend Fields's money on a fine dinner instead.

    When we last see the poets, the translation has been completed, and they are on their way to a banquet that will celebrate "the literary event of the season."


    May 27, 2003 - 09:10 pm
    Horselover comments that Lowell is on the verge of crying at the thought that he might have put Holmes in danger. I am touched by that image. These two men -- Lowell and Holmes -- squabble constantly like siblings yet there's the understanding that they care deeply for one another. Lowell wants to protect Holmes.

    Longfellow is saved by Manning? Hadn't Teal already abandoned the punishment of Longfellow by Holmes, running away, when neither poet would obey his orders? What is the deeper reason for Teal running away from a punishment he'd carefully devised; running to meet his own end through Manning? Maybe Joan, our Teal detective, will know the reason for the running away.


    Joan Pearson
    May 28, 2003 - 05:26 am
    I am finding these reports so rewarding. Thank you so much, Jo, Marvelle, and horselover for your final installment.

    Jo asks an interesting question - for Matthew...
    Was Miss Frere a "Beatrice" for Longfellow in real life? Was there really a Miss Frere or someone like that in Longfellow's life having a different name?"

    There is some overlap, as we redirect our attention to those fast-paced closing moments, from different angles. We seem to be missing a sketch on Rey, though. And he is a character Matthew may use again in the future! Does anyone have time to spotlight Rey?

    I have almost finished Teal, though I think we have a good picture of him from Marvelle's and Jo's reports. It's impossible not to overlap... I'm trying to encapsulate his motivation. Marvelle, I haven't turned my magnifying glass on to the final scene yet. Hope to get to it this morning. I will try to find an answer for your question, an excellent one.
    "What is the deeper reason for Teal running away from a punishment he'd carefully devised; running to meet his own end through Manning?"
    I think it is an important question. and would like to hear what you all think about it too. What is Longfellow's usually reserved, unflappable reaction to the crisis? Doesn't he appear almost ghost-like in these scenes?

    It is fun re-reading, isn't it? I'm noticing details again that I enjoyed the first time around. I especially like the way the many, references to the moon are worked into the story...which parallel Dante's journey through the Inferno, marked by the position of the moon in the night sky. Did you note Bachi's address...on Half Moon Place? ~ Annie Field's "jacinth-colored hair"? What color is that?

    Will be back in a shortly with Teal sketch, but we have plenty to paw through in the meantime, don't we.

    May 28, 2003 - 07:02 am
    A comment on the question of identifying Teal as the murderer, so that Burndy will not be hanged for something he didn't do: It would not be necessary to expose the Dante Club or Dante's Inferno connection. There are witnesses who found Teal in the act of committing a murder. Teal is now dead. It is not necessary to explain his motives, only to identify him as the killer. As to motive, why of course, he was quite mad! ..Babi

    Jo Meander
    May 28, 2003 - 10:04 am
    Well done, Babi! Now, after the act is attributed to a mad man, will there be any difficulty associating him with the previous crimes?

    May 28, 2003 - 10:56 am
    Marvelle, Yes, it is true that Longfellow is not in immediate danger when Manning shoots Teal. But if Teal were allowed to escape, the danger to Longfellow and his family would continue. If anything had happened to Annie Allegra, Longfellow would have been as good as dead! So in this sense, Manning saves him and the other poets by giving them back their normal lives.

    I think Holmes shows great courage in those final moments of terror by making Teal really believe he will shoot Longfellow. It's interesting that Longfellow actually believes this as well:

    "Holmes steadied the gun at Longfellow, whose eyes were tightly shut in horror."

    How many of you also believe that Holmes would have shot Longfellow if Teal had not run?

    BaBi, I don't think Rey's statements to Peaslee are an indication that he really intends to "let Burndy walk the ladder." He is merely manipulating Peaslee to get him to help frighten off Simon Camp. This is a tactic cops often use to turn criminals against one another. However, I don't think any of the major characters is terribly interested in the ultimate fate of the lower class characters. Do you?

    May 28, 2003 - 11:34 am
    The rest of you may not know that Lowell was also a diplomat! You wouldn't think his personality would be suited to this sort of activity, which requires an ability to compromise and an adherence to protocol, but he apparently served with distinction:

    "In 1877 Lowell went to Spain as American Minister, and in 1880 to London, where for five years he represented the United States with great distinction, and did much to improve the relations of the two countries. Six years after his return, on August 12, 1891, he died in Elmwood, the house in Cambridge where he was born."

    Jo Meander
    May 28, 2003 - 12:14 pm
    I don't think Holmes would have shot Longfelow, but he certainly put on a good show!

    Joan Pearson
    May 28, 2003 - 02:52 pm
    Rubbing my eyes from a long afternoon with Dan Teal...it took a while for me to figure out what went on in the last scene before Manning shot Teal. Lord knows what would have happened if Teal had escaped. Somehow, I think that he would have been caught. He no longer had his underground hideout...and couldn't go home.

    But I was very interested in the dynamics of the last scene...and why it was all-important to Teal that Longfellow be the one to administer the punishment, not the other way around.

    Teal had believed that the Dante Club approved of his purpose to make Boston "good" again, that the Dante Club was delighted with his punishments and proud to have him on their side.

    First he overheard Lowell brand Holmes as a traitor to the Dante Club. Then at the pond, Lowell turned his gun on Teal, Fields told Lowell to pull the trigger...and Longfellow did nothing to help him.

    Suddenly this Dante Club becomes the enemy of the Dante Club in Teal's mind...they had abandoned his cause. They must all be punished.

    What a dramatic scene ensues. Holmes has his gun on Teal's neck, Teal has his hand on Longfellow's ordering him to shoot Holmes. (What if neither had shot the other???) Holmes understands that in Teal's mind, the dissolution of the Dante Club must be Longfellow's punishment . He MUST shoot Holmes. To Teal, "Longellow was Lucifer, the turncoat, the rebel against God who would be punished by having to punish other arch-traitors." (Marvelle (What if he had? Would Longfellow have been forced to go with Teal and shoot Lowell and Fields, just has Teal had been forced to shoot the Rebel soldiers point blank?) Holmes, certain that this was Teal's plan, pointed his gun at Longfellow, rather than at Teal. No! This is to be Longfellow's punishment! Teal's mind cannot process this...so he comes undone - just as Holmes thought he would. Was there any chance that Teal would have been satisfied if Holmes actually shot Longfellow?

    horselover- Do you suppose that Lowell's temper mellowed with age? Did you all notice the "Historical Note" two pages after the ending...page 169?

    I have pages and pages of notes on Teal. Will try to be good, as Marvelle was with Longfellow, and summarize, rather than copy all of them into my report.

    Do you have questions for Matthew? I'll put them in the heading if you do. (I just have to ask about those blowflies flying around the sword in Galvin's house. Are you planting the suggestion that they are the deadly blowflies?)

    Back soon with final report. Anyone, how do you picture Annie Field's jacinth-colored hair???

    May 28, 2003 - 03:32 pm
    I believe the danger to Longfellow was completely over as soon as Teal ran away but that is only my belief and I hope Matthew will answer that question. IMO the idea of punishing the Dante Club had ended because Teal finally saw that he hadn't been forced to shoot the Union deserter by the officer; he could have refused just as Longfellow and Holmes refused to obey Teal's orders. I believe it is this realization -- that he chose to follow orders that he felt were wrong; that he was culpable for his own acts -- that caused Teal to mentally collapse and run away and at this point the danger from Teal to Longfellow, family, and friends was over.

    Joan, I think the word FORCE is potent here. Teal couldn't force Holmes and Longfellow to do that which they felt was morally wrong. H&L had a choice just as Teal did. Teal chose his own safety and shot the Union deserter and was ultimately responsible -- as he saw in the end -- for that choice. H&L could not be FORCED to murder each other or other members of the DC. The words "Ready ... aim ... fire..." don't force anyone to kill; it's a choice. Sorry, I'm rambling in this post and have run out of time to tighten up the thoughts. I apologize for the wordiness.



    I realize that I may be waaaaay off in trying to fit CJ Shaw's rulings into the theme of justice. Matthew, please don't hesitate to tell me if I'm off the mark.

    1 -- Is CJ Shaw's ruling on the improper delegation of authority at the Harper's Ferry hearing reflected in The Dante Club? If so, when and by whom is it appropriate to delegate the authority to punish?

    The wartime officer ordered/delegated to Teal the shooting of the Union deserter; then Teal assumed on his own that he had delegation from the DC/Dante/God to punish others; Teal delegated authority to Longfellow & Holmes to punish each other which they refused; even the DC assumed a delegation of authority in investigating the murders themselves rather than notifying police.)

    2 -- In the Webster murder trial, does CJ Shaw's ruling on malice aforethought and the words spoken by the victim not causing the murder apply in some way to the novel and Teal's actions? Corroboration or refutation?

    (In the Webster murder trial, CJ Shaw ruled regarding reasonable doubt, preponderance of circumstantial evidence and malice aforethought. Malice aforethought, meaning a nanosecond of intent to harm, can be assumed in Webster's murder of Parkman and the murder was not caused by Parkman's words (ie 'words do not bleed').


    Joan Pearson
    May 28, 2003 - 03:51 pm
    Bravo, Marvelle! That does it for me! "... the idea of punishing the Dante Club had ended because Teal finally saw that he hadn't been forced to shoot the Union deserter by the officer; he could have refused just as Longfellow and Holmes refused to obey Teal's orders."

    Will put those questions in the heading in the next few minutes. Anyone else while I'm up?

    May 28, 2003 - 04:02 pm
    Yes, Joan, another question. "What color is jacinth?"

    I swear I looked it up in the dictionary and jacinth means hyacinth with the color being either blue (blue hair?), or white (most popular color), or reddish-orange?!!?


    May 28, 2003 - 04:46 pm
    Joan, Yes, I do think Lowell's temper must have mellowed with age. He could not have been an ambassador to the king's court in London without some serious control of his impetuous impulses.

    As for the historical note you refer to on page #170, I suppose Lowell was reluctant to carry his gun because, as we learned, he would have been unable to shoot a mugger even if he had actually encountered one.

    It's sooo sweet the way the other poets and the publisher feel that they should protect Longfellow from the evil and corruption in the world. When Lowell and Fields go to pay off Simon Camp, Fields says:

    "But perhaps we shouldn't mention to Longfellow..."

    And Lowell agrees. "No, no," he says, "we shan't mention this to Longfellow."

    Question For Matthew: Were there any memoirs by Annie Allegra Longfellow? She seemed to already have a talent for writing when she planned to publish her book called "A Little Person's Memories of Great People."

    Jo Meander
    May 28, 2003 - 05:11 pm
    Joan, Mattew already said that the gnats around the sword were just gnats, attracted by the remnants of blood not visible to humans, I suppose. But look on pages 359 -360: "...a fly propelled itself into the smoky black compartents that divided the barroom and buzzed around Peaslee's table. A small number of the fly's brothers and sisters had survived the winter and a smaller number still had thrived in certain sections of the woods and forests of Massachusetts and would continue to do so, though Professor Louis Agassiz of Harvard, had he known, would have declared it preposterous. With a darting glance, Peaslee noticed the strange flaming red eyes and large bluish body. He swatted it away...."

    Joan Pearson
    May 28, 2003 - 05:21 pm
    It takes a barfly to recognize a barfly, Miss Jo! hahaha, I think the appearance of the red-eyed blowflies in the bar where Peaslee and other low life hung out was some sort of poetic justice. I did remember now what Matthew said about the flies in the Galvin home - so I didn't put that one up.

    Jo Meander
    May 28, 2003 - 05:50 pm
    WELL, I NEVER!!!! Well, hardly ever!

    Jo Meander
    May 28, 2003 - 10:23 pm
    Possible additions to the questions:

    1. Did the other poets help Longfellow with the translation?

    2. Did Longfellow really encounter negative public or academic opinion of Dante?

    3. Did Harvard object to modern languages and Dante as subjects for courses?

    May 29, 2003 - 09:43 am
    Question #9: What happens to Camp? Did Camp want to pin the crimes on the Dante group, to somehow discredit their work as Manning would have wished before they pulled him out of the ice and before he shot Teal?

    Camp left town in a hurry at the "suggestion" of Peaslee and his friends. He was fired by the Pinkerton Detective Agency for unethical conduct. He was not really interested in discrediting the Dante group; his interest was in blackmail. During their inquiry, the Pinkerton Agency discovered that he had been blackmailing many of their clients, using information he had uncovered in his investigations. A very unsavory character!

    May 29, 2003 - 10:46 am
    Another note on jacinth. I found the jacinth (Fr.) and hyacinth (Latin) descriptions also, Marvelle. I found a further note that in the gem, the jacinth was more orange than the hyacinth. I would guess an orangey-red was the color of Annie Fields' hair.

    On Jo's Q.#1, I think the description of the club meetings make it clear that the poets did assist with the translation, in reviewing Longfellow's work and offering suggestions and amendments. Greene also did some of the initial work on some Cantos, didn't he? ..?Babi

    Jo Meander
    May 29, 2003 - 11:04 am
    BaBi, I guess the question is phrased poorly, I meant in real life, not in the novel!

    May 29, 2003 - 01:03 pm
    I wanted to get a better understanding of Rey, even at this late date, so I leafed through the novel and took notes. Discovered something interesting! Will post my thoughts within the next hour with a detective's report.


    May 29, 2003 - 01:54 pm
    Fighting men respond to war according to their natures; and war generally emphasizes what is already there in a man's personality. Both Rey and Teal/Galvin had experienced the shooting of deserters but they responded quite differently to that horror of war. Teal always felt like a solider, even as a civilian working for the Underground, and he saw war as a way to punish transgressors which he carried with him when he returned to civilian life. Just as he once was involved in punishing/shooting a deserter, he finds his 'calling' to punish again in Boston.

    Rey also remembers the shooting of deserters in the war but he considers the actual purpose behind the execution of a deserter and the immediate burial without an identifying marker for the grave. "The public performance was to show us [soldiers] that the deserter would be abandoned, just as he abandoned his ranks .... The fact that Healey and Talbot were murdered might be secondary. First and foremost, we are dealing with punishments of these men. We are meant to fall in line and observe." (140)

    Rey understands the intended purpose in wartime and with the Boston murders but it is not his calling. Rey's calling is to save rather than punish.

    SAVING: The first mention of Rey in the novel, he pulls Chief Kurtz out of the path of Mrs. Healey's thrown vase. He soothes Mrs. Healey with the story of how the Judge helped him gain his freedom in Boston; he helped her even after she called him an 'ungrateful nigger police.' He worries about public safety in Boston, the safety of the poets and unnecessarily feels responsible for the leaper's death.

    "He heard the [leaper's] whisper as he listened to Widow Healey fall asleep; he heard it in the bareness of his shivering rooming house. He awoke each morning with the words on his tongue .... He sat with his pen at all hours, using up inwells, writing it out, and the nonsense looked worse than it sounded. He could see the whisperer, reeking of rot, shocked eyes glaring at him before the body carried itself through the glass. The nameless man had been dropped from the sky from a faraway place, Rey couldn't help thinking, into Rey's arms, from where he had dropped him again .... How clearly he would see the plummet onto the courtyard, where the man became all blood and leaves, over and over again .... He had to stop the fall .... He had to find some meaning for the words left hanging on the dead air." (51)

    I thought of Holden Caulfield's image of the 'catcher in the rye' when I read this passage. Rey is a catcher in the rye.

    At the Governor's Ball, Rey captures Blight but fears he isn't the murderer andthat time is running out. Rey "saw the faces of the persons throughout Boston who had brought him to this pursuit" -- the innocents such as Chief Kurtz with a possibly ruined career, Ednah Healey, Sexton Gregg, and the leaper Grifone Lonza. When Rey is jailed by the corrupt officers he tries to convince one to allow him his freedom because "Innocent people are in danger, for God's sake!" (352)

    Teal's relationship to words, spitting out bits of lettered paper, is different from Rey's, who saves the bits of paper. At the site of Talbot's murder "Rey ... saw the trail of letters like remorse left unspoken." (120)

    More on the bits of paper and Rey's likeness to Longfellow in the following post.



    May 29, 2003 - 02:59 pm
    Rey saved the bits of paper found in the underground murder scene of Talbot. He would "steal some free minutes [at the station house] to remove the bits from his trouser pocket and sprinkle the letters over a table. Sometimes he could make words, and he kept track in a memorandum book of the phrases that arose. He closed his gold-tinted eyes tight, opening them to double size with the unconscious expectation that the letters would string together on their own to explain what happened or what should be done. He had a favorite grouping for the loose bits of letters I cant die as im ..."

    This is Rey taking loose bits of paper with letters on them and trying to make sense of them; while Teal took preformed thoughts from the book Uncle Tom's Cabin and chewed them up and spit them out indiscriminately, discarding them as it were. These men have two very different approaches to words and literature yet Rey is aware of the power of literature. Before the war he read a great deal.

    "He had not read a book since before the war. He had once consumed literature with alarming avidity especially after the deaths of his adoptive parents and sisters: He had read histories and biographies and even romances. But now the very idea of a book struck him as offensively contained and arrogant. He preferred newspapers and broadsides which had no chance to dominate his thoughts." (225)

    Rey had read literature for ideas and also as a way to escape loneliness(?) after the deaths of his adopted family. IMO he experienced so much during the war that he wants to avoid any more ideas or dreams. He throws himself into his work now