Ephemeral Dante
Matthew Arnold’s criticism in Victorian periodicals
in Dante beyond influence
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The second chapter focuses on Matthew Arnold, arguing that his long-neglected relation with Dantean textuality is most representative of the initial phase of the Victorian hermeneutic turn, with the emergence of a coherent and conspicuous critical discourse in lectures, essays and reviews between 1853 and 1888. The chapter carries out the first systematic inquiry into the formation and development of Arnold’s Dantean criticism by reunifying the large, but fragmented corpus of general references and quoted passages from the Commedia found in his private notebooks and published prose-works. So far disregarded as unresponsive and unproductive, the chapter reinterprets these sententiae as meaningful hermeneutic signs revealing the inner mechanisms of Arnold’s critical assimilation and manipulation of Dantean knowledge within broader interventions in literary and cultural criticism.  Such macroscopic investigation, however, is complemented and enhanced with a close-reading analysis of a uniquum in Arnold’s prose-works: a ‘Dante and Beatrice’, an article printed in the pages of the Fraser’s in May 1863, and representing the only existing/surviving piece of unitary and extensive piece of criticism entirely devoted to Dante. The chapter first retraces the composition and publishing history of Arnold’s review of Theodore Martin’s translation of the Vita Nuova (1862), and then discuss how the piece not only redefined the forms and intents of the Dante-debate in British periodicals and newspapers, but actively contributed to create the ideological conditions for the rise of Dante studies in late 1870s. 

Dante beyond influence

Rethinking reception in Victorian literary culture

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