T.S. Eliot, Dante, and the European Tradition: An International Symposium
January 19th - 25th , 2008
  Promoted by:
Romualdo Del Bianco Foundation
Palazzo Coppini Via del Giglio, 10
50123 – Florence (Italy)


Author : Prof. Dominic Manganiello

‘Dante, e poi Dante’: T.S. Eliot, Wendell Berry and ‘Europe’s Epic’

After seven centuries Dante remains a luminous presence, a catalyst of literary renewal. The warm reception accorded the Divine Comedy, from its first appearance down to the present, has made him very much the lionized author. “Dante-mania” particularly infected modernists intent on “making it new” by reclaiming the old. Chief among these writers was T.S. Eliot, who, when asked about his favorite period in Italian literature, replied, “Dante, and then Dante, and then Dante.” On this venerable view the medieval genius acts as the principal exponent of the mind of Europe, a universal poet who keeps tradition and the search for novelty in dynamic balance. Eliot thus succeeded in establishing the terms of engagement for several generations of English readers of the Comedy.

One of the most compelling responses to this Eliot-inspired portrait of Dante has come recently from the pen of Wendell Berry. The passing on of a vital tradition originating from Europe also forms the core of this contemporary American writer’s literary project. On receiving the T.S. Eliot Award for Creative Writing in 1994, Berry accordingly paid tribute to the “pilgrimage of works” of the great modern poet. Eliot presented “dismembered” human beings who move out of the shadows of the wasteland and into the light of what Berry calls “a love far greater… than their own.” I propose to examine how Berry’s own fragmented figures in novels such as Remembering (1988) and Jayber Crow (2000) follow a similar trajectory to become transfigured pilgrims in a divine comedy.

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