Seminar: Dante’s Afterlives in Modern English Literature

Enseignant(s): Straub Julia
Cursus: Master
Type d'enseignement: Séminaire
Langue(s) du cours: Anglais
Semestre(s): SP-2021

In this seminar, we will trace the afterlives of Dante Alighieri in English literature from the Romantic to the modernist period. Dante’s Vita Nuova and Divine Comedy had a tremendous impact on writers as diverse as Mary Shelley, John Keats, Matthew Arnold, John Ruskin, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Christina Rossetti, or T. S. Eliot. By exploring their productive engagement with Dante, we will be able to study important socio-cultural contexts such as medievalism, the fascination with Italy that pervaded the 19th century and gender politics, but also various genres, i.e., the novel, poetry and cultural criticism. We will, in addition, investigate aesthetic features such intertextuality, intermediality or processes of linguistic and intercultural translation. All the writers included in this seminar read Dante differently, and by following a trajectory from the early 19th to the early 20th century we will be able to detect different “Dantes” reflecting changing socio-political attitudes and cultural inclinations.

Knowledge of Italian is not necessary for this class since we will read Dante in English translation. However, familiarity with Dante’s Divine Comedy and Vita Nuova is a requirement for this class. The reading of these works will not be part of the seminar schedule. If students are not at all familiar with these two works by Dante, they are strongly advised to read them before the start of the semester.


At the end of this semester students will

  • Be able to identify and interpret salient episodes from Dante’s works as represented in modern English literature.
  • Give persuasive accounts of the theoretical terms available to frame such analyses.
  • Express themselves both orally and in writing on literary texts dating from different periods and belonging to different literary genres.
  • Comment on the contextual aspects that affected the reception of Dante’s works in specific periods.



Shorter texts will be made available on Moodle.

The one long text that we will read is a beautiful, but little-known novel by Mary Shelley called Valperga. Unfortunately, there is no recent paperback edition available by any of the major publishing houses. Students can read the novel on Project Gutenberg or check the internet for print on demand books (and of course check out library holdings).

Other works that students can get started on during the semester break are T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and The Four Quartets, Christina Rossetti’s “Monna Innominata” sonnet sequence and Seamus Heaney’s Field Work (which, dating from 1979, we will treat as a late modernist piece of writing).

Recommended translations of Dante’s works are:

Dante Alighieri. The Divine Comedy. Transl. Allan Mandelbaum. Everyman’s Library 1995. ISBN-13 : 978-0679433132

Dante Alighieri. La Vita Nuova. Transl. Barbara Reynolds. London: Penguin, 2004. ISBN-13 : 978-0140449471