Translated by Mark Musa
Introduced by A. N. Wilson
Illustrated by Daniel Egnéus
Exquisite illustrations accompany this captivating meditation on love, beauty and spiritual awakening.
Dante Alighieri called the Vita nuova (‘new life’) his libello, or ‘little book’; multi-faceted, intriguing and absorbing, it is diminutive only in length. Written between 1292 and 1294, it is the first of Dante’s major writings and the essential precursor to his Divine Comedy. Elaborately and symbolically patterned, the book purports to contain experiences copied from the poet’s ‘book of memory’. It details the ‘new life’ which dawned when, at the age of nine, he first met Beatrice, one of literature’s most alluring heroines and Dante’s guiding force (though little is known of her life): ‘From that time on’, declares Dante, ‘Love governed my soul.’
Beatrice, who is associated throughout with the number nine, first appears ‘dressed in the most noble of colours, a subdued and decorous crimson’: this Folio edition is bound to match, and crimson forms the palette for the exquisite illustrations by Daniel Egnéus. Printed in two colours, the book presents the Italian text alongside a facing-page translation by Dante scholar Mark Musa, which, as A. N. Wilson writes, captures ‘almost miraculously both the crystalline qualities of Dante’s early verses and the robustness of his Italian prose’. Dante describes Beatrice as ‘one who is through all ages blessed’; 750 years after the author’s birth, the Vita nuova still sings today.
‘The Vita nuova, Dante’s first major work of certain attribution, is an original and sophisticated creation’
An innovative mix of prose and poetry, the Vita nuova broke new ground by appearing in Italian rather than the customary Latin; as A. N. Wilson (author of Dante in Love and The Victorians) writes in his introduction, Dante set out ‘to recreate Italian, to give the very language a “new life”’. It is a meditation on poetry, and on the torments and joys of love – from Dante’s ‘blessed happiness, which many times exceeded and overflowed my brim’, to his bitter despair when Beatrice rejects him. But at the heart of the Vita nuova is something that far transcends the travails of a lovesick youth; Beatrice is gradually revealed as an ethereal rather than an earthly being, while Dante encounters otherworldly figures, including the charming Love himself. ‘It is’, Wilson writes, ‘an erotic autobiography, it is a spiritual apologia, it is a densely packed meditation upon the allegorical interpretation of love in literature, both sacred and profane.’
Dante Alighieri was born in Florence around 1265, into a family which he claimed descended from the ancient Romans. Little is known of his education, but in his youth he associated with many of the best-known poets, musicians and artists of the day, including Guido Cavalcanti. Around the age of 20 he married Gemma Donati, who bore him several children. He entered politics in 1295 and became one of the six governing Priors of Florence in 1300, but was forced into exile with his party in 1301. He wrote, taught and lectured, producing the Convivio, the Monarchia, the Divina Commedia, which is widely considered the greatest work of Italian literature. He died in Ravenna in 1321.
Mark Musa was Distinguished Professor of Italian at Indiana University. A former Fulbright Scholar and Guggenheim Fellow, he published numerous books and articles on Italian literature. His acclaimed translations include works by Petrarch, Boccaccio, Machiavelli and Dante.
A. N. Wilson is a writer, newspaper columnist and television presenter. After studying at New College, Oxford, he spent a year training for the priesthood before turning to writing. His non-fiction works include The Victorians (2002; published by The Folio Society in 2008), Dante in Love (2011), and lives of Hilaire Belloc, C. S. Lewis, John Betjeman, Tolstoy and Jesus, among others. His novel Winnie and Wolf was longlisted for the 2007 Man Booker Prize. For The Folio Society he has introduced Charles Dickens's Pickwick Papers (2011).
Daniel Egnéus is a prolific artist with no formal training. He has had successful collaborations with clients such as Time magazine and Penguin Books, and was voted Best Illustrator by the Association of Illustrators in 2005. His lucid, dreamy and vibrant illustrations are created using pen and ink. He illustrated The Voyage of Argo for The Folio Society in 2013.
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Review by experi-ate on 25th Oct 2015
"Dante's glorious treatise on love is a wonderful companion for life, I have discovered. I wish I had read the earlier parts when teenage hormones where ravaging my mind and heart; I'm glad to have rea..." [read more]