Dante’s Divine Comedy by Seymour Chwast

Dante’s Divine Comedy
by Seymour Chwast
Bloomsbury, 2010

Well, what would you choose for your first graphic novel if you were a famous and influential designer? Chwast’s visualisation of Dante’s allegorical poem uses little of the (translated) text, which is a shame when adapting such a significant work of literature, but the scope and satire of the work is effectively communicated through his economical and childlike black and white drawings.

Like a theme-costumed production of a Shakespeare play (and don’t we all just love those), the many characters that Dante encounters on his journey through Hell and Purgatory are dressed as though it were the Jazz Age, so the wanton women of Florence railed against by Dante’s friend Donati in Canto 23 are dressed as flappers, and his muse Beatrice resembles Clara Bow. This could be a useful book for students, as it zips through fourteen thousand lines in 120 pages, and although little remains of the beauty of the language, it’s interesting to speculate if, say, the Sodomites (rained on by fire) have a worse deal than the Envious (eyes wired shut and dressed in haircloth).

Chwast should do Ulysses next, he could polish Joyce off just as easily and do a more concise job than this.


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