Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 238
The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl was written in 1865, and it revolves around the controversial book by Dante The Divine Comedy, as well as a series of fictional murders that followed it. Scholars view The Dante Club as a commentary on society and the state of publishing and censorship at the time it was written. In American society at the time, the ruling elite controlled published content, and Dante’s The Divine Comedy was widely considered scandalous by the Brahmins who had the power to ban publications they determined to be blasphemous and dangerous. In the novel, a group of respected scholars, led by the noted poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, formed a club to preserve this important literary work and bring The Divine Comedy to America. Pearl used this club as a focal point for his story, which involved a series of murders committed in the style of Dante’s Inferno.
In addition to Longfellow, members of the club included poets Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and James Russell Lowell, historian George W. Greene, and J. T. Fields, their publisher. In the novel, the club is finishing the first translation of The Divine Comedy to be published in America, and the members meet weekly to discuss their work and world issues. The Brahmins at Harvard College, however, are fighting to keep the work out of American and prevent the American people from being corrupted by foreign ideas.