(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

In Inferno, the psychologically disturbed narrator sets forth on a journey through an earthly hell and emerges purified of his sins. Leaving his wife and child liberates him but also fills him with guilt. Living alone in Paris, he rejects love in order to pursue knowledge and with the aid of signs and portents discovers carbon in the element sulfur. At the same time, the narrator, believing that his life is being controlled by an unknown power, withdraws from the world of loose living, only to be whipped by prostitutes and harassed by ruffians, who punish him for his sins. When his scientific experiments leave his hands bleeding and incapacitated, he enters the St. Louis Hospital, where he is surrounded by decay, disease, and death. Once there, however, his relationship with a motherly nun revives him and teaches him to bear his sufferings.

Although he receives financial aid for a time, his suffering increases. After dabbling in black magic by trying to cast a spell on his child, he finds himself plagued by three Scandinavian women playing three separate pianos in the rooms next to him. Fleeing to the Hotel Orfila, the narrator continues his grandiose experiments, trying to produce gold from lead. Incidents which he perceives as strange omens continue to plague him, as he discovers a man who looks like his wife, letters displaying his wife’s maiden name, and an envelope addressed to a Dr. Bitter.

Undergoing a series of mystical...

(The entire section is 498 words.)