Pearl, Matthew 1975(?)-
PEARL, Matthew 1975(?)-
CAREER: Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, teaching fellow in literature, c. 2000—.
AWARDS, HONORS: Dante Prize, Dante Society of America, 1998.
The Dante Club (novel), Random House (New York, NY), 2003.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Another literature-inspired nineteenth century murder mystery, for Random House.
SIDELIGHTS: "If [Matthew Pearl] isn't the emerging enfant terrible of American literature, I can't imagine who is," Mark Shechner wrote in the Buffalo News shortly after Pearl's first novel, The Dante Club, was published. Within weeks of publication, Pearl's book had reached eleventh place on the New York Times bestseller list.
The Dante Club is based on an actual club of the same name which met in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the mid-nineteenth century to translate and study Italian poet Dante Alighieri's works. This club—which included the poets Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and James Russell Lowell, publisher J. T. Fields, and Harvard scholar Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (father of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., the Supreme Court justice)—first came to Pearl's attention when he took a class on Dante as an undergraduate at Harvard University. Pearl, who was majoring in English and American literature, was so enthralled with Dante that he wanted to switch majors to Romance Languages, but this would have made it difficult for him to graduate in time. Instead, Pearl's professor, Lino Pertile, suggested that Pearl write his senior thesis on the Dante Club. Pearl did, and the work earned him the Dante Prize from the Dante Society of America (the current incarnation of the former Dante Club).
After graduating from Harvard University, summa cum laude, Pearl went to Yale Law School to study intellectual property law, but his love for Dante kept coming back to haunt him. Halfway through his time at Yale, Pearl began to write a novel based on the Dante Club. The historical club, its members, and its work—helping Longfellow to prepare his first-ever American translation of Dante's Divine Comedy—provide the background for Pearl's fictional invention, a murder mystery where the killer's methods are based on the punishments that Dante describes for sinners in the Inferno, the first part of the Divine Comedy. It is up to the members of the Dante Club, just about the only people in the United States at that time who were familiar with the Divine Comedy, to help find the killer.
Pearl recognizes the inherent humor in the idea of a group of scholars investigating gruesome murders, and at points in the book he uses this to provide "some welcome comic relief," Mark Rozzo noted in a review in the Los Angeles Times. However, many other reviewers thought that the strongest parts of the book were the "nicely grisly" descriptions of the tortures, which "are well spaced and delivered to characters about whom we care nothing at all," James R. Kincaid wrote in the New York Times.
"There was a part of me that wanted to re-create what I found so extraordinary in Dante: putting poets into a journey of confronting evil," Pearl explained to David Mehegan of the Boston Globe. "That is what the 'Inferno' is: two poets, Dante and Virgil, travel through hell and confront violence and evil. I wanted the Dante Club to go through their own descent."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, November 15, 2002, Kristine Huntley, review of The Dante Club, p. 577.
Boston Globe, March 3, 2003, David Mehegan, review of The Dante Club.
Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY), February 16, 2003, review of The Dante Club.
Esquire, March, 2003, Adrienne Miller, review of The Dante Club, p. 78.
Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 2002, review of The Dante Club, p. 1650.
Library Journal, December, 2002, Laurel Bliss, review of The Dante Club, p. 180.
Los Angeles Times, February 9, 2003, Mark Rozzo, review of The Dante Club, p. R14.
New York Times, February 7, 2003, Janet Maslin, review of The Dante Club, p. E34; March 2, 2003, James R. Kincaid, review of The Dante Club, p. 6.
People, February 17, 2003, Julie K. L. Dam, review of The Dante Club, p. 43.
Publishers Weekly, April 17, 2000, John F. Baker, "Dante Scholars in Murder Mystery," p. 16; October 7, 2002, review of The Dante Club, p. 50; February 3, 2003, review of the audio version of The Dante Club, p. 24.
Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ), February 16, 2003, Alice K. Turner, review of The Dante Club, p. 4.
Dante Club Web site,http://www.thedanteclub.com (March 5, 2003).
Pages,http://www.ireadpages.com/ (March 5, 2003), interview with Matthew Pearl.*