Chapter

Dante Abolitionist and Nationalist in the Nineteenth Century: The Case of Cordelia Ray

Dennis Looney

in Dante in the Long Nineteenth Century

Published in print March 2012 | ISBN: 9780199584628
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191739095 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199584628.003.0015
Dante Abolitionist and Nationalist in the Nineteenth Century: The Case of Cordelia Ray

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The appropriation of Dante by Cordelia Ray, a late nineteenth-century African American author whose thinking about race, civic activism, and freedom was refracted through her reading of the medieval poet, provides an interesting example of how the creative encounter with an earlier author can affect one's sense of identity — national and otherwise. Ray used the medieval poet to shed light on her understanding of American values, in particular on how the United States, which had fallen short of its promise of equality for all citizens before the law, was struggling to correct that injustice in her lifetime. When she published her poem ‘Dante’ in 1885 and when she emended it sometime before its republication in 1910, it was becoming clear that legal recourse might be the most salutary way to overcome the racial divide in the aftermath of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Her interpretation of Dante, the poet and the man, reflects this understanding.

Keywords: African American poets; Dante; identity; medieval poet; American values

Chapter.  6741 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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