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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Dante Alighieri's
Publishing Company

Eric Lane

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To purchase Dante Alighieri's Publishing Company

Title: Dante Alighieri's Publishing Company
Author: Eric Lane
Genre: Novel
Written: 1985
Length: 158 pages
Availability: Dante Alighieri's Publishing Company - US
Dante Alighieri's Publishing Company - UK
Dante Alighieri's Publishing Company - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B : fun little lightly fictionalized publishing tale

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Dante Alighieri's Publishing Company is a fictional account of the founding and sputtering start of publishing house 'Dead Loss'.
       The novel is presented as four of the notebooks kept by Dead Loss-publisher Dante Alighieri between 1978 and 1980, in which he chronicles the ups and downs of his (ad)venture.
       Early on Dante describes how they tried to find a name for the publishing house:

     "ICARUS has been used before", he informs me, "but DAEDALUS isn't bad. Better than QUALITY BOOKS at any rate."
     I try DAEDALUS out on Anton. He is sceptical and says it's the kind of name Private Eye would soon turn into DEAD LOSS.
       Readers will have guessed even before then that Dante Alighieri's Publishing Company is, in fact, a thinly-veiled account of publisher Dedalus' own rough and tumble start -- written, after all, by Dedalus publisher and co-founder Eric Lane, who also, under his own name, provides an editorial Foreword as part of the fiction. The 'Dante Alighieri' of the novel is, however, also a stand-in for Lane -- with Lane also using the names of several other larger-than-life literary figures for his characters (who otherwise bear only limited resemblance to their namesakes), such as Mary Shelley, Anthony Trollope, and Jane Austen.
       The notebooks begin in 1978, with Dante an unenthusiastic law student at the L.S.E.. In his mid-twenties, Dante has also been following writerly pursuits, including taking a Novel Class at the Art Centre. Frustrated when his own manuscript doesn't win a first-novel writing prize, he begins to consider publishing it himself -- indeed, starting his own publishing house. With limited funds -- and a growing family, as wife Beatrice soon becomes pregnant -- his ambitions would seem to far outweigh his ability but he nevertheless pushes ahead.
       Dante has manuscripts from several Novel Class classmates for the initial list -- "Jane Austen's novel, a very smart piece of social commentary, with the occasional baby battering scene" is clearly Ros Franey's Cry Baby -- and with some financial contributions from them as well he can get started on printing them. Soon enough he has 10,000 books -- and faces the problem of where to put them all -- and begins making the rounds, trying to get them in the shops. He's even reasonably successful with that; he even gets some press attention. The reality of publishing proves, however, inescapable -- driven home when one bookshop returns twenty-four of the twenty-five copies of one title they took on:
     "We managed to sell one copy of Ireland and Enfields Green, and that's all I'm afraid. Please credit us for the rest."
     "But we've been on TV and in the papers."
     "Yes I know, but you haven't sold any books."
       They hope for reviews; they pin their hopes on a can't miss Oberammergau-passion-play tie-in (which of course flops). And ultimately Dante sees only one sure-fire way to success: publishing these notebooks that chronicle the story of Dead Loss.
       The Foreword to the novel had already revealed this final turn -- as well as both Dante's untimely death, on January 15th, 1985, "after a Foyle's lunch at which he was the guest of honour", and the publishing company's fate:
     The success of the Dead Loss imprint started by signor Alighieri is now legendary, with authors like Jane Austen, Anthony Trollope, Mary Shelley and Yoll household names in every land where books are read.
       So we know from the outset of the semi-happy ending -- that Dead Loss (if not publisher Dante) would not just pull through, despite all the hurdles it faced, but become a great success.
       It makes for an amusing, lively story of a small but ambitious publisher trying to break into the business and everything that stands in the way of success (not least disapproving parents, as well as the usual demands of family life).
       In closely following the actual Dedalus-story -- including the idea of a European Classics-line and an early bet on Giovanni Verga, as well as a PR stunt involving a coffin (with photos included !) -- it makes for fun reading for any fan of the publisher. While Dedalus may not have had quite the break-out success Dead Loss did, it's good to see that it -- and its very impressive list, still growing in wonderful directions -- putter admirably along, more than forty years on.

- M.A.Orthofer, 28 June 2023

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Dante Alighieri's Publishing Company: Reviews: Dedalus: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Eric Lane is the publisher of Dedalus.

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© 2023 the complete review

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