Beatrice “Is not a woman”: symbolic and realist interpretations of Dante’s Beatrice in the 1930s

George Corbett*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article reappraises contextually the controversy in the 1930s between Pierre Mandonnet and Étienne Gilson about the historical existence, and intended
meanings, of Dante’s Beatrice. First, it situates Mandonnet’s symbolic interpretation of 1935 and Gilson’s realist interpretation of 1939, in relation to the animated debates about Beatrice in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Second, it analyses Mandonnet’s interpretation of Beatrice as the Christian supernatural order, and his specific hypothesis about Dante’s (failed) clerical vocation. Third, it demonstrates that Gilson’s realist interpretation, despite being universally acclaimed, is deeply flawed, and underpinned by his quixotic psychological theory about poets and their muses. Fourth, it provides a comparative critique of some specific points of contention. The reconstruction of this crucial, yet neglected, controversy in Dante’s reception history may invite scholars to reinterrogate the realist consensus about Beatrice, and the preference for a “historical Beatrice,” that has predominated in post-war Dante studies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)100-139
JournalBibliotheca Dantesca
Early online date19 Apr 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 19 Apr 2024


  • Dante
  • Beatrice
  • Pierre Mandonnet
  • Étienne Gilson
  • 1930s
  • Reception
  • Vita Nuova
  • Commedia


Dive into the research topics of 'Beatrice “Is not a woman”: symbolic and realist interpretations of Dante’s Beatrice in the 1930s'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this