In my rereading of Jazz, I was intrigued on page 30 when Morrison begins a paragraph with, “They met in Vesper County, Virginia, under a walnut tree.” I knew that Vespers was a type of prayer, and so immediately I marked it in my text, knowing that at least it had somewhat of a (potentially superficial) connection to religion, and therefore potentially Dante.
It was a bit of a reach, but that’s why I was again intrigued when in Canto VII, Dante writes about the souls who sing Salve Regina, a link to the Wikipedia page to look at a translation can be found here. It doesn’t shock me that these souls sing this song when the prayer/hymn deals with exiled people asking for mercy from Mary, and mentions a “valley of tears” not unlike the “valley of princes” we find ourselves in at this level of Antepurgatory.
Anyway, I think that looking at the texts of the different prayers as I continue through Purgatorio will definitely be useful for me to really get a sense of what Dante is trying to do. Perhaps this is naive, but I see these prayers as being more useful allusions for my understanding than the various historical people Dante the Pilgrim encounters. Muse’s endnotes on this Canto references the significance of this song and he writes, “The Marian antiphon Salve Regina was one of the hymns intended for the service after vespers, so that, as we hear the anonymous souls singing it in the dusk of the valley, we are made to think in terms of the daily habits of a Christian community on earth” (77).
Morrison is an author who clearly cares about location and place. It’s central to so many of her works, Jazz included, so I don’t think that her choosing Vesper County (which isn’t a real county in Virginia, in case you were wondering) was random. I’m unsure of what its purpose may be, and if it’s actually a direct connection to Dante. My thinking would be that she wants to allude to the idea of religion (perhaps a stab at a subtle direct connection to Purgatorio) without having her characters interact in genuine religious settings/contexts. The only other real religious aspects we get (in terms of a strict religious institution) is the church in which Dorcas’ funeral is held and we see Violet attempt this really gruesome act of maiming a corpse.
Perhaps this is just one small connection that won’t amount to anything, but I thought it was worth noting.