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The Rhetoric of Redemption

Chesterton, Ethical Criticism, and the Common Man


Alan R. Blackstock

The Rhetoric of Redemption: Chesterton, Ethical Criticism, and the Common Man examines the literary criticism written by G. K. Chesterton between 1902 and 1913 from a rhetorical standpoint to ascertain whether Chesterton did in fact create the «criticism for the common man» he aimed for. To answer this question, this book explores the relationships among writers, readers, books, and critics both during the time Chesterton first began writing and in the context of rhetorical and critical tradition from Plato to the present day. Ultimately, this book argues that Chesterton's unorthodox approach to literature, while still dismissed by the academic establishment, raises fundamental questions about the nature and function of literature and criticism that need to be raised anew in every generation and especially in the wake of each new critical episteme.
The Rhetoric of Redemption is extremely useful for both scholars and students of literary criticism and Chesterton enthusiasts who are interested in his approach to literature. This book would also be a valuable resource for courses in nineteenth-century British literature, literary criticism, and rhetorical analysis.


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Chapter One: “Let Us Begin With Truisms”: Criticism and the Common Man 3


Chapter One “Let Us Begin With Truisms”: Criticism and the Common Man Although G. K. Chesterton was one of the most prolific and versatile writers of his time, producing thousands of pages of commentary on art literature, religion, ethics, and politics,1 he is chiefly remembered today either as the author of the Father Brown detective stories and The Man Who Was Thursday or as the apologist for the Catholic faith who wrote such books as Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man. The essays and books on Victorian literature and authors that made him famous, Robert Browning and Charles Dickens, for instance, go largely unread, and Chesterton’s critical reputation has similarly languished, though a coterie of devoted followers has attempted to salvage it by various means, primarily by defending him against charges of excessive optimism, slovenly scholarship, and stylistic theatricality,2 as well as by attempting to demonstrate that he anticipated some of the critical approaches later employed in “new” and other schools of twentieth-century criticism.3 But neither Chesterton’s attackers nor his defenders have adequately considered the question of the audiences to whom his criticism was addressed, or the purposes for which he addressed them, crucial considerations in determining whether Chesterton’s writing deserves to be called criticism at all, or rather some form of journalism, popular biography, or pure propaganda. Chesterton himself always insisted that he wrote for the common man and refused to admit any distinction between his journalism and his criticism.4 His literary criticism, if it can be called...

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