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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 Two: “Singing With an Object”: Rhetoric, Audience, and Chesterton 15


Chapter Two “Singing with an Object”: Rhetoric, Audience, and Chesterton If Chesterton’s criticism aims at redemption of both literature and its readers, then it must necessarily be persuasive to succeed—it must persuade its audience to alter or at least reconsider their ways of thinking about literature and about their relationship to it. And if Chesterton’s criticism is persuasive discourse, then it lends itself to rhetorical analysis, inasmuch as Aristotle defined rhetoric as “the faculty of observing in every case the available means of persuasion” (24). In each case, the means of persuasion available depend not only on the discriminative skill of the rhetor but equally on the susceptibility of the target audience to the message. Therefore, one of the primary considerations for both theorists and practitioners of rhetoric is the audience. As a journalist writing not only to persuade but to sell, Chester- ton had to be keenly aware of audience; and though he left no systematic analysis of the rhetorical principles underlying his own writing, he was widely read in classical and medieval authorities from Plato and Aristotle to Sts. Augustine and Aquinas,1 and his public-school education would have incorporated a thorough study of rhetoric. It should come as no surprise, then, that many of Chesterton’s statements about the purpose of his writing contain clear echoes of principles first outlined by these ancient authorities. And these echoes are themselves echoed by recent appeals for literary criticism to consider texts as interactions between writers and readers, much as...

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