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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 Four: “The Real Gospel of Dickens”: Chesterton and the Audience for Criticism 33


Chapter Four “The Real Gospel of Dickens”: Chesterton and the Audience for Criticism As a form of persuasive discourse, literary criticism is subject to rhetori- cal analysis and thus entails the concept of audience. Various schools of literary criticism have investigated the relationship between literary works and their audiences: for example, pragmatic criticism evaluates the moral or aesthetic effect of the work on the audience; rhetorical criticism considers how the target audience influences the construction of the work, and reader- response criticism posits that readers themselves actually play a role in creating the work by bringing to it their own meanings. While Chesterton’s criticism bears little affinity with rhetorical or reader-response criticism, it can be called pragmatic in its concern with the moral effects of literature. Alternately, it has also been labeled impressionistic as well as expressivist. Labels such as these can be misleading, of course, but determining to what extent they apply to Chesterton’s criticism may help establish a critical context that may in turn shed light on his perception of the tasks and audi- ence his criticism addressed. M. H. Abrams’s influential book The Mirror and the Lamp opens with concise outlines of four major “orientations” of critical theory, two of which, the pragmatic and the expressive, seem relevant to Chesterton’s critical practice. Pragmatic criticism, says Abrams, ...looks at the work of art chiefly as a means to an end, an instrument for getting something done, and tends to judge its value according to its success in achieving...

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