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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 Five: “A Tongue Understanded of the People”: Chesterton on Newman, Carlyle, and Ruskin 47


Chapter Five “A Tongue Understanded of the People”: Chesterton on Newman, Carlyle, and Ruskin Beginning with its earliest appearance in the Liberal dailies and literary magazines, Chesterton’s criticism invariably aims simultaneously to educate, edify, and incite its readers. To examine precisely how he accomplishes this rhetorical jugglery, I have chosen, from the thousands of essays Chesterton contributed to these periodicals, three written between 1902 and 1908 that analyze the work of three writers who were themselves no mean rhetoricians: John Henry Newman, Thomas Carlyle, and John Ruskin. In these essays Chesterton’s analysis will focus on the relationship between the ideas and the rhetorical style of the author in question, while at the same time indulging in what Stephen Medcalf has described as Chesterton’s “ability to impersonate, modified by his awareness of a strong system of values to judge what he is impersonating” (85): not only the authors themselves but the age they attacked. No Victorian writers generated more controversy in their own day than did Newman, Carlyle, and Ruskin, and today few Victorian prose stylists retain the critical interest enjoyed by these three radically different yet equally influential essayists. By Chesterton’s time, however, reaction against them had begun to set in with the general modernist repudiation of all things Victorian. Thus in choosing to write about the three in the Liberal dailies, Chesterton is already flouting the tastes and expectations of his readers who liked to think of themselves as progressive. His purpose, however, is not to attempt to make...

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