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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 Six: “With Considerable Art”: Chesterton on Blake, Browning, and Shaw 61


Chapter Six “With Considerable Art”: Chesterton on Blake, Browning, and Shaw In Chapter Four of his Autobiography (1936), titled “How to Be A Luna- tic,” Chesterton describes how “the centre of gravity in my existence… shifted from what we will (for the sake of courtesy) call Art to what we will (for the sake of courtesy) call literature” (101). Chesterton attended the Slade School of Art in 1892 and had found the impressionistic school championed by his fellow students, following the lead of artists such as Whistler (to whom Chesterton would devote a chapter in Heretics), to aggravate his own tendencies toward skepticism and morbidity: Whatever may be the merits of this method of art, there is obviously something highly subjective and sceptical about it as a method of thought. It naturally lends itself to the metaphysical suggestion that things exist only as we perceive them, or that things do not exist at all….At this time I did not clearly distinguish between dreaming and waking; not only as a mood but as metaphysical doubt, I felt as if everything might be a dream. It was as if I had projected the universe from within, with its trees and stars; and that is so near to the notion of being God that it is mani- festly even nearer to going mad. Yet I was not mad, in any medical or physical sense; I was simply carrying the scepticism of my time as far as it would go. (95) Chesterton saw...

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