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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 Nine: “Rational Self-Completion”: Chesterton, the Virtues, and Ethical Criticism 107


Chapter Nine “Rational Self-Completion”: Chesterton, the Virtues, and Ethical Criticism Alasdair MacIntyre’s argument for a conception of life as a narrative unity with a telos understood in terms of the classical and Christian virtues has been taken up by a number of contemporary critics and philosophers includ- ing Booth, Nussbaum, and most recently Fritz Oehlschlaeger, in Love and Good Reasons: Postliberal Approaches to Christian Ethics and Literature, and Lee Oser, in The Return of Christian Humanism: Chesterton, Eliot, Tolkien and the Romance of History. And though only the last of these writers explicitly invokes Chesterton, their attempt to construct an ethical approach to literature based on its capacity to transmit a core of values (read virtues) that make possible a unitary vision of life bears close affinities to Chesterton’s practice of invoking the classical (or what he calls “pagan”) and Christian virtues throughout his critical ouevre. John Gross has commented that Chesterton was “a Neo-Thomist by in- stinct long before he had actually read Aquinas” (255), and like Aquinas, he saw the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and charity as complementing and completing the classical virtues of justice, courage, temperance, and pru- dence. First among the virtues for Chesterton, as we have seen in his discus- sion of Dickens’s fools, is charity, encompassing sympathy, pity, affection, and respect (“Charity is a reverential agnosticism toward the complexity of the soul”1). But he also frequently invokes in his literary criticism such Aristotelian virtues as justice, the chivalric virtues of loving and...

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