Rethinking G.K. Chesterton and Literary Modernism
Parody, Performance, and Popular Culture
This book comprehensively rethinks the relationship between G.K. Chesterton and a range of key literary modernists. When Chesterton and modernism have previously been considered in relation to one another, the dynamic has typically been conceived as one of mutual hostility, grounded in Chesterton’s advocacy of popular culture and modernist literature’s appeal to an aesthetic elite. In setting out to challenge this binary narrative, Shallcross establishes for the first time the depth and ambivalence of Chesterton’s engagement with modernism, as well as the reciprocal fascination of leading modernist writers with Chesterton’s fiction and thought.
Shallcross argues that this dynamic was defined by various forms of parody and performance, and that these histrionic expressions of cultural play not only suffused the era, but found particular embodiment in Chesterton’s public persona. This reading not only enables a far-reaching reassessment of Chesterton’s corpus, but also produces a framework through which to re-evaluate the creative and critical projects of a host of modernist writers—most sustainedly, T.S. Eliot, Wyndham Lewis, and Ezra Pound—through the prism of Chesterton's disruptive presence. The result is an innovative study of the literary performance of popular and ‘high’ culture in early twentieth-century Britain, which adds a valuable new perspective to continuing critical debates on the parameters of modernism.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Sublime Vulgarity, Fanatical Play
1 The Chesterbentley: A Fin-de-Siècle Nonsense Friendship
2 The Ethics of Travesty: Chesterton’s Ludicrous Performance on the Edwardian Literary Stage
3 A Hundred Visions and Revisions: Chesterton Refracted through the Avant-Garde of 1910
4 We Discharge Ourselves on Both Sides: The Parodic Commerce of Chesterton and the Men of 1914
5 Le Mob c’est Moi: 1920s Modernism as Monstrous Carnival
6 Audacious Reconciliation: The Human Circulating Library of Late Modernism
Michael Shallcross is an independent researcher, based in York, UK.
"A fascinating and important contribution to the literature not just on Chesterton but also on modernism and literary movements of the early 20th century more widely... Shallcross does this with Chesterton so expertly, originally and fascinatingly that his book should be welcomed and read by anyone with any interest in British culture in the early twentieth century."
Luke Seaber, University College London
"Rethinking G. K. Chesterton and Literary Modernism proves a richly informed, rewarding undertaking [...] Shallcross's masterful project offers keen insights into [Chesterton's] peculiarly unsettled/unsettling narrative performances"
William J. Scheick, University of Texas
"Intellectual combat between the anti-modernist G. K. Chesterton and the 'Men of 1914' (Ezra Pound, Wyndham Lewis, T. S. Eliot) apparently marks a defining moment of modernism’s emergence. But appearances are deceiving. Revealing that his combatants’ enmity was more masquerade than substance, Shallcross’s book brilliantly demonstrates that differentiations between literary periods or aesthetic 'isms' are not to be taken at face value. This is literary history at its best."
Robert L. Caserio, Pennsylvania State University
"Rethinking G. K. Chesterton and Literary Modernism should be in every college and university library, available to anyone seeking a new way to understand not only Chesterton but also anxieties over his influence."
Crystal Downing, Co-Director of the Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College.