Tag Archives: G. K. Chesterton

Review: G.K.Chesterton, London and Modernity

chesterton

Matthew Beaumont and Matthew Ingleby, eds. G.K. Chesterton, London and Modernity, London: Bloomsbury 2013 [ISBN:9781780937069]

This lively and varied collection of essays on G. K. Chesterton’s complicated relationship with modernity, and his intricate rendering of London in his writing, does more than offer a corrective to the previous dearth of critical work on Chesterton’s attitudes to the modern city. Through careful examination of Chesterton’s contradictory opinions and light-hearted prose, a broader view emerges of what “modernism”, and indeed London, meant to the Edwardians. Chesterton is an enigmatic writer whose elastic prose is characterised by an unlikely combination of paradox, punning and moments of profound insight; as Lynne Hapgood comments early on in the collection, “Even Chesterton’s stylistic flamboyance in this novel, veering between the absurdist, the heroic and a kind of anticipatory surrealism, was par for the course in an Edwardian period when the novel was charactertized by its sheer generic diversity.”[1] His writings helped to curb the pessimistic strain of “high” cultural responses to urban life in the re-creation of a comic London, offering an alternative to the gritty city slums and intensely private spaces portrayed in many naturalist modern urban writing. Yet, as several of the essays attest, jest is often a conduit for unexpected wisdom or sharp political comment. Continue reading

Terribly Quiet

Stanislawa de Karlowska, Barrage Balloons, c.1914

Stanislawa de Karlowska, Barrage Balloons, c.1914

‘Terribly quiet; that is in two words the spirit of this age, as I have felt it from my cradle. I sometimes wondered how many other people felt the oppression of this union between quietude and terror. I see blank well-ordered streets, and men in black moving about inoffensively, sullenly. It goes on day after day, day after day, and nothing happens; but to me it is like a dream from which I might awake screaming. To me the straightness of our life is the straightness of a thin cord stretched tight. Its stillness is terrible. It might snap with a noise like thunder’ (G. K. Chesterton, The Napoleon of Notting Hill, 1904)