Saturday, May 21, 2016

GK Chesterton and Alan Jacobs discuss fiction and literature

I am reading Alan Jacobs' The Narnian: the life and imagination of CS Lewis. On page 123 Jacobs has a very interesting comment on GK Chesterton.
One of Chesterton's most famous essays is an early one (1901) called "in defence of penny dreadfuls" – "penny dreadfuls" being what we might call "pulp fiction," but for adolescents. Apparently many cultural pedagogues of the time were exercised by the popularity of such "vulgar" stories and wished them to be replaced by genuine literature. GKC is half – puzzled and half – offended by this alarm. He has no wish to defend the dreadfuls as literature but he does want to defend them as "the actual centre of 1 million flaming imaginations." To Chesterton, "the simple need for some kind of ideal world in which fictitious persons play an unhampered part is infinitely deeper and older than the rules of good art, and much more important. Every one of us in childhood has constructed such an invisible dramatis personae, but it never occurred to our nurses to correct the composition by careful comparison with Balzac." In fact, he continues, "literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity." That is while we can live without Balzac, brilliant though he may be, the penny dreadfuls are actually vital to human well-being.

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