nebroadwe: (Books)
Ian Ker, G.K. Chesterton
Boy, was I enthusiastic when I heard that the ferociously learned Ker was publishing a Chesterton biography.

Boy, was I disappointed. This is not the book I was hoping for.

What I hope for in a brick of a biography (and at ~750 pages, this is a respectable brick) is lots and lots and lots of CONTEXT. I want to find out who the subject was in relation to his/her family, friends, enemies and society, not to mention the historic events and big and small trends of his/her time. Ker presents Chesterton in a kind of splendid isolation. He records (occasionally in bizarrely minute detail, via extensive quotation of Frances Chesterton's diaries) the daily events of Chesterton's life and provides summaries (which, I must admit, I started skimming about 3/4 of the way through) of his major works, but only spreads his net wider twice: once to deal with Chesterton's view of Jews and Judaism and once to give what he apparently thought was unavoidable background to Chesterton's involvement in the Marconi scandal. For a book that puts a great deal of emphasis on Chesterton's journalism (the first draft of history!), there's very little analysis of Chesterton in relation to his times. What about Catholic Modernism? A little more Boer War, please? Some Big Picture on the literary scene rather than accumulation of anecdote? How about more than sidelights on Cecil Chesterton's career, with which his brother's was intertwined? Left completely unexamined is Chesterton's Orientalism (a product of his time); I was also underwhelmed at the treatment of his opinions on the Woman Question (ditto). On the other hand, the frequent quotation of Chesterton's own Autobiography left me intrigued; I think I'm likely to pick that up and read the man on himself. Not recommended if you're a fan of the same sort of biography I am.
nebroadwe: (Books)
As someone who enjoys Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, Scott's Ivanhoe, and Steve Sommers's Mummy, among other things, I find myself having to skate through or contextualize as Values Dissonance problematic scenes and characterizations in a not inconsiderable fraction of stuff I like. Which is why I found this blog post interesting:
How To Be A Fan Of Problematic Things
There are a few works that I've given up because the enjoyment of the cool bits was finally outweighed by the "ARGH. NO." of the dissonant ones (Anne McCaffrey's adult Pern books, frex, or most of Piers Anthony's oeuvre, and Patricia Kenneally's Keltiad trilogy is kind of circling the drain these days), but not many; usually I'll grimace and pass on, sometimes with a bit of litcritter analysis. (Which reminds me that I quite enjoy works written explicitly to counter or interrogate popular-but-problematic stuff, like Philip Pullman's Tin Princess for Anthony Hope's Prisoner of Zenda, or a good deal of Terry Pratchett. You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, but you can take the pattern of the sow's ear for your purse and turn out some remarkably silky things, if you have a lot of imagination and a little moxie. :-)


nebroadwe: From "The Magdalen Reading" by Rogier van der Weyden.  (Default)
The Magdalen Reading

August 2014



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