May Books 7) On the Place of Gilbert Chesterton in English Letters, by Hilaire Belloc

An odd little book which must have belonged to someone of my grandparents’ generation (published by the London Catholic firm Sheed & Ward in 1940). Belloc insists that Chesterton is the greatest English writer of his own lifetime, and weaves into the argument many of the assertions common to the English Catholic intelligentsia of his day. The only point that I found new or interesting was his contrast between Chesterton, as an explicitly English writer, and Kipling, as an Imperial writer, including this striking statement:

All of us who have travelled can witness to the effect of Kipling upon the reputation of England abroad. Kipling’s ignorance of Europe, his vulgarity and its accompanying fear of superiors (which modern people call an inferiority-complex) have profoundly affected and affected adversely the reputation of England and the Englishman throughout the world.

I’m not well enough read in either writer to take a firm position; I certainly enjoy Chesterton more than Kipling (he is funnier and not quite as politically awful), but Belloc’s reasons for finding Kipling’s success rather unjust are that he is less English and therefore more accessible in America, and happened to have a good French translator. I shall check what Margaret Drabble thinks of them all, and then try to get hold of The Light That Failed.

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1 Response to May Books 7) On the Place of Gilbert Chesterton in English Letters, by Hilaire Belloc

  1. nwhyte says:

    I managed the first two steps of this myself; but in fact neither is necessary, there is a perfectly decent proof for all n>1, which your third step comes close to getting.

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