Friday, March 04, 2011

Older Than the Rules of Good Art

Then came riding into the fray a young man — twenty-five at the time — named Gilbert Keith Chesterton, who, though a young journalist and an intellectual himself, repudiated the hand-wringing of his colleagues and planted his flag quite firmly in the camp of the penny dreadfuls: “There is no class of vulgar publications about which there is, to my mind, more utterly ridiculous exaggeration and misconception than the current boys’ literature of the lowest stratum.” Chesterton is perfectly happy to acknowledge that these books are not in the commendatory sense “literature,” because “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.”

— Alan Jacobs, “The Youngest Brother’s Tale,” in Wayfaring, p. 71

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