Friday, June 10, 2016

GKC Summer Reading Plans

Our Greater Wichita Chesterton reading group will wrap up its discussion of the three final essays in The Well and the Shallows tonight: "An Explanation", "Why Protestants Prohibit", and "Where is the Paradox?" The first two essays are responses to reactions to a BBC broadcast Chesterton made offering the Catholic view of Freedom. I wish we could readily find out what Chesterton said about the Catholic view of Freedom, but since I'm leading the discussion tonight I may pose that as our first question: "What, based on what we've read so far of Chesterton, would have he have said about the Catholic view of freedom?". The final essay is also reactionary, as Chesterton comments on an article in a High Church newspaper in which he was called a "prolix Papist professor of paradox". I'm sure Chesterton appreciated the alliteration.

Eighth Day Books is also holding its annual spring sale this weekend just before the beginning of summer. And it is getting warm early in June (my husband and I prefer cooler weather). Nevertheless, the GKC group will have refreshments, EDB will have refreshments, and books and about Chesterton--and all the other authors from Abelard to Zwingli--are on sale: 20% off new books and 35% off used books.

For our July 8 meeting, we will read The Flying Inn for discussion. We will have to have some rum and cheddar cheese!

As Dale Ahlquist introduces the novel:

Besides Heretics and Orthodoxy, Chesterton said that the book he most enjoyed writing was The Flying Inn. He apparently enjoyed creating the comical scenes as much as the polemical ones, the drinking songs as much as the bitter satire and the hard-edged debate. As the hero of the novel says (in describing something else), “It’s as innocent as Heaven and as hot as hell.” And one critic called it a novel of “great anger and high mirth.” It is also possible that writing this book provided an outlet of tension for Chesterton, as he started it after the trial of his brother, Cecil, who had been sued for libel in connection with the Marconi Scandal. The novel is a vehicle for Chesterton to tee off against corrupt and ineffectual politicians who had not merely lost touch with common citizens but were actively taking away their basic rights and freedoms. Besides politicians, he also makes room on his skewer for journalists, textual critics, health gurus, idiot socialists and capitalist toadies.

The plots of Chesterton’s novels are always difficult to explain (which is why none have been made into movies, as studio executives only understand descriptions the length of an advertisement). In The Flying Inn, Prohibition has come to England in a roundabout way. Public houses have not been abolished, only the signs that hang in front of them. However, pubs cannot serve wine and spirits unless they have a sign. Got it? So a couple of rebels start roaming around England with an inn sign, setting up temporary public houses in unexpected places. The two adventurers are Patrick Dalroy, an Irish soldier, and Humphrey Pump, a former inn-keeper. Along with the inn sign, they carry with them a barrel of rum and a wheel of cheddar cheese, and are accompanied by a dog and a donkey. Their nemesis is Lord Ivywood, the cold and calculating leader of Parliament, who has engineered the oppressive law. Ivywood rabidly pursues the good villains until he is confronted by a small crowd and comes face-to-face with the utter unpopularity of his laws. He is asked, “Do you think you made the world, that you should make it over again so easily?”

Rather than being suitably chastised and repentant, he answers: “The world was made badly, and I will make it over again.”

Lord Ivywood is one of Chesterton’s best bad guys. He represents everything that is wrong with the world. He is not only the personification of Big Government and Big Business, he is the loss of Western religion, the unreflective acceptance of Eastern religion in the wake of that loss, and he is the mood of modernism in art, philosophy, and love: “I see the breaking of barriers,” he says. “Beyond that I see nothing.”

Then in August, we'll start on Chesterton's two great studies of medieval saints: St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Francis of Assisi. More info on that soon.

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