Imagining the present : perception, form and beauty in the novels of G.K. Chesterton.
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Moore, J. Cameron (John Cameron)
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This dissertation argues that encounters with the beauty of being stand at the heart of Chesterton's novels; through his characters' ability to imaginatively encounter the forms around them, Chesterton's fiction offers visions of both the splendor of being shining through phenomenal forms and the enraptured responses which attend such visions. The real literary achievement of Chesterton's novels lies in the transformation of characters through the imagination as it leads those characters to encounter both the particular forms of the world and the depths of being to which those forms are translucent. This reading of Chesterton's novels is grounded in von Balthasar's account of theological aesthetics and form. As his characters see anew the particular forms which surround them, they encounter the depths of being present within those forms. Von Balthasar's linking of being and form requires that an account of Chesterton's fiction must address the presence of beauty, a term not readily found in the existing criticism. If Chesterton's characters are repeatedly moved by the being revealed through particular forms, this encounter and response takes place under the aegis of the beautiful. Chapter one provides a general introduction to the project. Chapter two situates Chesterton's novels in the contexts of medieval aesthetics, nouvelle theologie, and modernist epiphany. Chapter three provides an account of the peculiar form of the novels especially with regard to characterization and time. Recognizing the place of beauty in the novels explains their episodic structure and fixity of character. Within these strange narrative structures, the imaginative encounter with beauty takes three distinct forms. Each of the final three chapters is dedicated to exploring one particular mode of imagination as it appears in Chesterton's novels. Thus, chapter four investigates the perceptive imagination as a tool for making the familiar strange in Manalive. Chapter five examines the imagination of limits in The Flying Inn and The Napoleon of Notting Hill. Finally, chapter six considers the empathetic imagination of Gabriel Gale in The Poet and the Lunatics and Sunday in The Man Who Was Thursday and the charity to which it leads those characters.