Episode 12: “A Defence of Penny Dreadfuls” by G. K. Chesterton
On The Literary Life podcast today, Angelina Stanford and Cindy Rollins discuss G. K. Chesterton’s essay “A Defence of Penny Dreadfuls.” Before diving in to today’s episode, don’t forget to register for the amazing Back to School online conference coming up on August 26-29, 2019!
Angelina opens with a brief history of the Victorian era and the more prevalent availability of the novel to the masses. She also gives several examples of the “penny dreadful.” Cindy and Angelina discuss why they agree with Chesterton that people need these simple, even formulaic stories. They remind us that childhood is a time for good books, not a time to worry about reading all the “Great Books.”
Another topic that Cindy and Angelina chat about is the importance of developing imagination. They talk about the truth that fiction and story-telling are necessary parts of human culture. Cindy highlights the importance of the heroic adventure stories for boys. Angelina brings out the point that the elite critic is out of touch with the masses who long for stories of good winning over evil. The penny dreadful should not be judged as art, since that was never what it was intended to be.
Listen to The Literary Life:
Summer of the Short Story:
Ep 13: “The Garden Party” by Katherine Mansfield
Ep 14: “Adventures of a Shilling” by Joseph Addison
Ep 15: “The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant
Ep 16: “Why I Write” by George Orwell
Ep 17: “The Celestial Omnibus” by E. M. Forster
Ep 18: “Vulture on War” by Samuel Johnson
by D. H. Lawrence
Not every man has gentians in his house
in Soft September, at slow, Sad Michaelmas.
Bavarian gentians, big and dark, only dark
darkening the daytime torchlike with the smoking blueness of Pluto’s
ribbed and torchlike, with their blaze of darkness spread blue
down flattening into points, flattened under the sweep of white day
torch-flower of the blue-smoking darkness, Pluto’s dark-blue daze,
black lamps from the halls of Dis, burning dark blue,
giving off darkness, blue darkness, as Demeter’s pale lamps give off
lead me then, lead me the way.
Reach me a gentian, give me a torch
let me guide myself with the blue, forked torch of this flower
down the darker and darker stairs, where blue is darkened on blueness.
even where Persephone goes, just now, from the frosted September
to the sightless realm where darkness was awake upon the dark
and Persephone herself is but a voice
or a darkness invisible enfolded in the deeper dark
of the arms Plutonic, and pierced with the passion of dense gloom,
among the splendor of torches of darkness, shedding darkness on the
lost bride and groom.
Towards a Philosophy of Education by Charlotte Mason
War and Peace by Leo Tolsto
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
An Experiment in Criticism by C. S. Lewis
G. A. Henty books
Dave Dawson War Adventure Series
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This was a wonderful episode. Very convicting for me! I live in two worlds: one is where I am a homeschooling mom using AO, a lifetime reader of classic literature and a lot of nonfiction, and I maintain a large library of living books. In my other world I work as a public librarian, helping people get their popular novels, trashy romances and handing over to children their Captain Underpants and My Little Pony book spin-offs. My job there is also to weed books that don’t circulate, which in my opinion are usually the ones people SHOULD be reading. So I just sigh and take them home. I am used to retreating into one world and disdaining the other. However, this episode really made me pause and re-think my own snobbery, and try to once more enter the world of the reading public and seek to understand them, not criticize them. Just yesterday I was talking to a woman who had read every book ever written by James Patterson and was now on a mission to own every single one of them. As she was searching through our used book sale, I took this episode’s advice and asked her, “So, what is it that you like about James Patterson?” She said it was the writing style that made you just want to keep reading and not put the book down. I still don’t know if I have enough time to pick up one for myself, but I did move a few feet closer in understanding. Thank you for (exposing my snobbery and) helping me better understand the people I serve every day. Now can you help me find some virtue in the stacks of horror movies I check out to people every week?!?
This is so enlightening. The library seems like a dream job but I can see now it would be conflicting and discouraging. It is so much easier to judge than understand but also it would be hard to see people choosing inferior books when such riches are available.