The Intellectual Magnanimity of Chesterton and Belloc’s Humor

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On this manifold Sacred Feast Day, we propose to offer a perhaps unexpected, but quite illuminating contrast with the honored historical figure of Saint Joan of Arc, Virgin—who was killed by the English at nineteen years of age in 1431. And thus we shall now consider another vivid, but very different sort of woman in literary history, as distinct from religious or political history: herself being a fictional character of English literature. This unforgettably voluble and comparably full-blooded, larger-than-life woman—Lady Alice, the Wife of Bath—is also, in G.K. Chesterton’s droll and discerningly sympathetic words, “the great professional widow of literature.” Yet she is shown to have had no children. Moreover, Chesterton’s compassionately comic rendition of Geoffrey Chaucer’s own subtle presentation of her (and her final pathos) shows us his own pervasive quality of generosity and intellectual magnanimity, both of which he so often and so gratefully admired in others, to include in his friend Hilaire Belloc. (For, Belloc was also a widower, but not childless, being a father of five children, and two of his sons were to be lost in two separate World Wars, after the earlier death of their mother on 2 February 1914.)

 

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