Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 279

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The Everlasting Man was written in the 1920’s, when disillusionment and alienation had affected many. World War I had cost England dearly, not only economically but also in the blood of its young men. In the war’s aftermath, many were seeking stability and security. This milieu may account for some of the popularity of The Everlasting Man, which went through seventeen printings between 1925 and 1952.

Among critics, believing Christians naturally could accept Chesterton’s thesis more easily than those who doubted the validity of Christian solutions to human problems. Some viewed the work as representative of Catholic apologetics. To Chesterton fans, The Everlasting Man was vintage Chesterton; they delighted in his use of paradox and his explanations by analogy. Yet serious critics found that at times Chesterton reasoned tightly and satisfactorily to a point, then suddenly required his readers to make a leap of faith. One critic rejected his logic altogether, describing the book as a long syllogism based on a faulty premise.

A later critic has assessed The Everlasting Man as a synthesis of many of Chesterton’s earlier ideas. The work is typical of the genial Chesterton, who loved to jest and who knew better than many of his fellows the proximity of humor and pathos. The same critic comments that a distinguished specialist on Thomism considers Chesterton’s book on Thomas Aquinas the best that has ever been written and regards Chesterton as an excellent dialectician and popular philosopher. It is as difficult to describe the place of this work in literary history as it is to assess the role of Chesterton himself. He was certainly a jester, but one who invited his public to think.