G. K. Chesterton’s primary intent in his first novel was to express his opposition to England’s imperialism, which had been the cause of the Boer War of 1899-1902. When he depicts the London borough of Notting Hill declaring its independence, Chesterton is defending the right of any country, however small, to express and defend its nationalistic tendencies. In other words, the Boer republics had as much right to patriotism as did the invading British Empire. By means of the brief but startling appearance in the novel of the flamboyant Juan del Fuego, former president of Nicaragua, Chesterton compares the British Empire’s fading fortunes at the end of the nineteenth century to those of the Spanish Empire, which had lost its last overseas colonies in 1898.
Besides serving as a platform for the author’s political views, Chesterton’s first novel outlines his literary and aesthetic philosophy, best described as modernist. The beginning of modernist literature coincides with the demise of the British and Spanish empires at the end of the nineteenth century; therefore, it follows that modernist literature depicts history as a decadent, destructive force rather than as a progressive, civilized movement. Chesterton captures the modernist attitude toward history as an arbitrary, capricious phenomenon by making simultaneous, contradictory allusions to the past and to the future.
The novel’s medieval politics and warfare, like the title’s...
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