Gilbert Keith Chesterton


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Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) was a prolific English critic and author of verse, essays, novels, and short stories. He is probably best known for his series about the priest-detective Father Brown who appeared in 50 stories. Between 1900 and 1936 Chesterton published some one hundred books.

G.K. Chesterton was born in London into a middle-class family on May 29, 1874. He studied at University College and the Slade School of Art (1893-96). Around 1893 he had gone through a crisis of skepticism and depression and during this period he experimented with the Ouija board and grew fascinated with diabolism. In 1895 Chesterton left University College without a degree and worked for the London publisher Redway, and T. Fisher Unwin (1896-1902). Chesterton later renewed his Christian faith; the courtship of his future wife, Frances Blogg, whom he married in 1901 also helped him to pull himself out of his spiritual crisis.

In 1900 appeared Greybeards At Play, Chesterton's first collection of poems. Robert Browning (1903) and Charles Dickens (1906) were literary biographies. The Napoleon Of Notting Hill (1904) was Chesterton's first novel, a political fantasy, in which London is seen as a city of hidden fairytale glitter. In The Man Who Was Thursday (1908) Chesterton depicted fin-de-siècle decadence.

In 1909 Chesterton moved with his wife to Beaconsfield, a village twenty-five miles west of London, and continued to write, lecture, and travel energetically. Between 1913 and 1914 Chesterton was a regular contributor for the Daily Herald. In 1914 he suffered a physical and nervous breakdown. After World War I Chesterton became leader of the Distributist movement and later the President of the Distributist League, promoting the idea that private property should be divided into smallest possible freeholds and then distributed throughout society..

In 1922 Chesterton was converted from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism, and thereafter he wrote several theologically oriented works, including lives of Francis of Assisi and Thomas Aquinas. He received honorary degrees from Edinburgh, Dublin, and Notre Dame universities. Chesterton died on June 14, 1936, at his home in Beaconsfield.

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Recent Forum Posts on Gilbert Keith Chesterton

G.K. Chesteron - a forefather of steam-punk?

I have been reading a steam-punk novel called The Affinity Bridge by George Mann. It is not great literature, but the imagery is good. One of the plot strands revolves around mechanized men, termed 'automatons' - note, not robots. That reminded me of a Father Brown story in which there was a shop full of automatons. In The Man Who Was Thursday there are episodes reminiscent of steam-punk. In one chapter, a secret policeman is sitting down at a table in a tavern, when the whole table descends into an underground system of tunnels. Even without this science fiction stuff, the Edwardian era, when, I guess, Chesterton wrote much of the best stuff, was one in which there was an interesting mix of old, traditional technology, and new, exciting technology. For example, in TMWWT, Symes sprints to catch an omnibus to escape an anarchist pursuer. The book does not say, but presumably this was a new-fangled, diesel-powered omnibus, because he would hardly need to sprint to catch a horse-drawn omnibus. However, a day or two later, Symes is obliged to fight another anarchist in a duel with a sword. In The Affinity Bridge I was slightly confused because the period seemed to be Edwardian, but Queen Victoria was still on the throne. This puzzle was resolved when we find out Queen Victoria is being kept alive by an artificial respirator, so the period was Edwardian. Previously, I assumed steam-punk was inspired by late 19th and early 20th century science fiction writers such as Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, but maybe G.K. Chesterton should be on that list too. Edit: the Father Brown story with the automations was called The Invisible Man


Orwell's criticism of Chesterton

I have recently read two George Orwell essays which criticized G.K. Chesterton. Both essays were superb btw. In his essay Antisemitism in Britain , he accuses Chesteron of antisemitism. In another, Notes on Nationalism, he accuses him of uncritically lavishing Latin countries, such as Italy and France, with the sort of jingoistic praise he would have been embarrassed to hear about his own country. Orwell supposed that his motive in both cases was his support for the Catholic church. Chesterton was not the only writer or thinker that Orwell criticizes, but I am not very familiar with many of the others. I am not entirely surprised. The impression I get is that G.K. Chesteron was both very clever, and also rather silly. He was ingenious at writing literary puzzles and plot twists, but that his political views were shallow and contrarian. I will have to read Chesterton's essay on Dickens to decide.


G.K. Chesterton - any good?

I have recently started reading some Father Brown stories. I am sorry to say, so far, I am not too bowled over. Father Brown seems to be one in the history of eccentric detectives, this time a Roman Catholic priest. The crimes are flashy but improbable. A puzzle is outlined and we all wait around until Father Brown clears it up for us. No attempt is made to get under his skin of the characters. The Wire, it is not. It is a bit like Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie, but not as good. I will continue reading them, but I was a bit disappointed. I wondered whether Father Brown was typical of Chesterton's writing. I noticed one of G.K. Chesterton's books being promoted in a branch of Waterstones recently. I think it was The Man Who Was Thursday. A member of staff had written a note saying it was great. Today I was listening to book programme on the radio, in which one of the guests explained why another of G.K. Chesterton's books, The Napoleon of Notting Hill had been so influential on him. If Chesterton is still in print a hundred years after he was active then presumably he was pretty good, but I don't know.


Christmas

Hi there, in his article "Christmas", Chesterton includes this rather obscure paragraph: Another instance of the same illogicality I observed the other day at some kind of "At Home." I saw what appeared to be a human being dressed in a black evening-coat, black dress-waistcoat, and black dress-trousers, but with a shirt-front made of Jaeger wool. What can be the sense of this sort of thing? If a man thinks hygiene more important than convention (a selfish and heathen view, for the beasts that perish are more hygienic than man, and man is only above them because he is more conventional), if, I say, a man thinks that hygiene is more important than convention, what on earth is there to oblige him to wear a shirt-front at all? But to take a costume of which the only conceivable cause or advantage is that it is a sort of uniform, and then not wear it in the uniform way—this is to be neither a Bohemian nor a gentleman. It is a foolish affectation, I think, in an English officer of the Life Guards never to wear his uniform if he can help it. But it would be more foolish still if he showed himself about town in a scarlet coat and a Jaeger breast-plate. It is the custom nowadays to have Ritual Commissions and Ritual Reports to make rather unmeaning compromises in the ceremonial of the Church of England. So perhaps we shall have an ecclesiastical compromise by which all the Bishops shall wear Jaeger copes and Jaeger mitres. Similarly the King might insist on having a Jaeger crown. But I do not think he will, for he understands the logic of the matter better than that. The modern monarch, like a reasonable fellow, wears his crown as seldom as he can; but if he does it at all, then the only point of a crown is that it is a crown. So let me assure the unknown gentleman in the woollen vesture that the only point of a white shirt-front is that it is a white shirt-front. Stiffness may be its impossible defect; but it is certainly its only possible merit." First of all, what does he mean by "at some kind of 'At Home'"? And then, what do you think the key idea to understand the "illogicality" of this combination of clothes is? For your information, I am translating the article into Spanish. Thank you very much. (If you are interested in being consulted about English-Spanish translation matters, please send me a private message and we can keep in touch.)


A Christmas Carol poem by G.K.Chesterton

The Christ-child lay on Mary's lap, His hair was like a light. (O weary, weary were the world, But here is all aright.) The Christ-child lay on Mary's breast His hair was like a star. (O stern and cunning are the kings, But here the true hearts are.) The Christ-child lay on Mary's heart, His hair was like a fire. (O weary, weary is the world, But here the world's desire.) The Christ-child stood on Mary's knee, His hair was like a crown, And all the flowers looked up at Him, And all the stars looked down


Chesterton - Therefore your doom is on you

Hello "Therefore your doom is on you, Is on you and your kings" From which works of Chesterton?


Missing works

I'm a fan of G.K. Chesterton as an author, and searched for several works of his which returned no results. To wit: Heretics, Orthodoxy, Eugenics and Other Evils, and probably more. The reason I think these are interesting is because of the apparent recursive recapitulation of History in the nature of events which men choose to manage in order to dispose of their responsibilities. These dispositions have tended to separate individuals on more than mere personal issues, but rather on moral issues affecting the innocent and the experienced. It seems Mr. Chesterton has sufficient nails on his literary fingers to dig into the oily skin of reptillian hypocrites.:)


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