View Full Version : G.K. Chesteron - a forefather of steam-punk?

05-05-2014, 06:45 AM
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

05-05-2014, 05:06 PM
Well, someone (http://www.steampunkchesterton.com/) has made the connection before (a website named Steampunk Chesterton). However, despite the name of their group, they don't think G.K. Chesterton and steam-punk had anything in common.

"On a more serious note, GK Chesterton was a prolific Catholic author in the late 19th-early 20th centuries, well-known for his wit and humor.

Steampunk is a genre of science fiction which takes place in a world where steam evolved as a form of propulsion and energy instead of the modern means which we are all familiar with.

What do these two things, GK Chesterton and Steampunk – have in common? Besides a slight overlap in clothing style, absolutely nothing, but we like it that way. Plus, the name sounds cool."

Even more oddly, there are now at least two Young Chesterton steampunk sci-fi Christian novels in which a 17-year-old G.K. Chesterton befriends a young H.G. Wells and have mad adventures together. I don't think H.G. Wells was particularly devout.

05-06-2014, 08:27 AM
Some similarities I have noticed between the Steampunk book I am currently reading, The Man Who Was Thursday, and also the 2000AD comic that I used to read:

None of them are into realism or character development.
All of them are highly visual; in fact, a number of Steampunk stories are in graphic novel form.
Things move along quickly.

Another similarity is that they often seem to have a supernatural element. I notice the Anno Dracula books include vampires. The Affinity Bridge, which I am reading now, includes zombies. The Man Who Was Thursday alludes to God and Genesis. I did not recognise it at the time, but many of the 2000AD strips were Steampunk, and they often had a supernatural element, only usually it was pagan.

G.K. Chesterton was renowned for his output, but he does not seem to have written very many novels. Apart from The Man Who Was Thursday, his most famous novel was The Napoleon of Nottinghill. When I looked it up, it was set in 1984, many years in the future for Chesterton.

I saw another website about Steampunk which cited Chesterton as an influence of Steampunk. From memory:

G.K. Chesterton - The Man Who Was Thursday
H.G. Wells - War of the Worlds and The Time Machine
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - The Lost World
Mark Twain - An American Yankee in King Arthur's Court
Mary Shelley - Frankenstein
Bram Stoker - Dracula
Robert Louis Stevenson - Dr Jekyl and Mr Hyde
Jules Verne - 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Edit: I have just been to the library to look up G.K. Chesterton. I read an essay by Kingsley Amis on Chesterton. He wrote that G.K. Chesterton wrote about 17 longer works of fiction, of which seven or eight are worth re-reading. The Napoleon of Nottinghill despite being set in the future, is not really science fiction. However, his third novel,The Ball and the Cross, involves professors and flying machines.