G. K. Chesterton (1874 – 1936)


th (3)Gilbert Keith Chesterton KC*SG (29 May 1874 – 14 June 1936) was an English writer, philosopher, lay theologian, and literary and art critic. He has been referred to as the “prince of paradox”. Time magazine observed of his writing style: “Whenever possible Chesterton made his points with popular sayings, proverbs, allegories—first carefully turning them inside out.” Chesterton created the fictional priest-detective Father Brown, and wrote on apologetics. Even some of those who disagree with him have recognised the wide appeal of such works as Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man. Chesterton routinely referred to himself as an “orthodox” Christian, and came to identify this position more and more with Catholicism, eventually converting to Catholicism from High Church Anglicanism. George Bernard Shaw, his “friendly enemy”, said of him, “He was a man of colossal genius.” Biographers have identified him as a successor to such Victorian authors as Matthew Arnold, Thomas Carlyle, Cardinal John Henry Newman, and John Ruskin.

Chesterton was born in Campden Hill in Kensington, London, the son of Marie Louise, née Grosjean, and Edward Chesterton. He was baptised at the age of one month into the Church of England, though his family themselves were irregularly practising Unitarians. According to his autobiography, as a young man he became fascinated with the occult and, along with his brother Cecil, experimented with Ouija boards. Chesterton was educated at St Paul’s School, then attended the Slade School of Art to become an illustrator. The Slade is a department of University College London, where Chesterton also took classes in literature, but did not complete a degree in either subject. Chesterton married Frances Blogg in 1901; the marriage lasted the rest of his life. Chesterton credited Frances with leading him back to Anglicanism, though he later considered Anglicanism to be a “pale imitation”. He entered full communion with the Catholic Church in 1922. The couple were unable to have children.

Chesterton died of congestive heart failure on the morning of 14 June 1936, at his home in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. His last known words were a greeting spoken to his wife. The sermon at Chesterton’s Requiem Mass in Westminster Cathedral, London, was delivered by Ronald Knox on 27 June 1936. Knox said, “All of this generation has grown up under Chesterton’s influence so completely that we do not even know when we are thinking Chesterton.” He is buried in Beaconsfield in the Catholic Cemetery. Near the end of Chesterton’s life, Pope Pius XI invested him as Knight Commander with Star of the Papal Order of St. Gregory the Great (KC*SG).

Chesterton wrote around 80 books, several hundred poems, some 200 short stories, 4,000 essays, and several plays. He was a literary and social critic, historian, playwright, novelist, Catholic theologian and apologist, debater, and mystery writer. He was a columnist for the Daily News, The Illustrated London News, and his own paper, G. K.’s Weekly; he also wrote articles for the Encyclopædia Britannica, including the entry on Charles Dickens and part of the entry on Humour in the 14th edition (1929). His best-known character is the priest-detective Father Brown, who appeared only in short stories, while The Man Who Was Thursday is arguably his best-known novel.  (Source: Wikipedia)

Mike Grost on GK Chesterton: G.K Chesterton wrote five story collections about Father Brown. The best are the first, The Innocence of Father Brown, which contains Chesterton’s most ingenious paradoxes serving as detective concepts, and the third, The Incredulity of Father Brown, which offers his best put together impossible crimes. Chesterton’s impossible crimes in Incredulity all involve action – they focus on some ingenious way of committing murder, often involving moving both the killer and/or the victim’s body from place to place. Chesterton’s vision is architectural, as well, involving the layout of buildings and rooms. As in John Dickson Carr, Chesterton’s solutions are even more imaginative than the impossible problems themselves.

These books are among the high points of the puzzle plot mystery story. Chesterton’s fiction seems to be the main model for the great works of the Big Three puzzle plot detective novelists, Christie, Queen and Carr. (Keep reading here)

Selected bibliography: His most famous character is the priest-detective Father Brown. Father Brown appeared in 53 short stories, most of them compiled in five books, The Innocence of Father Brown (1911), The Wisdom of Father Brown (1914), The Incredulity of Father Brown (1926), The Secret of Father Brown (1927) and The Scandal of Father Brown (1935), and three uncollected stories: The Donnington Affair (1914), The Vampire of the Village (1936, included in later editions of The Scandal of Father Brown), The Mask of Midas (1936).

Impossible Crimes. “The Secret Garden”, “The Invisible Man”, “The Hammer of God”, “The Salad of Colonel Cray”, “The Fairy Tale of Father Brown”, “The Vanishing Prince”, “The Soul of the Schoolboy”, “The Hole in the Wall”, “The Arrow of Heaven”, “The Oracle of the Dog”, “The Miracle of Moon Crescent”, “The Dagger with Wings” are impossible crime tales, Many of Chesterton’s impossible crimes revolve around architecture. They depend on the geometric, spatial arrangement of their setting. (Mike Grost)

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(Facsimile Dust Jacket, Macaulay (USA), (1911) c1919 reprint)

The first of G.K. Chesterton’s books about seemingly hapless sleuth Father Brown, The Innocence of Father Brown collects twelve classic tales: “The Blue Cross”, “The Secret Garden”, “The Queer Feet”, “The Flying Stars”, “The Invisible Man”, “The Honour of Israel Gow”, “The Wrong Shape”, “The Sins of Prince Saradine”, “The Hammer of God”, “The Eye of Apollo”, “The Sign of the Broken Sword”, and “The Three Tools of Death”. Father Brown is a direct challenge to the conventional detective and in many ways he is more amusing and ingenious.

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