Many influenced by G.K. Chesterton’s writing
By claudia mathis / SUN staff writer
“The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people.”
— G.K. Chesterton
G.K. Chesterton was one of the most stimulating and well-loved writers of the early 20th century. His gentle personality and friendly manner of persuasion made him one of the most readable of the great apologists who fought for Christian truth. Upon his death, Chesterton was named by Pope Pius XI a “defender of the Catholic faith.”
Also named the “prince of paradox,” Chesterton wrote in a light, energetic and whimsical style that was marked with startling formulations. For example, in his best-known novel, The Man Who Was Thursday, he wrote, “Thieves respect property. They merely wish the property to become their property that they may more perfectly respect it.”
As one of the most prolific English writers, Chesterton wrote around 80 books, several hundred poems, 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. His most well known works include Orthodoxy, The Everlasting Man, St. Thomas & St. Francis, The Man Who Was Thursday and the Father Brown Stories.
Chesterton began life as a liberal Unitarian, progressed to Anglican and ended up Roman Catholic. Dale Ahlquist, editor of the journal Gilbert, stated: “The subject of all Chesterton’s writings is the unseen presence of God in the modern world. Indeed, the two ideas we take from Chesterton are that religion begins with the realization that the world is a magical place, and that politics begins with the realization that all human beings have a God-like dignity. Every human transaction, therefore, whether social or economic, is an opportunity either to dignify or to exploit our fellow man.”
Chesterton was born May 29, 1874 in London, England. He was educated at St. Paul’s School and attended the Slade School of Art in order to become an illustrator. He also studied literature at University College in London. At the age of 16 he started a magazine called The Debater.
Around 1893 Chesterton went through a crisis of skepticism and depression during which he experimented with the Ouija board and became fascinated with diabolism.
In 1895 Chesterton left University College without graduating. He renewed his Christian faith; also the courtship of his future wife, Frances Blogg, whom he married in 1901, helped him to pull himself out of the spiritual crisis. He became an increasingly orthodox Christian, culminating in his conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1922.
In 1896 Chesterton began working for the London publisher Redway, where he remained until 1902. During this period he also worked as a freelance art and literary critic.
In 1902 Chesterton was given a weekly opinion column in the Daily News, followed in 1905 by a weekly column in The Illustrated London News, for which he would continue to write for 30 years.
Chesterton loved to debate, often engaging in friendly public debates with such men as George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, Bertrand Russell and Clarence Darrow.
Chesterton died on June 14, 1936 at his home in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire in England.
Chesterton’s writings encompass a wide scope of topics and styles. His poetry is easily understood by the average reader. Although much of Chesterton’s poetry is humorous, some of it is historical and deeply inspirational. Chesterton’s epic “Ballad of the White Horse” is his poetic masterpiece. Its narration of the fierce struggle between the Christian princes of England and the pagan Nordic chiefs was so poignant that the British press frequently quoted it during World War II when England opposed Nazism.
As far as Chesterton’s fiction is concerned, at least two of his novels rank among the best works of the 20th century. The Napoleon of Notting Hill, released in 1904, is proposed by many as the best first novel ever written by any of England’s many great fiction writers. And four years later, The Man Who Was Thursday proved Chesterton’s skill for serious literature in a book that was then, and remains now, renowned for both its secular appeal and its Christian perception.
Throughout his career, Chesterton worked on and published the short detective thrillers for which, more than any other of his writings, he is most widely known. The “Father Brown” short stories are not just entertainment — Father Brown’s unique ability to solve crimes is based on his priestly knowledge of human nature and foreshadows what Pope Paul VI said many decades later: the church is an expert in humanity.
Interest in and appreciation for Chesterton’s work has always remained strong, but recently it seems to be spreading with a renewed spirit. Ignatius Press plans to publish the complete works of Chesterton soon. Another contributor to the growth is the quarterly journal, The Chesterton Review, published by the G.K. Chesterton Society based at St. Thomas More College in Saskatoon, Canada.