G. K. Chesterton

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Chesterton came to identify himself more and more with Catholicism, eventually converting to it.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton ( b. 29 May 1874 in Kensington, London, England; d. 14 June 1936 in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, England) was a twentieth century English journalist and author.


Chesterton came of a family of estate-agents, was born in London. He was educated at St Paul's school, which he left in 1891 with the idea of studying art. But his natural bent was literary, and he devoted himself mainly to cultivating that means of expression, both in prose and verse; he did occasional reviewing, and had some experience in a publisher's office. In 1900, having already produced a volume of clever poems, The Wild Knight, he definitely took to journalism as a career, and became a regular contributor of signed articles to the Liberal journals, the Speaker and Daily News.

He established himself from the first as a writer with a distinct personality, combative to a swashbuckling degree, unconventional and dogmatic; and the republication of much of his work in a series of volumes (e.g. Twelve Types, Heretics, Orthodoxy), characterized by much acuteness of criticism, a pungent style, and the capacity of laying down the law with unflagging impetuosity and humour, enhanced his reputation. His powers as a writer are best shown in his studies of Browning (in the "English Men of Letters" series) and of Dickens; but these were only rather more ambitious essays among a medley of characteristic utterances, ranging from fiction (including The Napoleon of Notting-hill) to fugitive verse, and from artistic criticism to discussions of ethics and religion. The interest excited by his work and views was indicated and analysed in an anonymous volume (G. K. Chesterton: a Criticism) published in 1908.


He was involved in politics and had a low view of politicians. He wrote The Man Who Knew Too Much in 1922. The hero, Horn-Fisher was related to half of the Cabinet and knew all too much about the corruption. In fact there were men in the Cabinet at the time called Horn and Fisher. So one can read commentary on the Lloyd George honours scandal and other contemporary events. Suing for Libel would have been an admission of guilt.

With Hilaire Belloc, his deep friend he advocated Distributism, a political system based on Rerum Novarum, Pope Leo XIII's great encyclical. It was intended to make life better for the working man.


Chesterton wrote around 80 books, several hundred poems, some 200 short stories, 4000 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 ly his best-known novel. He was a convinced Christian long before he was received into the Catholic Church, and Christian themes and symbolism appear in much of his writing. In the United States, his writings on Distributism were popularized through The American Review, published by Seward Collins in New York.

Accusations of anti-Semitism

Both Chesterton and Belloc have faced accusations of anti-Semitism during their lifetimes and subsequently. Their criticisms of the "international Jewish banking families" are some of the most important reasons for these accusations. For example, Chesterton, Belloc, and Chesterton's brother Cecil, were vehement critics of the Isaacs, who were involved in the Marconi scandal in the years before World War I.

George Orwell accused Chesterton of being guilty of "endless tirades against Jews, which he thrust into stories and essays upon the flimsiest pretexts." In The New Jerusalem, Chesterton made it clear that he believed that there was a "Jewish Problem" in Europe, in the sense that he believed that Jewish culture (not Jewish ethnicity) separated itself from the nationalities of Europe. He suggested the formation of a Jewish homeland as a solution, and was later invited to Palestine by Jewish Zionists who saw him as an ally in their cause. In 1934, after the National Socialist Party took power in Germany he wrote that:

In our early days Hilaire Belloc and myself were accused of being uncompromising Anti-Semites. Today, although I still think there is a Jewish problem, I am appalled by the Hitlerite atrocities. They have absolutely no reason or logic behind them. It is quite obviously the expedient of a man who has been driven to seeking a scapegoat, and has found with relief the most famous scapegoat in European history, the Jewish people.

List of major works

  • The Napoleon of Notting Hill (1904)
  • Heretics (1905)
  • Charles Dickens: A Critical Study (1906)
  • The Man Who Was Thursday (1907)
  • Orthodoxy (1908) Doubleday, 1991. ISBN 978-0-385-01536-3
  • The Ballad Of The White Horse (1911)
  • Father Brown short stories (detective fiction)
  • Eugenics and Other Evils (1922)
  • The Man Who Knew Too Much (1922) from Project Gutenberg
  • The Everlasting Man (1925)
  • Saint Thomas Aquinas: "The Dumb Ox", Doubleday, 1974. ISBN 978-0-385-09002-5
  • Saint Francis of Assisi, Doubleday, 1987. ISBN 978-0-385-02900-1


  • Chesterton's The Everlasting Man contributed to C. S. Lewis's conversion to Christianity. In a letter to Sheldon Vanauken (14 December 1950) Lewis calls the book "the best popular apologetic I know", and to Rhonda Bodle he wrote (31 December 1947) "the [very] best popular defence of the full Christian position I know is G. K. Chesterton's The Everlasting Man." The book was also cited in a list of 10 books that "most shaped his vocational attitude and philosophy of life."
  • Chesterton's biography of Charles Dickens was largely responsible for creating a popular revival for Dickens's work as well as a serious reconsideration of Dickens by scholars.
  • Chesterton's writings have been praised by such authors as Ernest Hemingway, Graham Greene, Harold Bloom, Frederick Buechner, Evelyn Waugh, Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel García Márquez, Karel Čapek, David Dark, Paul Claudel, Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, Andrew Greeley, Sigrid Undset, Ronald Knox, Kingsley Amis, W. H. Auden, Anthony Burgess, E. F. Schumacher, Orson Welles, Dorothy Day, Gene Wolfe, Tim Powers, Garry Wills, David D. Friedman, Neil Gaiman and Franz Kafka.
  • Philip Yancey said that if he were "stranded on a desert island … and could choose only one book apart from the Bible, I may well select Chesterton's own spiritual autobiography, Orthodoxy."
  • Chesterton's novel The Man Who Was Thursday inspired the Irish Republican leader Michael Collins with the idea: 'if you didn't seem to be hiding nobody hunted you out.'
  • His physical appearance and apparently some of his mannerisms were a direct inspiration for the character of Dr. Gideon Fell, a well-known fictional detective created in the early 1930s by the Anglo-American mystery writer John Dickson Carr.
  • The author Neil Gaiman has stated that The Napoleon of Notting Hill was an important influence on his own book Neverwhere[citation needed]. Gaiman also based the character Gilbert, from the comic book The Sandman, on Chesterton, as well as featuring a quotation from The Man who was October, a book Chesterton wrote "only in dreams", at the end of Season of Mists. In his short story October in the Chair, Gaiman's description of the anthropomorphized titular month is modeled on Chesterton. Gaiman and Terry Pratchett's novel Good Omens is dedicated "to the memory of G.K. Chesterton: A man who knew what was going on." In a prescript to his novel, Coraline, Gaiman quotes Chesterton: "Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten."
  • Ingmar Bergman considered Chesterton's little known play Magic to be one of his favourites and even staged a production in Swedish[citations needed]. Later he reworked Magic into his movie The Magician in 1958.
  • The Third Way (UK) campaigns for the widespread ownership of property are inspired by the economic system Chesterton espoused: Distributism.
  • The Innocence of Father Brown is cited by Guillermo Martinez as one of the inspirations for his thriller The Oxford Murders.

See also

External links


Part of this article consists of modified text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition of 1911, which is no longer restricted by copyright.