The ecstasy lay in the one point he had never noticed about the railings . . . the fact that they were, like the great majority of others in London, shaped at the top after the manner of a spear. As a child, Wayne had half consciously compared them with the spears in pictures of Lancelot and St. George, and had grown up under the shadow of the graphic association. Now, whenever he looked at them, they were simply the serried weapons that made a hedge of steel round the sacred homes of Notting Hill.
—G. K. CHESTERTON (1904)
Many couples can recall days when they, as newlyweds, lived in straitened circumstances. The Chestertons were no different. And it was during such a time that Chesterton’s first novel, The Napoleon of Notting Hill, had its origin.
G.K. Chesterton wrote his first novel, The Napoleon of Notting Hill before he was thirty years old. His reputation as a biographer and essayist firmly established, the literary world received the book with great anticipation. Set one hundred years in the future, the story provided a perfect framework for Chesterton’s expertise with satire and wit.
In Chapter 8 of his book Defiant Joy, Kevin Belmonte wrote:
As the introduction to the Oxford World’s Classics edition of this novel states, only Chesterton could have hit upon such a literary conceit in his desire to explore the nature of human loyalties, the deceptions of modernity, and the dangers of the monolithic state. But then The Napoleon of Notting Hill afforded the opportunity for Chesterton to combine three things he had loved all his life: fairy tales, medieval culture, and the landscape of Edwardian London. In this instance, his novel was simply a fairy tale writ large—set on a larger canvas—to use a term he knew well as a visual artist.
Which G.K. Chesterton novel is your favorite?
Have you read the Napoleon of Notting Hill?
D I G D E E P E R
Kevin Belmonte holds a BA in English from Gordon College, an MA in Church History from Gordon-Conwell Seminary, and a second master’s degree in American and New England Studies from the University of Southern Maine. He has twice been a finalist for the prestigious John Pollock Award for Christian Biography, and in 2003, his biography, “William Wilberforce,” won that award. On several occasions, he has served as a script consultant for the BBC, and also for the PBS documentary, “The Better Hour.” For six years, he was the lead script and historical consultant for the critically-acclaimed film, “Amazing Grace.” He has spoken in a wide array of noteworthy settings, from the Houses of Parliament in London, and gatherings of legislators in Washington, D.C., to the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. For several years, his biography of Wilberforce has been required reading for a course taught by David Gergen on leadership and character formation at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
Sources & Resources
G. K. Chesterton, The Napoleon of Notting Hill (New York: John Lane, 1904)
Quoted in Cyril Clemens, Chesterton as Seen by His Contemporaries (Webster Groves, MO: Mark Twain Society, 1939)
Points made in text appearing in the Oxford World’s Classics edition of The Napoleon of Notting Hill.
“Doings of English Authors and Publishers—The Latest Announcements,” Special Cable to New York Times, 12 March 1904. Featured in Part Two of the Saturday Review of Books
Kevin Belmonte, Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G. K. Chesterton (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011).