The Advent of Father Brown

As a disciple of Poe and a rival of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the ingenious Mr. Gilbert Chesterton has made a by no means contemptible showing in the series of tales of the homicidal and criminal which have been collected [in The Innocence of Father Brown].

Father Brown has a sharp clerical brain, a feeling for the turn of the screw, and an unastounded sense of the human drama.

Father Brown, that quintessentially English detective, made his first appearance in a highly unlikely place: the Saturday Evening Post.

Kevin Belmonte, Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G. K. Chesterton, from Chapter 15

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No Definite Image of Good

The purpose of re-ascending to origins is that we should be able to return, with greater spiritual knowledge, to our own situation. We need to recover the sense of religious fear, so that it may be overcome by religious hope.
T. S. ELIOT (1939)

[Mr. Chesterton] is not thinking of paradoxes for the sake of paradoxes—as some foolish critics may have invited you to suppose. Not a bit of it. . . . He is rummaging in the rubbish heap of words and concepts to which a slovenly race of thinkers has reduced the working dictionary of the English tongue. He seeks the clear word for the clear idea.

Just before the close of chapter 1 of Heretics, Chesterton displayed his ever-present desire to engage in robust, charitable debate. He spoke of the general idea of his book and his “wish to deal with my most distinguished contemporaries, not personally or in a merely literary manner, but in relation to the real body of doctrine which they teach.” He was not, for example, “concerned with Mr. Rudyard Kipling as a vivid artist or a vigorous personality; I am concerned with him as a Heretic—that is to say, a man whose view of things has the hardihood to differ from mine.” Nor was he “concerned with Mr. Bernard Shaw as one of the most brilliant and one of the most honest men alive; I am concerned with him as a Heretic—that is to say, a man whose philosophy is quite solid, quite coherent, and quite wrong.”

Kevin Belmonte, Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G. K. Chesterton, from Chapter 10

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Heretics and First Things

We could use another Chesterton today, I think. In a time when culture and faith have drifted even further apart, we could use his brilliance, his entertaining style, and above all, his generous and joyful spirit. When society becomes polarized, as ours has, it is as if the two sides stand across a great divide and shout at each other. Chesterton had another approach: He walked to the center of a swinging bridge, roared a challenge to any single combat warriors, and then made both sides laugh aloud.

Why did Chesterton write Heretics and Orthodoxy? At the start, he did not conceive of two books that would explore opposite sides of the same metaphysical coin. He had only the book that would become Heretics in view. One overarching thought impelled him. “In our time,” he wrote, “philosophy or religion, our theory, that is, about ultimate things, has been driven out, more or less simultaneously, from two fields which it used to occupy”—literature and politics. This was deeply troubling. And so, with no little sense of urgency, Chesterton took it upon himself to mount a defense of philosophy.

Kevin Belmonte, Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G. K. Chesterton, from Chapter 9

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The Tower That Strikes the Stars

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.

Kevin Belmonte, Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G. K. Chesterton, from Chapter 8

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Varied Types

And in all the forms of art which peculiarly belong to civilisation, [Alexander Pope] was supreme. In one especially he was supreme—the great and civilised art of satire. And in this we have fallen away utterly.

So Chesterton wrote in one of the finest essays from one of his best collections of essays: Varied Types—or, as it was known in England, Twelve Types. Varied Types represented a new direction for Chesterton. Where The Defendant had been a whimsical, often irreverent romp, the essays in Varied Types recalled the criticism he had brought to bear in writing reviews like “Velasquez and Poussin.” He scrutinized with an artist’s eye and a mind steeped in literature and literary understanding. It is one of Chesterton’s best books, and one that rewards rereading.

Kevin Belmonte, Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G. K. Chesterton, from Chapter 7

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Eternal Ideas

It is the glory and good of Art
That Art remains the one way possible
Of speaking truth,—to mouths like mine, at least.

Meanwhile, a new opportunity beckoned that would aid that quest in a way no one could have predicted. For in December 1901, Chesterton received a “small literary proposal” from the distinguished editor John Morley…Just twenty-seven years old, Chesterton would now join the ranks of Anthony Trollope, Henry James, and Thomas Huxley, who had contributed prior volumes. It was, he would say later, “a crown of what I can only call respectability.”

Kevin Belmonte, Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G. K. Chesterton, from Chapter 6

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An Artist in Words

I cannot remember when I first met Chesterton. I was so much struck by a review of Scott’s Ivanhoe which he wrote for the Daily News that I wrote to him asking who he was and where he came from, as he was evidently a new star in literature.

Chesterton’s first real appearance in the literary world of America took place on September 27, 1902, when a review of The Defendant, his first book of collected essays,was published in the New York Times. It was a noteworthy debut.

Kevin Belmonte, Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G. K. Chesterton, from Chapter 5

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And Now For A Career

Life without mystery—a sight of the unseen—simply is not life.

My joy in having begun my life is very great.

In 1895, one year after his emergence from despair, Chesterton received communication from an unexpected quarter: an invitation to write for a magazine called the Academy. He had just turned twenty-one, and though he could not have known it, this was a first step toward the career that would dominate the rest of his life: that of a journalist.

Kevin Belmonte, from Defiant Joy, Chapter 4

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A Perfect Storm

When [Chesterton’s] religion was at its lowest point, in the difficult Art School days, he never lost it entirely. “I hung on to religion,” [he later said,] “by one thin thread of thanks.”
Maisie Ward (1943)

Much as the JDC meant to Chesterton—and it meant all the world to him at this time of his life—he knew that his involvement with the group was bound to change. For by autumn 1892, he had left St. Paul’s School to begin taking art classes at the Slade School of Art and, a bit later in 1893, courses in Latin and English literature at University College, London. The others in JDC could go on together for a while yet, as they, being younger than Chesterton, would not go up to university until the autumn of 1894.

Kevin Belmonte, Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G. K. Chesterton, from Chapter 3

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From Childhood to Boyhood

A true friend is forever a friend.

~George MacDonald, from The Marquess of Lossie (1877)

Many aspects of Chesterton’s early life are well documented. Surprisingly, however, the time when he started school is not one of them. William Oddie, Chesterton’s most authoritative biographer, speculates that since he entered St. Paul’s School in Hammersmith in the same class as boys who were one or two years his junior, he must have been about nine years old when his formal schooling commenced at his first school: Colet House, a preparatory school founded in 1881.

~Kevin Belmonte, from Defiant Joy, Chapter 2

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