G.K. Chesterton...

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Haven't read any, have been trying to find something good for a little while. Is it worth it to buy anything new? And if so, what?

School me.

The Second Drummer Drowned (Atila the Honeybun), Monday, 1 March 2004 19:01 (eighteen years ago) link

Chesterton's a love-or-hate author. I love him. Are you interested in his religious writing (Orthodoxy), his novels/plays (The Man Who Was Thursday, a big favorite of Neil Gaiman's), his lit-crit (the stuff on Dickens and Chaucer is terrific), or his punditry (What's Wrong With the World, or the prescient Eugenics and Other Evils)?

Phil Christman, Monday, 1 March 2004 19:54 (eighteen years ago) link


isadora (isadora), Monday, 1 March 2004 21:38 (eighteen years ago) link

Everyone should read The Man Who Was Thursday; the early Father Browns are also great, as are The Napoleon of Notting Hill and The Club of Queer Trades. But he's quite easy to overdose on.

Chuck Tatum (Chuck Tatum), Monday, 1 March 2004 23:34 (eighteen years ago) link

I loved Heretics. a collection of lit and non-lit essays.

scott seward (scott seward), Tuesday, 2 March 2004 23:48 (eighteen years ago) link

If you start with "The Man who was Thursday" be sure to get the
Annotated edition edited by Martin Gardener. His writing style
is different but he is worth the effort!!

Steve Walker (Quietman), Wednesday, 3 March 2004 02:49 (eighteen years ago) link


The Napoleon of Notting Hill is one of my favourite books, but bizarrely I never got into Thursday.

Andrew Farrell (afarrell), Wednesday, 3 March 2004 16:47 (eighteen years ago) link

if you like borges, you might want to go to his selected nonfiction and look up chesterton (one of borges's idols: it makes a lot of sense, in some ways borges is the modernest version of chesterton's romantic, chesterton + kafka/gnostics) and see what you think from that. Father Brown and Tuesday are all very fun, though kind of pat and precious in the way that a good fantasy novel can be those things. Also if you want something literal and "realistic" or don't like metaphoric language, then you might not want to get into chesterton (Father Brown is like the metaphoric, metaphysical equivalent of the boringly realist empirical Sherlock Holmes). FB might be a good place to start, since they're short stories, but Thursday seems better (?).

ken chen, Tuesday, 9 March 2004 00:53 (eighteen years ago) link

I just posted this to the thread about memoir: his autobiography (titled "Autobiography," I think) is really good too.

Phil Christman, Tuesday, 9 March 2004 17:58 (eighteen years ago) link

three years pass...

did GKC write any 'invasion literature'?

That one guy that hit it and quit it, Tuesday, 9 October 2007 11:43 (fourteen years ago) link

i will bump this till i get an answer.

That one guy that hit it and quit it, Tuesday, 9 October 2007 11:44 (fourteen years ago) link

What are you talking about.

Casuistry, Tuesday, 9 October 2007 19:33 (fourteen years ago) link

before the first world war in england there was a whole shitload of 'invasion literature', famous shit like 'the riddle of the sands' and loads more less famous shit. anyhoo ya boy GK did do a novel abt anarchists and maybe that counts, thinking about it, but anyone know if he did other work in this field?

That one guy that hit it and quit it, Tuesday, 9 October 2007 22:57 (fourteen years ago) link

GK did do a novel abt anarchists

Well, there you go! What more could you ask?

Aimless, Wednesday, 10 October 2007 02:01 (fourteen years ago) link

'The King of Notting Hill' isn't exactly invasion literature, like 'The Battle of Dorking' (which I assume is the sort of thing you're after), but it does have a civil war taking place in London. As far as I know, that's the closest Chesterton came.

James Morrison, Wednesday, 10 October 2007 05:52 (fourteen years ago) link

thanking you james.

he did a whole shitload of short stories, aimless, is all. wondered if anyone had ventured into them.

That one guy that hit it and quit it, Wednesday, 10 October 2007 08:47 (fourteen years ago) link

Google doesn't seem to think he did.

Casuistry, Wednesday, 10 October 2007 16:01 (fourteen years ago) link

one month passes...

Anyone read the Father Brown story "The Sign of the Broken Sword"? It's rather horrifying in a way that none of the other stories I've read are - there's no action whatsoever, just a logical explanation of inhuman brutality. Props to my sister for telling me to read it.

clotpoll, Monday, 12 November 2007 02:16 (fourteen years ago) link

nine years pass...

Article in the LRB about the Chestertons - more A.K., but G.K. does get a look in. The Flying Inn - cue wikipedia: "It is set in a future England where the Temperance movement has allowed a bizarre form of "Progressive" Islam to dominate the political and social life of the country." - seems like the grandaddy of every tiresome right-wing dystopian novel of the past fifteen years.

Quite disturbing the way the article ties Chesterton's love of Merry Old England into these fascist impulses, via an appreciation of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream and medieval (Catholic) England. I know that sentimentality about the shires is frequently reactionary but that particular cocktail - a medievalist populism, I guess - is something my dad was very much into from a socialist pov.

Anyway, the article does talk a lot more about his cousin, so I run the risk of conflating, but: whenever I hear G K Chesteron's politics discussed, he's characterised as a conservative (and indeed I've seen him praised by modern conservatives); is "fascist" a fair assessment?

Daniel_Rf, Wednesday, 3 May 2017 09:03 (five years ago) link

no, it's not -- he was a well known and very vocal distributist: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distributism

this kind of sentimentality for the middle ages was widespread across most politics before ww1: william morris was a marxist and his fiction and aesthetic is full of similar backward-looking stuff -- left and right hating what factories and capitalism were doing to the world they loved

one of the father brown stories is set in italy and features an actual futurist -- i.e. based on marinetti's gang -- who's a poet and a likeable rascal and ends up as a journalist (working for the daily mail i think): the villain is a corrupt businessman; he's generally very friendly towards socialists in these stories -- he thinks they're chumps but for the right reasons…

haven't read "the flying inn" and probably should -- gkc's approach to fiction is more absurdist than ranting, so i'm guessing that prophecy is more about the ridiculousness than the dystopian threat; his most famous novel "the man who was thursday" is a cheerful critique of anarchism that ends up revealing that god is the jolly prankish leader of the anarchists

mark s, Wednesday, 3 May 2017 09:48 (five years ago) link

which father brown story is that one, mark?

flopson, Wednesday, 3 May 2017 12:14 (five years ago) link

picked up a Father Brown anthology this winter bc of Borges

flopson, Wednesday, 3 May 2017 12:17 (five years ago) link

The Paradise of Thieves

mark s, Wednesday, 3 May 2017 12:19 (five years ago) link

chesterton loved by conservatives because of his bold stances against female suffrage, contraception, public education... if he was sympathetic to the futurists maybe it's because they were misogynistic arseholes too.

ledge, Wednesday, 3 May 2017 13:35 (five years ago) link

ledge and his lone battle against the idea that someone with bad politics could be a great writer :D

he's not sympathetic to futurism per se -- he thinks it's silly (because he's a conservative) -- but he's good at sympathetic sketches of people he thinks are philosophically very wrong

mark s, Wednesday, 3 May 2017 13:42 (five years ago) link

where's odysseus btw, wasn't he going to report back on his travels in browniana?

mark s, Wednesday, 3 May 2017 13:42 (five years ago) link

Chesterton's Fence is what makes him attractive to modern conservatives, in my experience.

LRB article makes a case that, in addition to his medieval sentimentalism, GK was scornful against parliamentary democracy, a nationalist and an anti-semite; not uncommon in his time obviously, but kinda close enough to fascism? Mussolini was a socialist too, etc.

None of which means he can't be a good writer!

his most famous novel "the man who was thursday" is a cheerful critique of anarchism that ends up revealing that god is the jolly prankish leader of the anarchists

You make it sound so sympathetic - I read it as an angry young man and was angered by its perceived smugness - "ah you poor leftist atheist, little do you know that your actions too are all in God's plan!". Need to try rereading.

Unfortunate framing aside, the idea of an undercover mobile pub does sound ace.

Daniel_Rf, Wednesday, 3 May 2017 14:24 (five years ago) link

But fascists were modernists far more than they were conservatives. Several of the Father Brown stories take potshots at versions of Nietzsche's thinking. Not that Nietzsche was a fascist either -- but the entire "supermen who remake morality anew" shtick was something that fascists (and some marxists) really liked the sound of, while GKC spent a lot of time and energy poking fun at it.

Adding: I've actually now opened the new LRB and found the essay -- at a very quick scan it's a bit careless smooshing up what GKC said and did, as opposed to what his brother Cecil and his second cousin A.K.Chesterton said and did. And I don't entirely buy the essay's implication that distributism was just a kind of a front for fascism.

mark s, Wednesday, 3 May 2017 14:48 (five years ago) link

yeah it certainly treats the Chestertons as a collective, which I'm sure erases many important nuances

Daniel_Rf, Wednesday, 3 May 2017 14:50 (five years ago) link

ledge and his lone battle against the idea that someone with bad politics could be a great writer :D

I do dislike his fiction, and his pompously windbagful essay style, and of course his conclusions - all that I can dismiss as a matter of taste. His arguments though are truly dreadful, specious through and through. He's an armchair sociologist with a great many opinions and zero knowledge of those he is making grand pronouncements on behalf of - women, the working classes, families, 'savages'. Woke he ain't.

ledge, Wednesday, 3 May 2017 18:19 (five years ago) link

woke he indeed ain't, won't and can't argue with that

mark s, Wednesday, 3 May 2017 18:24 (five years ago) link

Doubtless he would scoff at the word, if not the notion, dismissing things based on their names being a favourite ploy.

ledge, Wednesday, 3 May 2017 19:18 (five years ago) link

three years pass...

I've been reading a compilation of Borges' essays and the write-up on Detective Fiction nudged me (as they have various ppl in the thread) to look out for the Father Brown Stories. I got a 'Best of..' at Oxfam and none of the stories mentioned here ("The Sign of the Broken Sword", "The Paradise of Thieves") are in it, which is annoying. I don't remember connecting or liking "The Man Who was Thursday" which is why it has taken me a while..

xyzzzz__, Thursday, 17 September 2020 14:22 (two years ago) link

Father Brown stories are ace, gotta admit.

Daniel_Rf, Thursday, 17 September 2020 14:28 (two years ago) link

The Invisible Man (talked about here: G.K. Chesterton's 'Father Brown' vs Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 'Sherlock Holmes') is included -- its really good!

xyzzzz__, Thursday, 17 September 2020 21:08 (two years ago) link

"Man Who Was Thursday" seemed to use a straw man definition of anarchism, of being against society. It didn't make me interested in exploring his other works.

wasdnous (abanana), Thursday, 17 September 2020 22:24 (two years ago) link

a straw man? in chesterton? never! (caution: sarcasm)

neith moon (ledge), Friday, 18 September 2020 07:03 (two years ago) link

four months pass...

So I read The Ethics of Elfland, finding the usual list of fallacies - straw men, false dilemmas, actual falsehoods hidden behind aphorisms. He's a terrible logician but a great rhetorician, using all these tricks to throw sand in your eyes. There's even some germs of good ideas, his defence of democracy starts well though never grapples with the actual problem; his defence of tradition not so convincing, "the democracy of the dead" he calls it, which is a great phrase, I'd happily carry it on a banner in a march against tradition. So maybe not so great a phrase if your opponents can get behind it 100%. He ends that part with a typically ridiculous bit of rhetorical theatre:

The ancient Greeks voted by stones; these shall vote by tombstones. It is all quite regular and official, for most tombstones, like most ballot papers, are marked with a cross.

Gag me with a spoon.

The stuff about fairy tales is good when it's about fairy tales, bad when he applies it to the real world. He acts like he's invented Hume's problem of induction, he seemingly has no idea about the actual philosophy, history, or practice of science. I am more than sympathetic to the idea that life, existence, consciousness, is MAGIC, but that is to *include* science, not dismiss it as fallacious or misguided.

Then I came across this paragraph and I thought, whoa, this is fantastic:

But the expansion of which I speak was much more evil than all this. I have remarked that the materialist, like the madman, is in prison; in the prison of one thought. These people seemed to think it singularly inspiring to keep on saying that the prison was very large. The size of this scientific universe gave one no novelty, no relief. The cosmos went on for ever, but not in its wildest constellation could there be anything really interesting; anything, for instance, such as forgiveness or free will. The grandeur or infinity of the secret of its cosmos added nothing to it. It was like telling a prisoner in Reading gaol that he would be glad to hear that the gaol now covered half the county. The warder would have nothing to show the man except more and more long corridors of stone lit by ghastly lights and empty of all that is human. So these expanders of the universe had nothing to show us except more and more infinite corridors of space lit by ghastly suns and empty of all that is divine.

And I wondered, is that how all Chesterton reads to people who are more intellectually or emotionally attuned to him? Ultimately he is a great sentimentalist, though he decries the tendency in others and describes himself as a rationalist; I don't share his sentiments, he doesn't persuade me of them, and I find nothing else worthwhile there.

ledge, Tuesday, 26 January 2021 09:17 (one year ago) link

he was a brilliant writer but all his writing was oriented toward discrediting modernity and affirming tradition. and the way he wanted to affirm tradition was to evade what was ghastly in it so there is a significant degree of dishonesty in his writing. "sentimentalist" is the key word--i think when he describes himself as a rationalist and his critics as sentimentalists he is being kind of ironic, downplaying his own obvious tendencies while also pointing out that wishful thinking animates the arguments of atheists/materialists too (which is correct, he is right).

treeship., Tuesday, 26 January 2021 10:25 (one year ago) link

Dishonesty is the word imo, and the criticism is that his joins are blatant

Qanondorf (darraghmac), Tuesday, 26 January 2021 10:28 (one year ago) link

pleased to see ledge warming to GKC :)

mark s, Tuesday, 26 January 2021 10:56 (one year ago) link

If I read another of his novels, some essays, and a few dozen short stories maybe I'll find another good paragraph!

ledge, Tuesday, 26 January 2021 13:11 (one year ago) link

GKC fanboy by the end of 2021. Deploying pseudo-paradoxes with the best of them. Calling it.

Fizzles, Tuesday, 26 January 2021 13:56 (one year ago) link

i like his love letters/democracy analogy. I have been known to garble it hopelessly in the pub many a time.

Fizzles, Tuesday, 26 January 2021 13:57 (one year ago) link

Now having taken the trouble to read your post, ledge, i think i agree with all of that, and had noted the same paragraph, and otm about the better interpretation being including science, and also the preferable reading of the democracy of the dead. Agree with all of it apart from the 'nothing else to find worthwhile there'.

I need to think a bit more what it means to be 'attuned' to Chesterton to respond to your suggestion about the paragraph.

Fizzles, Tuesday, 26 January 2021 14:00 (one year ago) link

Well obviously it's a classy move to come on to a thread, call the guy a douchebag and then say 'but hey if you're attuned to him...'. Speaking just about that para, he's not as usual talking about some amorphous and over-generalised 'men of science' but materialists, in particular those who deny free will, consciousness etc, and yes they exist, they're still around today, and I agree that they're dicks. So when he gets to his argument I'm already on his side, and I find it persuasive and the analogy imaginative and apt. But if I were more of a materialist I don't think there's anything there that would convince me otherwise.

ledge, Tuesday, 26 January 2021 19:07 (one year ago) link

materialists, in particular those who deny free will, consciousness etc, and yes they exist, they're still around today, and I agree that they're dicks.

old-fashioned materialism and its claims for absolute determinism are imaginatively stuck in a Newtonian universe that has no idea of how weird and non-determinative 'material' really is.

Respectfully Yours, (Aimless), Tuesday, 26 January 2021 19:13 (one year ago) link

yes, in the words of arthur machen:

I began to dread, vainly proposing to myself the iterated dogmas of science that all life is material, and that in the system of things there is no undiscovered land even beyond the remotest stars, where the supernatural can find a footing. Yet there struck in on this the thought that matter is as really awful and unknown as spirit, that science itself but dallies on the threshold, scarcely gaining more than a glimpse of the wonders of the inner place.

ledge, Tuesday, 26 January 2021 19:18 (one year ago) link

*hp lovecraft sweating and puffing as he hurries towards a thread he probably won't be at all welcomed into*

mark s, Tuesday, 26 January 2021 19:35 (one year ago) link

slouches imo

Qanondorf (darraghmac), Tuesday, 26 January 2021 19:40 (one year ago) link

image less funny

mark s, Tuesday, 26 January 2021 19:49 (one year ago) link

I think the appeal to me of Chesterton is that something like the Reading Gaol metaphor works as a piece of writing even if you don't understand what he's getting at, don't agree with him, or think his whole argument is manipulative bullshit. I don't really care if he's right or wrong or talking out his ass about materialists, he's good at atmosphere when he tries, and that metaphor of being free to roam a huge undifferentiated prison is a solid little bit of horror (that incidentally sums up how I feel about being able to walk around my neighborhood during covid.)

That said, I threw out my big book of Father Brown because one of the stories in it was really racist. But I do love "The Sign of the Broken Sword." One of the most chilling stories I've ever read.

Lily Dale, Tuesday, 26 January 2021 21:48 (one year ago) link

one year passes...

so anyway i'm editing someone's book about a significant figure in the chesterton era -- very wicked, very entertaining, won't say who cz i'm superstitious abt my freelance projects until they enter print -- and all i can say is that GKC's fiction is a FUCKING DOCUMENTARY: some of the stuff going on in politics and crime between 1890 and like 1925 was just wildly nuts

like this guy (who isn't the subject of the book and i'd never heard of till it mentioned him this morning): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victor_Grayson

mark s, Thursday, 3 February 2022 21:43 (eight months ago) link

also lolwhut really?


mark s, Thursday, 3 February 2022 21:43 (eight months ago) link

i mean obviously yes, they both unreel paradox as a a key weapon -- the reverse slipknot of the dialectic blah blah -- but it;s funny just seeing that one name on the list

mark s, Thursday, 3 February 2022 21:50 (eight months ago) link

iirc zizek *loves* citing GKC.

Fizzles, Thursday, 3 February 2022 21:55 (eight months ago) link

but yeah wd expect to see eg borges

Fizzles, Thursday, 3 February 2022 21:56 (eight months ago) link

my boring favourite john dickson carr.

yeah odd it’s the one name.

Fizzles, Thursday, 3 February 2022 21:57 (eight months ago) link

seven months pass...


The new Prime Minister of Italy.

Wow. pic.twitter.com/fkKTM8I9Fs

— Aaron Ginn (@aginnt) September 26, 2022

xyzzzz__, Tuesday, 27 September 2022 09:18 (one week ago) link

Same idea: "One must always strive to be as radical as reality itself" (Lenin)

mark s, Tuesday, 27 September 2022 10:15 (one week ago) link


xyzzzz__, Tuesday, 27 September 2022 10:36 (one week ago) link

I can see how she could sincerely believe all that bullshit and build a worldview from it, but it's because she lives in a narrow world that has no point of contact beyond its own confines. This allows her to make utterly confident assertions about the larger world, untainted by any trace of knowledge or experience that would provide the grounds for a sympathetic understanding of what she's slagging off.

more difficult than I look (Aimless), Tuesday, 27 September 2022 17:40 (one week ago) link

Or rather, this would apply to those who respond positively to her bullshit, not so much to her. She's a straight up fascist.

more difficult than I look (Aimless), Tuesday, 27 September 2022 18:54 (one week ago) link

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