A blog dedicated to providing quotes by and posts relating to one of the most influential (and quotable!) authors of the twentieth century, G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936). If you do not know much about GKC, I suggest visiting the webpage of the American Chesterton Society as well as this wonderful Chesterton Facebook Page by a fellow Chestertonian

I also have created a list detailing examples of the influence of Chesterton if you are interested, that I work on from time to time.

(Moreover, for a list of short GKC quotes, I have created one here, citing the sources)

"...Stevenson had found that the secret of life lies in laughter and humility."

-Heretics (1905)

Finally, not directly Chesterton related, but I highly recommend the following websites

M.G.D.'s website is where you can learn the latest concerning the Marcus series of novels, as well as other great writing!

Mardi Robyn, run by my great friend Mardi, is an excellent site for handmade jewelry and accessories that you'll love! Also make sure to visit Rockin' Robyn Boutique

Please make sure to visit those sites! (And remember, it is very Chestertonian to support small businesses!)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

"A Twitch Upon the Thread"

Book Two of Evelyn Waugh's novel Brideshead Revisited is titled "A Twitch Upon the Thread", and is taken from one of GKC's Father Brown stories.

To quote from the novel:

"Still trying to convert me, Cordelia?"

"Oh, no. That's all over, too. D'you know what papa said when he became a Catholic? Mummy told me once. He said to her: 'You have brought back my family to the faith of their ancestors.' Pompous, you know. It takes people different ways. Anyhow, the family haven't been very constant, have they? There's him gone and Sebastian gone and Julia gone. But God won't let them go for long, you know. I wonder if you remember the story mummy read us the evening Sebastian first got drunk – I mean the bad evening. "Father Brown" said something like 'I caught him' (the thief) 'with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread.' "

Or, to quote from the Father Brown story itself that is made reference to ("The Queer Feet")

"Did--did you steal those things?" stammered Mr. Audley, with staring eyes.

"If I did," said the cleric pleasantly, "at least I am bringing them back again."

"But you didn't," said Colonel Pound, still staring at the broken window.

"To make a clean breast of it, I didn't," said the other, with some humour. And he seated himself quite gravely on a stool.

"But you know who did," said the, colonel.

"I don't know his real name," said the priest placidly, "but I know something of his fighting weight, and a great deal about his spiritual difficulties. I formed the physical estimate when he was trying to throttle me, and the moral estimate when he repented."

"Oh, I say--repented!" cried young Chester, with a sort of crow of laughter.

Father Brown got to his feet, putting his hands behind him. "Odd, isn't it," he said, "that a thief and a vagabond should repent, when so many who are rich and secure remain hard and frivolous, and without fruit for God or man? But there, if you will excuse me, you trespass a little upon my province. If you doubt the penitence as a practical fact, there are your knives and forks. You are The Twelve True Fishers, and there are all your silver fish. But He has made me a fisher of men."

"Did you catch this man?" asked the colonel, frowning. Father Brown looked him full in his frowning face.

"Yes," he said, "I caught him, with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world, and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread."

-The Innocence of Father Brown (1911)


coffeepotcurve said...


Mike said...


Roberto said...

A very profound quote. I remember how much it moved me when I first read Brideshead Revisited.

Mike said...

Very true.

(Now, I just need to read Brideshead Revisited...

Anonymous said...

Did you ever read Brideshead? Populated entirely by unsympathetic characters, but I suppose that's the point. God's Mercy is all the more beautiful the more flawed we are.

Mike said...

Sadly, I still have not read it yet.... but it is a book I wish to read some day.

Anonymous said...

I'm reading it, Brideshead Revisited, a deeply sad story. Sad, partially because the novel is "populated entirely by unsympathetic characters," as a previous comment remarked. Waugh's point may well be it, but do we have to be loveless - having no love for each other - to deserve God's mercy and grace?

Mike said...

As I still have not read the book, I am still unable to comment on the story directly. But as to the larger point you raise, I can see in part why an author may choose to exaggerate the unsympathetic nature of his characters if that is the point he is trying to make, He may be trying to emphasize, by the great contrast, the utter benevolence of God's mercy and grace which none of us deserve. For if such characters can receive such mercy, how much more should we not fear to receive it?

It reminds me of what St. Paul wrote in his first letter to Timothy, who makes a similar point:

"The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners; but I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience for an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life." (1 Timothy 1:15-16)

Anonymous said...

Point well taken, and I'm also familiar with Paul's argument as expressed in more than one of his epistles.

The discussion here, however, in my opinion seems to have derived from the readers' sympathetic reaction to "a really shocking absence [in the novel] of that compassion which is so much a part of the Catholic spirit." Is this so because of the cold and stiff streak of an English aristocratic family as depicted in the novel? Perhaps. And that's also why the story is so helplessly tragic to an observer.

The above-quoted commentary continues: "The religious writer requires at least four qualities of which Waugh [author of Brideshead Received] has so far displayed only one. Faith has has, but little compassion and no humility, and in his entire novel there is not a single convincing trace of love." ~ Spot on!

(Quotes from http://journey-and-destination.blogspot.com/2016/03/a-twitch-upon-threadbrideshead.html?m=1)

Mike said...

Well, as I said, I haven't read the novel or seen the movie, nor do I know anything about Waugh's motivations in his writing. So I cannot speak any further as to this particular aspect. (I merely made this post because of it's connection to Chesterton's Father Brown stories) So I will have to leave the conversation. But perhaps someone else may later on see this post, and have more to contribute?

Anonymous said...

Didn't mean to make you feel that way. :) If by any chance you want to watch the adaptation before reading the book, I fervently recommend the British TV series (1981), which is a superb production and a real classic that's extremely faithful to the book; and the cast (Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews) is incomparable and a real pleasure to watch. Beware of the 2008 movie remake, which is something you should want to avoid at all costs. :)

Mike said...

Thanks for the recommendations. :-)

Anonymous said...

I read the book but I remember most clearly the wonderful British series that I viewed many years ago on PBS. I did not find the characters at all uncompassionate. Perhaps it was seeing them experience emotion, as exceptional actors can portray, that made me feel that they felt a deep compassion for the great sorrows one another experienced and also made me feel great sorrow for each of them and for the emotional -- and spiritual -- pains they experienced.

Mike said...

Thanks for your comment and sharing your perspective.

(BTW, I apologize for waiting a couple months to publish your comment....I had meant to before, and forgot about it! Oops!)