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)

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

The following is an essay I wrote back in 2010 for a Gen Ed English class at school.

Since I had to write an argumentative essay, but wanted a comparatively "safe" subject, I argued that GKC was one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. (I would have put "greatest", but I decided to keep my claims more modest.)

My teacher wrote:
This is one of the better papers I've had in any of my classes, especially when it comes to the research you've done. Bravo for proving me wrong. :-) 
I decided it would perhaps be a good idea to post it here, for anyone interested.

Forgotten Greatness
When he died in 1936, his obituary that appeared on the front page of the New York Times described G.K. Chesterton as “for more than a generation the most exuberant personality in English literature” (1). The famous Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw (an “enemy” on the intellectual level, but nevertheless a close personal friend) always referred to him as “a man of colossal genius,” according to the testimony of T.E. Lawrence, i.e., "Lawrence of Arabia" (qtd. in Conlin 30). Orson Welles as well was an admirer and, before a radio dramatization produced in 1938 of his novel The Man Who Was Thursday, made the following observation: “For a unique brand of common sense enthusiasm, for a singular gift of paradox, for a deep reverence and a high wit, and most of all for a free and shamelessly beautiful English prose, he will never be forgotten.” Indeed, for all of the above reasons, Chesterton, a prolific English writer of the early twentieth century, seems to be quoted everywhere, from the epigraph of Neil Gaiman’s novel Coraline to an interview given by Pope Benedict XVI (qtd. in Brown). As Ernest Hemingway stated through a character in one of his short stories, written while Chesterton was still living, “Chesterton’s a classic” (4). However, if that be the case, then Chesterton’s own definition of that term seems to apply to himself these days: “Gibbon is now a classic; that is, he is quoted instead of being read” (qtd in Newport).  In fact, he is so strangely neglected now that some educated people do not even recognize his name, much less are familiar with his writings. Those who have heard of him often only know of him through his detective stories and are unaware of his other works. That being the case, many would find it very odd to discover anybody maintaining that G.K. Chesterton was one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. However, the fact that he was may be demonstrated in many ways.  It can be shown by the intrinsic value of his contributions to English literature, for instance, and the influence he has exerted on many well-known people of greatly diverse backgrounds. Perhaps it is best shown, though, by his ability to challenge the erroneous ideas of his time so that, in retrospect, he could be seen as a “prophet.” 
In support of the first argument, it should be noted that his contributions to English literature are legion. To say that Chesterton wrote a great amount of material would be the epitome of understatement.  Between his various novels, short stories, plays, poems, newspaper essays, other non-fiction, (in short, works in virtually every genre,) he published approximately fifteen million words (Newport). Such a vast collection covered nearly every topic under the sun, from literary criticism to epic poetry, and from mystery stories to Thomistic philosophy. Yet while one may speculate that if he wrote so much, he must consequently have completely sacrificed the quality of his work, such a person would be mistaken. Granted that some of his writings are not as excellent as others (as is to be expected in such a huge corpus), nevertheless the judgment expressed in the aforementioned obituary from the New York Times still holds true: “Quantity there was, but also very high quality. His opinions might have been whimsical and shocking, but he was never dull” (22).  In fact, in 1935, the year before his death, he had received a nomination for the Nobel Prize for Literature, though unfortunately, that year no award was actually given to anyone (“Biographical Note”). Moreover, Chesterton was a master of the aphorism. T.H. White was one of many to pay tribute to his skillfulness with words when the day after his death, he declared, “G.K. Chesterton died yesterday. P.G Wodehouse is now the greatest living master of the English language” (qtd in Pearce 484).  
As such, it is not surprising to discover that Chesterton has influenced a wide range of people of every field of life. It would be impossible in so short a paper to discuss all of them, so a few will have to suffice as a sample. One prominent person would be Mohondas Gandhi, who read a newspaper article written by Chesterton in 1909. As P.N. Furbank states, he was so impressed by it that:
…on the basis of it [Gandhi] wrote his book, Hind Swaraj, his own first formulation of a specifically 'Indian' solution to his country's problems. Thus you might argue, not quite absurdly, that India owed its independence, or at least the manner in which it came, to an article thrown off by Chesterton in half-an-hour in a Fleet Street pub. (21)
 Joseph Pearce also notes that as editor of his own paper G.K.’s Weekly, he published an article that was to be the first work written by George Orwell to be published in the English language (363). Turning to the field of literature, in an interview given to Barnes and Noble, author Terry Pratchett, when asked what his ten favorite books were, listed Chesterton’s novel The Napoleon of Notting Hill (a futuristic novel, written in 1904, but set in the year 1984)  as the first book on his list. The reason he gave was “for teaching me how to see the world. To Chesterton, even a quiet street was a world of fantasy and a street lamp more precious that a star (because there's a universe full of stars, compared to which street lamps are really uncommon” (Pratchett). Finally, as a last example out of the many that could be given, the famed Christian apologist C.S. Lewis (author of The Chronicles of Narnia) described in his spiritual autobiography Surprised by Joy the key role that Chesterton’s book The Everlasting Man was to play in his own conversion to Christianity (223). As Lewis elsewhere stated in the same book, “In reading Chesterton, as in reading MacDonald, I did not know what I was letting myself in for. A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading” (191).
            However, one of the aspects which most mark Chesterton’s uniqueness lies in the fact that he was not a slave to cotemporary opinion, leading him to be, as Malcolm Muggeridge observed, an “impressive prophet” (qtd. in Pearce viii). In his book The Everlasting Man Chesterton wrote that, “a dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it” (388). That perfectly describes his attitude towards many of the social theories of his time. Thus, he was a fierce critic of what at the time was the extremely popular pseudo-science eugenics, publishing a book in 1922 called Eugenics and Other Evils. As Michael Crichton, in the bibliography to his novel Next, noted when describing this book:
Chesterton’s was one of the few voices to oppose eugenics in the early twentieth century. He saw right through it as fraudulent on every level, and he predicted where it would lead, with great accuracy. His critics were legion […] Yet Chesterton was right, and the consensus of scientists, political leaders, and the intelligentsia was wrong […] This book is worth reading because, in retrospect, it is clear that Chesterton’s arguments were perfectly sensible and deserving of an answer, and yet he was simply shouted down.” (426)
Not surprisingly, after Hitler took power in 1933, Chesterton made war on the Nazi philosophy (and in particular the persecution of the Jews, which was in its early stages) until his death in 1936. For his forthright denunciations of the Nazis at a time when many others were silent, he received great tribute from many in the Jewish community (Pearce 448-450). Another prediction he made in 1926 could be described as a forecast of the sexual revolution. “The next great heresy is going to be simply an attack on morality, and especially on sexual morality […] The madness of tomorrow is not in Moscow but much more in Manhattan” (qtd in Mackey).  Furthermore, nine years before the outbreak of World War II (before the Nazis had even come to power), in 1930 he foresaw another war, one that would result through Germany trying to “monkey about with the frontiers of Poland” (qtd in Pearce ix). One could give other examples (such as his view of the future of communism), but these are enough to show that Chesterton had a remarkable insight that eluded many others of the early twentieth century. As Crichton observed when describing another book of his, Chesterton’s predictions of the future of the twentieth century were extremely accurate (426). Of course, he did not have a crystal ball, but he could see what so many others could not see: the inevitable results of the various theories being proposed in his time.
            Thus, in light of the above observations concerning his work and his influence on people of such various backgrounds, as well as his ability to see where our society was headed, it is surprising that Chesterton should not be given the attention he rightly deserves. The reasons for this state of affairs remain a matter of speculation. Nevertheless, that he has been neglected (comparatively speaking) is undeniable. Even if people may recognize his name as being the source of an especially witty quote they happen to come across, that is all they know of him usually. Many times, however, they are unaware of even his name. One video on YouTube about him expresses this oblivion well by being titled “Legacy of a Forgotten Man.” That said, the case for his being one of the greatest authors of the twentieth century is especially strong. Certainly those of his own generation, friend and foe alike, recognized his genius. One can only hope that someday the world will return to that realization. In the meantime, let us remember that, as T.S. Eliot wrote in tribute, “[Chesterton] leaves behind a permanent claim upon our loyalty” (qtd. in Cahill 183)
Works Cited
Biographical Note.  The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton X: Collected Poetry, Part II. By G.K. Chesterton.  Ed. Marlin, George J., et al. 35 vols. San Francisco: Ignatius, 1986-2008. Print
Brown, Nancy C. “Pope Benedict Quotes GKC.” The Blog of the American Chesterton Society. The American Chesterton Society. 14 Aug. 2006. Web. 15 July 2010. .
Chesterton, G.K. The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton II: St. Francis of Assisi, The Everlasting Man, St. Thomas Aquinas.  Ed. Marlin, George J., et al. 35 vols. San Francisco: Ignatius, 1986-2008. Print.
Cahill, Patrick. “Chesterton and the Future of Democracy.” G.K. Chesterton: A Centenary Appraisal. Ed. John Sullivan. Elek: 1974. 182-205. Print.
Conlin, Denis J. Introduction. The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton XI: Plays and Chesterton on Shaw.  Ed. Marlin, George J., et al. 35 vols. San Francisco: Ignatius, 1986-2008. Print.
Crichton, Michael. Next. New York: Harper Collins, 2006. Print.
Furbank, P.N. “Chesterton the Edwardian.” G.K. Chesterton: A Centenary Appraisal. Ed. John Sullivan. Elek: 1974. 16-27. Print.
Gaiman, Neil. Coraline. New York: Harper Trophy-Harper Collins, 2003. Print.
“G.K. Chesterton, 62, Noted Author, Dies.” New York Times. New York Times, 15 June 1936. 1, 22. Web. 15 July 2010. .
Hemingway, Ernest. In Our Time. Texas Tech University. Texas Tech University, n.d., Web. 15 July 2010. .
“Legacy of a Forgotten Man.” R.A.G.E. Media. YouTube, 22 July 2009. Web. 15 July 2010. .
Lewis, C.S. Surprised by Joy. San Diego: Harvest/HBJ-Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984. Print.
Mackey, Aidan. G.K. Chesterton: A Prophet for the 21st Century. Norfolk, IHS Press. 2009. Print.
“The Man Who Was Thursday.” Mercury Radio Theatre on the Air. Dir. Orson Welles. CBS. 5 Sep. 1938. Radio.
Newport, Mary. “A Weekend with Chesterton.” Canberra Society of Editors Newsletter 10.9 (2001): n. pag. Web. 15 July 2010. .
Pearce, Joseph. Wisdom and Innocence: A Life of G.K. Chesterton. San Francisco: Ignatius, 1996. Print.
Pratchett, Terry. “Meet the Writers: Terry Pratchett.” Barnes & Noble. Barnes & Noble, n.d. Web. 15 July 2010. .

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