For the town of Chesterton in Cambridgeshire, see Chesterton (Cambridge).
Gilbert Keith Chesterton (May 29, 1874 - June 14, 1936) was an English writer of the early 20th century. Chesterton was known as the "prince of paradox" because he communicated his conservative, often countercultural, ideas in an off-hand, whimsical prose studded with startling formulations. For example: "Thieves respect property. They merely wish the property to become their property that they may more perfectly respect it." Many of Chesterton's works remain in print, including collections of his Father Brown detective stories, and Ignatius Press is presently undertaking the monumental task of publishing his complete works.
G.K. Chesterton, portrait
Life and Career
Born in Campden Hill, Kensington, London, Chesterton was educated at St. Paul's School, and later went to the Slade School of Art in order to become an illustrator. In 1900, Chesterton was asked to write a few magazine articles on art criticism, which sparked his interest in writing. He went on to become one of the most prolific writers of all time. Chesterton's writings displayed a wit and sense of humor that is unusual even today, while often time making extremely serious comments on the world, government, politics, economics, philosophy, theology, or a hundred other topics.
Chesterton wrote around 80 books, several hundred poems, 200 short stories, 4000 essays and a few plays. He was a columnist for the Daily News, Illustrated London News, and his own paper, G.K's Weekly. In the United States, his writings on distributism were popularized through The American Review, published by Seward Collins in New York. He was a literary and social critic, historian, playwright, novelist, Catholic Christian theologian and apologist, debater, and mystery writer. His most well-known character is the priest-detective Father Brown, who appeared only in short stories, while The Man Who Was Thursday is arguably his best-known novel. He converted to Roman Catholicism in 1922. Christian themes and symbolism appear in much of his writing, and he often presented himself in the role of the Church's champion.
The British writer Hilaire Belloc is often associated with his friend Chesterton. Although very different men, they had in common their Catholic faith and a critical attitude to both capitalism and socialism. Both are figures likely to outlast many of their more celebrated literary contemporaries.
Chesterton was a large man, standing 6 feet 4 inches and weighing around 300 pounds. Chesterton had a unique look, usually wearing a cape and a crumpled hat, with a swordstick in hand, and usually a cigar hanging out of his mouth. Chesterton rarely remembered where he was supposed to be going and would even miss the train that was supposed to take him there. It was not uncommon for Chesterton to send a telegram to his wife, Frances Blogg, whom he married in 1901, from some distant (and incorrect) location writing such things as, "Am at Market Harborough. Where ought I to be?" to which she would reply, "Home."
Chesterton loved to debate, often publicly debating friends like George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, Bertrand Russell, and Clarence Darrow. Chesterton was usually considered the winner. According to his autobiography, he and George Bernard Shaw played cowboys in a silent movie that, alas, was never released.
He is buried in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, in the Roman Catholic Cemetery.
Some conservatives today have been influenced by his support for distributism. The right-wing journalist A. K. Chesterton was a cousin.
Literature and biographies on Chesterton
- Gilbert - the Man Who Was G. K. Chesterton, by Michael Coren
- Marshall McLuhan wrote an article on G.K. Chesterton, titled "G.K. Chesterton: A Practical Mystic" (Dalhousie Review 15 (4), 1936).
- Chesterton's writings have been praised by such authors as Ernest Hemingway, Graham Greene, Frederick Buechner, Evelyn Waugh, Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel García Márquez, Karel Čapek, Paul Claudel, Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, Sigrid Undset, Ronald Knox, C. S. Lewis, Kingsley Amis, W. H. Auden, Anthony Burgess, E. F. Schumacher, Neil Gaiman, Orson Welles, Dorothy Day and others.