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Chesterton's best fiction and non-fiction

Plato to MacDonald to Chesterton, Tolkien and the Boys in the Pub.

Chesterton's best fiction and non-fiction

Postby rusmeister » 28 Jul 2007, 09:13

Here's another, like MacDonald, seriously under-read author. He was extremely prolific, and famous in his time, so much so that the Pope sent condolences on his death. He wrote novels, short stories, poetry, essays and apologetics. If you are unfamiliar with the works of one of the greatest authors of all time, here are a couple of good places to start:

http://www.chesterton.org/

http://www.cse.dmu.ac.uk/~mward/gkc/index.html

What works of his have you read in what category? Which do you consider to be outstanding and why?
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Postby moordarjeeling » 28 Jul 2007, 15:47

Much GKC is great, all GKC is good.

Oddly what comes to my mind is his short mystery story about an omen in a puff of smoke ... but to say more would be spoilers.
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Postby rusmeister » 31 Jul 2007, 10:02

I am one who actually thinks that the Father Brown stories, which get the most press, are the least valuable of his writings. I find the general premise fairly ludicrous even though there are good spiritual points and insight.

Of far greater impact are his apologetic works. Orthodoxy, Heretics and The Everlasting Man are all among the best books I have ever read, especially TEM. Consider that it was TEM that launched Lewis on his path to Christianity.

What's Wrong With the World (WWWW), while not his best work, has some really incisive stuff on how our world has developed - since he wrote it! But it's bound to be unpopular with people who believe our world is perfect and getting better every day.

The Flying Inn, while being a fanciful tale of Islamic standards brought into British public life, foreshadows how some of them are being brought into western public life in general today.

As a master of one-liners, he has a ton of quotations that hit home:
http://www.chesterton.org/discover/quotations.html

If you believe that there's nothing wrong with the world, that alcohol has no place at all in our lives, or that Christianity should mean whatever you want it to mean, then Chesterton is not for you.

Or maybe he is... :read:
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Postby rusmeister » 03 Nov 2007, 01:09

Just a little curious as to why people who love Lewis so much have nothing at all to say about Chesterton. He was the man that got Lewis started on his path.
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Postby contra mundum » 09 Nov 2007, 21:04

rusmeister wrote:Just a little curious as to why people who love Lewis so much have nothing at all to say about Chesterton. He was the man that got Lewis started on his path.


I enjoy both Lewis and Chesterton--Lewis just a little bit more. But the two men were very different writers, so it makes sense that (some) lovers of Lewis would not have the same affection for the work of Chesterton. Though I would be surprised to hear someone praise Lewis and then, in the next breath, diss Chesterton

Favorite Chesterton fiction: The Man Who was Thursday
Favorite non-fiction: One little-known work of Chesterton's that I have thoroughly enjoyed is Platitudes Undone. It's a breezy read, but extremely stimulating.
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Postby rusmeister » 10 Nov 2007, 06:32

".Then I read Chesterton's Everlasting Man and for the first time saw the whole Christian outline of history set out in a form that seemed to me to make sense . . . I already thought Chesterton the most sensible man alive "apart from his Christianity." Now, I veritably believe, I thought that Christianity itself was very sensible "apart from its Christianity." --C.S. Lewis, on reading Chesterton as an atheist in 1925


Lewis had tremendous respect for Chesterton. It was his attitude that made me want to read Chesterton, as I had found Lewis to be the most sensible writer I had ever read. I have since found Chesterton to be even more so, without diminishing my enormous admiration for Lewis.

They were very different in the sense of having different styles, but their aims and conclusions were largely the same, so they were NOT different writers in the sense that Chesterton and Shaw, or Lewis and Pullman are different writers. They were both Christians who demanded reason and common sense from a world bent on debunking the Faith.

Important differences are more in style than in goal. Chesterton's strong suit is common sense and a proper use of paradox, just as Lewis depends more on straight-line reasoning.

But given the considerable influence Lewis had on Chesterton, I would think that mature admirers of Lewis who had read pretty much everything in Lewisiana would want to move on to Lewis's teachers - including and especially MacDonald and Chesterton.
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Postby Mary » 10 Nov 2007, 17:52

A few months ago I started reading a collectiuon of Fr. Brown stories because a while back (maybe a year?) I asked (on this forum, I think) where would be a good place to start with Chesterton. Someone suggested Fr. Brown (David Jack maybe? ... sorry, getting old here, mind like a sieve). I read it at night because it fits two of my three criteria for bedtime reading:

1. at least somewhat spiritually edifying

2. linguistically dense enough that I eventually fall asleep

if these two aren't available, then here's the third:

3. a novel in German (also eventually puts me to sleep)


Rusmeister, I can see what you say about the Fr. Brown not being the greatest thing he's done, even though I haven't read anything else from him yet. However, the suggestion to start with these stories was a good one for getting used to Chesterton's style. He's kind of a wordy guy, and I think having read his Fr. Brown I'll be able see his point when I read Orthodoxy (or some other such thing) rather than just struggle with his style and all the extra words.

I am looking forward to reading his other stuff soon. The fact that he was a Catholic (a convert, right?) intrigues me since I am an Anglican who is often driven to jump ship and get catechized. (sound familiar, Stanley?)

A few more words on Fr. Brown: as far as development of a mystery and its solution, I don't think this is Chesterton's big talent. He also is lacking in his setting of a real visual scene, and in this he reminds me of the several Japanese authors I have tried to read whose landscapes seem to be entirely inner. However, Chesterton does a great job with his character. I love how in each story he brings Fr. Brown out from invisibility .... it's kind of like seeing a specific detail emerge from a landscape painting. Chesterton shows Fr. Brown to be the same guy from story to story, a humble non-assuming person who takes his job seriously, knows who he works for, and and isn't marked by any striking physical characteristics like S. Holmes, for example. The believability rating is high.
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Postby ABC » 11 Nov 2007, 16:37

Apart from the "Father Brown" books, I love Chesterton's biographical works on Stevenson, Browning, Dickens, St. Thomas Aquinas and especially St. Francis of Assisi. I actually much prefer Chesterton's biography of Dickens to anything by Dickens himself!
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Postby rusmeister » 11 Nov 2007, 17:47

I've thought for some time that in recommending authors, we need to offer reasons why THIS author should be given priority - there are hundreds of thousands of choices, and hundreds of ones worth some kind of consideration.

The best thing I've come up with is to offer quotes from the author, with a (very) brief snapshot of the author and what he believed.

That said, here is a page of quotes from the ACS, with one provided here:
http://www.chesterton.org/discover/quotations.html

"The purpose of Compulsory Education is to deprive the common people of their commonsense." - ILN, 9/7/29

(since I am a certified public school teacher, I'll vouch for the truth of this)

and another (on any technological advancement)
"We are learning to do a great many clever things...The next great task will be to learn not to do them.- "Queen Victoria" Varied Types


Frankly, I find that most of what Chesterton writes is quite compatible with Orthodoxy - both his earlier (Anglican) writings as well as his later (Catholic) works.
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Postby contra mundum » 12 Nov 2007, 18:49

rusmeister wrote:
".Then I read Chesterton's Everlasting Man and for the first time saw the whole Christian outline of history set out in a form that seemed to me to make sense . . . I already thought Chesterton the most sensible man alive "apart from his Christianity." Now, I veritably believe, I thought that Christianity itself was very sensible "apart from its Christianity." --C.S. Lewis, on reading Chesterton as an atheist in 1925


Lewis had tremendous respect for Chesterton. It was his attitude that made me want to read Chesterton, as I had found Lewis to be the most sensible writer I had ever read. I have since found Chesterton to be even more so, without diminishing my enormous admiration for Lewis.

They were very different in the sense of having different styles, but their aims and conclusions were largely the same, so they were NOT different writers in the sense that Chesterton and Shaw, or Lewis and Pullman are different writers. They were both Christians who demanded reason and common sense from a world bent on debunking the Faith.

Important differences are more in style than in goal. Chesterton's strong suit is common sense and a proper use of paradox, just as Lewis depends more on straight-line reasoning.

But given the considerable influence Lewis had on Chesterton, I would think that mature admirers of Lewis who had read pretty much everything in Lewisiana would want to move on to Lewis's teachers - including and especially MacDonald and Chesterton.


Well said, rusmeister.
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Postby Stanley Anderson » 12 Nov 2007, 21:24

scalerswife wrote:...I am an Anglican who is often driven to jump ship and get catechized. (sound familiar, Stanley?)


Sounds a bit familiar, yes:-)

I'm not sure what your situation is, but I would just qualify, in case other readers are not aware that the "driven", in our case, was not from disatisfaction with the Anglican Church we were at (it was part of what they referred to as a "continuing Anglican" movement, a "conservative" branch not part of the more liberal Episcopal Church), but more about being "driven" by the Holy Spirit to be part of the unity of the Church, regardless of our preferences.

In fact, as I've mentioned here before, when we were first meeting with the Catholic priest about joining the Church, he suggested, perhaps as a sort of "pushing back" to make sure we were earnest in our desire to join, that we might be happier if we were to stay at our Anglican church. My immediate reply was that we were perfectly happy at that Anglican church already, but that comfort and happiness were not the issue for us.

Ironically, the move to the Catholic Church was, for us, a move into a less "comfortable" and more "modern" setting (often the Catholic Mass we attend can seem almost like a Calvary Chapel-like setting for us old fogeys who were used to the 1928 prayer book with its archaic language and traditional hymns and such -- though of course even this "modern" Mass adheres to the Catholic teachings and structure). What is so wonderful though is how...well, I hadn't thought of it before, but here is a line from the end of the chapter "Fog" from THS that I use on another forum for my signature line -- it should give you something of the idea:

"She took a deep breath. It was the size of this world above the fog which impressed her. Down in Edgestow all these days one had lived, even when out-of-doors, as if in a room, for only objects close at hand were visible. She felt she had come near to forgetting how big the sky is, how remote the horizon."


That is the sense we have of the Catholic Church now that we are in it. Before, one could almost forget what is possible in the Faith. And I suppose, now that I think about it, even the signature line I use in these forums (below) expresses some of that idea too. It must be a sort of a running theme with me I guess:-)

--Stanley
…on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a fair green country under a swift sunrise.
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Postby galion » 12 Nov 2007, 22:16

I'm a cradle-catholic who went the other way - though in my day the Catholics used a far more formal and archaic language even than Cranmer.

I haven't checked the exact wording, but one of my favourite Chesterton quotations is:
"Progress is a comparative of which we have not yet defined the superlative."

Nobody has yet (unless I've missed it) mentioned all the hilarious verse.
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Postby rusmeister » 13 Nov 2007, 04:32

galion wrote:I'm a cradle-catholic who went the other way - though in my day the Catholics used a far more formal and archaic language even than Cranmer.

I haven't checked the exact wording, but one of my favourite Chesterton quotations is:
"Progress is a comparative of which we have not yet defined the superlative."

Nobody has yet (unless I've missed it) mentioned all the hilarious verse.


Yes, that quote is one of my favorites, too.
His poetry is underrated - some of it has deadly serious ideas behind it, though.

It's incredibly important not to pigeonhole the guy - that's why I posted the links above to the ACS for people that want quick perspectives on his many facets. The other link has a great deal of his stuff to read online.

We recently had a fairly heated discussion on the Orthodox subforum (at what used to be CF) about women and working outside the home. Chesterton saw the early stages of the effects of industrialization and one of his concerns was that a minority of women would be 'liberated' by work while a majority would be forced to leave the home and raising of their children to others so they could merely make ends meet, and frequently points out the absurdity of describing work in a factory or office cubicle as 'liberation'. In a word, he saw the gradual destruction of home and family life.

Songs of Education
III. For the Creche
Form 8277059, Sub-Section K

I remember my mother, the day that we met,
A thing I shall never entirely forget;
And I toy with the fancy that, young as I am,
I should know her again if we met in a tram.
But mother is happy in turning a crank
That increases the balance in somebody's bank;
And I feel satisfaction that mother is free
From the sinister task of attending to me.

They have brightened our room, that is spacious and cool,
With diagrams used in the Idiot School,
And Books for the Blind that will teach us to see;
But mother is happy, for mother is free.
For mother is dancing up forty-eight floors,
For love of the Leeds International Stores,
And the flame of that faith might perhaps have grown cold,
With the care of a baby of seven weeks old.
For mother is happy in greasing a wheel
For somebody else, who is cornering Steel;

And though our one meeting was not very long,
She took the occasion to sing me this song:
"O, hush thee, my baby, the time will soon come
When thy sleep will be broken with hooting and hum;
There are handles want turning and turning all day,
And knobs to be pressed in the usual way;
O, hush thee, my baby, take rest while I croon,
For Progress comes early, and Freedom too soon."
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Postby Dr. U » 16 Nov 2007, 03:15

Like most of you, I've gotten a lot of benefit out of his non-fiction books about Christian faith. I'm not a Roman Catholic Christian, but his book about Thomas Aquinas particularly stuck with me.

Another genre of stuff he wrote that I recently discovered, are his essays against eugenics and racism. I teach a class that uses the history of race and racism as a case to illustrate how scientists cannot operate in a vacuum: our own worldviews ALWAYS influence the type of questions we ask, the data we collect, and how the data are interpreted. B/c of this class, I'm always reading on the side about the issue of race and racism. I encountered a book of essays GKC wrote in the early 20th Century against eugenics that is still a gem, even if somewhat dated.

Eugenics has today fallen from most of its power and influence (thank God!!), but only 100 years ago, it was held as obvious truth almost uniformly across Western culture, especially in intellectual circles. With limited exceptions, most of its serious opposition was from a relatively small group of dedicated Christians, a mix of radical evangelicals and devout Catholics who were vilified, somewhat the way Pro-Life evangelicals and Catholics are today. And GKC was in the middle of all that, writing essays that were both cutting and beautifully crafted, against eugenic ideas. He used his gifts well....
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Re: Chesterton's best fiction and non-fiction

Postby A#minor » 19 Jun 2009, 16:58

I've been reading The Complete Father Brown in bits here and there for the last month. Nearly done now with my first taste of Chesterton, and I'm loving it! He always surprises me, and there are some phenomenal insights that have really had me scratching my head.
Can't wait to get my hands on more Chesterton! I think I'll try The Man Who Was Thursday next since that is another popular one.
"My brain and this world don't fit each other, and there's an end of it!" - G.K. Chesterton
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