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G. K. Chesterton (Gilbert Keith Chesterton) Biography

(1874–1936), (Gilbert Keith Chesterton), Daily News, The Bookman, Illustrated London News, Eye Witness, New Witness

English novelist, essayist, poet, and journalist, born on Campden Hill, London, educated at St Paul's School, London, and the Slade School of Art. An outspoken and controversial journalist, Chesterton wrote for the Daily News, The Bookman, and the Illustrated London News, contributed to Eye Witness, and was editor of New Witness (191623) and G. K.'s Weekly (192536). His friend, Hilaire Belloc, several of whose books Chesterton illustrated, greatly influenced his political and religious thinking; jointly nicknamed ‘the Chesterbelloc’ by Shaw, both writers expressed their pro-Boer anti-Imperialist stance in The Speaker. Chesterton was fervently anti-capitalist, opposed to technological advance, and became president of the Distribution League advocating a fair distribution of the nation's land. His first novel, The Napoleon of Notting Hill (1904), is a romance set in a future where London boroughs become warring city-states. The Man Who Was Thursday (1908), aptly subtitled ‘A Nightmare’, deals with a conspiracy by anarchists, each named after one day of the week. Other novels, all with elements of fantasy, include The Ball and the Cross (1910), Manalive (1912), The Flying Inn (1914), and The Return of Don Quixote (1927). Chesterton wrote many volumes of short stories, the most popular of which are the Father Brown stories, featuring the humble East Anglian Roman Catholic priest as master detective. The first collection, The Innocence of Father Brown (1911), was followed by The Wisdom of Father Brown (1914), The Incredulity of Father Brown (1926), The Secret of Father Brown (1927), and The Scandal of Father Brown (1935). The best stories, such as ‘The Absence of Mr Glass’, ‘The Chief Mourner of Marne’, ‘The Insoluble Problem’, ‘The Mirror of the Magistrate’, ‘The Queer Feet’, ‘The Sins of Prince Saradine’, and ‘The Worst Crime in the World’, are brilliantly and poetically written, with the plot often turning on an ingenious, original paradox. Read closely, the stories reveal themselves not so much as detective stories but as parables, in which moral theology is presented as detection. Chesterton became the first President of the Detection Club on its foundation by Anthony Berkeley in 1928. As a critic, his literary judgements were invariably interwoven with his moral views. His critical works include The Victorian Age in Literature (1913); literary studies of Robert Browning (1903), Heretics (1905), Charles Dickens (1906), Orthodoxy (1909), George Bernard Shaw (1910), William Blake (1910), Robert Louis Stevenson (1927), and Chaucer (1932); and biographies of St. Francis of Assisi (1923), William Cobbett (1925), and St. Thomas Aquinas (1933). Chesterton became a Roman Catholic in 1922; he set out his religious views in The Everlasting Man (1925). He wrote collections of essays, plays, A Short History of England (1917), several volumes of verse, often celebrating the Englishness of England, including Greybeards at Play (1900), The Wild Knight (1900), The Ballad of the White Horse (1911), and Collected Poems (1927; revised 1933), and an Autobiography (1936). See The Bodley Head G. K. Chesterton (1984), edited by P. J. Kavanagh; Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1944), by Maisie Ward; and G. K. Chesterton: A Half Century of Views (1987), edited by D. J. Conlon.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Cheltenham Gloucestershire to Cockermouth Cumbria