Who is G.K. Chesterton?
Gilbert Keith Chesterton KC*SG (29 May 1874 – 14 June 1936) was an English writer, philosopher, Christian apologist, and literary and art critic. He has been referred to as the “prince of paradox“. Of his writing style, Time observed: “Whenever possible Chesterton made his points with popular sayings, proverbs, allegories—first carefully turning them inside out.”
Chesterton created the fictional priest-detective Father Brown, and wrote on apologetics. Even some of those who disagree with him have recognised the wide appeal of such works as Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man. Chesterton routinely referred to himself as an “orthodox” Christian, and came to identify this position more and more with Catholicism, eventually converting to Roman Catholicism from high church Anglicanism. Biographers have identified him as a successor to such Victorian authors as Matthew Arnold, Thomas Carlyle, John Henry Newman and John Ruskin.
Chesterton’s socio-economic system of Distributism affected the sculptor Eric Gill, who established a commune of Catholic artists at Ditchling in Sussex. The Ditchling group developed a journal called The Game, in which they expressed many Chestertonian principles, particularly anti-industrialism and an advocacy of religious family life. His novel The Man Who Was Thursday inspired the Irish Republican leader Michael Collins with the idea that “If you didn’t seem to be hiding nobody hunted you out.” Collins’s favourite work of Chesterton was The Napoleon of Notting Hill, and he was “almost fanatically attached to it”, according to his friend Sir William Darling. His column in the Illustrated London News on 18 September 1909 had a profound effect on Mahatma Gandhi. P. N. Furbank asserts that Gandhi was “thunderstruck” when he read it, while Martin Green notes that “Gandhi was so delighted with this that he told Indian Opinion to reprint it.” Another convert was Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan, who said that the book What’s Wrong with the World changed his life in terms of ideas and religion. The author Neil Gaiman stated that he grew up reading Chesterton in his school’s library, and that The Napoleon of Notting Hill influenced his own book Neverwhere. Gaiman based the character Gilbert from the comic book The Sandman on Chesterton, while the novel he co-wrote with Terry Pratchett is dedicated to him. The Argentine author and essayist Jorge Luis Borges cited Chesterton as influential on his fiction, telling interviewer Richard Burgin that “Chesterton knew how to make the most of a detective story.”