"Chesterton inherited from the aesthetes of the 1880s and 1890s the conviction hat a writer should be continuously 'bright' and epigrammatic...When he is really enthralled by a subject he is brilliant, without any doubt one of the finest aphorists in English literature." -- W.H. Auden
As P.D James writes in her introduction "Gilbert Keith Chesterton...was a man of letters*."
By this she means that G.K. Chesterton is one of those authors who prolifically earned his living solely by what he wrote. He was poet, playwright, short story writer, intellectual thinker and novelist and onto that many have named him a Catholic apologist, theologian and debater. And he was an author who inspired C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien in their own patterns of thinking. Not only this he is noted for having been a fine critic and theorist in regards to other literary texts. As T.S. Elliot wrote, "there is not better critic living of Dickens himself than Mr. Chesterton."
However of all his work, and having recently encountered G.K. Chesterton I have discovered that he wrote a vast library of work, it is his short stories featuring Father Brown which remain the most relevant to today's audiences even if his criticism of Dickens has influenced current academic thought on Dickens. "[Father Brown] is one of the greatest of all great detective figures." -- Kingsley Amis
This volume is not one of the 'canon' collections of Father Brown. By this I mean that it is not one of the original collections of stories. Rather it is a collection of some of the finer tales about Father Brown. In my view it is an excellent collection to allow anyone to get into the world of Father Brown. The stories seem to appear in chronological order and each story is brilliant. I'll give you three reasons you must look at these stories, three things that draw me into any novel.The writing"But even if a single story disappoints, the quality of the writing never does. Chesterton never wrote an inelegant or clumsy sentence. The Father Brown stories are written in a style richly complex, imaginative, vigorous, poetic and spiced with paradoxes. He was an artist as well as a writer and he sees life with an artist's eye." -- P.D James 'the Introduction'"
I often, I must admit, skip through Introductions if they appear over long and tedious to read. I feel I need to read through the text first before looking at the theories and ideas apparent in the introduction. However in this case P.D. James wrote such a compelling introduction that I read it all the way through before starting a single story. Not only a compelling introduction, might I add, but a truthful one.
G.K. Chesterton writes incredibly beautifully. Beautiful is a word thrown around casually now but never is it truer than when applied to Chesterton's writing. His work is so precise and neat, his thought and genius incredibly apparent in every word. In many ways he is like Peake with his Gormenghast novels, albeit writing in a less florid manner and with less elongated words. However in his construction Chesterton is superb. Grammatically and punctually he is as close to perfect as a man can get in my view.The themes"In one respect G.K. Chesterton was ahead of his time. He was one of the first writers of detective fiction to realize that this popular genre could be a vehicle for exploring and exposing the condition of society and of saying something true about human nature." -- P.D James 'the Introduction'"
G.K. Chesterton does not write a traditional mystery novel. Yes there are murders, thefts and police. Yes there is crime. However what he looks at are the crimes beyond the crimes. The 'sinful' acts committed by men and women. Those emotional and moral attitudes which are behind the actual physical deed. Think what you like about Catholicism or Christianity, these are stories which anyone who likes to think about mystery and the human condition should read.
One fascinating aspect of the themes are evident in how in his stories Chesterton connects the characters to the themes. He makes care to draw out what the character's beliefs are. He indicates what their prejudices and desires might be due to their world views. He challenges how our beliefs lead us to do many different things in other words. And it is not atheists and agnostics who commit all the crimes. Many of the crimes are committed by the Christians in his tales. Thus he shows that all people can commit crimes, that no one is exempt from the law.The characters
As mentioned, Chesterton bases his characters around their beliefs. Aside from that he makes enigmatic and eccentric characters who are fascinating to observe. Not only that the characters do not exist in a black and white morality but are nuanced and develop across the stories. Many of the reoccurring characters may change their opinions from book to book. A crook may become a hero. A hero may become a crook. In this way Chesterton shows the changeable nature of people and reveals with his characters a snapshot of the extraordinariness of everyday life.
The descriptions are first class. Chesterton mixes two description techniques excellently. At times he will fully flesh out a location, character or place and then at others he will write simply, allowing the reader to identify for themselves what a character is like. However he always writes in a way that links his characters to something unforgettable about them. Whether that be a jacket or hat they wear, some odd facial hair or even something about their posture.In conclusion...
In a world where nearly anyone can publish books I would love to see more authors like G.K. Chesterton. People who write intellectually, challengingly and influentially. I'm not criticising self-publishing. I have found some excellent self-published books (I have also heard rumours of some terrible books from both self-publishing and publishing sources). What I merely question is how easily we allow books to get published in our times for the quick dollar. I know not everyone releases books for that reason but that's what marketing books is all about now sadly. It would be a shame if we could never see such authors as G.K. Chesterton again. Writers who write for artistic reasons and create stories with ideas and the aim to show something about the world.
I fully recommend you read any of The Father Brown short stories. They are excellent literature, some of the best mystery short stories I have found. In fact some of the best short stories around. Father Brown is a great mystery figure and Chesterton's work is grand inspiration. I think he deserves a place among the greats of literature for that reason. I also recommend his [b:The Man Who Was Thursday|184419|The Man Who Was Thursday|G.K. Chesterton|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1320459832s/184419.jpg|195447].
*I only skipped the historical information about his date of birth for this quote, honestly!