Who is G.K. Chesterton?
February 9, 2004 12:46 PM   Subscribe

I am the smartest man in the world! Has anybody read this guy? His bio carries a lot of hype, and looks a bit interesting.
posted by prototype_octavius (16 comments total)
If you want to read anything actually by G.K. Chesterton, see here.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 12:55 PM on February 9, 2004

Also here. I've read The Man Who Was Thursday and Orthodoxy.

The Man Who Was Thursday is spiritual spy novel. It's terrific. A protean Kafkaesque fantasy comedy. One might be tempted to think it's some kind of allegory but that would be lame. Instead enjoy it like you would a Jonathan Carroll novel. Orthodoxy is brain-bending Catholic apology. I found it intriguing but disappointing.
posted by wobh at 12:59 PM on February 9, 2004

I'd love to read all of these. Damn, why do I have to work for a living?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 1:07 PM on February 9, 2004

Nobody is smarter than Marilyn Vos Savant.
posted by Slagman at 2:00 PM on February 9, 2004

monju_bosatsu: excellent link. Chesterton is a brilliant writer: "The Man Who Was Thursday" is superb. I like his poem The Rolling English Road a lot.

I should stay away from his more explicitly religious writings like the Thomas Aquinas bio though: he seems to spend most of his time attacking then-popular philosophies which now hardly exist.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 2:13 PM on February 9, 2004

We had to read something by him (I think it was this) for Christian Doctrine in high school. To my 16 year-old mind, it was dreadfully boring. Don't let that keep you from him though. I'd also second Slagman's point: you don't want to mess with MVS, lest hordes of Parade readers show up at your door.
posted by yerfatma at 2:22 PM on February 9, 2004

His Father Brown stories are very enjoyable. Well worth a look.
posted by tomsk at 2:29 PM on February 9, 2004

Um... great link? isn't this more appropriate for Ask Mefi? If even that.

So what does everybody think of John Woo? Face Off eh?
posted by dgaicun at 2:48 PM on February 9, 2004

I may not be the smartest man in the world, but I am pretty neurotic. Does that count ?
posted by troutfishing at 2:50 PM on February 9, 2004

I have an aborted script for a modern adaptation of The Man Who Was Thursday on my hard-drive. The book was a great story, but got long-winded at the end. Hoom. When I read it through the first time I thought that Kubrick should have been the one to make it into a movie, as it would have been the kind of thing he was perfect at.

Reading Chesterton, one does get the sense of a vast, prolific intellect pushing out effortless sentences. I don't believe all of the hype in the article, but no doubt he was incredibly gifted. As a lazy dilletante, I admire people like him and Dickens, to whom the completion of an essay or even a book must have been noteworthy, but routine.

Now, as for why Chesterton isn't thought more highly of: he is thought highly of, as a writer, just not as much as a thinker. While he wrote witty and thoroughly readable prose, I personally find his philosophizing ham-handed, or at least less sophisticated than those of other thinkers who wrote on similar subjects. To put it bluntly, his thinking was very old-fashioned, and his essays, at least the few I've read, seem to be in service of very conservative, Victorian ideas that seem quaint to my modern sensibilities. It's hard to stay fashionable a hundred years later when your agenda was largely out-dated even when you were alive.

I don't really think I phrased that right, fairly, or accurately, but anyway that's always been my take on Chesterton.
posted by Hildago at 5:20 PM on February 9, 2004

No, I think you're right on the money, Hildago. Chesterton's a perfectly decent writer who's got about the degree of fame he deserves. His better stuff is in print and read; the rest molders in the obscurity it merits. This site is simply fanboy drivel:
G.K. Chesterton was the best writer of the 20th century... The reason he was the greatest writer of the 20th century was because he was also the greatest thinker of the 20th century.
Uh huh. And Johnny Depp is the greatest actor who ever lived.
posted by languagehat at 5:34 PM on February 9, 2004

'Hamhanded' is exactly the right word for Chesterton. Quaint, too, and sometimes even offensive, I would say. And yet, The Man Who Was Thursday is one of the most delightful little novels I've read in the past few years. I expected an innocuous spy caper, but it's a bit more than that. It's a nightmare, actually, or a protean fantasy, as someone here already said. Jorge Luis Borges was a big fan of Chesterton, as it happens, as was Martin Gardner, who provided the annotations for The Annotated Thursday.
posted by cobra libre at 9:09 PM on February 9, 2004

I am a big fan of The Napolean of Notting Hill. Great book. He is not the greatest writer or thinker of any century, but most of Chesterton's novels and fiction are worth reading.
posted by mokujin at 10:53 PM on February 9, 2004

isn't this more appropriate for Ask Mefi?

More suited for BookFilter, you mean. I've read The Club of Queer Trades and The Man Who Was Thursday; not much excited by either of them. (He's certainly no Borges, to name another writer mentioned above.)

Chesterton's a perfectly decent writer who's got about the degree of fame he deserves.

I’m with languagehat on this one.
posted by LeLiLo at 11:20 PM on February 9, 2004

From the Tolstoy Essay:

"In the main, and from the beginning of time, mysticisrn has kept men sane. The thing that has driven them mad was logic." ---G.K. Chesterton

Oh, MeFi-ites will love this guy.
posted by goethean at 7:14 AM on February 10, 2004

While my opinions and world-view are drastically at odds with Chesterton's, I always felt like I would have loved to sit down and have a friendly debate with him. He was an interesting thinker and an excellent story-teller. If you're not familiar with his work, then the links above point to some good stories.

That being said, no, he was not even close to be the best thinker or writer of the 20th century.
posted by tdismukes at 7:28 AM on February 10, 2004

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