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Autobiography (Chesterton's Biographies) Paperback – 23 Sep 2008
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About the Author
GK Chesterton was born in London in 1874 and educated at St Paul's School, before studying art at the Slade School. In 1896, he began working for the London publisher, Redway, and also T. Fisher Unwin as a reader where he remained until 1902. During this time he undertook his first freelance journalistic assignments writing art and literary reviews. He also contributed regular columns to two newspapers: the Speaker (along with his friend Hilaire Belloc) and the Daily News. Throughout his life he contibuted further articles to journals, particularly The Bookman and The Illustrated London News. His first two books were published; two poetry collections, in 1900. These were followed by collections of essays and in 1903 by his most substantial work to that point; a study of Robert Browning. Chesterton's first novel, 'The Napoleon of Notting Hill' was published in 1904. In this book he developed his political attitudes in which he attacked socialism, big business and technology and showed how they become the enemies of freedom and justice. These were themes which were to run throughout his other works. 'The Man who was Thursday' was published in 1908 and is perhaps the novel most difficult to understand, although it is also his most popular. 'The Ball and the Cross' followed in 1910 and 'Manalive' in 1912. Chesterton's best-known fictional character appears in the Father Brown stories, the first of the collection, 'The Innocence of Father Brown', being published in 1911. Brown is a modest Catholic priest who uses careful psychology to put himself in the place of the criminal in order to solve the crime. His output was prolific, with a great variety of books from brilliant studies of Dickens, Shaw, and RL Stevenson to literary criticism. He also produced more poetry and many volumes of political, social and religious essays. Tremendous zest and energy, with a mastery of paradox, puns, a robust humour and forthright devotion along with great intelligence characterise his entire output. In the years prior to 1914 his fame was at its height, being something of a celebrity and seen as a latter day Dr Johnson as he frequented the pubs and offices of Fleet Street. His huge figure was encased in a cloak and wide brimmed hat, with pockets full of papers and proofs. Chesterton came from a nominlly Anglican family and had been baptized into the Church of England. However, he had no particular Christian belief and was in fact agnostic for a time. Nevertheless, in his late
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His humility and his powerful intellect shine through every word. This is not a work to be "read" through, but requires thought and reflection in order to appreciate it to the full.
A small issue: occasional proof-reading errors annoy somewhat ( "mote" instead of "more", for example), but these do not in any way detract from this splendid work. Thank you, G.K. !
As in his book `Orthodoxy,' the enchantments and wonders of childhood give the first clues as to how we, as creation, should still be filled with wonder and enhancement for the rest of creation, and praise and awe for the Creator. A figure in a toy theatre holding a golden key becomes in the final chapter the `God with the Golden Key.'
The journey from childhood is told with honesty and humility. Like most of us, Chesterton forges his identity through the trials and arenas of life, such as school, apprenticeship as a journalist, marriage, and so on. Like most of us, God is at times far from the centre of his conscious life, but different threads draw him gently on to irresistible conclusions. There are blind alleys and false starts on the way, as with most of us. Chesterton describes a spiritual `morbidity' and how he initially reacted and engaged with some of the `heresies' (expounded further in his works `Heretics' and `Orthodoxy') of his day. He describes witty engagements with some of his peers, such as GB Shaw and HG Wells, and marks out their fundamental and often irreconcilable differences. Chesterton is never less than generous to these opponents, though, emphasising what is good and admirable about their work, but not downplaying what he sees as their catastrophic errors of thought.
The book also fascinates as social history: his recollections of his childhood family life, how his family viewed and lived out their `middle-class' existence and how Chesterton views the fundamental differences between his world and that of the Victorians, not always to the credit of his contemporary existence. His view of the Boer war and his recollections of the reactions of those around him, as with the outbreak of the First World War, give some wonderful writing on what he sees as just war, that is, real patriotism of fighting for cherished values versus false `Jingoism' based on defending aggressive colonial expansion and false perceptions of racial superiority.
If the book ever lost me, it was in Chesterton's accounts some of his later social and political engagements, which I think rely on a lot of contemporary knowledge which has been lost. Imagine watching a topical satirical show five decades from now and you'll get a measure of what I mean.
And, Chesterton can be an exhausting writer, as he fires off witty conceits, argument and reflection together with the speed of a Gatling gun.
But, taken as whole, this book is an enthralling tapestry. It is a book to savour, study, reflect on and return to.
There is a great contribution by g K Chesterton to English Literature and language. He was the man who dominated half of twentieth century.
I have just been reading the new biography of G K Chesterton. I had always admired the man for his coruscating paradoxes and startling insights, and looked forward to reading this. At first I was bowled over by the fascinating account of his early days, and then his brilliant account of Charles Dickens and other works. I was fascinated by the story of his many encounters with George Bernard Shaw - a good pair of opponents, well matched.
But as I read further and further, including pages and pages about his American tours, which always seemed to get longer and longer, I began to go off him. His gradual movement towards Roman Catholicism, which eventually took him into that church, seemed to result in a continual harping on the superiority of those doctrines and that system, all couched in terms of the language of paradox, which became more like a tic or mannerism than a genuinely fresh way of seeing things.
His great size, six feet two in height and much more than broad in proportion, began to seem more like a compulsion than like a robust choice. He ate and ate , and drank and drank, not so as to be a medical case, but certainly more than was good for him. He talked and talked, to friends, to strangers, to small groups, to large audiences - a continual fount of opinions, opinions and more opinions.
And it made me think - is there a danger in being so good at something that it in the end it takes over? Chesterton was very good at writing. He was a journalist, writing in newspapers, magazines, free organs, prestigious outlets, books, chapters - anything and everything. He wrote every day, and sometimes it seemed like all day, wherever he could lay down some paper and write.
What got me in the end, I think, was the sense that he could never be wrong. He was not only right, he was in the right. He hid this very well, by being so clever, so ingenious, so funny - but it was there, all right. And this it was that, in the end, took away my enjoyment, my appreciation. I found myself skipping large chunks of the later text , all about his international success. Somehow the glory had gone, and what was left was a show. A brilliant show, a colourful show, at times a convincing show, but still - a show.
His wife Frances supported him and accompanied him at all times. She looked after him, nursed him through his serious illnesses, attended to all the everyday details that he could not be bothered with. She only lasted for two years after he died. What a trouper!
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