Larger than Legend

Saving Chesterton from the Chestertonians

Richard Linklater’s bittersweet 2008 film Me and Orson Welles tells of an impressionable teenager who gets the chance to work with his idol, Orson Welles, in the famed Mercury Theater production of Julius Caesar, and in the process learns a great deal about the seductions of hero-worship. Unlike the Welles devotee in Linklater’s movie, I never got to meet my hero, Gilbert Keith Chesterton (he died twelve years before I was born), but I did study under one of his G. K.’s Weekly staff members, Michael Sewell. By the time I met him, decades later, he was Brocard Sewell of the Carmelites of the Ancient Observance—an author, editor, and esteemed biographer of fin-de-siècle writers. Thanks to Sewell I read a list of eccentric English writers, including John Gray, Olive Custance, Montague Summers, and Cecil Chesterton. And through Cecil I encountered the brother in whose shadow Cecil lived.

Over four decades I have maintained an abiding interest in Chesterton, the gentle Catholic giant whose commanding breadth of interest, inexhaustible curiosity, and plenitude of mind and spirit make him an enduring inspiration. I have published on him, organized an academic conference on his life and thought, and written a radio play titled GKC versus GBS: On Socialism, Sex, and Salvation. The pleasures of...

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