Franklin FreemanNovember 11, 2012 - 10:07am0 comments
G. K. Chesterton
Oxford University Press, $65, 747 pp.
There is a lot to dislike about G. K. Chesterton, both the man and his work. He was a mama’s boy who moved from being coddled by his mother to being babied by his wife. His wife knotted his ties and told him when to take a bath. Slothful and obese, he would hire a cab to avoid walking half a block. As far as his work goes, he was prolix in the extreme, and there is much maddening repetition in his journalism. Nor was he particularly interested in getting his facts straight or checking his often inaccurate quotations. T. S. Eliot, reviewing Chesterton’s book on Robert Louis Stevenson, wrote that Chesterton’s style was “exasperating to the last point of endurance,” that Chesterton’s cheerfulness depressed him, and that, in case you didn’t get the idea, “He appears less like a saint radiating spiritual vision than like a busman slapping himself on a frosty day.” And then there is Chesterton’s initial admiration of Mussolini.
And yet as George Bernard Shaw told T. E. Lawrence, Chesterton remains “a colossal genius,” colossal both in size and intellect. Despite Eliot’s reservations, Chesterton’s literary reputation has held up rather well, and when it came to his personal faults, Chesterton was often the first to acknowledge them. His writings and politics have led some to accuse him of anti-Semitism, a charge he vigorously denied. Yes, he sometimes criticized Jews, but that didn’t mean he was antagonistic toward them as a...