G. K. Chesterton

gigatos | February 7, 2022


Gilbert Keith Chesterton (pronounced as

His most famous character is Father Brown, a Catholic priest of naive appearance, whose psychological acuity makes him a formidable detective, and who appears in more than fifty stories collected in five volumes, published between 1911 and 1935.

Your family

Arthur Chesterton was the father of six children, the eldest of them named Edward, who married Marie Louise Grosjean. The Chestertons had a real estate and surveying agency based in Kensington, to which Edward was dedicated, but his interest was in art and literature. After their marriage, the Chesterton Grosjeans moved to Sheffield Terrace, Kensington, where they conceived Beatrice and Gilbert.

Gilbert Keith was born in Campden Hill, London, on May 29, 1874, into a middle-class family. Chesterton begins his Autobiography by relating the day, year and place of his birth. The way in which he offers this information allows us to appreciate his faith in human tradition, since, in his opinion, it is only through this that we can know many things that otherwise could not be known.

“Bending to the authority and tradition of my elders by a blind credulity habitual to me and superstitiously accepting a story which I could not verify at the time by experiment or personal judgment, I am firmly convinced that I was born on May 29, 1874, at Campden Hill, Kensington, and that I was baptized according to the rite of the Anglican Church in the little church of St. George…”

At a not very advanced age, Edward had a heart problem, so he had to abandon the family business, but continued to receive an income from it. It was then that he was able to devote himself quietly to his garden, literature and art.

Both Edward and Marie Louis were not devout believers, and both agreed to baptize Gilbert mostly out of a kind of social pressure and family tradition, since they could be defined as “free thinkers” in the Victorian style. The baptism took place in a small Anglican church called St. George. In this regard, Joseph Pearce points out: “The “mere authority” was not that of the Church, but that of conventionality”.

Edward and Marie Louise had three children. Biographer Pearce notes that Gilbert had an older sister named Beatrice, who sadly died very young, and that in the Chesterton household it was forbidden to discuss the subject. Ada Jones notes in her biography of the siblings, entitled “The Chestertons,” that the father, Edward, who was called “Mister Ed,” was forbidden to talk about it, Beatrice”s photos were taken out of the house and those that remained were facing the wall. The other son was named Cecil and was born shortly after Gilbert. G. K. recounts that she was overjoyed at Cecil”s birth, as she would finally have someone to argue with. Ada Jones, in her biography, tells that one day, during a family walk, Gilbert and Cecil began a dialogue in the middle of a garden when it began to rain and, in spite of it, they continued the conversation until they finished it.


His education would begin at Colet Court High School in 1881; his teaching there lasted until 1886, and in January 1887 he entered a private school called St. Paul”s on Hammersmith Road. Gilbert would describe the educational system, or rather what he thought of it as “being taught by someone I didn”t know, about something I didn”t want to know”.

He then studied drawing and painting at the Slade School of Fine Art (1893-1896), became a skilled draughtsman and later contributed illustrations both for his own works, such as Barbagris on Stage, and for the books of his friend Hilaire Belloc.

During this time he became interested in occultism. In his Autobiography he points out that within the group of those who performed spiritism, occultism or “games with the devil”, he was the only one of those present who really believed in the devil. He would point out as follows:

“I imagine that they are not rare cases. Anyway, the point is here that I got low enough to discover the devil and, even in some feeble way, to recognize the devil… At least I never, even in this first vague and skeptical stage, took much pleasure in the current arguments about the relativity of evil or the unreality of sin. Perhaps, when I eventually emerged as a theorist of sorts, and was described as an Optimist, it was because I was one of the few people in that world of diabolism who actually believed in devils.”

After a period of self-discovery, he withdrew from college without attaining a degree and began working in different newspapers. He worked as an editor of spiritualist literature and theosophy, attending meetings in both fields.

From agnosticism to Anglicanism

In his youth he became a “militant” agnostic. In 1901 he married Frances Blogg, a practicing Anglican, who helped at first to bring G. K. closer to Christianity. Chesterton”s restlessness can be clearly seen in the following article:

“You can”t evade the subject of God, being that you talk about pigs, or about binomial theory you are, still, talking about Him. Now, if Christianity is… a piece of meaningless metaphysics invented by a few people, then, of course, defending it will be simply talking about meaningless metaphysics over and over again. But if Christianity turned out to be true – then defending it could mean talking about anything, or all things. There are things that may be irrelevant to the proposition that Christianity is false, but no one thing can be irrelevant to the proposition that Christianity is true.”

Then, as the years went by, he moved closer and closer to Christianity. He returned to the religion of his childhood, Anglicanism. To the idea of the superman raised by Nietzsche and followed by Shaw and Wells he responded with an essay entitled Why I Believe in Christianity:

If a man approaches us (as many will approach us very soon) to say, “I am a new species of man. I am the superman. I have forsaken godliness and righteousness”; we should reply, “No doubt you are new, but you are not near to being a perfect man, for he has already been in the mind of God. We have fallen with Adam and we shall ascend with Christ, but we would rather fall with Satan than ascend with you”.

Conversion to Catholicism

Continuing to defend his renewed belief, he delved deeper and deeper into patristic writings. During the year 1921 Chesterton did not publish any books, but he did devote much time to the newspaper “The New Witness”. During this time he was in constant correspondence with Maurice Baring, Father John O”Connor and Father Ronald Knox, who helped him to gradually change his Anglo-Catholic thinking towards the faith that they, all converts to Catholicism, professed, and he eventually converted to the Catholic Church, which he entered in 1922.

In his search for truth he would encounter various obstacles, but he would always go with an open mind and would not stop at these walls unless he was convinced that he had to tear them down in order to continue his quest. He is credited with the phrase “You should not tear down a fence until you know the reason why it was put up”.

On the criticism of the conservatism of the Catholic Church Chesterton would say that he does not want a Church that adapts to the times, since the human being remains the same and needs to be guided:

We don”t really want a religion that is right when we are right. What we do want is a religion that is right when we are wrong…

In an essay entitled “Why am I Catholic?” he refers to the Church of Rome as follows:

There is no other instance of a continuous intelligent institution that has been thinking about thinking for two thousand years. Its experience naturally covers almost all experiences, and especially almost all mistakes. The result is a map on which all the blind alleys and bad roads are clearly marked, all the roads that have been shown to be worthless by the best of evidence; the evidence of those who have traveled them.

The Catholic influence was received from different sides. Sir James Gunn painted a picture showing Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc and Maurice Baring (the three friends who share a table and also philosophy and beliefs), which he entitled “The Conversation Piece”. The greatest influence came through a parson named John O”Connor, on whom Chesterton relied. Chesterton said that he knew that the Roman Church had a superior knowledge of good, but he never thought it had such knowledge of evil, and it was Father O”Connor who, in the long walks they took together, showed him that he knew good as G.K. supposed, but that he also knew evil, and was well aware of it, mainly through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, for there he heard both good and bad things.

Continuing with the map metaphor, he posits that the Catholic Church carries a kind of map of the mind that looks very much like a map of a labyrinth, but is in fact a guide to the labyrinth. It has been compiled by knowledge, which even considering it as human knowledge, has no human parallel.

Chesterton”s conversion to Catholicism caused a stir similar to that of Cardinal John Henry Newman or Ronald Knox.

Visual ingenuity

Chesterton was a physically large man, measuring 6 feet 4 inches (1.93 m) and weighing 286 pounds (130 kg). This peculiarity gave rise to a famous anecdote. During World War I, a woman in London asked him why he was not “out at the Front,” to which he replied, “If you stand sideways, you will see that I am very much out at the front.” On another occasion, Chesterton remarked to his friend George Bernard Shaw, “To see you, anyone would think a famine had ravaged England,” to which Shaw replied, “To see you, anyone would think you caused the famine.” P. G. Wodehouse once described a very loud crashing sound “as if G. K. Chesterton fell on a sheet of tin”.

Chesterton used to wear a cloak and a crumpled hat, with a sword stick in his hand, and a cigar dangling from his mouth. He had a tendency to forget where he was supposed to go, and to miss the train that was supposed to take him there. It is reported that on many occasions, he would send a telegram to his wife Frances from somewhere far away, writing her things like “I am at Harborough Market – where should I be?”. To which his wife would reply “At home.” Because of these instances of inattention, and the fact that Chesterton was extremely clumsy as a child, it has been speculated that Chesterton was an undiagnosed case of dyspraxia or attention deficit disorder.

Agony and death

Maisie Ward, in her biography of Chesterton, wrote that during his last convalescence, after awakening from a kind of reverie, he said, “The matter is clear now. It is between the light and the shadows; each must choose which side he is on.”

On June 12 he was with E.C. Bentley, and later the parish priest, Monsignor Smith, arrived to anoint him with the holy oils. After his departure, Rev. Vincent McNabb appeared and intoned the “Salve Regina” at the bedside of the unconscious convalescent. In his biography, Joseph Pearce notes that Father McNabb “…saw Chesterton”s pen on the bedside table and picked it up and kissed it”.

Frances, who had been at her husband”s bedside throughout his convalescence, saw him awaken for the last time, she and Dorothy, their adopted daughter, being present. Recognizing them, Chesterton said, “Hello, darling.” Then, realizing that Dorothy was also in the room, he added, “Hello, dear.” These were his last words. These were his last words. Pearce continues the story by saying that these last words are not what many would expect from one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, noting, “Still, his words were most appropriate; first, because they were addressed to the two most important people in his life: his wife and his adopted daughter; and second, because they were words of greeting and not farewell, signifying a beginning and not the end of their relationship.”

Chesterton died on June 14, 1936, at his home in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, England, after agonizing for several days bedridden at the bedside of his wife Frances and daughter Dorothy.

Father Vincent McNabb would relate his last encounter with Chesterton as follows:

“I went to see him when he died. I asked to be alone with the dying man. There that great frame was in the heat of death; the great mind was preparing, no doubt, in its own way, for the sight of God. This was Saturday, and I thought that perhaps in another thousand years Gilbert Chesterton might be known as one of the sweetest singers of that ever-blessed daughter of Zion, Mary of Nazareth. I knew that the finest qualities of the Crusaders were one of the endowments of their great heart, and then I remembered the Crusaders” song, the Salve Regina, which we Blackfriars sing every night to the Lady of our love. I said to Gilbert Chesterton, “You will hear your mother”s love song.” And I sang to Gilbert Chesterton the Crusader”s song, “Hail, Holy Queen!”

In 1940, four years after the death, Hilaire Belloc would write an essay entitled “On the Place of Gilbert Chesterton in English Letters,” which concludes as follows:

What place he may take according to that lesser standard I cannot tell, because many years must pass before a man”s position in the literature of his country can be called securely established.We are too near to decide on this. But because we are so near and because those (such as I who write this) who were his companions, knew him through his very self and not through his external activity, we are in communion with him. So be it. He is in Heaven.What his place would be according to that lower criterion I cannot say, because many years must pass before a man”s place in the literature of his country is firmly established.We are too close to decide on this. But because we are so close and because those (like the writer) who were his companions knew him for himself and not for his external activity, we are in communion with him. So be it. He is in Heaven.

Chesterton has been labeled a conservative because he emphasizes the values of tradition and of the ancient world -especially medieval-, but in reality, his thought is that of political traditionalism. His method is essentially modern and original: after a youthful crisis, he established conditions and an ideal for human life, to which he always remained faithful. When he realized that it already existed – and was the one proposed by Christianity – he began his approach to it, although he did not become a Catholic until 1922 (see above).

Chesterton writes from a Christian perspective: for him, Christianity is like the key to open the lock of the mystery of life, because it makes the different pieces fit together (in fact, we all have dogmas, more or less unconscious, which is another of his recurring theses. His arguments are never theological, but based on reason, experience and history, and in defense of sanity in the face of the crazy modern world, which he nevertheless loved, involving himself deeply in its transformation through his writings and his journalistic enterprises, such as GK”s Weekly.

Chesterton”s starting point is wonder at existence, for we might not be. There is a real world out there that-despite its contradictions-is essentially good and beautiful, and therefore we should be joyful and full of gratitude.

But neither the world, nor personal or collective existence are resolved, in the sense of understanding them perfectly. They are a mystery -or set of mysteries- that we have to unravel. That is why Chesterton is so fond of detective novels, and why his writings have an important philosophical content (because of their method and depth) and sociological content (because of the sharpness of their social analysis). Reason is an instrument for knowing the world, but only one more: art, imagination, mysticism or the experience of life are other essential tools. As the modern world only trusts it, it generates more or less irrational or at least not very rational behaviors or ideas; “Mad is he who has lost everything but reason” (Orthodoxy, Ch.1). For the same reason, Chesterton is a profound enemy of sentimentalism, the counterpart of rationalism.

Man – today we would say human being – therefore needs a complete vision of life. His ideal of life is that of the ordinary man, not the model proposed or carried out neither by the rich nor by intellectuals: this is important, because the modern world, rationally directed by the powerful -materially or intellectually- is a spawn “populated by the old Christian virtues that have gone mad. And they have gone mad, from feeling isolated and from seeing themselves wandering alone” (Orthodoxy, Ch.3).

Human beings are always in search of a home: some have it more clearly, but others search and search all their lives: in the end, each one has to solve his own mystery -he did it at the age of 22-: human beings have the freedom – “God has not given us the colors on the canvas, but on the palette” (The Colored Countries, Ch.7)- to choose our ideas and shape our lives. The role of women in the development of the family is for Chesterton so important that his way of speaking about it can be misinterpreted if we limit ourselves to the literalness of the words. This is so because our time gives much greater value to individualism and even more to a way of understanding the public, as superior to the private. However, the realm of friendship and social relations is truer and more rewarding: family, friends, neighbors, constitute that extension of the home that generates patriotism – not nationalism, which leads to imperialism.

For everyone to have a decent home, property must be adequately distributed. Capitalism and socialism reduce the property of men because both tend to monopoly (either in private hands or in state hands), and so he proposes an alternative system to both: distributism, in which the role of the state is subsidiary and human beings try to solve their problems instead of abandoning them in the hands of the market, politicians and technical specialists.

In the scientistic atmosphere of the modern world – with its reduction of man to mere nature – the question of how people know, perceive and interpret is one that most appeals to Chesterton, who is paradoxically amazed at the contempt for what is taken for granted – the small everyday wonders – and how people tend to value certain extraordinary situations more highly. His cheerful vitalism of ordinary life is as much the opposite of Nietzsche”s superman as it is of materialistic carpe diem. The virtue par excellence of man is good sense, which makes us know how to face life and the world (Heretics).

The idea of progress – so dear to the modern world – is ironically criticized by Chesterton: it is false as a tendency and as a belief, and confuses our perception, since everything is relative to the ideals that are held and direct our action. Optimism (modern) and pessimism (postmodern) are two concepts recurrently criticized in Chesterton”s writings: they have to do with the way of seeing and organizing the world.

His style and his method cannot be separated: Alarms and digressions, Enormous minutiae – examples of titles of his works – coexist and alternate in his brilliant writings. He is considered a master of paradox (see above), but it is only a resource of exposition: his real method is always to try to get to the bottom of arguments and behaviors, to show the errors that keep us away from sanity. In fact, there was a time – medieval Christianity, reviled today as a synonym of backwardness and obscurantism – when the ideal could approach reality, but the power of kings and the strongest ended those conditions, creating ambitious and imperialistic States, which today seem the most natural thing in the world and which globalization is already modifying, since they are mere human constructions.

Gilbert Keith and Cecil Chesterton, together with Hilaire Belloc, were the pioneers in the development of distributism, a third economic path, different from capitalism and socialism, whose basis is found in the social doctrine of the Church, which emerged from Pope Leo XIII”s encyclical, Rerum novarum.

In 1926 Chesterton and Belloc finally succeeded in giving shape to a project they had been devising for quite some time. The form of this project was a society, or rather a league, which they called the “Distributionist League”; the great ideologues were the English writer and the French-Englishman plus Father Vincent McNabb. The main avenue of promotion of the league was through Gilbert”s newspaper, entitled G.K. Weekly. At the league”s first meeting Gilbert was named president, a position he held until his death. Before long, as Luis Seco notes in his biography of the author, “…sections of the league were opened in Birmingham, Croydon, Oxford, Worthing, Bath and London.”

A synthesis of Chesterton”s main ideas on this subject was published in 1927 under the title The Outline of Sanity, translated in various forms into Spanish -the last one in Spain under the name Los límites de la cordura-, although perhaps the most appropriate is Esbozo de sensatez.

Later distributist theory continued its development in the hands of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, and its greatest advocate in recent times was E. F. Schumacher (1911-1977) author of Small is Beautiful.

Chesterton wrote about 80 books, several hundred poems, about 200 short stories and countless articles, essays and minor works.

Early in his career he became known for his newspaper articles, and made a great leap forward when he published his first novel The Napoleon of Notting Hill (1904), which inspired Michael Collins in his Irish defense of the English. This was followed by other critical books, such as Dickens (1906) and G.B. Shaw (1909).

In this way he was outlining his opinions, which he presented with a markedly polemical air and not without humor. He opposed everything he considered modern errors: to rationalism and scientism he opposed common sense, faith and medieval philosophy, particularly that of Thomas Aquinas; to the cruelty of industrial and capitalist civilization, the social ideal of the Middle Ages, which for him was translated modernly into the distributist ideal.

Following in the footsteps of a work entitled Heretics (1905), Chesterton published three years later “Orthodoxy” (1908), which reflects the history of his spiritual evolution (which would later lead him to the Catholic Church). His apologetic attitude is reflected in another work of those years, entitled The Sphere and the Cross (1910).

His attitude towards social problems was defined in What”s Wrong with the World (1910). His best known novel, The Man Who Was Thursday, an allegory about evil and free will, dates from 1908.

In 1912 he composed The Ballad of the White Horse, a long epic poem about King Alfred the Great and his defense of the kingdom of Wessex against the Danes in 878, of which C. S. Lewis knew many lines.

J. R. R. R. Tolkien, who in his youth considered him excellent, in a letter to his son comments that unfortunately G. K. Chesterton, with all the admiration he deserved, knew nothing about the Norse.

In 1922 he published Mi visión de Estados Unidos, the result of his first trip to the United States and Canada.

From 1925 is The Eternal Man, which deals with the History of the World, and is divided into two parts, the first deals with humanity up to the year 0 and the second from that year onwards. This book was born as a reaction to one published by H. G. Wells on the History of Humanity, which, both Chesterton and Belloc, criticized that of its hundreds of pages, those dedicated to Jesus were very few. Some claimed that The Everlasting Man was his most transcendent book because of its influence on writers such as C.S. Lewis and Evelyn Waugh.

His works are frequently published in other languages. In Argentina his thought has acquired an even greater boom since the end of the 20th century, given the constant reeditions and the appearance of works unknown to the Spanish-speaking public: Mi visión de Estados Unidos, La Iglesia católica y la conversión, De todo un poco, La Tierra de los Colores, La Nueva Jerusalén, Cien años después, etc.

Father Brown

In the first story (The Blue Cross) of the first book, Chesterton describes Father Brown as seen through the eyes of Detective Valentine.

“The little priest was the very essence of those Eastern plains;he had a round, dull face like a Norfolk doughnut; he had eyes as empty as the North Sea, and he carried several packages of brown paper which he could not manage to keep together.”

He achieved popularity on a larger scale with a series of detective stories in which a Catholic priest, Father Brown, a humble, careless and inoffensive character, always accompanied by a gigantic umbrella, usually solves the most enigmatic, atrocious and inexplicable crimes thanks to his knowledge of human nature rather than by means of logical pirouettes or great deductions.

The author”s skill consists in suggesting that the “irrational” explanation is the only and most rational one, and then revealing the simple answer to the mystery. Or put differently, in cases where the presence of the supernatural is invoked and others are quickly convinced of the work of a miracle or the intervention of God, Father Brown, despite his devotion, is adept at immediately finding the most natural and perfectly ordinary explanation to a seemingly insoluble problem.

Chesterton composed about fifty stories with this character originally published between 1910 and 1935 in British and American magazines. They were later compiled in five books (The Candor of Father Brown, The Shrewdness of Father Brown, The Disbelief of Father Brown, The Secret of Father Brown and The Scandal of Father Brown). Three stories were later published: “The Village Vampire,” “The Donnington Case,” discovered in 1981, and “The Midas Mask,” completed shortly before the author”s death and found in 1991.

There is a translation of all of them in Los relatos del padre Brown (Acantilado), by Miguel Temprano García, 2008. The most recent is “El Padre Brown. Relatos completos” (Ediciones Encuentro), from 2017, with the best translations of his books.

The character of Father Brown has been brought to the screen numerous times; among the most famous are the adaptations by Edward Sedgwick (1934), Robert Hamer (1954, with Alec Guinness in the title role) and the 1974 English television series starring Kenneth More.

Your style

He was always characterized by his paradoxes, the fact of beginning his writings with some statement that seems to be the most normal, and showing that things are not what they seem, and that many sayings are said without thinking them through, it should be noted that he always relied on the argumentation that in its Latin denomination is called reductio ad absurdum:

“Here is a phrase I heard the other day from a very nice and intelligent person, and which I have heard hundreds of times from hundreds of people. A young mother said to me, “I don”t want to teach my son any religion. I don”t want to influence him; I want him to choose it for himself when he is older.” That is a very common example of a commonplace argument, which is often repeated, and yet is never really applied.”

An example may be his novel The Man Who Was Thursday, in which an investigator infiltrates an anarchist society only to discover to his surprise that the anarchist society is entirely made up of spies infiltrated into it, including its president himself.

His friendship with George Bernard Shaw led him to maintain a long correspondence and to meet to discuss the most diverse topics, as well as to debate openly in the newspapers of the time, as well as with other intellectuals such as H.G. Wells.

In 1928 Shaw joined Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc for a public debate in an auditorium, the title of the debate was Do We Agree? Something everyone knew his answer was … no. After Belloc”s introduction to the debate, Shaw begins his argument by making a comparison between the writings of the two, in which we can appreciate the description of the literary style of Chesterton”s detective novels by a writer, winner of the Nobel Prize and an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay:

Mr. Chesterton tells and prints the most extravagant lies. He takes ordinary occurrences of human life-of the common middle-class man-and gives them a monstrous, bizarre, gigantic outline. He fills suburban gardens with the most impossible murders, and not only invents the murders, but also succeeds in discovering the murderer who never committed the murders. I do a very similar thing. I promulgate lies in the form of plays; but whereas Mr. Chesterton takes events which you would consider ordinary and makes them gigantic and colossal to reveal their miraculous essence, I am more inclined to take these things in their full commonplaces, and then introduce among them scandalous ideas which shock the ordinary spectators (of the play) and send them wondering whether he had been standing on his head all his life, or whether I was standing on mine.

His style, based on paradox and the parable or symbolic tale, brings him closer, according to Jorge Luis Borges, a deep admirer of his, to one of his contemporaries: Franz Kafka.

Chesterton, in his Father Brown novels, tells stories like that of a man murdered by his mechanical servants (of a book that causes the death of the reader (of a strange aristocrat who dies in his castle where he was accompanied by an intellectually disabled servant who is the only one who has seen him in recent years and does not want to say what has happened to all the gold that has mysteriously disappeared without a trace), especially in religious images that “are not merely soiled nor have they been scratched or scratched out of childish idleness or Protestant zeal, but have been spoiled very carefully and in a very suspicious way. Wherever the ancient name of God appeared in the old miniatures, it has been laboriously scratched out. And only one other thing has been scratched out: the halo around the head of the child Jesus…” (of a rich girl who appears dead when she falls down an elevator shaft and what seems to be a simple accident ceases to be so when a strange new sect of which she was a member and which worships the sun appears (The Eye of Apollo) or of a historical hero who is shown under a strange and terrifying profile when Father Brown discovers the truth hidden behind the myth (The Sample of the Broken Sword).

Another of the author”s most notable anthologies is The Man Who Knew Too Much, in which the investigator Horne Fisher solves crimes, more for his deep knowledge of the intimacies of those involved in each case than for his knowledge of all branches of human knowledge.


In English

In Spanish


  1. G. K. Chesterton
  2. G. K. Chesterton
Ads Blocker Image Powered by Code Help Pro

Ads Blocker Detected!!!

We have detected that you are using extensions to block ads. Please support us by disabling these ads blocker.