CHESTERTON, G.K. (1874-1936). Essayist, novelist, and poet, the English writer G.K. Chesterton was known for his enthusiastic personality and brilliant, witty style. He used the weapon of paradox, or contradictory argument, to point out the absurdities of the time and to investigate the mysteries of Christian theology.
Gilbert Keith Chesterton was born in London on May 29, 1874, and educated at St. Paul's School, later studying art at the Slade School and literature at University College. He was a journalist and reviewer before the publication in 1900 of his first book of poems, 'The Wild Knight'. Primarily an essayist, Chesterton published a number of collections of his writings, many from periodicals: 'All Things Considered' in 1908, 'Tremendous Trifles' (1909), 'The Uses of Diversity' (1920), 'Avowals and Denials' (1934). A second interest was literary criticism, and he produced definitive works on Robert Browning, Charles Dickens, George Bernard Shaw, William Blake, William Cobbett, and Robert Louis Stevenson.
A third major concern of Chesterton's was theology and religious argument. A convert to Roman Catholicism in 1922, he wrote 'The Catholic Church and Conversion' in 1926 and works on St. Francis of Assisi and St. Thomas Aquinas, among others.
Perhaps the most popular of Chesterton's fiction is his series of detective stories with the priest-sleuth Father Brown. Beginning in 1911, 'The Innocence of Father Brown' provided a new respectability to the form, and he published four more, the last in 1935. Other fiction includes a collection of short stories, 'The Club of Queer Trades' (1905), and the novel 'The Man Who Was Thursday' (1908). Chesterton died on June 14, 1936, in Beaconsfield, outside London.
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Gilbert Keith Chesterton, b. May 29, 1874, d. June 14, 1936, was a versatile and iconoclastic English author equally at home in many genres. He wrote novels (The Napoleon of Notting Hill, 1904), criticism (works on Robert Browning, Charles Dickens, and George Bernard Shaw), poetry (New and Collected Poems, 1929), biography (St. Francis of Assisi, St. Thomas Aquinas), and innumerable essays. He was also a talented artist and illustrated many of his own works. Much of his verse is humorous, but "The Donkey" is one of the finest little poems ever written. Among his admirable short stories, the best known are those about the priest-detective Father Brown, who first appeared in The Innocence of Father Brown (1911) and continued through five collections.
A doctrinal and social conservative, Chesterton was received into the Roman Catholic church in 1922 by his friend Father John O'Connor (the model for Father Brown), and exercised a considerable influence on later English Catholic writers, notably Evelyn Waugh. Ever the individualist, he was known for his ebullient humour and huge girth. In 1936 he published his Autobiography.
D. Martin Dakin
Bibliography: Bogaerts, Anthony M., Chesterton and the Victorian Age (1940; repr. 1966); Clemens, Cyril, Chesterton as Seen by His Contemporaries (1938; repr. 1973); Coren, Michael, Gilbert: The Man Who Was G. K. Chesterton (1990); Crowther, Ian, Chesterton (1993); Ffinch, Michael, G. K. Chesterton (1987).
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