G. K. Chesterton

John Florens | Jan 14, 2024

Table of Content


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

Chesterton was the son of Edward Chesterton (the eldest of Arthur Chesterton's six children) and his wife Marie Louise Grosjean, who moved to Sheffield Terrace, Kensington, after their marriage. They ran an estate and surveying agency there. Because of a heart problem Edward gave up the family business at a not too advanced age, but still maintained an income that allowed him to devote himself to his interests, which were gardening, art and literature.

The Chesterton-Grosjeans had three children: Beatrice, Gilbert Keith and Cecil. The eldest, Beatrice, died very young. The father, whom the children called "Mister Ed", forbade them to talk about it, Beatrice's photos were removed from the house and those that remained were facing the wall, according to the data that Ada Jones (Cecil's wife) described in the biography of the brothers, entitled "The Chestertons". The youngest son, Cecil, was born shortly after Gilbert K., who was very happy about his birth, since at last he was going to have someone to argue with. Ada Jones tells that one day, during a family walk, Gilbert K. 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.

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.

Chesterton was baptized in a small Anglican church called St. George. His baptism seemed to be due to family tradition or social pressure, since his parents were not devout believers, and could be defined as "freethinkers" in the Victorian style. In this regard, Joseph Pearce notes: "The "mere authority" was not that of the Church, but that of conventionality".


His preparatory education began at "Colet Court" from 1881 to 1886, and in January 1887 he entered a private school called "St. Paul's" in Hammersmith Road. Chesterton described the educational system as "being instructed 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). He was a skilled draughtsman and contributed illustrations both for his own works, such as Barbagrís on stage, and for those of his friend Hilaire Belloc.

During this period 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 who really believed in the devil. He pointed it out in the following way:

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

From agnosticism to Anglicanism

In his youth he became a "militant" agnostic. In 1901 he married Frances Blogg, a practicing Anglican, who at first helped G. K. to approach Christianity. The couple always remained close and shared their faith until the end of their lives. She was involved in helping and supporting Chesterton in the management of his work and reinforcing his life's work in all aspects. Chesterton's religious restlessness is clearly reflected in the following article:

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:

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 that 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 Catholic faith which they all professed, all converts in their turn. And he ended up converting to the Catholic Church, which he entered in 1922.

In his search for truth he encountered various obstacles, but he was always open-minded and did 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 said that he did not want a Church that adapted to the times, since the human being remains the same and needs to be guided:

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

The Catholic influence was received from different sides. Sir James Gunn painted a picture of Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc and Maurice Baring (three friends who shared a table as well as philosophy and beliefs), which he entitled "The Conversation Piece". The greatest influence came through the parish priest Father 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 Confession, 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 other parallel in the history of mankind....

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 was told that on many occasions he would send a telegram to his wife, Frances, from some distant place, writing to her such things as "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, "Even so, 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."

Father Vincent McNabb recounted his last encounter with Chesterton as follows:

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

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 that opens 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 throughout their lives: in the end, each one has to solve his own mystery -he did so 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 (whether in private or 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 leaving 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 both of them 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 Chesterton was appointed 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.

At the beginning of 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 against 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 later led 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.

Although he never wrote a single book of aphorisms, he is considered as a prolific and excellent aphorist; and it is because all his wide work, in his different literary genres, is plagued with an infinite number of aphorisms. Many scholars of aphorisms extract them from his works to make them known, thus promoting the publication of books of aphorisms by the author.

Father Brown

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

He achieved popularity on a larger scale with a series of detective stories in which the character of Father Brown, a Catholic priest of humble appearance, careless and inoffensive, always accompanied by a giant 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 collected 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 was brought to the screen numerous times; among the best known 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: he began his writings with some statement that seems to be quite normal, 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 argumentation, which in its Latin name is called reductio ad absurdum:

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 discuss the most diverse topics and debate openly in the newspapers of the time, as well as with other intellectual figures such as H.G. Wells. In 1928 Shaw debated in public with Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc under the title Are we in agreement? Something they all knew his answer was... no! After Belloc's introduction to the debate, Shaw began his argument by making a comparison between the writings of the two. Shaw, winner of the Nobel Prize in 1925, and of an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, described the literary style of Chesterton's detective novels as follows:

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

Chesterton, in his Father Brown novels, tells stories such as that of a man killed by his mechanical servants (or of a book that causes the death of those who read it (The Evil Influence of the Book). In The Honesty of Israel Gow tells the story of a strange aristocrat who dies in his castle where he was accompanied by an intellectually handicapped 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 dirty or scratched or scratched out of childish idleness or Protestant zeal, but have been spoiled very carefully and in a very suspicious manner. Wherever the ancient name of God appeared in the old miniatures, it has been laboriously scratched out. And only one other thing has been scraped off: the halo around the head of the child Jesus...". He tells the story 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 (in 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
  3. ^ Ker, Ian (2003). The Catholic Revival in English Literature (1845–1961): Newman, Hopkins, Belloc, Chesterton, Greene, Waugh. University of Notre Dame Press.
  4. ^ "Obituary", Variety, 17 June 1936
  5. ^ a b "Orthodoxologist", Time, 11 October 1943, archived from the original on 20 November 2009, retrieved 24 October 2008
  6. Jones, Ada (2006). Los Chestertons. ISBN 978-8484722533.
  7. Autobiografía, G.K. Chesterton, 1936.
  8. Joseph Pearce, G. K. Chesterton: Sabiduría e inocencia, pág. 23, Ediciones Encuentro, 1998, ISBN 84-7490-462-5.
  9. Autobiografía, G.K: Chesterton
  10. ^ Chesterton G. K. "Autobiografia", 1936
  11. ^ L'agenzia cui diedero vita il padre e lo zio di Gilbert esiste tuttora a Londra.
  12. ^ G. K. Chesterton, "Eretici", 1921
  13. Chesterton, Gilbert Keith (англ.) // Encyclopædia Britannica: a dictionary of arts, sciences, literature and general information / H. Chisholm — 11 — New York City, Cambridge: University Press, 1911. — Vol. 6. — P. 111—112.
  14. 1 2 G.K. Chesterton // Encyclopædia Britannica (англ.)
  15. Честертон Гилберт Кит // Большая советская энциклопедия: [в 30 т.] / под ред. А. М. Прохоров — 3-е изд. — М.: Советская энциклопедия, 1969.
  16. "Obituary", Variety, 17 June 1936

Please Disable Ddblocker

We are sorry, but it looks like you have an dblocker enabled.

Our only way to maintain this website is by serving a minimum ammount of ads

Please disable your adblocker in order to continue.

Dafato needs your help!

Dafato is a non-profit website that aims to record and present historical events without bias.

The continuous and uninterrupted operation of the site relies on donations from generous readers like you.

Your donation, no matter the size will help to continue providing articles to readers like you.

Will you consider making a donation today?