Gilbert Keith Chesterton(1874-1936) was,to cut a long story short,a writer par excellence and, as he often reminded himself, that did not take upon the highly compartmentalised meaning of ‘author’ only.Starting off as an art critic he went on to write a hundred books, contributed to 200 more, hundreds of poems, including the epic Ballad of the White Horse, five plays, five novels, and some two hundred short stories, including a popular series featuring the priest-detective, Father Brown.
In spite of his literary accomplishments, he considered himself primarily a journalist. With over 4000 essays to his name,with each of them being equal parts relevant,readable and as rewarding as then; he was nothing if not highly prolific in his field.Some zealots have even gone out on a limb to say that he was the greatest writer of the twentieth century.
But these of course are bare dry facts.
The question you should be asking yourself is that inspite of all that you just read-why haven’t you read him or even heard of him(yes its you,the casual reader and the amateur everything that I’m speaking to ) till now?
The obvious answer would be that he’s been systematically snubbed out- rarely do text books take the pain to accomadate him or his writings and while one may argue that this is out of reverence of his complex body of work my rebuttal would be that its just a simple retcon idly thought out by the armchair quarry to ‘explain’ it.
Chesterton.org,however, has put up the following as ‘answers’ :
- I don’t know.
- You’ve been cheated.
- Chesterton is the most unjustly neglected writer of our time. Perhaps it is proof that education is too important to be left to educators and that publishing is too important to be left to publishers, but there is no excuse why Chesterton is no longer taught in our schools and why his writing is not more widely reprinted and especially included in college anthologies. Well, there is an excuse. It seems that Chesterton is tough to pigeonhole, and if a writer cannot be quickly consigned to a category, or to one-word description, he risks falling through the cracks. Even if he weighs three hundred pounds.
But there is another problem. Modern thinkers and commentators and critics have found it much more convenient to ignore Chesterton rather than to engage him in an argument, because to argue with Chesterton is to lose.
The first two,of course, are tongue in cheek,but its the second paragraph of the third point that warrants proper attention.
He openly voiced well founded and,often,hard-to-refute opinions about all relevant and ticking trends of the day including materialism, scientific determinism, moral relativism, and even spineless agnosticism.Having combatted heavy-weight intellectuals like George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, Bertrand Russell and the like, he emerged unscathed and victorious and additionally gained,along the way,their affection also.
Inspite of this, the unspoken bottom-line argument remains that Chesterton spoke of and defended chiefly,as he said,”the common man”,the increasingly disintegrating concept of family,the poor and,most strinking of all, the high and not-so-mighty Catholic Church.It was this practiced realism of his that maybe has resulted in him being,with almost surgical precision, cut off from the general consciousness just because he could not, and more importantly, did not, embrace the world of the absurd or bizarre just to conform to and emerge in the light of the so-called ‘pop’ archetype.
Man,talk of getting carried away!
All I observed this morning was that the day before,the 29th,was Chesterton’s birth anniversary.
And when I saw the usual ‘R.I.P’-variety Facebook status exceeding five sentences,I thought maybe it was a job for this Superman of mine here.
What I didn’t expect was a quasi-essay; all I wanted was a sort of a tribute to an author I’d discovered quite by myself as a youngling,read,and loved and who,as George Bernard Shaw very rightly said, “the world is not thankful enough for..”.
Having said that,I don’t think he would have minded being ‘sidelined’ that much.
It was enough for him that he lived his life to the fullest and gave to society as much as he could(and mind you,I’m not trying to idealise him in any manner here).
What his own views were regarding this is,to me,best represented by the following:
The sages have a hundred maps to give
That trace their crawling cosmos like a tree,
They rattle reason out through many a sieve
That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:
And all these things are less than dust to me
Because my name is Lazarus and I live.
– G.K. Chesterton (1922)
And like the great detective, Valentin declared in the very first story about Father Brown that I ever read,I “bow to you, our Master”.