GILBERT: The Man Who Was G.K. Chesterton by Michael Coren

GILBERT: The Man Who Was G.K. Chesterton

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As might be gleaned from the chummy first-person title, here is one biographer who likes his subject--although Coren, a literary critic for the Toronto Star, doesn't shy away from Chesterton's foibles in this perceptive life of the Edwardian literary giant. The most valuable chapters here, in fact, and the only ones that break new ground, explore Chesterton's adversarial friendship with George Bernard Shaw and, more significantly, the charges of anti-Semitism that sometimes cloud Chesterton's reputation. Coren states his own view squarely: ""Belloc was an anti-Semite. Was Gilbert? No."" He concludes, on the basis of impressive scholarship, that Chesterton was ""a friend of the Jews"" but with ""a ripple of gutter bigotry""--unavoidable, says the author, in any English Christian of the age. Throughout, Coren offers a judicious appraisal of this novelist and essayist with a ""butterfly mind"" and a nose for literary brawls, ably tracing Chesterton's early journalistic ventures, his happy marriage, his conversion to Roman Catholicism, and his slovenly personal habits (his ""uncanny gift for covering himself with ink,"" or the way his ""shirt fronts transformed themselves into menus, advertising what he had eaten""). What Coren doesn't do--a curious omission from a literary critic--is to offer any extended analysis of Chesterton's writings; he also suggests, oddly, that The Everlasting Man rather than Orthodoxy or The Man Who Was Thursday is Chesterton's ""masterpiece."" A small, enjoyable biography of a large, enjoyable man.

Pub Date: March 30th, 1990
Publisher: Paragon House