G.K. CHESTERTON: A Biography by Michael Ffinch

G.K. CHESTERTON: A Biography

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An affectionate, perceptive biography of Gilbert Keith Chesterton, whose spiritual and intellectual life seems far more interesting at this remove than most of his vast writing output. Poet Flinch had access to a wealth of previously unexamined notebooks, letters, and other source material in the keeping of Dorothy Collins, GKC's secretary for the last 10 years of his life and his literary executor. In the event, the Ffinch entry (which includes a generous sampling of its subject's prose and poetry) is more tellingly detailed than either Maisie Ward's discreet (and official) biography (1944) or GKC's selective autobiography, published posthumously in 1936. Basically a learned journalist, Chesterton (who was born in London in 1874) is best remembered for his Father Brown detective stories, plus a handful of poems, e.g., ""Lepanto"" and ""The Rolling English Road."" Never wholly free of Financial worries, he was a prolific producer of articles, sociopolitical commentary, literary criticism, essays, novels, plays, and verse that earned him great popularity with post-Victorian readers on both sides of the Atlantic. GKC was also a widely respected lecturer (a talent he eventually used on radio) and an intimate of his era's leading men of letters--Hilaire Belloc, George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, William Butler Yeats, et al. While much of Chesterton's work has proven ephemeral, Ffinch brings to vivid life the religious and social passions that informed it. In his persuasive view, GKC, who embraced both Catholicism and Distributism (an economic system based on employee equity) during the 1920's, was at heart a lover of liberty. In brief, the author concludes that Chesterton, whose childlike sense of wonder never faltered throughout his life, found freedom in serving God through one true church. In addition to being an articulate and clever defender of the Faith, Chesterton was a visceral anti-Semite. Ffinch deals forthrightly with this aspect of his subject's character as he does with GKC's on-the-record admiration for Mussolini and reasoned rejection of the Nazis. Covered as well are Chesterton's hearty appetites for food, drink, and boon companionship, which made him larger than life--literally as well as figuratively. Beneath the often eccentric bonhomie and facile creativity, though, Ffinch finds a lively, ordered mind whose principal consolations were the eternal verities of Rome. Without overstating the case for Chesterton's enduring worth, Flinch has done a fine job of bringing an altogether engaging and surprisingly complex literary figure into focus in the context of his times. The text has photographs (not seen), plus a half dozen delightful line drawings, four of which were done by GKC.

Pub Date: Feb. 19th, 1987
Publisher: Harper & Row