G. K. Chesterton

(1874—1936) writer

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British journalist, poet, novelist, and broadcaster.

A Londoner, Chesterton was educated at St Paul's School, where he illustrated E. C. Bentley's first book of clerihews. On leaving school he first intended to study art, but instead became a journalist. His poems, The Wild Knight (1900), were well received, but it was as a newspaper columnist that Chesterton's reputation was made. His vigorous paradoxical essays, attacking Victorian pretensions, decadence, and a whole range of fashionable attitudes and institutions, were so popular that they were republished in such collections as Heretics (1905). He also wrote major critical studies of Browning (1903) and Dickens (1906).

Chesterton also enjoyed success as a fiction writer. The Napoleon of Notting Hill (1904), a fantasy about civil strife between different London localities, was typical of his serio-comic narratives. Although he continued to write serious verse he also branched into a brilliant vein of comedy. Magic, his first attempt at drama, was a theatrical triumph in 1913. His greatest and most lasting success, however, was in the field of detective fiction, with the Father Brown stories (1911–27), the central character of which is a Roman Catholic priest.

Chesterton had met Hilaire Belloc in 1900, and they had many opinions and attitudes in common. Like Belloc, Chesterton opposed the socialism of G. B. Shaw and H. G. Wells. In 1922 Chesterton became a Roman Catholic, and from then on many of his copious writings were on religious topics, notably an important biography of St Francis of Assisi (1923). Towards the end of his life he became a popular and extremely expert broadcaster.

Subjects: Literature.

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