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October 17, 2003


jim fitzsimons

George Orwell, in his essay "Notes on Nationalism" devotes a long - and extremely critical - paragraph to GK Chesterton...

The entire essay can be found at: http://www.resort.com/~prime8/Orwell/nationalism.html and although the paragraph (No. 7, for those who wish to read it) is perhaps too long to reproduce in whole here, it can be summarised with the second sentence, "Chesterton was a writer of considerable talent who chose to suppress both his sensibilities and his intellectual honesty in the cause of Roman Catholic propaganda"

Orwell is - as ever - controversial, though unarguably incisive.

Jimmy Doyle

"I agree with Hilary that snobbery (which I accused Agatha Christie of) has no bearing on literary merit." Would that that were Ms Wade's view. But she clearly believes that it does have such a bearing, only in the opposite direction to what you had in mind: "I'd say that actually a measure of snobbery in one form or another is more or less a prerequisite for writing good dialogue." This strikes me as implausible in the extreme, as does her imputation of snobbery to Jane Austen -- unless Ms Wade has a very different conception of snobbery from my own; for example, in not considering it a vice.

Natalie Solent

Kamm, you fiend! Are you going to zap all the favourite authors of my late childhood one by one? The Father Brown stories are, as you say, are not so hot on the detection bit and the dialogue is kind of samey. What they do have is marvellous dark poetic concepts. The one where the soldier hides his personal murder in a forest of murders... the long-brooded revenge of the the three tramps on the man who presumed to judge them...

Rossini said that Wagner's music had "some great moments but some terrible quarter-hours" and I tend to think the same way about Chesterton. He has many pearls of wisdom ("...the old man is always wrong; and the young people are always wrong about what is wrong with him.") but you can get a bit sick of oysters before you find them. Or, slightly more accurately and charitably, the statistical certainty that there are pearls there keeps you going even though you are beginning to find a diet of oysters too rich.

Hilary Wade

Oliver, you are sidelining the issue. I'm quite confident that the question Chesterton felt it important to address was "how shall we live" and not "how can we make more goods available to more people as efficiently as possible." I re-read some of his fiction over the weekend, and there are plenty of characters in there with almost a surfeit of wealth, leisure, choice, and so on, but they can still know despair, they can still commit evil, and if you really think these are problems that will be eliminated in the end by purely economic nostra then you move (despite protestations) into the realm of theology. On the other hand, if you don't think they are questions worth addressing, I guess by your definition Chesterton is not a first-rate thinker.

As regards snobbery - I guess what I had in mind was something of "the moment an Englishman opens his mouth he makes another Englishman despise him." Some writers have an ear for these tiny power struggles - Chesterton didn't.

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