Chesterton is important as a novelist, poet, essayist, journalist, editor, detective-story writer, and Catholic polemicist, but he is important also as a remarkable figure who was at the center of London life at a time when the world of modern thought was struggling to be born.
He portrays his London accurately as a city of ferment. In the arts, the aesthetic movement was faltering to its close, fatally wounded by the trial of Oscar Wilde, but the influence of Impressionism was only beginning to be felt, and in only a few years the Russian ballet would arrive with a revolutionary effect, as would American ragtime. The theatrical world was shaken by the iconoclasm of Henrik Ibsen and the revolutionary fervor of George Bernard Shaw. The Dreyfus case in France and, in England, the various scandals surrounding the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, continued to shake faith in the integrity of governing powers, while everything from the Bloody Sunday riots and killings of Jack the Ripper among London prostitutes to the expose of London poverty written by Salvation Army General William T. Booth (In Darkest England and the Way Out, 1890) pointed to the tremendous and tragic chasm that separated the lives of the rich and the poor in this, one of the greatest cities of the world.
From everywhere came individuals to debate the problem, become part of the problem, or offer solutions, and Chesterton knew them all. Among the many acquaintances and...
(The entire section is 458 words.)