G. K. Chesterton Essay - Chesterton, G. K.

Chesterton, G. K.


G. K. Chesterton 1874-–1936

(Full name Gilbert Keith Chesterton) English novelist, short story writer, playwright, critic, essayist, journalist, autobiographer, biographer, and poet. For additional coverage of Chesterton's short fiction, see SSC, Vol. 1.

Chesterton holds an enduring place in English literature. His presence was formidable—as a writer, critical essayist, Catholic polemicist, the proponent of the social philosophy of Distributism, and in his large physical form. He gained the widest distinction, however, with his Father Brown mysteries, particularly his use of them to consider the darker aspects of human nature.

Biographical Information

Chesterton was born into a middle-class London family and he later recalled his childhood with affection, attributing it with endowing in him a religious—at the time, Protestant—perspective. As a young man, Chesterton studied art and literature, enrolling at the Slade School of Art from 1892 to 1895; in fact, his background in drawing and painting is credited for Chesterton's lifelong affinity for vividly detailed, visual prose descriptions. During his time at the Slade School, Chesterton suffered a profound emotional and philosophical crisis, fearing that the external world might be only a projection of the mind. Chesterton emerged from this spiritual breakdown with a much clearer understanding of the more sinister facets of the human mind. And his continued examination of that dusky region was to permeate his entire career. Chesterton delved into the nature of evil and madness with an unique persistence and sensitivity. His wife, the former Frances Blogg, fulfilled an important role in Chesterton's artistry by assisting him in the achievement of a more sanguine view of life and in the continued formation of his religious convictions. Chesterton first came to public notice with his critical essays—both social and literary. His collection of essays entitled What's Wrong with the World (1910) brought him attention, along with Hilaire Belloc, as a leading advocate for Distributism: a social philosophy that argued for a small property-owning democracy which would allocate ownership to as many people as possible, as opposed to supporting the formation of large states, organizations, or corporations. Chesterton continued to actively promote Distributism for the rest of his life, and began in 1916 to edit the magazine New Witness, which later became G. K.'s Weekly. In order to support this periodical, Chesterton wrote the Father Brown stories, which were first published in the Saturday Evening Post.

Major Works of Short Fiction

Chesterton is perhaps most popularly known as the author of the Father Brown detective series, which he wrote from the early 1900s into the 1930s. The stories were collected in The Innocence of Father Brown (1911), The Wisdom of Father Brown (1914), The Incredulity of Father Brown (1926), The Secret of Father Brown (1927), and The Scandal of Father Brown (1935). Chesterton loosely based the title character upon his friend, Roman Catholic priest John O'Connor. O'Connor conveyed to Chesterton the variety of iniquity and perversity confided to him in the confessional. The contrast between the priest's humble demeanor, his knowledge of earthly evil, and his willingness to explore his own soul for the roots of sin within himself, all had a profound influence on Chesterton, and it was those qualities with which he endowed his Father Brown character. When Father Brown is asked by an apprehended criminal whether he is, in fact, the devil himself he responds accordingly: “I am a man and therefore have all devils in my heart.” Throughout his writings, Chesterton consistently strove to instruct his readers. In addition to being an artist, he was committed to influencing the philosophies of his contemporaries. All of his works contain some element of paradox, parable, or allegory to illustrate essential spiritual truths. In Chesterton's essay “A Defense of Nonsense,” he explicated upon his chief purpose in writing: “Nonsense and faith (strange as the conjunction may seem) are the two supreme symbolic assertions of the truth that to draw out the soul of things with a syllogism is as impossible as to draw out Leviathan with a hook.” Although he did not actually convert to Catholicism until 1922, Chesterton expounded the teachings of the Church, as well as his philosophical leanings, for years prior to his conversion. The unique aspect of the Father Brown stories which separates them from uniform, detective genre tales is the character's reliance on determining the motive for a crime, and thereby that of the perpetrator. The stories involve a delving into the criminal psyche in order to understand why the crime has been committed, and in the process to gain a greater understanding of the human condition itself.

Critical Reception

The style of Chesterton's Father Brown stories frustrates some critics, who find them lacking in the informative details which normally provide clues to the reader for solving the crime along with the protagonist. But others perceive Chesterton's tales as artistic renderings of a mystical school within the scope of the detective story. And for some this aspect gives the genre a literary “lift” that it does not commonly enjoy. For his body of work, Chesterton is held to be among the eminent British men of letters of the early twentieth century. Although he did not take his Father Brown stories terribly seriously, they are often seen as innovations in detective fiction. In his other writings, Chesterton is frequently considered eccentric, mixing Christian—especially Catholic—theology with that of detective stories, novels, plays, essays, autobiographies, biographies, satiric fantasy, historical works, epics, poetry, and literary criticism.

Principal Works

The Club of Queer Trades 1905

The Innocence of Father Brown 1911

The Wisdom of Father Brown 1914

The Man Who Knew Too Much and Other Stories 1922

Tales of the Long Bow 1925

The Incredulity of Father Brown 1926

The Secret of Father Brown 1927

The Poet and the Lunatics 1929

The Ecstatic Thief 1930

Four Faultless Felons 1930

The Father Brown Omnibus 1933

The Scandal of Father Brown 1935

The Paradoxes of Mr. Pond 1937

G. K. Chesterton: Selected Short Stories 1972

Daylight and Nightmare: Uncollected Stories and Fables 1986

The Complete Father Brown 1987

The Wild Knight, and Other Poems (poetry) 1900

The Defendant (essays) 1901

Twelve Types (essays) 1902

Robert Browning (criticism) 1903

The Napoleon of Notting Hill (novel) 1904

Heretics (essays) 1905

Charles Dickens (criticism) 1906

The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare (novel) 1908

Orthodoxy (essays) 1908

George Bernard Shaw (criticism) 1909

The Ball and the Cross (novel) 1910

What's Wrong with the World (essays) 1910

The Ballad of the White Horse (poetry) 1911

Manalive (novel) 1912

Magic (drama) 1913

The Victorian Age in Literature (criticism) 1913

The Flying Inn (poetry) 1914

Wine, Water and Song (poetry) 1915

The Ballad of St. Barbara, and Other Verses (poetry) 1922

Eugenics and Other Evils (essays) 1922

Fancies Versus Fads (essays) 1923

St. Francis of Assisi (biography) 1923

The Everlasting Man (essays) 1925

The Return of Don Quixote (novel) 1927

St. Thomas Aquinas (biography) 1933

Autobiography (autobiography) 1936


W. W. Robson (essay date 1969)

SOURCE: “G. K. Chesterton's ‘Father Brown’ Stories,” in The Southern Review, Autumn, 1969, pp. 611–29.

[In the following review, Robson maintains that Chesterton's detective stories deserve more serious critical attention than is customary for the genre.]

Chesterton himself did not attach great importance to the Father Brown stories. Ordered in batches by magazine editors and publishers, they were written hurriedly for the primary purpose of helping to finance his distributist paper, G. K.'s Weekly. And though they have proved to be the most popular of Chesterton's writings, critical attention to them has been casual. This is partly because they are, of course, detective stories; and the detective story is commonly dismissed, without argument, as a very low form of art. That it is also a very difficult and demanding form, in which many clever writers have failed, is not regarded as relevant. Nor is there much respect for the innovators in this genre, or much comment on their remarkable rarity. If there were, Chesterton's reputation would stand very high; for his detective stories, while they may not be the best ever written, are without doubt the most ingenious. But to show ingenuity and originality in the detective story is for the superior critic merely to have a knack for a particular sort of commercial fiction. It is not the sort of thing he takes seriously. And Chesterton himself, it seems, would have agreed with him.

My contention will be that these stories, together with Chesterton's novel The Man who was Thursday, are the best of his writings, and I will try to give reasons why they should be taken seriously. But I must admit at the start that there are two (sometimes overlapping) classes of reader whom I cannot hope to convert. The first consists of those who loathe detective stories; the second, of those who are so prejudiced against the Roman Catholic Church that they cannot read stories in which a priest is presented sympathetically. All I can say to these readers is that the Father Brown stories are much more than detective stories, and if they can overcome their repugnance to the genre they will find a good deal that might interest them in another context; and secondly, that the element of strictly Roman Catholic propaganda in the stories is small. Furthermore, Father Brown is neither a realistic nor even an idealized portrait of a priest. Chesterton is not competing with Morte d'Urban, or with Bernanos; nor is he competing with Robert Hugh Benson. I shall try to explain later what I think Father Brown “really” is. At the moment, I merely ask readers to forget their anticlericalism. It is irrelevant.

But no doubt the main problem that a sympathetic critic must confront is that Chesterton's work generally is out of favor. To some extent this is merely for period reasons. He is far away enough from us for his work to have become dated, but not far enough for it to have become historical. Like some other writers of his time, he is in a sort of critical limbo. But there are also special reasons for his unpopularity. He campaigned for causes which, except in old-fashioned Roman Catholic circles, attract little sympathy. His distributism is dismissed as impracticable. His Catholicism is of the pre-John XXIII vintage: it is regarded as “period,” sectarian, and hopelessly bound up with an exaltation of “Latin” Europe, influenced by Belloc's, which is alternately scorned as foolish or condemned as sinister. Above all, Chesterton's association of Christianity with romanticism is disliked. The general taste of this age is counter-romantic; and many of those who, like Chesterton, are seriously concerned with religion share this taste. The most influential of religious thinkers in our times is probably Kierkegaard, and he is also one of the most counter-romantic. It is true that Kierkegaard, unlike many moderns, felt the attraction of romanticism. In The Concept of Irony, for example, he speaks of the breath of fresh air which romanticism brings to the spiritless, matter-of-fact monotony of bourgeois existence. “The forest breathes easy, the birds sing, the beautiful princess surrounds herself with suitors, the woods echo the sound of hunting horns and baying hounds, the meadows shed fragrance, poetry and song tear themselves loose from nature.” It is clear that Kierkegaard feels the attraction of what he is describing. But to him it is an insidious temptation. Romanticism brings neither a true vision of reality, nor a firm footing in the temporal world. It is the enemy of the moral life. Nothing could be further from Chesterton's view. It is true that he thought romanticism could go wrong and be perverted. And even at its best it is not enough to bring the soul to God. Here Chesterton would have agreed with Kierkegaard. But unlike Kierkegaard he wanted to baptize it, not dismiss it to hell.

Counter-romanticism is the deep reason why Chesterton's work is rejected. But there are other reasons, some of which are more purely literary. Most of Chesterton's work is on the borderline between literature and journalism; much of it, indeed, is frankly, nothing but journalism. True, the same could be said of Swift or Samuel Johnson, who are in high repute with critics. But they have passed into history; whereas Chesterton, like Wells, still has the flavor of old newspapers. And, like most writers who have to write copiously and under pressure, Chesterton often became the slave of his own mannerisms. Even his warmest admirer will admit that he frequently repeats himself and that his wit degenerates into stock verbal formulas. The spice of his style conceals poor meat. This is especially true of his work written after the Great War. The War itself, and the serious illness which Chesterton suffered during the War, took away much of his real gaiety and spontaneity. The sparkle had gone. Chesterton was essentially a prewar writer; and the War, which killed or wounded so many in the flesh, killed and wounded many others in the spirit. Chesterton was one of them.

For many modern readers, then, Chesterton is a dead writer. His name recalls only noisy showmanship, out-of-date class attitudes, Edwardian jolliness, foaming tankards. He is at best a period piece. A defender of Chesterton might retort that at one time Dickens was dismissed as a vulgar purveyor of melodrama and sentiment: yet he has come back. However, Dickens was a creative writer; and it is not altogether clear that Chesterton was. His forte was really the essay, and the essay is not nowadays highly regarded. His affinities with Lamb, Hazlitt, and Stevenson are today black marks against him. His generally cheerful temper, his love of Romance, his old-fashioned and chivalrous attitude to women and sex, are antipathetic. And even though writers whom he admired, and who influenced him, like Browning and Dickens, are coming back into favor, they are not seen as Chesterton saw them. It is said that he presented them as too exuberant and jolly. Chesterton himself is thought, especially by those who have not read him, to have preached an optimism which to the sensitive, in a world like this, sounds brainless and heartless. Father Brown says of an exponent of the Religion of Cheerfulness: “It is a cruel religion. … Why couldn't they let him weep a little, like his fathers before him?” People have tended to confuse Chesterton's own religion with the Religion of Cheerfulness.

But, as my quotation indicates, I think this is a confusion. And the picture of Chesterton I have been giving is, deliberately, a travesty. However, it is a recognizable travesty. Chesterton did indeed have many faults as a writer. He was the first to admit them. He was a genuinely humble man. When he was at the height of his fame he was asked by a journalist in New York which of his works he considered the greatest. He replied that he did not consider any of his works at all great. He may have been right. But it seems to me that he was at least a writer important enough to be one of the very few who survive their time. My article is thus a plea for a reconsideration of Chesterton's place in English literature. First of all, I think, his work needs weeding out. My own belief is that the case for him as an important writer depends on comparatively few things: two poems, “The Ballad of the White Horse” and “The Secret People”; his prose books Heretics (not Orthodoxy!) and The Everlasting Man; his only good novel, The Man who was Thursday; and the Father Brown stories. It is with these last that I shall be concerned. But my essential concern is with the serious Chesterton. I take encouragement from the fact that, though he is commonly disparaged as a shallow optimist and allowed at best to be an entertaining writer of light fiction, his most famous lines, from “The Ballad of the White Horse,” are those beginning “I tell you naught for your comfort. …”; lines which go on to speak of an iron sky and a faith without hope.

What is Chesterton saying in the Father Brown stories? In what follows I shall discuss their manifest meaning, and I shall carry the discussion as far as the borders of their latent meaning, leaving it to others, if they are interested, to explore that. This manifest meaning must be understood in terms of their genre. Whatever else these stories may turn out to be, they are certainly, on the face of it, light fiction, in a recognizable genre. And this genre was invented by Poe. Scholars have found remote antecedents and forbears for Poe's detective tales, but there can be no doubt that the modern detective tale derives from him. I do not intend to intrude into the long American controversy about Poe. Critics I admire are to be found on both sides. Edmund Wilson thinks Poe was a great genius. Yvor Winters thinks he was a bad writer. My own feeling is that in some way both are right and that Poe is a unique phenomenon in literature. But my concern with him here is solely with the undeniable fact that he invented the modern detective story. His tales of the Chevalier Auguste Dupin are magazine fiction. But they are also offered as moral fables. The virtue they ostensibly celebrate is Reason. Dupin is not concerned with the legal consequences of crime, like Inspector Maigret, nor is he concerned with its moral and religious implications, like Father Brown. For him, a crime is nothing but an intellectual problem. When that is solved, his interest lapses. Poe makes a great show of the rigorous deductions and inexorable logic of Dupin. He is inhumanly patient, penetrating, and clearheaded. But this show of rationality is largely bluff, part of the game that Poe plays with his readers. It is notable that “The Mystery of Marie Roget,” which to all appearance is the most dully realistic and scientific looking of the three Dupin stories, based on a real life case, is in fact the most impudently fraudulent. Dupin's solution does not emerge from his reasoning: his reasoning, indeed, leads him in quite another direction. But Poe, surprised, no doubt, by a belated development in the real life case, cunningly inserts the suggestion here and there that Dupin was all the time on the right track. At the end all that the bemused reader is clear about is that the rabbit has been produced from the hat. How, is nobody's business. And the classical detective story, created by Poe, is not a triumph of reason, but a conjuring trick. This is evident in the most famous, and the best, of the three Dupin stories, “The Purloined Letter.” Everyone remembers the motif of this story: that some things are too obvious to be noticed. And this is the secret of successful conjuring. The simple suppose that “it must be up his sleeve.” But it isn't: it's in front of your nose. The successful conjurer, like George Orwell, knows that the hardest things to see are the things that are in front of your nose. Those who are prepared to enjoy a classic demonstration of this, in a detective story which is nothing but a detective story, should read John Dickson Carr's novel The Black Spectacles.

Chesterton, like all detective story writers, derives from Poe. Indeed, it might be said that he derives from a single story of Poe: many of the Father Brown stories can be regarded as ingenious variations on the theme of “The Purloined Letter.” The suggestion of realistic police work, which we have in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Mystery of Marie Roget,” did not attract him. Father Brown keeps away from the secular authorities:

“The Coroner has arrived. The inquiry is just going to begin.”

“I've got to get back to the Deaf School,” said Father Brown. [He has just solved the mystery.] “I'm sorry I can't stop for the inquiry.”

There are no chemical analyses or careful checking of alibis in these stories. Nor is there the dry intellectuality of Dupin. For between Poe and Chesterton comes Conan Doyle. It is, of course, Sherlock Holmes who humanized the figure of the Great Detective, the symbol of reason and justice. The Sherlock Holmes stories are in some ways inferior as literature to the Dupin stories. Holmes has a less distinguished mind than Dupin. But Dupin is a colorless character, and his confidant is even dimmer. It is the personalities of Holmes and Watson that we remember, the Baker Street “atmosphere,” in those rooms where it is always 1895, the inimitable blend of exotic excitement and reassuring coziness.

As a conjurer, Doyle must rank low. He is all thumbs. The card often emerges patently from Holmes's sleeve. In that excellent tale “The Bruce-Partington Plans,” the solution turns on Holmes's realizing that the dead man's body was on the roof of an underground train. But this is a mere guess. Often Doyle does not even pretend to play fair with the reader. However, this does not matter. Doyle was the master of something rarer than conjuring: magic. It may be, indeed, that magic is not compatible with conjuring. At any rate, Doyle rose to a high rank among literary magicians when he invented Dr. Watson. For it is Watson, not Holmes, that is responsible for the magic. It is only when we see the great man through his eyes that the whole conception reveals its unique triumphant blend of absurdity and sublimity. It is he who possesses the secret, which Stevenson does not in the New Arabian Nights, of evoking romance from the prosaic. London place names like “Norwood” and “Blackheath” will for some readers of Dr. Watson's memoirs always retain overtones of mysterious romance.

All this was naturally congenial to the author of The Napoleon of Notting Hill. Chesterton was fascinated by the romance of the prosaic.

His dubious eye roamed again to the white lettering on the glass front of the public-house. The young woman's eyes followed his, and rested there also, but in pure puzzlement.

“No,” said Father Brown, answering her thoughts. “It doesn't say ‘Sela,’ like the thing in the psalms; I read it like that myself when I was wool-gathering just now; it says ‘Ales.’”

This slight example may serve to illustrate how much all these writers—Chesterton, Stevenson, Doyle—are disciples of Dickens, the great master of the unfamiliarity in the familiar. But Chesterton was perhaps the closest of them all to the detective story side of Dickens. The novel of Dickens that has most in common with Chesterton is The Mystery of Edwin Drood. It will be said that this is not merely a detective story, that it has imagination and moral seriousness. All the same, it is a detective story, and as such it is genuinely mysterious. And this is not only because it is unfinished. Neither Barnaby Rudge (pace Poe) nor Bleak House, which are both inter alia detective stories, would have been hard to solve if they had been left unfinished at a point comparable to the point where Edwin Drood breaks off. The quality of Chesterton's work at its best, in the Father Brown stories, is comparable to that of Edwin Drood. It is true to its genre: it is full of suspense, sensation, genuine clues, red herrings, “atmosphere,” real mystery and spurious mystery. But Chesterton, though he might talk lightheartedly about batches of corpses despatched to the publisher, is serious, as Dickens is serious in Edwin Drood. In these stories murder is murder, sin is sin, damnation is damnation. Every imaginative writer must choose his genre, and every genre has limitations. The detective tale has obvious limitations. The most serious is this: no character can have depth, no character can be done from the inside, because any must be a potential suspect. It is Chesterton's triumph that he turned this limitation of the genre into an illumination of the universal human potentiality of guilt and sin. No character in the stories matters except Father Brown. But this is not a fault, because Father Brown, being a man, epitomizes all their potentialities within himself. “Are you a devil?” the exposed criminal wildly asks. “I am a man,” replies Father Brown, “and therefore have all devils in my heart.”

This ability to identify himself with the murderer is the “secret” of Father Brown's method. Some readers...

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Erik Routley (essay date 1972)

SOURCE: “The Fairy Tale and the Secret,” in The Puritan Pleasures of the Detective Story, Victor Gollancz, Ltd., 1972, pp. 104–16.


‘I won't discuss whether we can be killed by something that happened in the thirteenth century; but I'm jolly certain that we can't be killed by something that never happened in the thirteenth century, something that never happened at all.’1

Sentimentality about history and religion is inevitably attributed by Chesterton to Americans, but a readiness to believe in mystery and the supernatural intervention of irrational forces is the chief impediment to the rational...

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Lawrence J. Clipper (essay date 1974)

SOURCE: “Detectives and Apocalypses,” in G. K. Chesterton, Twayne Publishers, 1974, pp. 120–44.

[In the following essay, Clipper observes that Chesterton followed the Romantic school of early twentieth-century literature.]

Describing the fiction of the 1890's, one critic states that “the sane tradition of English fiction by which a delicate balance was maintained between realism and romance rarely broke down.”1 That delicate balance was upset, of course, with the new century when it became obvious that fiction-writers had gravitated into two camps: that of the Realists and Naturalists—Americans like Frank Norris and Theodore Dreiser, English...

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Aden W. Hayes and Khachig Tololyan (essay date 1981)

SOURCE: “The Cross and the Compass: Patterns of Order in Chesterton and Borges,” in Hispanic Review, Vol. 49, No. 4, Autumn, 1981, pp. 395–405.

[In the following review, Hayes and Tololyan consider Borges' use of “Chestertonian” themes in his own detective stories.]

Traces, tracks, texts, tradition: Borges is no stranger to the metaphors. His way of following the traces left by other writers has been to engage in writing, that most intense form of rereading. Often, he has written about the spoor of the hunted criminal invisible on the paved streets of London or on the dusty sidewalks of the vast suburbs of Buenos Aires. But whereas the pursuers he has...

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Thomas E. Porter (essay date 1984)

SOURCE: “Gilbert Keith Chesterton,” in Twelve Englishmen of Mystery, edited by Earl F. Bargainnier, Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1984, pp. 66–87.

[In the following review, Porter explores the “Father Brown” stories as a tool used by Chesterton to demonstrate Christian perspectives.]

In the opening sequence of a recent Paul Newman film, Fort Apache: the Bronx, two rookie cops are eating a coffee-and-doughnut breakfast in a parked patrol car.1 A black woman in a pink dress teeters across the deserted street and banters with the officers. As she straightens up to go, she draws a.38 from her purse and fires point-blank in their faces....

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Ronald Knox (essay date 1987)

SOURCE: “Chesterton's Father Brown,” G. K. Chesterton: A Half Century of Views, edited by D. J. Conlon, Oxford University Press, 1987, pp. 133–39.

[In the following review, Knox describes Chesterton's writings as an outlet in which the author demonstrates his personal philosophies.]

When you met Chesterton in life, the physical bigness of the man made him seem out of scale; he overflowed his surroundings. And the same thing is true, in a curious way, of his literary output; he never really found his medium, because every medium he tried—and how many he tried!—was too small a receptacle for the amount of himself he put into it. He stood alone in the remarkable...

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Martin Priestman (essay date 1991)

SOURCE: “G. K. Chesterton,” in Detective Fiction and Literature: The Figure on the Carpet, St. Martin's Press, 1991, pp. 123–35.

[In the following essay, Priestman discusses Chesterton's use of the detective story format to explore theological issues.]

As a detective writer, G. K. Chesterton combines several of the concerns of the other writers in this chapter while clearly having many further axes of his own to grind. In his best novel, the early The Man Who Was Thursday (1905), he effortlessly deconstructs the whole notion of detection by showing how an apparently diabolical conspiracy might consist entirely of the quasi-divine detectives bent on...

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Nathan A. Cervo (essay date 1992)

SOURCE: “The Pleonastic Sucide of Aristide Valentin in Chesterton's ‘The Secret Garden,’” in The Chesterton Review, Vol. 18, No. 3, August, 1992, pp. 391–94.

[In the following review, Cervo argues that Chesterton's Valentin character was created to personify those who would destroy the Catholic Church.]

In the Father Brown story, “The Secret Garden,” the names Aristide Valentin and Cato bracket Chesterton's story, lending a non-“progressive”1 (pagan) aura to its central metaphor of the garden without an exit. The names thus point the reader away from what Valentin calls “the superstition of the Cross”2 toward...

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A. W. R. Sipe and B. C. Lamb (essay date 1992)

SOURCE: “Chesterton's Brown and Greeley's Blackie: Two Very Different Detectives,” in Commonweal, Vol. 119, No. 14, August, 1992, pp. 18–25.

[In the following review, Sipe and Lamb note significant differences between the two priest detectives in Chesterton's and Greeley's stories.]

Monsignor John Blackwood Ryan (formerly Father Blackie, and recently elevated to Bishop Blackie) is a priest-detective created by the Reverend Andrew Greeley and featured in at least nine of his novels. In seven instances Greeley compares Father Blackie to Father Brown, the priest-detective created by G.K. Chesterton. The pains that Greeley has taken to link the two priest-detectives...

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Walter Raubicheck (essay date 1993)

SOURCE: “Father Brown and the ‘Performance’ of Crime,” in The Chesterton Review, Vol. 19, No. 1, February, 1993, pp. 39–45.

[In the following review, Raubicheck discusses Chesterton's approach to allegory in his writings.]

G.K. Chesterton and Dorothy Sayers share the unusual distinction of being among this century's most distinguished authors of detective fiction as well as being among its most important Christian apologists. In Chesterton's case, it is much easier to discern the relationship between his detective stories and his theology than it is in the case of Sayers. In her case, the two can be assessed quite separately. At the emotional and intellectual...

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Further Reading


Routley, Erik. “The Mystery of Iniquity.” The Puritan Pleasures of the Detective Story, pp. 89–103. Victor Gollancz, Ltd., 1972.

Discusses Chesterton's use of his own stories to provide a ground for the exploration of morality.

Routley, Erik. “The Fairy Tale and the Secret.” The Puritan Pleasures of the Detective Story, pp. 104–16. Victor Gollancz, Ltd., 1972.

Suggests that Chesterton used his “Father Brown” stories to expose erroneous thinking in popular culture.

Additional coverage of Chesterton's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the...

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