(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

Although they were his friends, Barker and Lambert often considered Quinn a fool, even a dangerous man, for he persisted in seeing the ludicrous where they saw only the grave. On this particular afternoon, Quinn was walking behind his two friends; as he saw the buttons on their tailcoats, he thought them very much like dragon’s eyes. Forever afterward, he thought of their backs as two dragons shuffling to the rear.

By the end of the twentieth century, such imagination was scarcely appreciated. The whole world had become orderly. The smaller nations had disappeared, and among the larger nations, Great Britain was by far the most extensive and best organized. The king was now chosen by lot instead of by heredity on the theory that anybody could be a good king. Parliament was only a memory of the days when government was a tedious process. As a reflection of the times, everyone wore sober, uniform clothing. Armies and wars were almost forgotten.

During their walk, Quinn and his friends were astonished to see a fine-looking man in a green military uniform decorated with many insignia. The man was attracting a good deal of attention, for the people had never seen brilliant clothes before. When Lambert and Barker invited the man to dinner, they learned that he was the former president of Nicaragua, the last small state to be conquered. They considered the former president an affable, saddened man. He still believed firmly in the right of individuals and of states to be different, but he was obviously very old-fashioned in his thinking. In fact, after they argued with him and showed him the current reasoned view, he committed suicide.

Later, Quinn was entertaining his friends as usual with pointless quixotic stories. Barker and Lambert listened patiently at first, but the meaning of the vague stories always eluded them. At last, in exasperation, they told Quinn to go stand on his head. To their surprise, Quinn did so, and competently. While he was thus attracting attention from the passersby, some policemen approached. Thinking they were to be reprimanded, all began to apologize. The policemen, however, brought word that Quinn had been chosen king. Barker protested loudly that Britain had no need to choose a buffoon as king. Quinn, however, was quite willing to be a king. He immediately styled himself King Auberon.

One day, the king was taking a stroll when a nine-year-old boy in a cocked hat struck him smartly with a wooden sword. Instead of punishing the boy, Auberon gave him a coin and complimented him on his knightly bearing. The sight of the boy in his make-believe armor gave the king an idea for bringing life and joy to staid London.

As soon as he could, he appeared before a historical society with his great innovation. All the districts of London that had been cities in earlier days were to be returned to their former autonomy. North Kensington, South...

(The entire section is 1189 words.)

The Napoleon of Notting Hill Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Walking to work on a wintry day in 1984, powerful bureaucrat James Barker, idler Wilfred Lambert, and prankster Auberon Quin meet the exiled president of Nicaragua, a country that has been swallowed up by more powerful nations. Despite the Nicaraguan’s argument that imperialists annihilate the customs of the conquered, Barker defends imperialism, insisting on the superiority of English civilization, which has evolved from democracy to despotism. He explains that the country needs neither a parliament nor a king; the latter, whose duty is simply to sign papers, is now chosen through a rotation system. The Nicaraguan, appalled by Barker’s words, dies three days later. Quin, meanwhile, is stirred by the Nicaraguan’s patriotism.

Quin, to Barker’s horror, is named king. Unlike Barker, he realizes that London’s people are sunk in a deadening, joyless routine. He mingles among common people to determine their needs. A child named Adam Wayne attacks him with a toy sword, and Quin, amused by this childish imitation of knighthood, decides, as a joke, to revive medievalism. He issues a Great Proclamation of the Charter of Free Cities. Suburbs become cities, each with a city wall, a guard, banners, official colors, and coats of arms. Their provosts are selected by a rotation system. Quin happily assigns the cities their official colors, garb, guards, heralds, and trumpeters.

The selected provosts, who include Barker and Red Buck, conspire to create, through bribery, purchase, and bullying, a road that will destroy five old stores on Pump Street in Notting Hill. Ten years...

(The entire section is 651 words.)

The Napoleon of Notting Hill The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The novel opens in London, England, in 1984, a time eighty years after the book’s publication. The government has become so efficient that party politics are obsolete. The king of England is now chosen by lottery. When Auberon Quin is appointed king, he revives certain medieval customs as an antidote to London’s bureaucratic monotony.

The future king, Quin, makes his first appearance in the company of his two friends, James Barker and Wilfrid Lambert, staid government officials who serve as foils for Quin’s fantastic imagination. The three men encounter the former president of Nicaragua, a striking figure in a bright green uniform with ceremonial medals. His name is Juan del Fuego, and his ostentatious appearance is more consistent with Quin’s wild imagination than with the conservative London setting. Del Fuego joins Quin and the other two men for lunch, at which they discuss the importance of patriotism in both small and large countries, namely in Nicaragua and Great Britain. Del Fuego dies three days later in Soho.

When Quin is selected at random as the next king of England, he is inspired by del Fuego’s pomp and politics to restore to London’s boroughs their medieval identities and customs. By encouraging loyalty to a small unit of government and by celebrating this small-scale patriotism with chivalric ceremony, Quin hopes to relieve the boredom that has resulted from London’s cosmopolitan but stale polish.


(The entire section is 416 words.)

The Napoleon of Notting Hill Bibliography

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Barker, Dudley. G. K. Chesterton. New York: Stein & Day, 1973. Brief biography that is primarily concerned with Chesterton’s early years and fiction.

Clark, Stephen R. L. G. K. Chesterton: Thinking Backward, Looking Forward. Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation Press, 2006. Places The Napoleon of Notting Hill within the context of futuristic science fiction, studying Chesterton’s individual novels and the themes he introduced for later writers.

Coren, Michael. Gilbert: The Man Who Was Chesterton. New York: Paragon House, 1990. Examines Chesterton’s early years and influences, as well as The Napoleon of Notting Hill.

Dale, Alzina Stone. The Outline of Sanity: A Biography of G. K. Chesterton. 1982. Reprint: Lincoln, Nebr.: Authors Guild, 2005. Provides a detailed examination of Chesterton’s objections to the Boer War and imperialism.

Gardner, Martin. The Fantastic Fiction of Gilbert Chesterton. Shelburne, Ont.: George A. Vanderburgh, 2008. Includes Gardner’s valuable introduction to the 1991 Dover Press edition of The Napoleon of Notting Hill, as well as an essay originally published in the May 10, 1991, issue of Midwest Chesterton News.

McCleary, Joseph R. The Historical Imagination of G. K. Chesterton: Locality, Patriotism, and Nationalism. New York: Routledge, 2009. Chapter 4 focuses on The Napoleon of Notting Hill, The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare (1908), and The Ball and the Cross (1909) as expressing Chesterton’s political and historical views.

Payne, Randall. Introduction to The Autobiography of G. K. Chesterton. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006. The novel’s setting is strongly influenced by the setting of Chesterton’s childhood. Payne’s annotations to Chesterton’s autobiography make this work accessible to modern readers.

Pearce, Joseph. Wisdom and Innocence: A Life of G. K. Chesterton. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004. Relates The Napoleon of Notting Hill to other Chesterton writings and includes comments by other writers and critics.