Biography

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 538

Gilbert Keith Chesterton was born on May 29, 1874, in London. He was the second of three children born to Edward and Marie Louise Chesterton. Edward Chesterton was a realtor. Gilbert’s older sister, Beatrice, died at the age of eight, in 1877, and two years later his brother, Cecil, was...

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Gilbert Keith Chesterton was born on May 29, 1874, in London. He was the second of three children born to Edward and Marie Louise Chesterton. Edward Chesterton was a realtor. Gilbert’s older sister, Beatrice, died at the age of eight, in 1877, and two years later his brother, Cecil, was born. Everything seems to indicate that Edward and Marie Louise were loving parents.

In 1982, Gilbert was graduated from St. Paul’s School in London. For the next three years, he studied at London’s Slade Art School, but he finally realized that he would never develop into a truly creative artist. From 1895 until 1900, he worked for a publishing firm. From 1901 until his death, in 1936, he served as a journalist and editor for various London newspapers and magazines.

In 1901, he married Frances Blogg. Gilbert and Frances had no children. Theirs was a good marriage, each helping the other. Frances survived her husband by two years. During the first decade of the twentieth century, Chesterton met the writers Hilaire Belloc and Shaw, who became his lifelong friends. Although Belloc and Shaw seemed to have little in common because Belloc was an apologist for Catholicism and Shaw was an agnostic, Chesterton liked them both very much. Several times, Belloc organized lively but good-natured debates in which Shaw and Chesterton discussed religion and politics. Throughout his adult life, Chesterton supported the Liberal Party in Great Britain, but gradually he became disillusioned with the leadership of the Liberal prime minister David Lloyd George. After the coalition government run by Lloyd George fell apart in 1922, Chesterton lost much interest in politics. During the last fourteen years of his life, his major interests were literature and religion.

Before World War I began, Chesterton was already a well-known English writer, but he had not yet explored profound philosophical and religious themes. Two unexpected events forced Chesterton to think about his mortality and the reasons for his existence. In late 1914, he fell into a coma, which lasted four months. The cause of this coma was never fully explained to the public. After his recovery, he was a changed man. His view of the world became very serious. Then, less than one month after the end of World War I, Chesterton suffered a terrible personal loss when his only brother, Cecil, died from nephritis in a military hospital in France.

After’s Cecil’s death, Chesterton felt a void in his life. His friend Father John O’Connor, who was the apparent inspiration for Father Brown, spoke to him at length about Catholicism, and Chesterton became a Catholic on July 30, 1922. Four years later, his wife Frances joined him in the Catholic church. The last decade of his life was a very productive period. He continued to write his Father Brown stories, but he also found much pleasure in writing and giving speeches on religious topics. Although firmly convinced that Catholicism was essential for his own spiritual growth and salvation, he was always tolerant and respectful of friends such as H. G. Wells and Shaw, who did not share his religious beliefs. Soon after he had completed his Autobiography in early 1936, he developed serious heart problems. He died at his home in Beaconsfield, England, on June 14, 1936, at the age of sixty-two.

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