G. K. Chesterton Long Fiction Analysis
Between 1904 and 1927, G. K. Chesterton wrote six full-length novels, not including the long Father Brown mysteries. All of them stressed the sensational, and they illustrated life as a fight and a battle. Chesterton thought that literature should portray life as perilous rather than as something listless. Tales of death, robbery, and secret groups interested him, and he did not think that what he called the “tea table twaddle” type of novels approached the status of significant art. The sensational story “was the moral part of fiction.”
Fantasy was an important part of Chesterton’s novels, and the methodology used in his long fiction emphasized adventure, suspense, fantasy, characterization, satire, narrative technique, and humor. He needed a medium to employ these techniques, so he produced the “fantastic novel.” Fanstasy also involves ideas, and in all Chesterton’s novels ideas are a central, indispensable feature.
Chesterton’s novels served as vehicles for the dissemination of whatever his political and social ideas were at the time, and to this extent they were propagandistic. His critics have had difficulty in deciding the merits of his various writings in terms of separating propaganda from literary art. Often Chesterton used allegory as a device for conveying his controversial ideas. Critic Ian Boyd has called Chesterton’s works of long fiction “political fables, parables, and allegories or more simply and convenientlynovels.”
In Chesterton’s novels, the state of bachelorhood predominates; this situation is appropriate, since this status is a fundamental element of adventure. Moreover, women rarely appear in any significant roles in his long fiction. There is no female character in his first novel, The Napoleon of Notting Hill, and the woman in The Man Who Was Thursday is a passing character. In The Ball and the Cross and The Flying Inn, women are minor figures, but they do play significant roles in Manalive and The Return of Don Quixote, works that are more involved with the family and society.
The weakest of Chesterton’s nondetective novels are perhaps Manalive, published in 1912, and The Return of Don Quixote, which appeared in 1927. In The Return of Don Quixote, Chesterton concludes that the only good future for England involves “a remarriage” of the country with the Catholic Church, as was the case in the Middle Ages. The first three of Chesterton’s novels, published from 1904 to 1909, are widely considered his best.
The Napoleon of Notting Hill
The Napoleon of Notting Hill is Chesterton’s first novel. The first two chapters are distinct from the main plot, the first being an essay on prophecy showing the author working in a genre that was always congenial to him. The next chapter concerns a luncheon discussion among three government clerks and the former president of Nicaragua, Juan del Fuego. The content of their talk brings out one of the main themes of the novel, “the sanctity of small nations,” a concept dear to Chesterton that stemmed from his opposition to the Boer War.
The subsequent death of del Fuego eliminates him from the work, but one of the three clerks, Auberon Quin, a zany individual and joker, is...
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