Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 444
Although THE NAPOLEON OF NOTTING HILL is at first glance an amiable fantasy and satire on staid government, its appeal to romance is a solid criticism of seriousness. In the early twentieth century, when Great Britain was at the height of a peaceful prosperity, it seemed that law and order would eventually swallow up eccentricity and puckish fun. G. K. Chesteron rebelled against orderly progress from precedent to precedent and struck a vigorous blow for human worth.
The two major characters of Chesterton’s work enliven a drab world with humor and tyranny. Quinn refuses to take seriously either his office (King of England) or himself. He discerns the comic dimension in everything and cavorts ridiculously in order to point out life’s folly. Only one person takes him seriously. He is Adam Wayne.
Adam Wayne was born and reared within the slum neighborhood of Notting Hill. His fantasies of its beauty are unaffected by experience and vastly enhanced by a chance encounter. When Adam was a boy, he defended his make-believe territory with his make-believe armour and wooden sword and struck the trespassing king who happened by. The king easily slipped into Wayne’s fantasy and admonished him to defend his kingdom forever.
Ten years later when the king’s foolishness has produced small medieval neighborhood kingdoms, Wayne again emerges. He is the only man in the kingdom to revel in the king’s commands. He is in title and in essence the “Provost of Notting Hill.” Drawn by his fervor, the people of Notting Hill join his crusade and remain undefeated in the battle of the road.
Twenty years pass before war again rages. The king and Wayne fight together in the final battle, knowing they will be defeated because it is time. After the battle, the king confesses that the great idea for which Wayne has lived was mere folly. Wayne is undisturbed, however, and declares that they are two opposites who work together toward one end. The king’s humor, devoid of gravity, and Wayne’s humorless fanaticism have rescued the kingdom from the doldrums. Now the common man can suffice without them. Wayne and Quinn are content that their extremes are no longer needed and go together into an unknown world.
THE NAPOLEON OF NOTTING HILL is not merely an entertaining comic tale. In it, Chesterton presented some of his key political views. Associated with the English Guild Socialists and “distributists,” Chesterton asserted the need for small areas of private property to maintain people’s vital personalities. He saw the intimate neighborhoods, guilds, and agrarian patterns of the Middle Ages as providing a worthwhile example for modern social reform.