Chesterton, Man and Mask

Chesterton, Man and Mask

Chesterton, Man and Mask

Chesterton, Man and Mask

Excerpt

Though he is supposed to have indulged beyond discretion in paradox, Gilbert Chesterton is normally described in the same few platitudes. Those who admire him assume, with no apparent difficulty, that he possessed some preternatural goodness which kept him from trial, error, and the heartbreaking irrelevancies that frustrate human endeavor. Hints of this legend haunt the principal work on Chesterton, Maisie Ward's, which suggests at times the older style of hagiography. And there are many entirely uncritical encomia, books with titles like The Evangel of G. K. Chesterton, The Wild Knight of Battersea, The Laughing Prophet: The Seven Virtues of G. K. Chesterton, The Innocence of G. K. Chesterton.

Those who dismiss Chesterton as a negligible figure do it, frequently, for the same reasons that attract his admirers. They, too, feel that he was unaware of contradiction and complexity, that his life was somehow unclouded by doubt, that his facility and optimism were made possible by a kind of stupid serenity. We must grant at least some evidence for this kind of argument. Chesterton said he thought of life as a toy theater; he was tempted to substitute cardboard heroes for the more awe-inspiring vision of man as a divided being. His style seems, at times, to run and glitter because it encounters no obstacles and is stilled near no depths. He did not, apparently, have any development in wisdom; almost everyone agrees that he merely repeated the first words he gave the public. His optimism seems monochromatic, ignorant of death, evil, sex, and the serious problems that defeat man or call forth greatness. The man who played Johnson and Tony Weller in popular masquerades, who appears as "Immenso Chapernoon" inShaw Domesticity of Franklyn Barnabas, who is . . .

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