Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Fiction of G. K. Chesterton

G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

For a long time now I've been trying to collect all the miscellaneous fiction of G. K. Chesterton. I was brought up on the Father Brown stories, and read The Man Who Was Thursday and The Napoleon of Notting Hill when I was a teenager. Beyond that, there seemed to be a bewildering variety of other books and collections I knew nothing at all about.

"Telle est la vie des hommes," as Marcel Pagnol puts it in Le Château de ma mère: "such is the life of bibliophiles." Gradually I chipped away at my list, until I realised recently that I actually now owned all the items on it.

So for the past few weeks I've been sitting around enjoying the ridiculous antics of some of Chesterton's less likely heroes: the crime-solving poet Gabriel Gale of The Poet and the Lunatics, the terrifying Innocent Smith of Manalive, the insouciant Horne Fisher of The Man Who Knew too Much - all the way up to the last of his heroes, the paradoxical Mr. Pond.

I don't think there's much doubt that the best of them come from the epoch of the Edwardian swoon, before the First World War came along to bust the whole of the settled order apart. He wrote a great deal afterwards, too, but there's a cranky, polemical tone to a lot of it, unfortunately.

One also finds it increasingly difficult to tolerate his blatant anti-semitism and the rather smug religiosity which became ever more prominent after his conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1922.

Martin Gardner: The Annotated Thursday (1908 / 1999)

So why read a bunch of books by a cranky old antisemite? Put like that, it's a bit difficult to explain, really. But I defy anyone to start reading The Man Who Was Thursday and then put it down again without feeling an irresistible urge to follow his characters through their various mad antics.

He was a superb writer, I'm afraid - though certainly he did, at times, write too much and too fast. How does W. H. Auden put it?
Time that is intolerant
Of the brave and the innocent,
And indifferent in a week
To a beautiful physique,

Worships language and forgives
Everyone by whom it lives;
Pardons cowardice, conceit,
Lays its honours at their feet.

Time that with this strange excuse
Pardoned Kipling and his views,
And will pardon Paul Claudel,
Pardons him for writing well.
It's true that the person referred to in these verses is actually W. B. Yeats, and that Auden subsequently cut these three stanzas out of his famous elegy for the Irish poet, but I think they could be said to apply pretty well to G. K. Chesterton.

In any case, let's begin with a list of all his actual works of fiction:

E. H. Mills: G. K. C. (1909)

Gilbert Keith Chesterton

  1. The Napoleon of Notting Hill (1904) - novel.
  2. The Club of Queer Trades (1905) - linked stories.
  3. The Man Who was Thursday: A Nightmare (1908) - novel.
  4. The Ball and the Cross (1910) - novel.
  5. The Innocence of Father Brown (1911) - linked stories.
  6. Manalive (1912) - novel.
  7. The Flying Inn (1914) - novel.
  8. The Wisdom of Father Brown (1914) - linked stories.
  9. The Man Who Knew Too Much and Other Stories (1922) - linked stories.
  10. Tales of the Long Bow. London: Cassell & Company Ltd., 1925) - linked stories.
  11. The Incredulity of Father Brown (1926) - linked stories.
  12. The Secret of Father Brown (1927) - linked stories.
  13. The Return of Don Quixote (1927) - novel.
  14. The Sword of Wood (1928) - short story.
  15. The Father Brown Omnibus (1929) - linked stories.
  16. The Poet and the Lunatics: Episodes in the Life of Gabriel Gale (1929) - linked stories.
  17. Four Faultless Felons (1930) - linked stories.
  18. The Scandal of Father Brown (1935) - linked stories.
  19. The Paradoxes of Mr. Pond (1937) - linked stories.

To break it down a little, there are five volumes of Father Brown stories (together with three extra, uncollected stories); six novels, and six (or seven, depending on how you count) volumes of more-or-less linked short stories.

In the somewhat daunting array of volumes (37 to date) which go to make up Ignatius Press's edition of The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton, no fewer than six (with, presumably, a seventh still to come) are devoted solely to fiction.

Here's a list of the volumes that have appeared since the series started in 1986:

The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton. 37 vols. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986-2011.
  1. Orthodoxy / Heretics / Blatchford Controversies
  2. St. Francis of Assisi / The Everlasting Man / St. Thomas Aquinas
  3. The Catholic Church and Conversion / The Thing: Why I am a Catholic / The Way of the Cross / The Well and the Shallows - and others
  4. What's Wrong with the World / Superstition of Divorce / Eugenics and Other Evils – and others
  5. The Outline of Sanity / The End of The Armistice / The Appetite of Tyranny / Utopia of Usurers – and others
  6. The Man Who Was Thursday / The Club of Queer Trades / The Napoleon of Notting Hill, ed. Denis J. Conlon (1991)
  7. The Ball and the Cross / Manalive / The Flying Inn, ed. Iain T. Benson (2004)
  8. The Return of Don Quixote / Tales of the Long Bow / The Man Who Knew Too Much, ed. George Marlin (1999)
  9. [The Poet and the Lunatics / Four Faultless Felons / The Paradoxes of Mr. Pond] (?)
  10. Collected Poetry, 3 vols, ed. Aidan Mackey & Denis J. Conlon (1994, 2008 & 2010)
  11. Collected Plays and Chesterton on Shaw, ed. Denis J. Conlon (1989)
  12. Father Brown Stories, Part 1 - The Innocence of Father Brown / The Wisdom of Father Brown / The Donnington Affair, ed. John Peterson (2005)
  13. Father Brown Stories, Part 2 - The Incredulity of Father Brown / The Secret of Father Brown / The Scandal of Father Brown / The Vampire of the Village / The Mask of Midas, ed. John Peterson (2006)
  14. Short Stories, Fairy Tales, Mystery Stories – Illustrations, ed. Denis J. Conlon (1993)
  15. Chesterton on Dickens, ed. Denis J. Conlon (1993)
  16. The Autobiography of G. K. Chesterton (1988)
  17. [ - ] (?)
  18. Thomas Carlyle / Leo Tolstoy / Robert Louis Stevenson / Chaucer, ed. Denis J. Conlon (1993)
  19. [ - ] (?)
  20. Christendom in Dublin / Irish Impressions / The New Jerusalem / A Short History of England
  21. What I Saw in America / The Resurrection of Rome / Sidelights
  22. [ - ] (?)
  23. [ - ] (?)
  24. [ - ] (?)
  25. [ - ] (?)
  26. [ - ] (?)
  27. Illustrated London News, 1905-1907 (1986)
  28. Illustrated London News, 1908-1910 (1987)
  29. Illustrated London News, 1911-1913 (1988)
  30. Illustrated London News, 1914-1916 (1988)
  31. Illustrated London News, 1917-1919 (1989)
  32. Illustrated London News, 1920-1922 (1989)
  33. Illustrated London News, 1923-1925 (1990)
  34. Illustrated London News, 1926-1928 (1991)
  35. Illustrated London News, 1929-1931 (1991)
  36. Illustrated London News, 1932-1934 (2011)
  37. Illustrated London News, 1935-1936 / Subject Index (2012)

Mind you, I suppose there will always be those who rate him highest as a poet - and certainly he had an amazing facility for turning out stirring verse at the drop of a hat - or as an essayist and polemicist. For the most part, though, it's his novels and stories which seem most likely to carry on his name.

Neil Gaiman is probably more directly influenced by Chesterton than most modern fantasy writers (witness the panels above, from his immensely influential Sandman comic), but actually his oblique and paradoxical way of looking at things has had a huge effect on detective fiction as well. Father Brown alone must be responsible for a huge number of quirky amateur investigators, more expert in human psychology than in police procedure.

Actually, the more closely you look, the more pervasive he seems to be - in movies and television as well as writers as disparate as Kingsley Amis (who edited a selection of his stories in the 1970s); Ursula Le Guin (who followed his lead in such fantasies as Threshold (1980) - The Beginning Place in America); and - of course - Ray Bradbury, Fritz Leiber, Stephen King, Peter Straub, and a host of other writers who inhabit that debatable border land between the prosaic everyday and the uncanny and marvellous.

I'll conclude, then, with a list of my own Chestertoniana:

    Poetry & Plays:

  1. Magic: A Fantastic Comedy. 1913. The New Adephi Library. London: martin Secker (Ltd.), 1928.

  2. Wine, Water & Song: Poems. 1915. Illustrated by Sillince. Introduction by L. A. G. Strong. London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1945.

  3. Poems. London: Burns Oates & Washbourne Ltd., 1923.

  4. The Collected Poems. 1927. London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1954.

  5. Essays and Poems. Ed. Wilfrid Sheed. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1958.

  6. Collected Nonsense and Light Verse. Ed. Marie Smith. 1987. Methuen Humour Classics. London: Methuen, 1988.

  7. Collected Poems, Part I. The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton, Vol. 10 (i). Ed. Aidan Mackey. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1994.

  8. Collected Poetry, Part II. The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton, Vol. 10 (ii). Ed. Denis J. Conlon. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2008.

  9. Collected Poetry, Part III. The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton, Vol. 10 (iii). Ed. Denis J. Conlon. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010.

  10. Fiction:

  11. The Napoleon of Notting Hill. 1904. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1946.

  12. The Club of Queer Trades. 1905. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1946.

  13. The Man Who was Thursday: A Nightmare. 1908. Penguin Modern Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974.

  14. The Annotated Thursday: G. K. Chesterton’s Masterpiece The Man Who Was Thursday. 1908. Ed. Martin Gardner. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999.

  15. The Ball and the Cross. London: Wells Gardner, Darton & Co., Ltd., 1910.

  16. Manalive. 1912. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1947.

  17. The Flying Inn. 1914. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1958.

  18. The Man Who Knew Too Much and Other Stories. 1922. London: Cassell & Company Ltd., 1923.

  19. Tales of the Long Bow. London: Cassell & Company Ltd., 1925.

  20. The Return of Don Quixote. 1927. G. K. Chesterton Reprint Series, 7. London: Darwen Finlayson, 1963.

  21. The Poet and the Lunatics: Episodes in the Life of Gabriel Gale. 1929. G. K. Chesterton Reprint Series, 5. London: Darwen Finlayson, 1962.

  22. The Father Brown Stories: The Innocence of Father Brown; The Wisdom of Father Brown; The Incredulity of Father Brown; The Secret of Father Brown; The Scandal of Father Brown & The Vampire of the Village. 1911, 1914, 1926, 1927, 1929, 1935, & 1936. London: Cassell & Company Ltd., 1974.

  23. Four Faultless Felons. 1930. G. K. Chesterton Reprint Series, 4. A Delta Book. Beaconsfield: Darwen Finlayson, 1964.

  24. A G. K. Chesterton Omnibus: The Napoleon of Notting Hill; The Man Who was Thursday; The Flying Inn. 1904, 1908, 1914, & 1932. London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1958.

  25. Stories, Essays and Poems. 1935. Introduction by Maisie Ward. 1957. Everyman’s Library, 1913. London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1965.

  26. The Paradoxes of Mr. Pond. 1937. London: Cassell & Company Ltd., n.d.

  27. Selected Stories. Ed. Kingsley Amis. London: Faber, 1972.

  28. Short Stories, Fairy Tales, Mystery Stories – Illustrations. The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton, Vol. 14. Ed. Denis J. Conlon. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993.

  29. Non-Fiction:

  30. The Defendant. 1902. The Wayfarer’s Library. 1914. London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1922.

  31. Robert Browning. 1903. English Men of Letters. London: Macmillan & Co, Limited, 1905.

  32. Charles Dickens. 1906. London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1919.

  33. George Bernard Shaw. 1909. Guild Books, 253. London: The British Publishers Guild Ltd. / John Lane, the Bodley Head, 1949.

  34. Tremendous Trifles. 1909. London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1920.

  35. William Blake. The Popular Library of Art. London: Duckworth & Co. / New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., [1910].

  36. Criticisms and Appreciations of Charles Dickens’ Works. London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd. / New York: E. P. Dutton & Co. Inc., 1911.

  37. The Victorian Age in Literature. Home University Library of Modern Knowledge. London: Williams & Norgate, / New York: Henry Holt and Company, [1913].

  38. Orthodoxy. London: John Lane, The Bodley Head / New York: John Lane Company, 1915.

  39. A Short History of England. 1917. Phoenix Library. London: Chatto and Windus, 1938.

  40. The Uses of Adversity: A Book of Essays. London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1920.

  41. The Everlasting Man. 1925. People’s Library Edition. London: Hodder and Stoughton Limited, 1927.

  42. The Thing. 1929. London: Sheed & Ward, 1946.

  43. Chaucer. 1932. London: Faber, 1965.

  44. St. Thomas Aquinas. London: Hodder and Stoughton Limited, 1933.

  45. Autobiography. 1936. A Grey Arrow. London: Arrow Books, 1959.

  46. Secondary:
  47. Ward, Maisie. Gilbert Keith Chesterton. 1944. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1958.

J. L. Carstairs: A Chestertonian Still Life

Monday, September 10, 2018

Classic Ghost Story Writers: Michael Cox

Jerry Bauer: Michael Cox (1948-2009)

Admittedly this is rather a strange follow-up to Sheridan Le Fanu, but Michael Cox gets the nod because he's such an inspiration to nerdy bookworms everywhere.

In one of those classic don't-say-it's-over-till-it's-over turn-ups for the books, Cox published his first novel in 2006, in his late fifties, after a lifetime of compiling anthologies and chronologies and other humble aids to readers, only to find it a runaway success, sold to its eventual publisher John Murray at auction for £430,000!

Is The Meaning of Night actually any good? Well, perhaps not in the absolute sense, but it's a very competent and entertaining pastiche of High Victorian Sensation Gothic, not up to the mark of Wilkie Collins or Le Fanu at their best, but clearly the fruit of passionate adoration of their works.

I suppose my main problem with it is its hero, who veers from amoral Poe-like maniac ("William Wilson") to moony lover with scant consistency. Nor can I quite see why his aristocratic ambitions are of such great interest to so many of the people he meets (a criticism which applies even more sharply to its sequel, The Glass of Time).

I do in many ways prefer this second novel, though: Esperanza Gorst is a far more attractive and sprightly protagonist than her whining papa - though her taste in men is a little difficult to fathom (with the best will in the world, Cox is unable to make her ghastly pompous cousin Perseus seem in the slightest degree plausible as a love interest).

The great thing is, after editing all of those books of other people's work (including a very interesting biography of M. R. James), Cox finally nerved himself up to enter the arena himself. Then, tragically, he died of cancer a couple of years later.

Mind you, he credited his diagnosis with giving him the incentive to finish his long-meditated fiction project. Without it he might well have continued to pile up odd pages without ever finishing either book. However you take it, I think it has to be seen as a very encouraging story for all of those half-completed novels languishing in so many desk drawers. Never say die! Even without the worldwide success and the hugely swollen pre-publication price, Cox would still be a winner.

Seeing how others did it failed to intimidate him: he put himself out there, and his two books bid fair to become minor classics in their own right! Nor is his work as an editor and anthologist likely to be forgotten, either.

The list of his works below is not exhaustive - there are many anthologies missing: of golden age detective stories, thrillers, and a variety of other genres - but it does include all of the really significant highlights in his career as a ghost story writer and fancier (I hope):

Eiko Ishioka: Victorian Gothic Lolita (1983)

Michael Andrew Cox (1948-2009)