Somehow it would seem an affront to Gilbert Keith Chesterton, born one hundred years ago this month, to attempt anything but a cheerful salute to his memory.

Son of a Kensington estate agent, Gilbert contrived for himself a deprived background: "I regret that I have no gloomy and savage father to offer to the public gaze as the true cause of all my tragic heritage … and that I cannot do my duty as a true modern, by cursing everybody who made me whatever I am."

On the second page of his Autobiography he tells of the maternal influence upon him. His father mentioned that he had been asked to go on The Vestry (parish council). "At this my mother uttered something like a cry of pain; she said, 'Oh, Edward, don't! … We never have been respectable yet; don't let's begin now.'"

In 1887 Gilbert went to St. Paul's School, where, apart from a certain talent in handling the English language, he did not distinguish himself. He left in 1892 and for three years studied art at the famous Slade School and English literature at London University. The writer in him won (he remained a competent artist), and a toehold was established in the world of words—reviewing, publisher's dogsbody, freelance reporting. In 1900 he was on his way with publication of The Wild Knight and Other Poems. In 1901, to family misgiving, he married on a small income and boundless optimism.

Chesterton early discovered the value of paradox as "truth standing on its head to gain attention," and exploited it to such good purpose that Fleet Street and Edwardian England took notice of the young man who had strong views on literary and social criticism and a whimsical way with words. He called himself a Socialist because the only alternative was not being a Socialist, but in ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

July/August
Subscribe to CT and get one year free.
Tags:
Read These Next
Current IssueHow to Find Hope in the Humanless Economy
How to Find Hope in the Humanless Economy Subscriber Access Only
Robots could take half of our jobs in the next decade. Here’s why Christians have nothing to fear.
TrendingKay Warren: 'We Were in Marital Hell'
Kay Warren: 'We Were in Marital Hell'
Through God's work in our lives, we've beaten the odds that divorce would be the outcome of our ill-advised union.
Editor's PickFinding My ‘True Self’ As a Same-Sex Attracted Woman
Finding My ‘True Self’ As a Same-Sex Attracted Woman
In my young-adult struggle with sexual identity, both legalistic condemnation and progressive license left me floundering.
Christianity Today
"G.K. Chesterton, the Eccentric Prince of Paradox"
hide thisAccess The Archives

In the Archives

August 2001

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.