Thursday, March 31, 2016

Defiant Joy - The Life and Impact of G. K. Chesterton

"Forgiving is to pardon the unpardonable, faith is believing even in the impossible and hoping is to hope in the hopeless."

This is the first quote I read from Gilbert Keith Chesterton and I fell in love with it. It made sense to a life full of struggles and since I was in still in college when I came upon this line, it has become my guiding light when things become so murky and scary. I loved the quote so much that I used it as my signature on my personal email. It's my way of reminding myself and everyone that there's more to this life.

Fast forward to the present time... I came upon a book on G. K. Chesterton about eight months ago in a second hand bookstore. I never read any of Chesterton's works so when I saw the book I immediately took it and held it tightly lest someone would take it.

Defiant Joy The Remarkable Life & Impact of G. K. Chesterton (by Kevin Belmonte), the title alone is in itself a paradox as what most writers and Chesterton scholars would call this larger-than-life essayist, playwright, novelist, etc. So, I started on my journey on getting to know the author who has touched my life with just one quote. It so happened that I came upon this book when I was also in doubt and unsure of what the future holds for me.

So, let's get to know G.K. Chesterton...

Chesterton is an English poet, born in 1874 in London. His father was Edward Chesterton, a very gifted watercolor artist and has a deep and abiding love for literature. His mother is Marie-Louise Grosjean of Swiss-Scottish descent who Chesterton described as the cleverest woman in London.

He is described by one American writer, when he first came to America, "as voluminous figure, quite imposing when he stands up. He has cascades of grey hair above a pinkly beaming face and a rather straggly blond mustache, and eyes that seem frequently to be taking up infinity in a serious way." Exactly how he was depicted in the cover of this book.

Defiant Joy - The Life and Impact of G. K. Chesterton by iamnotabookworm!

It was said that Chesterton went through a "dark night of the soul." It was during his difficult Art School days. He was far from his friends and family and suddenly all his sources of support were gone and he was in a new school with very few people he knew. He was in a stage wherein his sense of how things are was altered with alarming speed and all of these factors combined to form a perfect storm in his life. It was in this desolation that he thought to find a way out of this pessimism. And he did. He sort of created his own mystical theory which eventually lead him to Catholicism and Christianity. It was said that he came to a point wherein he was so thankful and he needed someone to thank and thus, his journey to faith begun.

His Works

Chesterton has contributions in several fields such as poetry, apologetics, novels, detective fiction and literary criticism. He is called as the "Prince of Paradox" as what his poems, essays and writings are widely known for. His influence is mostly recognized in his apologetics for Catholicism and Christianity which he has published three great works: Heretics (1905), Orthodoxy (1908) which became very influential and is still relevant to this day. This book has influenced a lot of modern day respected writers of various denominations such as Philip Yancy (Protestant, Author of Finding God in Unexpected Places) and Garry Wills (Catholic, Author of What Jesus Meant); the third is The Everlasting Man (1925) which is said to be instrumental in C.S. Lewis' (Author, The Chronicles of Narnia) return to belief again in Christianity.

He has written a study on two most influential religious figures that has become a classic and widely known. These are Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Thomas Aquinas. It was said that Chesterton has been drawn to these two saints because in some ways they are alike.

He is called one of twentieth century's most gifted men of letters. He has written reviews on Alexander Pope, Robert Louis Stevenson, Charles Dickens, Geoffrey Chaucer, and George Bernard Shaw, which has encourage many people to revisit and enhanced the following of these writers. He has written one stage play which was very successful - Magic. One of his very popular poems is The Ballad of the White Horse. Two of his novels that are now considered classics are The Napoleon of Notting Hill and The Man Who was Thursday. He also wrote The Father Brown mysteries. Father Brown is a quintessentially English detective and become one of the most famous sleuths in literature.

Chesterton in his time was a larger-than-life figure and was admired and highly respected by many of his contemporaries, both those he shared his views with and those who do not agree with him. He is also a great influence on most widely-read writers of today like P.D. James (Author, The Children of Men) and Nathaniel Hawthorne (Author, The House of Seven Gables).

My Take on G. K. Chesterton

To me, after having read Defiant Joy, Gilbert Keith Chesterton has become more admirable and influential. Not to the point of hero-worship but a real, vulnerable and remarkable person was revealed to me. A man, like any of us, filled with doubts and has emerged enlightened and a man of faith, according to the book, Orthodoxy, which has become a widely known guide to understanding Catholicism and Christianity to many. And I would love to read it too. Admit it, for most of us, who has grown and adopted the religions of our parents, we have a lot of questions about faith and life.

Chesterton is a great example of one who has lived through our own journey to finding the purpose and meaning of life. Luckily for him, he has found his way to light and faith. As for most of us, the struggle is still real and hopefully, like Chesterton, we too will find and uncover the mystery that flagged us.

So, from here on, my quest for the works of G. K. Chesterton starts. I am going on an adventure in getting to know more of him and immersing in his works. I have no ambitions of being a Chestertonian scholar but reactions and impact to his works has intrigued and made me curious. Would they have the same effect on me? Would they help me navigate through life and its challenges better? Will I find optimism and learn defiant joy? Who knows, I might find clarity in his writings.

Praise to Kevin Belmonte for coming up with a very good book that summarizes  the life and impact of GKC. This has been a treasure for me and it has unlocked a door that will lead me to another quest- that is to be closer to GKC.

As a person who loves to travel and who in most cases find I am in my best self when traveling, here is another quote I learned from Chesterton.

There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there. The other is to walk around the whole world till we come back to the same place. 
                                 -from The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton