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David Paul Deavel

Chesterton's Return

How GKC subverts the subversives.

A prophet is never welcome in his own hometown. For a long time after the tumult of the Sixties, G. K. Chesterton's writings seemed to have lost a welcome anywhere, except, perhaps, among the detective fiction enthusiasts who have kept the Father Brown tales in circulation continuously on both sides of the Atlantic. According to Denis J. Conlon, an English literary scholar who has specialized in Chesterton for many years, much of Chesterton's work is still out of print and hard-to-get in his own merry England. A friend of mine studying in Rome a few years ago told me that the English and Irish Catholic seminarians he met almost universally regarded Chesterton a pre-modern, pre-Vatican II embarrassment. The situation was about the same in America for a long time. As of 1985 there were probably fewer than ten of Chesterton's books in print, and those were, aside from his detective fiction, mostly published by small and often obscure Catholic presses.

The situation was bound to change, however, as this particular prophet still had his faithful remnant, about thirty-five of whom (at most) met throughout the Eighties and early Nineties in Milwaukee every year and exchanged news and views in a little rag called the Midwest Chesterton News. On the more scholarly side, Ian Boyd, a priest and literary scholar, had since 1974 been running the Chesterton Review, a literary quarterly that printed forgotten pieces by Chesterton as well as scholarly essays on his life, thought, and interlocutors. Ignatius Press, a small but growing outfit run by Joseph Fessio, SJ (one of Joseph Ratzinger's doctoral students), decided to publish a collected works with scholarly introductions and footnotes that will eventually number roughly 50 volumes. And newly emerging publications like Crisis, New Oxford Review, and First Things quoted Chesterton incessantly and sometimes ran articles about him. He even began popping up in Christianity Today, where he had fans in Philip Yancey and Charles Colson. ...

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