I’m on a quest to read the complete works of Chesterton.
A foolish errand. But even he wrote a “Defense of Rash Vows.” https://www.gutenberg.org/files/12245/12245-h/12245-h.htm…
I think I’ve read all his novels.
In graduate school, for about two years, I had to drop my Books to Read list and focus only on philosophy. This was a hard sacrifice. I gave up fiction for the first time in my life. After the pain subsided, I reintroduced Chesterton only (Librivox free audiobooks) because reading him restores my sanity. Graduate school is not a sane place. And Chesterton is cheaper (and more effective) than most therapy.
But after the novels, you get into Chesterton’s vast ouevre: essay collections, short stories, poetry, biography, literary criticism, and philosophy. Where to start?
I worked through them all. Eventually, after finishing the novels and books… I had nowhere to turn.
I started on his essay collections: Alarms and Discursions, the Defendant, Tremendous Trifles. I wasn’t super excited about these because I thought they were “second best” to his full novel or book-length works.
Then it struck me – the obvious fact – that Chesterton is an essayist. Even his best novels (Man Who Was Thursday, Ball and Cross, Manalive, etc.) are a series of short stories.
Father Brown is precisely a series of short stories.
Chesterton is a short-form writer. That’s who and what he is. Decades of journalistic writing formed him irrevocably into such. Now I see that Orthodoxy and Everlasting Man are a series of essays. It’s obvious once you see it but I didn’t before.
So now, as a matter of responsible literary criticism, I have to go back to his essay collections and judge them as his primary and preferred medium.
Alarms and Discursions. Tremendous Trifles. The Defendant. All Things Considered. These are the water in which Gilbert is the happiest fish.
Given all that – and you may freely disagree thus far – I ask myself: Which is best? As of right now, I think Tremendous Trifles is the best thing Chesterton ever wrote.
I will always cherish Man Who Was Thursday and Orthodoxy. Don’t get me wrong: they are world-class works. They light me up and restore my sanity.
But Tremendous Trifles is perhaps the most Chesterton-y piece of Chesterton I’ve come across.
It smacks you upside the head with his wisdom, humility, wit, and pithy humor. Each essay, revolving around the theme that small things are great, crashes upon the imagination like wave after wave of the ocean until you wonder why you never knew it before – and then convicts you of the answer: your pride. You did not see the greatness of small things because you (wrongly) assumed you were bigger than them.
I do hope that our separated Roman brethren will canonize Gilbert Keith, and not just because of his middle name.
Finally, I recommend to you, dear reader, the Surrender of the Cockney, which I shall be trying to apply to my life in this new season: I shall try to see my new city (Riverside) as a bumpkin would see it: with awe. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/9656/9656-h/9656-h.htm…