G.K. Chesterton’s Philosophy, Madness, and Humor in His Novels, The Napolean of Notting Hill and Manalive: As Compared to Edwardian Culture
Ipatia Apostolides, B.A., M.F.A.
October 13, 2020
Although Gilbert Keith Chesterton was born 1874 in Kensington, London, during the Victorian period, he was considered an Edwardian author. His extensive writing began during King Edward VII’s reign (1901-1910) and beyond. England’s society, influenced by King Edward VII’s modern views, experienced social change - from the prim and proper Victorian age to the looser Edwardian age - along with industrialization, science vs religion (Darwin’s evolution), and women suffragettes. These changes seemed to jar with Chesterton’s conservative and moral principles; he favored past traditions, family life, and marriage. According to Chesterton’s friend, Hilaire Belloc (1936), the Edwardian environment, in essence, was hostile to the free family, and this continued even up to the year of Chesterton’s death; during Chesterton’s time, England was both an aristocratic state and anti-Catholic, and it had more respect for societies of Protestant culture; it was also a commercial society where wealth was important.
Novelists during that time, like Joseph Conrad (Heart of Darkness), D.H. Lawrence (Sons & Lovers), E.M. Forster (Howard’s End), Ford Maddox Ford (The Good Soldier) and Virginia Woolf (The Voyage Out), wrote stories that depicted decadent Imperialistic England with its aristocrats and their scandals, and where adulterous affairs and suicide were common themes. However, Chesterton’s stories were a different breed. Dubbed “the prince of paradox”, Chesterton’s fiction, such as the novels Manalive (Chesterton, 1912) and The Napoleon of Notting Hill (Chesterton, 1904), were filled with paradox, satire, and humor. His family life and happy childhood played a large part in influencing his archetypical figures in his stories, and he essentially remained a child all his life; where a child may be open to possibilities and accept fantasy just as easily as it accepts reality. He even states this in his autobiography:
“I believe in prolonging childhood…and have partly
preserved out of childhood, a certain romance of receptiveness” –
This thinking could be seen as madness in an adult, and Chesterton, having applied both fantasy and reality in his stories, has often been referred to as mad. Yet I believe he was not mad, but an artist and a genius in his own right, drawing upon his solipsism to battle the evils of the modern Edwardian world.
This paper will first explore Chesterton’s life, his philosophy, madness, and humor and then address these concepts in his two novels, The Napolean of Notting Hill and Manalive, and show how diametrically opposed his novels were to the Edwardian culture.
Gilbert Keith Chesterton was born May 29, 1874 in Kensington, London, to Marie Louise and Edward Chesterton. In his autobiography, Chesterton reflects on his mother’s side of the family consisting of a French soldier and Scottish ancestors, while his father’s side were all English (Chesterton, 1937). He also refers to his childhood as being mostly happy, yet he and his brother Cecil argued constantly, and he lost his brother during the Great War; also, Chesterton’s little sister died after falling off a rocking horse when he was a child (p. 35). These tragic happenings in the family were noted in his autobiography but did not appear to affect his humorous writing.
Chesterton didn’t learn to read until his ninth year (Kimball, 2011), yet he made up for it later in life, producing more than 100 books, 5,000 essays, and other literary works. As a child, he and his father, a successful real estate agent, performed fairy tales in a toy theater in their Kensington home, and this was a habit that he continued into adulthood (p. 29). These fairy tales provided a moral universe that stayed with him.
This childlike way of thinking not only influenced his stories, but also those around him. A year after The Napoleon of Notting Hill was published, Louis Napoleon Parker organized the Sherborne pageant which was a show of opposition to “the utilitarian demands of commercial modernity” and was very similar to the pageant in the novel (Shallcross, 2020). Chesterton also applied this pageant theme years later to his metaphysical “pageant of creation” in his next novel The Man Who Was Thursday (Chesterton, 1908).
After graduating from St. Paul’s School, Chesterton attended the UCL Slade School of Fine Art which is the art school of University College London. Besides art, he also attended classes in literature but did not receive any degree (G.K. Chesterton, 2020). In 1895, at the age of 21, he worked for the publisher Redway for a year; and then worked for T. Fisher Unwin, another publisher, developing his journalistic skills. By 1900, he had made a name for himself in the literary world. Besides his journalism, he had published two volumes of poems (Kimball, 2011).
He married Frances Blogg in 1901; she was five years older than him and also an author, and she helped manage his life and writing. Considered an eccentric, on his wedding day, Chesterton took his bride to a dairy farm to drink milk where he used to go with his mother, and then he stopped at a shop to buy a gun in order to protect his wife (Chesterton, 1937). However, she “couldn’t resign to the physical realities of marriage” (Kimball, 2011); and even though they both wanted children, they could not have any. He remained faithful to her the rest of his life.
In 1902, the Daily News hired him to write weekly opinion columns. In 1906, The Illustrated London News hired him and he stayed there for thirty years, writing a weekly column. His prolific literary career included journalism, novels, short stories, poetry, essays and apologetics.
According to Kelly (1942), G.K. Chesterton’s intellectual and moral life directed much of his writing, and in Fancies Versus Fads (1923), he states: “I thought that all the wit and wisdom of the world was banded together to slander and depress the world, and in becoming an optimist I had the feeling of becoming an outlaw” (as cited in Kelly, 1942). Here, he alludes to an important dichotomy that represents his life as compared to the rest of Edwardian society; he was an optimist in a pessimistic society.
During Chesterton’s attendance at London’s Slade School of Art, he struggled with solipsism, where his “eyes were turned inwards rather than outwards” and where he believed more in his mental pictures and reality than in Impressionism and rationalism, which represented the subjectivism of the world (Isley, 2010). He had a difficult time assimilating to the changes that the external world had to offer him. This inward focus seemed to stay with him the rest of his life.
His philosophy, as explained by Kelly (1942) was shaped by: “Tradition, authority, the instincts of childhood, homely common sense, a vast reading, a sense of the individual value of man, a blessed understanding of the poor, an intelligence as fine, vigorous and balanced as any of his generation, sincerity, true humility…” (p.86). Chesterton also believed that humor came from having a sense of humility (Chesterton, 1937).
In addition, the exuberant Chesterton asserted that he was still a Victorian and supported its virtues: “a rich sense of romance, a passionate desire to make the love of man and woman once more what it was in Eden, a strong sense of the absolute necessity of some significance of life” (Eaker, 1959), and he believed that “mere existence is extraordinary enough to be exciting” (p.153).
Eaker (1959) also posits that Chesterton opposed the socialism of Shaw and Wells and the capitalism of modern industry, and in its place, he offered the theory of “distributism” where each person is guaranteed rights of property and is given some ground “in which he can dig” (p.153). Chesterton’s preference of small land holdings, as compared to large land that has absorbed the small land, appears in his novel The Napoleon of Notting Hill where the newly appointed king wants to revert back to old times and divide the large city into its original smaller boroughs.
Chesterton, a lay theologian, also studied Christianity and discovered that “it took account of all the elements of the problem, that it did not simplify artificially, that it found place for good and bad, for complexity and simplicity, for pessimism and optimism, for realism and idealism, for matter and spirit, for freedom and determination” (p.96). To him, Christianity was the “philosophy of sanity” (p.23), and in 1922, he converted to the Catholic faith. His popular Father Brown short stories were about a Roman Catholic priest who, as an amateur detective, solved mysteries. According to Kelly (1942), there was no man of letters during his time who was so “consistently interested in fundamentals” (p.84).
While a student at the Slade School of Art, Chesterton experienced a “period of madness” (Schwartz, 1996), and this appeared in his autobiography. He thought his breakdown represented a microcosm of “a greater cultural collapse” (p.23). As a consequence, a life-long interest of his was the theme of madness and sanity, and according to Schwartz (1996), it became “the chief trope of his writing” (p.23). In Chesterton’s Autobiography (1937), sanity included three elements: externality, commonality, and Christian orthodoxy (cited in Isley, 2010). He also stated,
“My madness, which was considerable, was wholly within. But that madness
was more and more moving in the direction of some vague and visionary revolt
against the prosaic flatness of a nineteenth century city and civilization” (p. 137).
English humor was a strong trait in Chesterton’s novels. Both Geoffrey Chaucer and Charles Dickens’s writing often used humor and were said to have influenced Chesterton (Chesterton, 1937). The prolific author and poet, Hilaire Belloc, wrote that English humor was a “by-product of the vivid, exaggerated, and therefore most powerful English visual imagination” (Belloc, 1936). In addition, he said this about Chesterton’s humor: “Here he was in the very centre of the national spirit. Here he was understood and accepted, as in no other thing” (p.375).
In an essay on humor that was written three months before his death and posthumously published in 1964 by Dorothy Collins (Chesterton, 1964), Chesterton says this about humor:
“In any case, humour is the very foundation of our European literature, which alone is quite sufficiently a part of ourselves…a schoolboy can see it in such scenes of Aristophanes as that in which the dead man sits up in indignation at having to pay the toll of the Styx…” (Chesterton, 1964).
Humor is also tied into madness and fairy tales, where anything goes, and worlds are turned upside down. Chesterton was also called the “prince of paradox” because he showed his readers that life was full of contradictions which also carried truths.
The Edwardian era, under the reign of Edward VII, was known for its richness and fashion. The English aristocrats held house parties and banquets. A great number of Edwardian era novelists slowly abandoned the moral fabric of the conservative Victorian period and explored themes of Imperialism, cannibalism, sexuality, immorality, suicide, and death. Some Edwardian novels primarily focused on the lives of the wealthy, such as seen in The Good Soldier and The Voyage Out. Howard’s End, on the other hand, also included the dichotomy of the rich and the poor. God didn’t appear to be a part of their lives, either, and He was rarely mentioned in Edwardian fiction. Humor was also not an inherent part of their writing as it was in G.K. Chesterton’s writing. Chesterton’s vision was broader and more fundamental. Instead of focusing on the conforming views of modern Edwardian society, he chose the traditions of the past, like the pageants from the time of Chaucer (Chesterton, 1904), as well as his philosophy, Christianity, optimism, and humor.
The Napoleon of Notting Hill
Chesterton’s first novel, The Napoleon of Notting Hill (Chesterton, 1904), is set in the 1980s in London. This futuristic tale is not a science fiction story, for it does not take into account any future technological changes, but is a satirical fantasia (Shallcross, 2020). It assumes that nothing has changed in England since 1904. It has been described by Eaker (1959) as Chesterton’s greatest fable, “where romance and glory are found in the tiniest village or the meanest suburb” (p.153).
Chesterton’s introduction gives us not only a philosophical foundation of the reason why nothing has changed, but presents it in an absurd, farcical manner that is humorous and entertaining at the same time. He believes that the “human race has been playing at children’s games from the beginning, and will probably do it until the end” (p. 13). In one of the games, “Cheat the Prophet” the players listen to the prophets and then when they die, bury them and “go and do something else” (p. 13). This ties into Kimball’s (2011) claim that Chesterton’s childhood of performing fairy tales in his home theater with his father lasted into his adulthood.
Everything eighty years later is the same as in 1904, except that people had “lost their faith in revolutions” but believed in “Evolution” which was “Nature’s revolutions” (p. 22), and no one cared how a king was made. Anyone could become king, which immediately opens up a Pandora’s Box of endless possibilities. Who would the next king be? The ludicrous nature of this story continues with two government workers walking in front of a short government official in London, and their coattails appear to him as “two black dragons were looking at him with evil eyes” (p.24). This vivid imagery and metaphor is humorous and childlike at the same time. One would think that this is a children’s book, but it is not. The short government official is Auberon Quin, and he likes humor very much. He is so short, that he has often been mistaken for a boy whenever he entered a room of strangers. This reference to a boy’s height embodies the image of a child and suggests that this person not only looks like a child but thinks like a child.
According to Isley (2010), in order to understand how Chesterton thinks, one should look at the recurring images in his writing. The use of color is strongly evident in this novel. The brief entrance of Del Fuego, the proud ex-President of Nicaragua, introduced as a man dressed in a military uniform of brilliant green, who chose yellow and spilled blood on a rag to represent the yellow and red colors of his flag, caught my attention. The color of green is also Innocent Smith’s color of clothing in Chesterton’s Manalive (Chesterton, 1912). Green tends to symbolize nature and tranquility. Nicaragua had severed its ties from England since 1860, and yet it is now the 1980s.
In his conversation with Barker, Del Fuego states, “But Nicaragua is not dead. Nicaragua is an idea” (p. 37), and Barker counters with, “We moderns believe in a great cosmopolitan civilization, one which shall include all the talents of the absorbed people-” (p. 40). This contradicts Chesterton’s philosophy of “small is better.” Del Fuego, who represents Chesterton, goes on to explain that when nations want to unite and become one (Imperialism), the small nation loses its identity. After he makes his point, Del Fuego dies a short time later.
Humor is rampant here. Auberon Quin, while capering about and “putting his head between his legs and making a noise like a cow” (p.57) is chosen to be king, which is a ridiculous moment. How could anyone take this childlike man seriously? It’s as if Chesterton took the court jester and converted him to king. King Auberon says this about his thoughts on humor, “one should be funny in public, and solemn in private” (p. 67).
Yet, the fact that he becomes king is enough for people to follow what he decrees. This satirical jab at King Edward VII is too obvious to ignore. King Auberon speaks at The Society for the Recovery of London Antiquities about bringing “ a keener sense of local patriotism in the various municipalities of London” (p.75). King Auberon wants to divide London back into its ancient boroughs and does this through forming The Charter of the Cities, which causes confusion at first. He wants each borough to have alarm bells (tocsins), city guards, and walls, and these changes include halberdiers who carry medieval poles. He also wants the provosts to wear colored uniforms for their borough.
Ten years pass, and young Adam Wayne becomes the provost of Notting Hill replacing the previous provost, a businessman, who had died. This causes problems because during these ten years, a road going through Notting Hill had been in the process of being designed, and now Adam Wayne does not want that road passing through his borough.
Auberon Quin had met Adam Wayne ten years earlier, when he was a child, thrusting his sword into this side. This childlike tendency to play with the sword is carried into adulthood. Now a young man and provost of his own borough, Adam Wayne takes his role seriously and carries a sword to defend his turf. He declares war upon those wanting to build the road through Notting Hill and goes from shopkeeper to shopkeeper in his borough, looking for help. The one that helps him is Turnbull who owns the toy shop. As a hobby, he had been studying wars, but the last one was the Nicaraguan war fifteen years ago. Trumbull told Wayne that there had been no wars since then because “The big Powers of the world, having swallowed up all the small ones, came to that confounded agreement, and there was no more war” (p. 157). Again, this is a reference to Imperialism, a recurring theme in this tale.
Adam Wayne makes Turnbull his Commander-in-Chief after he finds out that Turnbull had already worked on a plan to defend the town. This allegorical twist in the story is humorous. Turnbull pays forty children to come to the spot with hansom cabs in order to make a barricade which will be useful during the battle. The fact that children are used in this battle also provides a lighthearted aspect to the story.
Afterwards, Adam Wayne reflects on Turnbull and his philosophy: “Turnbull enjoyed it partly as a joke, even more perhaps as a reversion from the things he hated – modernity and monotony and civilization” (p. 162). This philosophy is similar to Chesterton’s, and one might think that Chesterton identified with the toymaker. Another interesting angle is that Chesterton never had children, but he liked children very much. It was almost as if he were writing stories for the children of the world, entertaining them as his father had spent time playing with him.
Like Napoleon, Adam Wayne fights to defend his borough of Notting Hill when other Provosts want to build the road through his part of town. His clever modes of battle include turning off the lamps at night so his enemies could not see; another one was to pour water over their heads from the water tower.
After many years go by, another battle occurs and he and King Auberon, who abdicates his throne in order to join him, die. When they are resurrected, Auberon Quin reveals to Adam Wayne that his idea of dividing the city into boroughs was only a joke. But Wayne comes back and tells him:
“You and I, Auberon Quin, have both of us throughout our lives been again and again called mad. And we are mad. We are mad, because we are not two men but one man. We are mad, because we are two lobes of the same brain, and that brain has been cloven in two” (p. 299).
Wayne goes on to say that they are opposites, like a man and woman, aiming at the same thing. Each one was different and yet the same. Again, the reference to being mad is apparent here, and Chesterton is not afraid to say so.
Eight years later, Chesterton published another humorous novel Manalive (Chesterton, 1912). The first half of the novel, The Enigma of Smith, focuses on Innocent Smith. Inglewood, who is residing in Beacon House, a boarding house in London, recalls Smith during his conversation with two other male boarders, Michael Moon and Dr. Warner; Inglewood says “I was shocked to learn that poor Smith had gone off his head” and he goes on to validate this through a telegram he had received from Smith a year ago stating “Man found alive with two legs;” this is also confirmed by Dr. Warner’s statement “The message is clearly insane” because all men have two legs (Chesterton, 1912, p. 22). He also states, “insanity is generally uncurable” and is countered by Michael Moon’s response “So is sanity.” Chesterton is well known for quips like these.
Thus, begins Chesterton’s identification with Smith’s alleged “insanity,” as Chesterton himself had had a bout of madness while in school (Schwartz, 1996). This recurring theme sets the stage for light-hearted reading that at first appears not to be taken seriously, and yet there are plenty of thought-provoking ideas to consider, such as what constitutes madness, and because someone thinks differently could they be criminal?
As previously stated, Chesterton liked to use humor in his novels. Innocent Smith, in Manalive (Chesterton, 1912), makes his entrance at the boarding house on a windy day, chasing his hat up a tree, and then hanging from the tree like a monkey. This comical pose is only a glimpse of Chesterton’s humor in the story. Smith was also a massive man with “vast shoulders,” and a “prodigy of a big man in green” and yet he is able to leap “the wall like a green grasshopper,” and this description of such a large man being so agile appears ridiculously funny. Large men don’t jump walls, they usually go around them or have someone help them up the wall. They don’t climb trees, because the branches might break from their heavy weight. So here, Chesterton is defying the image of a “massive” man by coupling it with an athletic and agile man, and thus producing humor. This “massive” man could very well be that of the author himself. Chesterton was known to be six feet four inches tall and weighed close to 300 pounds. He previously used this massive and agile image of himself in the character of Sunday in The Man Who Was Thursday (Chesterton, 1908). Could it be that what was impossible for him to do in real life, he imagined in his stories?
The name of “Innocent Smith” also is worthy of attention. It is nowhere close to a name reminiscent of madness, but rather that of a baby. The word “innocent” reminds one of a baby’s character, naïve and harmless, and the word “Smith” reminds one of a common name, in other words, nothing special. When Inglewood recognizes Smith and asks him “Is your name Smith?” the response he gets makes him think of a “speech of a new-born babe accepting a name than of a grown-up man admitting one” (p. 43).
Smith decides to become a lodger at the boarding house. Because of Smith’s unorthodox ways, he starts bringing the boarders at Beacon House together. They feel as if they are celebrating their birthdays and go about in “high spirits,” elaborating on their hobbies. For years, the five boarders, three men and two women, had avoided each other, but when Smith arrives, “He somehow got the company to gather and even follow (though in derision) as children gather and follow a Punch and a Judy.”
However, sinister thoughts intrude in this lighthearted story. When Inglewood sees Smith’s pistol on the attic floor, he asks him “are you afraid of burglars?” and Smith explains “I deal life out of that.” This is one of the paradoxes that is explained later in the story; by being fired upon and fearing for one’s life, one appreciates life better. After only ten hours of knowing Mary Gray, Smith proposes to her, and her wealthy friend Rosamund Hunt is frantic and seeks Michael Moon, an Irishman who also boards at Beacon House, for advice. She tells him “That maniac Smith wants to marry my friend Mary, and she- and she- doesn’t seem to mind” (p.92).
In another section, Smith is called “balmy.” Yet, his boy-like actions influence the other boarders to open up and seek each other and to propose marriage, as seen when Michael Moon proposes to Rosamund by telling her, “We have had a little nap for five years or so, but now we’re going to get married, Rosamund” (p. 93). In addition, Arthur Inglewood and Diane Duke are considering marriage.
Humor and childlike happiness sets in when the boarders Michael Moon, Rosamund Hunt, the landlady Diane Duke, and Arthur Inglewood hold hands and dance around Dr. Herbert Warner as he returns to the boarding house. Dr. Warner shouts at Inglewood “are you mad?” (p.106). He has arrived with a criminologist from America, Dr. Pym, to prove Innocent Smith’s crimes of theft, murder, and bigamy, among other things.
The story shifts to a darker mood as Dr. Warner searches for Smith in the boarding house. Smith fires a shot at him, and Dr. Warner rushes back outside shrieking “Stop that murderer there!”(p.113) and this is followed by two shots that pierce his hat. Smith comes outside holding the smoking pistol, and laughing, surrenders it to his friend Inglewood. Even this scene brings humor to something that could be dark. This is probably the strangest behavior of Smith’s that would be considered insane from an adult perspective, yet when looked at from the perspective of a child firing shots with a toy gun, it appears harmless.
The second half of the novel “The Explanations of Innocent Smith” is spent on Dr. Warner and Dr. Pym reading the evidence from hand-written notes of people who knew Innocent Smith in the past in order to prove their case that he was a criminal. It is allegorical because it tells Innocent Smith’s story within this story. It is also an opportunity for his defense.
Without defending his actions, like shooting his gun at people, Smith remains mostly in the background, listening, and the two doctors move the story forward. Michael Moon realizes that Innocent Smith has not escaped, and that he is innocent and “an allegorical practical joker” who uses his body to show his trust and innocence by not escaping. Innocent Smith is an apt title for the main character.
In Innocent Smith’s defense, a document written and signed by the Warden of Brakespeare College and Innocent Smith, reveals that Smith, as an undergraduate at Brakespeare College, after having attended Dr. Eames’ lecture, and after having done pistol practice and fencing, was feeling sullen afterwards; and he was thinking, “existence is really rotten,” and decides to visit his master and friend, Dr. Emerson Eames, the Warden at Brakespeare College, who liked to stay up late at night. When he visits Dr. Eames, he states, “And knowing you were the greatest living authority on pessimist thinkers,” but he is interrupted by Dr. Eames with “all thinkers are pessimists” (p. 209). Smith bangs his fist on the table and says, “Oh, hang the world!” and Dr. Eames goes on to say this about the world:
“Let’s give it a bad name first,” said the Professor calmly, “and then hang it.
A puppy with hydrophobia would probably struggle for life while we killed it,
but if we were kind we should kill it. So an omniscient god would put us out of
our pain. He would strike us dead” (p. 211).
Smith takes his words literally and picks up his pistol and aims it at him. He claims that he wants to put him out of his misery, just like the puppy, but Dr. Eames shouts, “Put that thing down,” and sprints for the window and balcony. He leaps from there and “hangs” on a buttress. This is a hilarious scene but at the same time, serious. With so many words, Dr. Eames tells Smith that he wants to live. But Smith wants him to first confess that there is a god, and other things, then he fires shots around him. Dr. Eames complies. Smith confesses to him afterwards that he had to do it, to prove him wrong, or to die. He saves the remaining shots and states, “I mean to keep those bullets for remaining pessimists” (p. 225). Smith continues:
“I am going to hold the pistol to the Modern Man.
But I shall not use it to kill him – only to bring him life” (p. 226)
This is clearly a message to the pessimistic world that Chesterton was living in at that time. His “pistol,” aimed at the modern world, was a symbol for his writing. According to Arthur Inglewood, who is defending Smith, Dr. Warner was shot at by Smith because when Smith asked him about his birthday, he had replied that he didn’t see that “birth was anything to rejoice about” (p.233). Smith felt compelled to use his gun the way he did with Dr. Eames, pointing it harmlessly at Dr. Warner but sending a message, loud and clear.
As the two doctors read each letter or document against Innocent Smith, they also listen to the documents for Smith’s defense, and they find out that Innocent Smith is quite innocent after all. He has never murdered anyone or stolen anything. When Rosamund Hunt tries to talk Mary Gray out of going away with Innocent Smith, Mary Gray does not change her mind. Dr. Pym also tries to convince Mary Gray about Innocent Smith by saying, “to begin with,” he said, “this man Smith is constantly attempting murder. The Warden of Brakespeare College-” and is interrupted by Mary Gray who says, “I know” (p. 131). After Rosamund Hunt calls Innocent Smith “a wicked man,” Mary Gray laughs and replies, “He is really rather naughty sometimes” (p. 133). The other boarders are not aware that Mary Gray defends Innocent Smith continually because he is her husband. It is discovered later that Mary Gray is Innocent Smith’s wife, and she happens to be the same woman whom he marries each time. They had arranged to meet at different places and to remarry. Therefore, no bigamy has occurred.
Reading this allegorical story is like watching a play in a toy theater where adults who avoided each other for years at Beacon House were “given permission” by Innocent Smith to become free, and act like children, and thus, were allowed to interact, jump, play, dance and be merry. It also allowed the reader to live vicariously through these characters and decide for themselves if Innocent Smith was truly “innocent.”
In essence, what people see before them is not what they think they see, and Chesterton proves this in his fiction. Chesterton’s childlike humor in his fiction represents Chesterton himself; it is a continual breath of fresh air in his two novels The Napoleon of Notting Hill and Manalive. He uses humor, madness, paradox and allegories in his novels to prove a point or disprove a point. He also uses color and art to add vivid images to his scenes. In addition, some of his fiction reads like a mystery, where the detective finds evidence to prove or not prove a crime as in Manalive.
Chesterton was also dogmatic and believed in God, marriage and family, and when Innocent Smith was accused of bigamy in Manalive, it is revealed that he varied his living abode and remarried his wife several times instead of being a philanderer. He was perfectly happy being married to the same woman all these years.
Yet, in Chesterton’s fiction, he never really probes deeply into the human mind (except for bouts of madness in his characters) or into complex human relations as did the other Edwardian novelists. He never explores romance and sexuality as does Paul Morels in D.H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, or writes about coming of age and finding love, as did Rachel in Virginia Woolf’s The Voyage Out. His fiction, with its broad strokes of colorful images, with its childlike characters, mad adults, and philosophical themes, and with its paradoxes and allegories, was meant to challenge the popular social change that was sweeping England. He wanted to challenge the “Modern Man” as did Innocent Smith, in seeing life differently; where money, their new god, couldn’t buy everything. By doing this, he hoped to offer them an alternative, life-sustaining freedom – to live happily and as freely as a child.
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