Matthew Lee Anderson and I are both fans of G. K. Chesterton. Since this is the case, we’d like to extend an invitation to you – our blog readers – to read and discuss with us his classic work Orthodoxy. You can download an ebook version for free (which includes Matthew’s new foreword to the book, as well as the first chapter of his book, The End of Our Exploring).
This will be our reading and discussion plan for the next seven weeks.
- Today, Matthew and I will introduce Chesterton and Orthodoxy, along with why we think this book is well worth your time.
- August 14: Discussion of “Introduction – In Defense of Everything Else”
- August 21: Discussion of Chapters 2-3, “The Maniac” and “The Suicide of Thought”
- August 28: Discussion of Chapters 4-5, “The Ethics of Elfland” and “The Flag of the World”
- September 4: Discussion of Chapter 6, “The Paradoxes of Christianity”
- September 11: Discussion of Chapters 7-8 “The Eternal Revolution” and “The Romance of Orthodoxy”
- September 18: Discussion of Chapter 9 “Authority and the Adventurer” and concluding thoughts
Trevin: Orthodoxy is a Dense, but Jeweled Jungle
Orthodoxy was the first book I downloaded and read on my iPad three years ago. (I wonder what Chesterton would think about the iPad. Wouldn’t that have been a lovely essay?) That initial read-through was not easy.
I felt a little like I was stumbling through a dense jungle while finding diamonds and jewels all around me. The density of the thought pattern was mind-bending, yet there were so many gold nuggets to be found that I couldn’t turn back.
I’ve read Orthodoxy twice since then, as well as a number of other Chesterton works, including his novels, essays, and detective series. There’s a lot of Chesterton’s wit and wisdom in the character of “Gil” who grounds my first work of fiction – Clear Winter Nights.
The more I read Chesterton, the more I see the source of C. S. Lewis’ thought. Here is what Lewis had to say about Chesterton:
His humour was of the kind I like best – not “jokes” imbedded in the page like currants in a cake, still less (what I cannot endure), a general tone of flippancy and jocularity, but the humour which is not in any way separable from the argument but is rather (as Aristotle would say) the “bloom” on dialectic itself. The sword glitters not because the swordsman set out to make it glitter but because he is fighting for his life and therefore moving it very quickly. For the critics who think Chesterton frivolous or “paradoxical” I have to work hard to feel even pity; sympathy is out of the question.
There’s a sense in which, even if you’ve never read Chesterton directly, if you’ve read Lewis, you’ve encountered Chesterton anyway.
Matthew: A Story of How Truth Made a Man
What Trevin says is true: if you’ve read a lot of Lewis, then Chesterton will seem somewhat familiar. But that wasn’t why I gravitated to him, even though I had been imbibing my Lewis from a very young age. Instead, it was Chesterton’s unfamiliarity that gripped me and the sensible strangeness of the world he depicts.
Lewis’s prose is a model of clarity: Chesterton’s rollicks with an energetic gaiety that is dangerous to imitate for fear of simply sounding foolish. Lewis insisted that joy was the center of the universe: Chesterton did too, but his prose is saturated with it in a way that Lewis’s is not. Chesterton paints the world with colors that are too bright for our dim eyes to see, which is why his best work bears up so well under multiple re-readings.
I’ve been reading Chesterton for over a decade now, and while Orthodoxy is not his greatest book (that belongs to The Everlasting Man) it is his most important. We have little patience for sharp lines and divisions: Chesterton reveled in them, and draws them in detail here.
His book is personal without being promiscuous: it is an intellectual autobiography, one where the history of the author disappears altogether. It is a story not of how a man made himself, but how the truth made him. And so Orthodoxy manages to be a humble work, even while it reeks of confidence.
Next week, we will discuss Chesterton’s introduction: “In Defense of Everything Else.”