Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936), who was one of the most important literary figures of the early twentieth century, is now almost forgotten. A recent suggestion that he should be elevated to sainthood has renewed interest in him as have accusations of anti-Semitism by critics of the suggestion. From a modest start with a job in publishing and as a book reviewer, Chesterton went on to achieve a massive reputation as journalist, novelist, poet and playwright and much else. Born into a comfortable middle class family, Gilbert had a younger brother Cecil and a sister Beatrice, who died in infancy. Their father Edward, an estate agent, ensured his sons received a good education at St Paul's School. Gilbert went on to the Slade School of Art, to train as an Illustrator. At St Paul's Gilbert formed life-long friendships with, among others, Edmund Clerihew Bentley, who achieved fame of a sort with his 'clerihew' poetry. Others of Gilbert's friends were Lucian Oldershaw, E W Fordham, Digby and Waldo d'Avigdor who bonded further in the Junior Debating Club and later in the amusingly named IDK club.Known universally as G K Chesterton, Gilbert wrote 80 books, hundreds of poems and essays and several plays.
He contributed articles to newspapers and journals on the important political and social issues of the day and launched his own G.K.'s Weekly. He was a brilliant orator and undertook speaking tours of North America and in Europe. He also engaged in friendly debates with George Bernard Shaw, H G Wells, Bertrand Russell and Hilaire Belloc. In his latter years, Chesterton became a successful broadcaster on BBC radio. His marriage to Frances Blogg in 1901 endured for the rest of his life. There were no children but the couple formed lasting friendships with children of other families. Frances was frequently ill and often a burden to Gilbert whose own idiosyncrasies - absent-minded, dishevelled, disorganised - gave cause for Frances and a string of secretaries to indulge him. At his death due to heart disease, he weighed more than 20 stones.In this excellent biography Denis Conlon portrays Chesterton as the giant that he was, literally and metaphorically.It includes some previously unpublished photographs and illustrations and the diary of their trip to Palestine and the Holy Land reveals his empathy with all peoples of the region. The book is a worthy addition to the genre.