Sunday, September 27, 2020

"Saying something true about human nature"

P.D. James is one of my favorite novelists and her series of detective novels, most of them with Scotland Yard's Adam Dalgliesh, are all good reading. Today I pulled her Talking About Detection Fiction (2009) from my shelves. The second chapter is about Conan Doyle and G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown stories:
.... Another Victorian whose influence and reputation have been almost as great, in my view deservedly, was as prolific as Conan Doyle but very different both as a man and as a writer. Gilbert Keith Chesterton, who was born on Campden Hill in London in 1874 and died in 1936, can be described in terms which are hardly ever used of a writer today: he was a man of letters. All his life he earned his living by his pen and he was as versatile as he was prolific, gaining a reputation as a novelist, essayist, critic, journalist and poet. Much of this output, particularly on social, political and religious subjects, has proved ephemeral, but a few of his poems, including "The Donkey" and "The Rolling English Road," continue to appear in anthologies of popular verse. But he is chiefly remembered as one of the most brilliant writers of the short detective story and for his serial detective, the Roman Catholic priest Father Brown. The Innocence of Father Brown was published in 1911 and was followed by four further volumes; the last, The Scandal of Father Brown, appeared in 1935. G.K. Chesterton converted to Roman Catholicism in 1922, and his faith became central to his life and work. His fictional priest was based on his friend Father John O'Connor, to whom The Secret of Father Brown, published in 1927, was dedicated. ....

G.K Chesterton's output was prodigious, and it would be unreasonable to expect all the short stories to be equally successful, but the quality of the writing never disappoints. Chesterton never wrote an inelegant or clumsy sentence. The Father Brown stories are written in a style richly complex, imaginative, vigorous, poetic and spiced with paradoxes. He had been trained as an artist and he saw life with an artist's eye. He wanted his readers to share that poetic vision, to see the romance and numinousness in commonplace things. He brought two things in particular to detective fiction. He was among the first writers to realise that it could be a vehicle for exploring and exposing the condition of society, and for saying something true about human nature. Before he even planned the Father Brown stories, Chesterton wrote that "the only thrill, even of a common thriller, is concerned somehow with the conscience and the will." Those words have been part of my credo as a writer. ....
P.D. James, Talking About Detection Fiction, Knopf, 2009.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated. I will gladly approve any comment that responds directly and politely to what has been posted.