Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life and Impact of G.K. Chestertonby Kevin Belmonte
You may be aware that G. K. Chesterton authored influential Christian biographies and apologetics. But you may not know the larger-than-life Gilbert Keith Chesterton himself—not yet. Equally versed in poetry, novels, literary criticism, and journalism, he addressed politics, culture, and religion with a towering intellect and a soaring wit./p>/p>
You may be aware that G. K. Chesterton authored influential Christian biographies and apologetics. But you may not know the larger-than-life Gilbert Keith Chesterton himself—not yet. Equally versed in poetry, novels, literary criticism, and journalism, he addressed politics, culture, and religion with a towering intellect and a soaring wit.
Chesterton engaged his world through the written word. He carried on lively, public discussions with the social commentators of his day, continually challenging them with civility, humility, erudition, and his ever-sharp sense of humor. Today’s reader can find the same treasures, for as Chesterton said, “What a man can believe depends upon his philosophy, not upon the clock or the century.”
In Kevin Belmonte’s fresh new biography, you’ll get to know the real G. K. Chesterton and his literary and cultured accomplishments. A giant of his time, Chesterton continues to live large in the imaginations of twenty-first-century readers.
“Chesterton’s explanation of Christianity makes absolute sense of the world. He reminds us that, free of our comforting delusions, reality is a tragic adventure in which we get to participate.” —DONALD MILLER, author of the New York Times bestsellers A Million Miles in a Thousand Years and Blue Like Jazz
“Bravo to Kevin Belmonte for turning his caring attention to the incomparably hilarious and brilliant genius that is G.K. Chesterton!” —ERIC METAXAS, New York Times best-selling author of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy and Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery
“There’s a great new biography about one of the Christian giants of the 20th Century. And I mean that literally. To read Kevin Belmonte's recent book Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G. K. Chesterton, is to feel a powerful sense of longing . . . because there is such a longing, a great need for advocates like Chesterton in our day. . . . But let's be grateful we still have the works of that great man to study and learn from. . . And we also have for you have Belmonte's vibrant new biography -- a wonderful reminder of the magnificent example Chesterton has set for us.”—CHUCK COLSON(http://patriotpost.us/opinion/chuck-colson/2012/01/26/defiant-joy-why-we-still-need-chesterton/)
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DEFIANT JOYThe Remarkable Life & Impact of G. K. CHESTERTON
By KEVIN BELMONTE
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2011 Kevin Belmonte
All right reserved.
Chapter One"My Earliest Path"
I love these little people; and it is not a slight thing when they, who are so fresh from God, love us. —Charles Dickens, The Old Curiosity Shop (1841)
Gilbert Keith Chesterton, one of the twentieth century's most gifted men of letters, was born on 29 May, 1874, at Campden Hill, Kensington—a district of West London, England. It would prove to be a year of portents. For it welcomed not only Chesterton but also Sir Winston Churchill into the world: both men of keen intellect, ample girth, and literary skill.
They met once as young men, in 1902. Churchill was then a newly minted MP; Chesterton was the newest light in the literary firmament of London. Their careers would thereafter diverge markedly, but both had an enduring influence.
Churchill's legacy is, of course, one of the ages. He will, it seems, always have something to say—something we need to carry forward. Chesterton's legacy is much the same: the passing of time only seems to underscore the worth and relevance of so much that he wrote and said. He cast a long shadow, and people have cherished walking amid his shadowlands ever since.
"My people," Chesterton wrote in the opening pages of his Autobiography, "belonged to [the] old-fashioned English middle class." His father, Edward, "was the head of a hereditary business of house agents and surveyors, which had already been established for some three generations in Kensington"—people who "were always sufficiently successful; but hardly, in the modern sense, enterprising."
Edward Chesterton, if unambitious in matters of business, was not to be faulted for it. His life was that of a semi-invalid because he was prone to heart trouble. Given to domesticity by inclination as well as necessity, he "filled his own house with his life" and made it the center of what was, by any measure, a colorful existence. His son would later call it an "abnormally happy and even merry existence."
The portrait of Edward Chesterton that emerges in his son's Autobiography is that of a man who was kind, contemplative, and intellectually curious—a man of personal integrity and artistic sensibility. He was "serene, humorous and full of hobbies." A garrulous man in the best sense of the word, he was fond of talk on any subject. As his son recalled:
My father was very universal in his interests and very moderate in his opinions; he was one of the few men I ever knew who really listened to argument; moreover, he was more traditional than many in the liberal age; he loved many old things, and had especially a passion for the French cathedrals and all the Gothic architecture opened up by Ruskin in that time.
So far as politics were concerned, the younger Chesterton's memories of his father's views prompted both a flash of humor and an appreciation for the liberalism of the classic tradition to which his father adhered. "My father," he wrote, "was a Liberal of the school that existed before the rise of Socialism; he took it for granted that all sane people believed in private property."
A gifted watercolor artist, Edward Chesterton also had a deep and abiding love of literature. As his son recalled: "[M]y father knew all his English literature backwards, and [because of this] I knew a great deal of it by heart, long before I could really get it into my head. I knew pages of Shakespeare's blank verse without a notion of the meaning of most of it; which is perhaps the right way to begin to appreciate verse."
If Edward Chesterton fostered a great love of literature in his son, his interest in toy theaters also stirred the dreamy boy's first memories and ideas of beauty.
The very first thing I can ever remember seeing with my own eyes was a young man walking across a bridge. He had a curly moustache and an attitude of confidence verging on swagger. He carried in his hand a disproportionately large key of a shining yellow metal and wore a large golden or gilded crown. The bridge he was crossing sprang on the one side from the edge of a highly perilous mountain chasm, the peaks of the range rising fantastically in the distance; and at the other end it joined the upper part of the tower of an almost excessively castellated castle. In the castle tower there was one window, out of which a young lady was looking....
To those who may object that such a scene is rare in the home life of house-agents living immediately to the north of Kensington High Street, in the later seventies of the last century, I shall be compelled to admit, not that the scene was unreal, but that I saw it through a window more wonderful than the window in the tower; through the proscenium of a toy theatre constructed by my father.
Speaking of this incident in his Autobiography, Chesterton wrote, "[T]hat one scene glows in my memory like a glimpse of some incredible paradise; and, for all I know, I shall still remember it when all other memory is gone out of my mind." He underscored this when he wrote: "Apart from the fact of it being my first memory, I have several reasons for putting it first ... [for in it] I recognise a sort of symbol of all that I happen to like in imagery and ideas." Lastly, he stated: "I have begun with this fragment of a fairy play in a toy theatre, because it ... sums up most clearly the strongest influences upon my childhood."
Chesterton's response to his father's toy theater recalls C. S. Lewis's childhood response to the toy garden that his brother, Warren, built on the top of a biscuit tin:
Once in those very early days my brother brought into the nursery the lid of a biscuit tin which he had covered with moss and garnished with twigs and flowers so as to make it a toy garden or a toy forest. That was the first beauty I ever knew. What [a] real garden had failed to do, the toy garden did. It made me aware of nature— not, indeed, as a storehouse of forms and colors but as something cool, dewy, fresh, exuberant.... As long as I live my imagination of Paradise will retain something of my brother's toy garden.
Other images of beauty crowded in upon Chesterton's memory as a child. "Among my first memories also," he wrote, "are those seascapes that were blue flashes to boys of my generation; North Berwick with the cone of green hill that seemed like the hill absolute." Still another kaleidoscope of memory from these years would later form the basis of his epic poem The Ballad of the White Horse:
One of these glimpses ... is a memory of a long upper room filled with light (the light that never was on sea or land) and of somebody carving or painting with white paint the deal head of a hobby-horse; the head almost archaic in its simplification. Ever since that day my depths have been stirred by a wooden post painted white; and even more so by any white horse in the street.
* * *
Chesterton's mother was no less a figure of affection and formative influence than his father. Marie-Louise Grosjean was of Swiss-Scottish descent. Her mother was descended from the Aberdeen family of Keith, hence the origin of G. K.'s middle name.
Once described as "the cleverest woman in London," Marie-Louise Chesterton not only possessed a keen intellect, but she had a "ready, and very sharp wit" that her son inherited. Described as "immensely kind," she was also unconventional in her opinions and lively. She reveled as well in the pleasures of the dinner table, preparing "gargantuan meals" and practicing the kind of hospitality that enjoined her guests to "eat enormously." It was little wonder, then, that her famous son would become so ardently devoted to taverns and inns.
Much about his mother's family and forebears seemed larger-than-life, including one fact that most certainly was: she was one of twenty-three children. Her father's family, the Grosjeans, though long settled in England, had come originally from French Switzerland. As stated above, her mother's family, the Keiths, were Scottish. Both ancestral lines were steeped in romance, or so at least Chesterton believed them to be:
My mother's family had a French surname; though the family, as I knew it by experience as well as tradition, was entirely English in speech and social habit. There was a sort of family legend that they were descended from a French private soldier of the Revolutionary Wars, who had been a prisoner in England and remained there; as some certainly did.
The air of legend and martial intrigue Chesterton associated with his French relations was complemented by traits he discerned in his Scottish ancestry. "On the other side," he wrote,
my mother came of Scottish people, who were Keiths from Aberdeen; and for several reasons, partly because my maternal grandmother long survived her husband and was a very attractive personality, and partly because of a certain vividness in any infusion of Scots blood or patriotism, this northern affiliation appealed strongly to my affections; and made a sort of Scottish romance in my childhood.
* * *
And what of the homes in Kensington where Chesterton spent his early years? The first of them, the home at Sheffield Terrace, was a place he scarcely knew. But the family's second home, 11 Warwick Gardens (where his family relocated when he was five), was a place long remembered:
Warwick Gardens ... stood out from its neighbours. As you turned the corner of the street you had a glimpse of flowers in dark green window boxes and the sheen of paint the colour of West country bricks, that seemed to hold the sunshine. The setting of the home never altered. The walls of the dining room renewed their original shade of bronze green year after year. The mantel-board was perennially wine-colour, and the tiles of the hearth, Edward Chesterton's own design, grew more and more mellow. Books lined as much of the wall space as was feasible and the shelves reached from floor to ceiling in a phalanx of leather. The furniture was graceful, a slim mahogany dining-table, a small sideboard, generously stocked with admirable bottles, and deep chairs.
The portrait of G. K. as a child smiled from a wall facing the fireplace. Walking with his father in Kensington gardens, the fair and radiant beauty of the boy, the flowing curls of graceful poise, held the eyes of the Italian artist, Bacceni, who did not rest until he had conveyed the vision to canvas.... On party nights wide folding doors stood open and through the vista of a warm yet delicate rose-coloured drawing-room you saw a long and lovely garden, burgeoning with jasmine and syringa, blue and yellow iris, climbing roses and rock plants. The walls were high, and tall trees stood sentinel at the far end.
Amidst such a setting, it comes as no surprise that in Chesterton's first years he enjoyed a "sheltered and happy childhood in a comfortable middle-class home, where his interests in art and literature were encouraged by his parents."
This can be seen in the fact that once Chesterton learned to read, he became "a passionate reader, particularly of fairy-tales." Further, he made his father's hobby of constructing toy theaters his own, and his devotion to them continued unabated for the rest of his life. On the less positive side of the ledger, he showed himself to be an "absent-minded [and] untidy child." However, in this he was aided and abetted by his mother, who was far from a martinet in matters of order and cleanliness. She often appeared with "her clothes thrown on anyhow." If G. K. entered a room with dirty hands or unkempt hair, she seems to have been the kind of parent who took no special notice of it. If he was late for a meal, he wasn't chastened. It is not surprising, therefore, that he never shook free of these traits, nor wanted to. In fact, they would become indistinguishable from the man who was G. K. Chesterton, and two of the more colorful aspects of his legend.
* * *
Pleasant as the home at Warwick Gardens was, what with happy eccentricities seasoning the supportive environment Chesterton and his parents knew, one great sorrow overshadowed his childhood. Death forever changed everyone's lives when his elder sister Beatrice, whom the family called "Birdie," died at the age of eight. G. K. was only three years old and just learning to speak, but he would always remember the shadow this tragedy cast over his home. For a time, he became seriously ill, and his parents' grief was compounded by worry over his condition. His recovery relieved that worry, but a collective and searing sense of grief lingered.
Edward Chesterton's grief was so overwhelming that he turned within himself and further burdened the grief his wife and young son felt. He would not allow Marie-Louise to speak Beatrice's name, and turned her portrait to the wall. Marie-Louise had lost her daughter. Now she had lost her husband to grief and had lost any solace he might have given—or could have received from her.
Things were simply painful and confusing for G. K., barely old enough to remember the bright light that his sister had been in their lives. In the years following the birth of his little brother, Cecil (born when G. K. was five),both boys were made to live a life in which any reminder of death was shunned. They were forbidden to attend a funeral or even gaze upon a funeral procession. If one was making its way through their street, they were quickly gathered up and told to stay in one of the back rooms of their home until it had passed.
The silence concerning death soon extended to all matters relating to sickness. Edward Chesterton refused to speak of his serious heart condition and tried to ignore others in the family if they were injured or became sick.
Marie-Louise is known to have spoken of Beatrice's death only once after it occurred—a brief and deeply touching moment when she confided to a friend. "I was the mother of three children," she said, "and I had a beautiful girl."
G. K., witnessing his father's grief-stricken behavior, could not help being affected by it. As biographer Michael Ffinch has written,
Chesterton inherited, or rather imitated, these phobias. A childhood friend, Annie Firmin, remembered how if his brother, Cecil, gave the slightest sign of choking at dinner, Gilbert would "throw down his spoon and fork and rush from the room. I have seen him do it many times." When, many years later, his father lay on his death-bed "it was only with real pain and difficulty that he summoned sufficient fortitude to see the dying man."
Years later, Chesterton wrote of this crushing experience in his Autobiography. "I had a little sister who died when I was a child," he wrote:
I have little to go on; for she was the only subject about which my father did not talk. It was the one dreadful sorrow of his abnormally happy and even merry existence; and it is strange to think that I never spoke to him about it to the day of his death. I do not remember her dying; but I remember her falling off a rocking-horse. I know, from experience of bereavements only a little later, that children feel with exactitude, without a word of explanation, the emotional tone or tint of a house of mourning. But in this case, the greater catastrophe must somehow have become confused and identified with the smaller one. I always felt it as a tragic memory, as if she had been thrown by a real horse and killed.
And so it was to little Cecil Edward, the newest addition to the family, that G. K. and his father and mother turned as a welcome arrival—a baby who could help them assuage their grief and begin to rebuild their shattered lives.
As one might expect, the two brothers became extremely close. They often went at it hammer and tongs, as most brothers are wont to do. But their mutual affection was unimpaired. Later in life they would often, sometimes famously, spar in argument. But for now, one thing was clear: G. K. had a companion whom he loved and could rollick with.
Excerpted from DEFIANT JOY by KEVIN BELMONTE Copyright © 2011 by Kevin Belmonte. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Kevin Belmonte holds a BA in English Literature and two MA's in Church History and American and New England studies. He is the author of several books including William Wilberforce: A Hero for Humanity and winner of the prestigious John Pollock Award for Christian Biography
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Defiant Joy by Kevin Belmonte is a literary biography of G.K. Chesterton examining his life and faith through his writings. Gilbert Keith Chesterton is an oft-quoted and still respected writer seventy-five years after his death. He was a prolific and eclectic writer ranging from essays to literary biographies to criticisms to novels, poetry, and a play. Best known for his paradoxical and eminently quotable writings, he has been a touchstone for Christians for a century. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were affected by his writings as were T.S. Eliot and good friend George Bernard Shaw. As a reader who is familiar only with Chesterton's name, this book made for an excellent introduction to the author and his works. Each chaper focuses on an individual work, and Belmonte quotes directly from the work, as well as reviews of it (contemporary and modern) while offering insight into what inspired the work and how it related to Chesterton's life at the time. It's not necessarily an easy read, but for readers who give it a try, it's well worth the effort. Belmonte gives a good look at Chesterton the man through his writing. Readers looking for a deeper biography may be disappointed, but it was perfect for me, a reader wanting to know more about Chesterton, as well as know which books of his I should seek out. Since finishing the book, I've purchased two of Chesterton's books with a list of three more I need to get, so I would say that Belmonte has fulfilled his purpose in Defiant Joy. Readers meet Chesterton, a man filled with a joyous faith and affected everyone he knew, and will be inspired to get to know him further through his writings.
If you want an introduction to the life and work of one of Christianity’s most endearing thought leaders, this is it. Kevin Belmonte provides a great overview to the classic and larger-than-life writer, Gilbert Keith Chesterton. I was first introduced to G.K. Chesterton through Dr. Ravi Zacharias, who quotes Chesterton often in his talks and clearly thinks highly of him. Since I think highly of Dr. Zacharias, it seemed obvious I should learn more about Chesterton. So I jumped at the chance to review Defiant Joy when BookSneeze offered it to reviewers. Well, the cover image had me second-guessing for a moment, but then I remembered I’d be learning more about the inside of Chesterton’s head than the outside of it.I was hooked by the introduction and hung on for the rest of the book. Belmonte weaves examples of Chesterton’s work in and out of his biography, focusing on key moments in his life and how they relate to G.K.’s written works. Belmonte sifts through an enormous amount of content, artfully selecting works and quotes to acquaint readers with Chesterton without overwhelming us. I gained insight on the joys and challenges motivating Chesterton’s diverse interests, from theology and social commentary to mystery and poetry. I also found myself relating to some of his personal struggles, like his early search for God and his passion for dialogue. I couldn’t get enough of his story! Chesterton was as prolific as writers come, so there was naturally lots of material to cover. My reading slowed a bit near the last few chapters of Defiant Joy so I could absorb it all. At the same time, I appreciated how the book gave me a glimpse of the incredible breadth of Chesterton’s work and the tirelessness with which he poured himself onto the page. I found Belmonte’s intro to Chesterton witty, inspiring, and memorable. Highly recommended! — Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from BookSneeze® as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commision’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Defiant Joy is about the life and legacy of Gilbert Keith Chesterton, an author few may have even heard of. In it, Kevin Belmonte seeks to do for G.K.C. just as the studied subject did for many others; introduce to the masses a figure that can be appreciated and studied for years to come for his wit, humor, artistry with words, and his stand for Christianity.This book appears to be aimed toward anyone that is willing to search out a new hero to look up to in a time when everything around us seems so dim. Kevin Belmonte admires Mr. Chesterton for varied reasons and presents to his readers the many facets of this supreme writer just enough to to entice us to reach out for more on our own. Mission accomplished! Belmonte does a great job of offering a case of interest for G. K. Chesterton and does in a way that seems true to the nature of who G.K.C. was in his own writing. As one of the many people that was unaware of this brilliant literary talent, I am exceedingly glad that I had the opportunity to read these pages. I want a complete collection of Chesterton's published works just based on one line from Defiant Joy. Belmonte states in the book that "One of Chesterton's best gifts was his ability to describe something highly familiar as though one were seeing it for the first time or, to put it another way-with new eyes." (page 226) This book was very inspiring and so attractive that I did not want to put it down. I highly recommend it to anyone. You might need a thesaurus or dictionary on hand to educate yourself on some of the elegant English language throughout it, but then you will be inspired and more intelligent thanks to the author and his journey of showcasing Mr. Chesterton. I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 : "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
"Philosophy is either eternal or it is not philosophy. A cosmic philosophy is not constructed to fit a man; a cosmic philosophy is constructed to fit a cosmos. A man can no more possess a private religion than he can possess a private sun and moon." - G.K. Chesterton Most "normal" people have never heard of GK Chesterton. He had a profound influence on other influential writers like TS Elliot and CS Lewis. His writing is a powerful apologetic for Christian thinkers and writers. Kevin Belmonte's book, Defiant Joy is my first real exposure to Chesterton. Many of the modern-day authors I respect (Ravi Zacharias and Philip Yancey) quote generously from Chesterton's work. So, I was intrigued to learn more about his life and work. Defiant Joy starts off slowly because it is loaded down with lots of obscure references and contemporaries of Chesterton's early life in England. Eventually, Belmonte is able to focus more on Chesterton's writing and impact. which makes the book far more interesting. There isn't enough space to quote or comment the work of Chesterton here, but the following quotes are some of my favorite GK quotes (from Belmonte's book): The true life of a servant flows from the discovery of an infinite debt. It is the highest and holiest of the paradoxes that man who really knows he cannot pay his debt will be forever paying it. He will be forever giving back what he cannot give back, and cannot be expected to give back. A man must have magnanimity of surrender, of which commonly only catches a glimpse in first love, like a glimpse of our lost Eden. And this. You say grace before meals All right. But I say grace before the play and the opera And grace before the concert and pantomime. And grace before I open a book, And grace before sketching, painting, Swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing; And grace before I dip the pen in the ink. If nothing else, Belmonte has encouraged me to read more Chesterton. I'm inspired to hear from Chesterton's himself. Can't wait to see what I've been missing out on all of these years.
Not that I loathe joy... I certainly don't. How could anyone 'loathe' joy? I do however loathe Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G.K. Chesterton. I do not loathe Chesterton either. Let me be clear- upon choosing this book (Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G.K. Chesterton by Kevin Belmonte, I do not loathe Belmonte, either. Crystal?) I thought it would be at the least, witty. Which it was not. And to quote Chesterton himself (speaking on Mark Twain's wit) But wit is a sword; it is meant to make people feel the point as well as see it. However, I just feel a bit robbed. Don't get me wrong- the excerpts from Chesterton's books are absolutely lovely. So well worded, and poignantly laid out. But who asked this Kevin guy to write such a book? No offense. His words pale in comparison- especially with Chesterton's right there on the page next to them (Yes, I understand that mine do, too.)! And seem to go in circles, on and on, about how influential his (Chesterton's) words were, and the way he lived out his life to be winsome. I got it within the prologue. I really don't think that 277 pages were necessary. Maybe he could have just written a little bit on the dust cover of one of Chesterton's books... now I'm just ranting. I think my point is clear. I wouldn't recommend this book. Unless you like to feel your eyes shriveling into raisins, if you're sadistic like that. One good thing came out of this experience- I now know of a G.K. Chesterton- and I'm going to read his books.