Friday, January 29, 2016

Lunacy and Letters by G.K. Chesterton

I grasp only half of what G.K. Chesterton writes. But what I do understand is so astonishingly clear and profound (and witty) that I keep coming back for more. My latest foray into Chesterton has been Lunacy and Letters, a book of essays published posthumously by his secretary Dorothy Collins.

I loved the undercurrent of humor - such as the time he defended himself against the accusation of wife-beating by calling it "a pastime for which I lack the adequate energy." (p.134)

Chesterton is the king of paradox. He describes the man who wants to leave his boring city to find adventure and excitement. He contends that the opposite is true. The man is afraid of the unpredictability of real life. The reason we fly from the city is not in reality that it is not poetical; it is that its poetry is too fierce, too fascinating and too practical in its demands. (p. 23) In a later essay he writes, Let no one flatter himself that he leaves his family life in search of art, or knowledge; he leaves it because he is fleeing from the baffling knowledge of humanity and from the impossible art of life. (p. 60)

He writes of the sanctity of sleep; The greatest act of faith that a man can perform is the act that we perform every night. We abandon our identity, we turn our soul and body into chaos and old night. We uncreate ourselves as if at the end of the world; for all practical purposes we become as dead men, in the sure and certain hope of a glorious resurrection...It is in vain for us to say that we think the ultimate power [is] evil when every twelve hours we give our soul and body back to God without security. (i.e. guarantee) p. 30

Lunacy and Letters was recommended to me for the essay "Good Stories Spoiled by Great Authors" (in which Chesterton writes a scathing review of Milton's Adam from Paradise Lost). But the essay that I most loved was the last one called "The Roots of the World" which describes how "the enemies of religion cannot leave it alone." In their fruitless attempts to destroy it, however, they end up smashing everything else. (p. 191)

In Lunacy and Letters, G.K. is insightful, funny and hard-hitting. And worth the effort.

Although several of these essays were perplexing, the ones I understood were pure delight.

1 comment:

Carol in Oregon said...

Yes, please!!

I thoroughly agree with your assessment of GKC. But that quote on sleep will dog me for several days.

Thanks for feeding my TBR list, Hope!