Chesterton is dismayed at the onward march of relativism and secularism. He also thinks the novel has lost its way, understands Islamic grievances against the west and is a proud mentor to satiristsby Tobias Jones / January 16, 2005 / Leave a comment
Tobias Jones: For decades you were one of Britain’s favourite writers. Then your name became almost an embarrassment among literary people: you were seen as a reactionary traditionalist. Are you happy with your posthumous reputation?
GK Chesterton: Well, one’s stock always declines somewhat when stone cold. But I’m flattered to see that, almost a century after the publication of my most significant works, I’m recognised as being prophetic: I diagnosed the malaise of postmodernism before the term was coined. People always said I was behind the times, a throwback; they’re now recognising that a traditionalist is always ahead of his era. There are dozens of Chesterton societies around the world. No self-respecting American campus is without one. Even in Italy and Russia there are societies dedicated to the study of my work. Two magazines are published in my memory: the Chesterton Review and Gilbert! Then there’s a thing called a “blog,” which purports to be written by myself.
TJ: You’ve been compared to a man you censured, Oscar Wilde, because you’re so quotable. But the criticism usually levelled at your writing is that it was flippant, almost facetious. What do you say to that?
GKC: In reply, let me quote a line I wrote decades before Tony Blair came grinning into view. It’s from one of my Father Brown books: “People like frequent laughter, but I don’t think they like a permanent smile. Cheerfulness without humour is a very trying thing.” The point about humour is that for effect it must be surrounded by sobriety. For levity to work it requires the contrast of gravitas. Humour is a serious business. Without surrounding solemnity it does, as you say, become flippancy. Possibly the people, especially journalists, who quote me for light relief may think me facetious, but that is because they don’t engage with the most important part of my thought, which is a defence of the Christian faith. My reputation dipped not because of a few good jokes, but because, on the contrary, I was thought all too serious. You dippy postmoderns love frivolity, hence you love Wilde and publish tomes on ephemera. Everything is a joke, all is reduced to a demented triviality. Had I been only frivolous, I would be a postmodern icon. Actually, my humour was disparaged because the laughter it produced was the gleeful endorsement of a noble religion which most of you in the…