Ian Ker, G.K. Chesterton
Boy, was I enthusiastic when I heard that the ferociously learned Ker was publishing a Chesterton biography.
Boy, was I disappointed. This is not the book I was hoping for.
What I hope for in a brick of a biography (and at ~750 pages, this is a respectable brick) is lots and lots and lots of CONTEXT. I want to find out who the subject was in relation to his/her family, friends, enemies and society, not to mention the historic events and big and small trends of his/her time. Ker presents Chesterton in a kind of splendid isolation. He records (occasionally in bizarrely minute detail, via extensive quotation of Frances Chesterton's diaries) the daily events of Chesterton's life and provides summaries (which, I must admit, I started skimming about 3/4 of the way through) of his major works, but only spreads his net wider twice: once to deal with Chesterton's view of Jews and Judaism and once to give what he apparently thought was unavoidable background to Chesterton's involvement in the Marconi scandal. For a book that puts a great deal of emphasis on Chesterton's journalism (the first draft of history!), there's very little analysis of Chesterton in relation to his times. What about Catholic Modernism? A little more Boer War, please? Some Big Picture on the literary scene rather than accumulation of anecdote? How about more than sidelights on Cecil Chesterton's career, with which his brother's was intertwined? Left completely unexamined is Chesterton's Orientalism (a product of his time); I was also underwhelmed at the treatment of his opinions on the Woman Question (ditto). On the other hand, the frequent quotation of Chesterton's own Autobiography left me intrigued; I think I'm likely to pick that up and read the man on himself. Not recommended if you're a fan of the same sort of biography I am.