"What is the use of a book," thought Alice, "without pictures?" Down the Rabbit-Hole
Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) was a writer who flourished at the beginning of the twentieth century. His major works have remained in print, and he has a loyal – and growing – following even into the twenty first century. His writings cover almost every genre and subject – novel, short story, crime fiction, fantasy, essay, history, religion, philosophy, literary criticism, politics, sociology, occasional verse, epic poetry, and humor. Originally trained as an artist, he illustrated some of his own works1 as well as the works of others.2
Samples of his sketches can be found in Maisie Ward’s Gilbert Keith Chesterton3 and her Return to Chesterton4 but only occasionally in other biographies. A collection of stories, essays and poems illustrated by the author was published in 19385 it included work as early as 1894. Some of the sketches in GK’sWeekly can be identified as by him.6 At one point an edition of Sherlock Holmes illustrated by Chesterton was contemplated if not contracted, for which Chesterton completed a set of 18 drawings. These sketches from the collection in the Lilly Library were published by The Baker Street Irregulars.7
Alzina Stone Dale’s The Art of G.K. Chesterton8 is not actually an appreciation of GKC’s art but a biography heavily illustrated with samples of his artwork; her bibliography also provides clues to the location of other examples of his graphic output. One of the most striking characteristics of Chesterton’s illustration style is its stability; sketches drawn four decades apart are recognizably by the same hand. Although Chesterton attended the Slade School of Art, apparently his college-level formal art education had little impact on his style9: E.C. Bentley noted that in his art school career "he did not learn the slightest shade of technical improvement on his extraordinary natural gift for decorative and grotesque drawing."10 The ultimate study of Chesterton as an illustrator has yet to be written; as in most other areas of his gigantic productivity, he has here too been much underrated.
Chesterton was a friend of the historian Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953). Their close collaboration led George Bernard Shaw to coin the descriptor "the Chesterbelloc." The exact meaning of the term is unclear. Sometimes it refers to the similarity of their views on politics and religion. Other times it hints at the presumed negative influence of Belloc’s unusual historical and economic views on the na´ve (!) Chesterton.11 At its most restrictive, it denotes their collaboration on ten novels. Chesterton (illustrations) and Belloc (text) worked on the novels together, with either the text or the illustrations running one ahead of the other. The resulting drawings are varied: many simply illustrate an incident or paint a portrait of a character. Some of the captions, however, offer information than is not included in or is actually different from the text. Whether the captions were written by Chesterton or Belloc is unknown. For some of the works – for example The Missing Masterpiece – the drawings represent an almost irreplaceable component.
While Chesterton’s novels remain in print and are still read, most of Belloc’s novels are out of print and are read by very few. Chesterton’s work as a book illustrator with a somewhat distinctive style retains a certain interest for his readers. The purpose of the present volume is to provide all the illustrations that Chesterton prepared for Belloc’s ten novels along with a brief plot summary so that the reader will have some idea of the purpose of the drawings. Chesterton was not one of the classic book illustrators – a Tenniel or Boz , and Belloc was not one of the great novelists; they nevertheless made an interesting combination. This collection should provide an interesting window on the pictorial imagination of G.K.C. If it also encourages the reader to go back to Belloc’s original novels, so much the better.
Several Appendices that may interest the reader of the present volume have also been added. Chesterton’s sketches for a proposed edition of The Moonstone are presented in Appendix A. Appendix B presents Chesterton’s first collaboration (as an illustrator) with Belloc, The Great Inquiry (1903). Appendix C provides Chesterton’s drawings for Stampede!, a novel written by his godson. Finally we have reprinted for comparison a series of drawings – the origins of which date back to his school days – his illustrations for Biography for Beginners. The reader (viewer) will now be able to survey and form an opinion of Chesterton’s achievement (and development) as an illustrator. — Pasquale Accardo
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