Who is not aware of the giant that was G.K. Chesterton? Even if we post-moderns haven’t read much or any of his brilliant writings, knowledge of the “Apostle of Common Sense” (a term used by Dale Ahlquist in a definitive Chesterton biography by that name) is inescapable. Chesterton was a lion for truth, and his writings were pivotal in the spiritual development of greats like CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, and Peter Kreeft. Chesterton, himself, is a classic and history will not quickly forget his wit, wisdom, and his sincerity.
What many of us may not be aware of, is that Chesterton owed much of his success, his faith and his writing style to the beautiful soul who shared his life. Mrs. Frances Chesterton, a deeply private woman, is The Woman Who Was Chesterton.
“This is a love story. But it is also a detective story. And best of all, it is a true story, told here for the first time.” – Introduction to The Woman Who Was Chesterton
A friend of Charlotte Mason, a tutor, and a secretary for the PNEU (Parents National Education Union), Frances Blogg Chesterton was a brilliant, sincere and passionate woman who lived a life of service in the pursuance of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Frances was a children’s playwright, a poet and a writer of her own accord but she was also deeply private, and insisted that family destroy her correspondence and journals upon her death. A childless mother, she and her husband lavished their love upon nieces, nephews, and neighbors with zeal.
“Frances and Gilbert worked together as a team; they were lovers and friends, writing coaches and companions. They worked, ate, laughed, and slept together for thirty-five years, dependent on each other physically, emotionally, and intellectually.” The Woman Who Was Chesterton
This biography was painstakingly compiled by Chesterton scholar, Nancy Carpentier Brown. Brown has climbed quite a mountain in researching and compiling an engaging and passionate portrait of Frances Chesterton. In The Woman Who Was Chesterton, Brown has drawn back the veil on a gorgeous, artistic and sensitive soul who has much to teach us, not least of all, how to love GKC even more.
In a way similar to how David McCullough celebrated the love between John and Abigail Adams, Brown invites the Chestertons into our lives and gives us a chance to fall in love with them as a couple and as individual souls who are made whole through true marriage. She highlights general and specific ways in which their writing became almost indistinguishable from each other, she paints a clear picture of how their spiritual lives were intertwined and she makes a compelling case that neither would have been successful without the other. Frances was plagued with excruciating health problems and Gilbert supported her in critical ways. Gilbert was very much the absent-minded professor and Frances gave his life structure and the management it desperately needed. Both were like iron being sharpened against the other in their spiritual walks.
I am deeply indebted to Mrs. Brown for her scholarship and passionate work. It can be argued that Brown’s writing is uneven and sometimes awkward. Some places lag and others feel a bit disjointed. It simply isn’t the tight writing that we might expect if we compare her to someone like McCullough. That said, her love for the Chestertons and her voluminous research, covers many shortcomings. Frances has become a very special mentor for me because of NCB’s impressive work.
If you are like me at all, you may want to run out and buy How Far Is It To Bethlehem – a beautiful compilation of Mrs. Chesterton’s plays and poetry edited by Mrs. Brown. Also, my children and I are just about to begin reading The Chestertons and the Golden Key also by Nancy Carpentier Brown.
If you are wondering if Frances’s plays and poetry are in print, yes they are. Thanks to Mrs. Brown, How Far Is It To Bethlehem is a beautiful collection of the Christmas plays Mrs. Chesterton wrote, as well as some of her poetry.