Vital Signs

The Nightmare That Wakes Us Up

G.K. Chesterton had a low opinion of his own abilities as a novelist.  “[M]y real judgment of my own work,” he confessed, “is that I have spoilt a number of jolly good ideas in my time”:

I think The Napoleon of Notting Hill was a book very well worth writing; but I am not sure that it was ever written.  I think that a harlequinade like The Flying Inn was an extremely promising subject, but I very strongly doubt whether I kept the promise.  I am almost tempted to say that it is still a very promising subject—for somebody else.

He thought The Ball and the Cross had “quite a good plot,” based on “a social suggestion that really has a great deal in it; but I am much more doubtful about whether I got a great deal out of it.”  Although, as stories or “anecdotes,” his fictional works were “fresh and personal,” “considered as novels, they were not only not as good as a real novelist would have made them, but they were not as good as I might have made them myself, if I had really even been trying to be a real novelist.”

Considering that Chesterton prefaced this confession of failure with an explicit denial that he was indulging in “mock modesty,” we have little option but to believe that this was indeed his “real judgment” on his own fictional...

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