Joining with Sarah at Amongst Lovely Things for the Weekends with Chesterton Link-Up!
I am up to Lecture 7 in Dale Ahlquist's Chesterton 101. So that means I am reading The Club of Queer Trades (free Kindle version). It is really fun -- Chesterton hits his stylistic stride and precursors his famous Father Brown series. Ahlquist writes of the book:
At the beginning of the 20th century, in detective fiction there was Sherlock Holmes and that was all. There were other fictional detectives, to be sure, but they were only bad imitations of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous consulting detective. The sleuths offered by other writers would try to outdo Holmes in eccentricity and in solving crimes that were evermore contrived and convoluted.But in 1905 a book of mysteries came along that finally managed to turn the Sherlock Holmes idea on its head. The book was The Club of Queer Trades by G.K. Chesterton. His detective, Rupert Grant, is a Sherlock Holmes-like private eye who investigates crimes and chases crooks with great self-assuredness in his powers of deduction. But he is always wrong. The hero of these stories is not Rupert, but his older brother, Basil Grant, a retired judge. In each case, Basil proves to Rupert hat there has been no crime and no crooks.
A quote I love, believe heartily -- and want my kids to internalize:
There are a lot more good quotes in the book. Just a few:
Rabelais, or his wild illustrator Gustave Dore, must have had something to do with the designing of the things called flats in England and America. There is something entirely Gargantuan in the idea of economising space by piling houses on top of each other, front doors and all. And in the chaos and complexity of those perpendicular streets anything may dwell or happen, and it is in one of them, I believe, that the inquirer may find the offices of the Club of Queer Trades.
Very few people knew anything of Basil; not because he was in the least unsociable, for if a man out of the street had walked into his rooms he would have kept him talking till morning. Few people knew him, because, like all poets, he could do without them; he welcomed a human face as he might welcome a sudden blend of colour in a sunset; but he no more felt the need of going out to parties than he felt the need of altering the sunset clouds.
Basil smiled at me. "You didn't know," he said, "that I had a practical brother. This is Rupert Grant, Esquire, who can and does all there is to be done. Just as I was a failure at one thing, he is a success at everything. I remember him as a journalist, a house-agent, a naturalist, an inventor, a publisher, a schoolmaster, a—what are you now, Rupert?" "I am and have been for some time," said Rupert, with some dignity, "a private detective, and there's my client."
"Truth must of necessity be stranger than fiction," said Basil placidly. "For fiction is the creation of the human mind, and therefore is congenial to it."
"Facts," murmured Basil, like one mentioning some strange, far-off animals, "how facts obscure the truth. I may be silly—in fact, I'm off my head—but I never could believe in that man—what's his name, in those capital stories?—Sherlock Holmes. Every detail points to something, certainly; but generally to the wrong thing. Facts point in all directions, it seems to me, like the thousands of twigs on a tree. It's only the life of the tree that has unity and goes up—only the green blood that springs, like a fountain, at the stars."
"What, in God's name, do you mean by your customers and overcharges?" shrieked Major Brown, whose keen feminine nature, steady in pain or danger, became almost hysterical in the presence of a long and exasperating mystery. "Who are you? I've never seen you or your insolent tomfool bills. I know one of your cursed brutes tried to choke me—" "Mad," said Northover, gazing blankly round; "all of them mad. I didn't know they travelled in quartettes."
"We believe that we are doing a noble work," said Northover warmly. "It has continually struck us that there is no element in modern life that is more lamentable than the fact that the modern man has to seek all artistic existence in a sedentary state. If he wishes to float into fairyland, he reads a book; if he wishes to dash into the thick of battle, he reads a book; if he wishes to soar into heaven, he reads a book; if he wishes to slide down the banisters, he reads a book. We give him these visions, but we give him exercise at the same time, the necessity of leaping from wall to wall, of fighting strange gentlemen, of running down long streets from pursuers—all healthy and pleasant exercises. We give him a glimpse of that great morning world of Robin Hood or the Knights Errant, when one great game was played under the splendid sky. We give him back his childhood, that godlike time when we can act stories, be our own heroes, and at the same instant dance and dream." Basil gazed at him curiously. The most singular psychological discovery had been reserved to the end, for as the little business man ceased speaking he had the blazing eyes of a fanatic.