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Chesterton and Law

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This time last year I posted on what I call G.K. Chesterton’s “Gospel of Wonder.”  At the moment, I’m reading some of Chesterton’s fiction, namely the Father Brown Stories.  While reading these detective short stories, I’ve taken to deciphering Chesterton’s thoughts on law, particularly through his usage of Father Brown.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the premise of the stories, Fr. Brown is an unassuming, gentle, and fairly disheveled priest who is considered rather ordinary by his cosmopolitan contemporaries.  In each story, some type of mysterious crime has occurred and the police, detectives, and other educated persons are having the hardest time solving it.  It is usually the case that appearances deceive those tasked with solving the mystery, particularly because they focus too much on logic and science (and thus we see Chesterton’s commentary on the materialist age).  Chesterton uses their inabilities as an avenue to introduce Fr. Brown as the only detective in touch with the human soul, which is the most significant skill when determining “who did it,” and, more importantly, why.

I’ve read six stories in the Innocence of Father Brown collection, which is the first installment of more than forty stories.  One of my favorite exchanges with Fr. Brown comes after he catches the international, career criminal Flambeau, in The Queer Feet:

‘Did you catch this man?’ asked the colonel, frowning.

Father Brown looked him full in his frowning face.  ‘Yes,’ he said.  ‘I caught him, with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world, and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread.’

In another story, The Flying Stars, the infamous Flambeau manages to execute jewelry theft while framing a police officer in a house play.  Fr. Brown catches Flambeau before he can escape and gently explains to him how well he knows his soul.  Flambeau, hanging in a tree at this point and unable to hide his shame, listens to Fr. Brown’s monologue, which ultimately convinces him to give up his criminal past:

‘I want you to give them [jewels] back, Flambeau, and I want you to give up this life.  There is still youth and humour and honor in you; don’t fancy they will last in that trade.Men may keep a sort of level of good, but no man has ever been able to keep on one level of evil. That road goes down and down. The kind man drinks and turns cruel; the frank man kills and lies about it. Many a man I’ve known started like you to be an honest outlaw, a merry robber of the rich, and ended stamped into slime…. I know the woods look very free behind you, Flambeau; I know that in a flash you could melt into them like a monkey. But some day you will be an old grey monkey, Flambeau. You will sit up in your free forest cold at heart and close to death, and the tree-tops will be very bare.’

Fr. Brown ultimately converts Flambeau to the good side and he joins Fr. Brown as he attempts to solve future mysteries.  What does Fr. Brown’s approach to Flambeau say about Chesterton’s approach to criminal justice?

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