Moments of Permanence - Conclusion

About Conclusion

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I think I am going to declare reading list bankruptcy. Four months is just not feasible to catch up on. This means that all of you are new and exciting to me in certain ways.

I'm reading a lot of GK Chesterton at the moment. It's interesting and fun and lovely, but also fascinating in a way I hadn't expected: the racism.

More to the point, the part where most of the time, it's the lack of racism, given the era in which he wrote. (Note: This is not flawless, unless you're taking into account quite a bit of nuance in the writing, at certain points, and if your familiarity with a century-old dialect of English is imperfect, some of that nuance is going to burn. Plus, though it's never attributed as any kind of worthy sentiment, very occasionally certain words and phrases occur which some would deservedly find offensive and painful. The fact that Chesterton uses certain vile epithets in an ironic, "are you noticing how stupid these people are, here" sort of way doesn't mean it won't retain the capacity to hurt.)

Still. In one story, you have a character who, though blue-eyed and perhaps only tanned, is rumoured to be part-black. He is suspected of murder... but he's wholly innocent. While two English male characters in that story are somewhat the subject of implicit mockery, the part-black character is depicted as temperamental and somewhat childish... but this is specifically attributed to the fact that he's also a super-famous, super-handsome, spoilt actor. (Note that the other two, entirely English, Men of Note who aren't Father Brown in the story are characterised differently, but pretty much equally negatively, if not more so.) The rumours about his ancestry are referenced as the grounds on which people were more ready to believe he was guilty - wrongly.

There are several stories where people are attributing various events to evil cults of foreign, darker races... but they tend to turn out to be wrong, and that it's just an evil white person playing on white superstition about brown people.

In one story, the villain does turn out to be a guy known for being black, and a hideous negative reaction in the press and public reaction towards all negroes [sic] is described in a way that implies it's rather stupid and shameful... and then Father Brown points out that the reason the man's disappeared (even though anyone who resembles him in build is being made to scrub their faces in case it's him, wearing white makeup) is probably that he was a white man all along, who previously made himself look black.

So far, consistently, even if some characters are making racist assumptions about foreigners, the bad guys tend to be English. (Even in a couple of stories I've read which were set in other countries.)

Father Brown is also the first fictional quasi-detective I've found in fiction since Lord Peter who is actually, genuinely likable. He's not smug or superior about things, and he's not out to be right or to get into other people's business for his own sake; he cares about people, and is often called in to their personal business by reason of his being a priest.

And he's not too perfect, even in his general tendency to be nice to people and try to think the best of them and be friendly. You get lines like: "But Father Brown had to tell himself sharply that one should be in charity even with those who wax their pointed beards, who have small gloved hands, and who speak with perfectly modulated voices." Just a little reminder that thinking kindly of people is not necessarily purely a native gift, so much as an attitude one can hold deliberately.

Oh, actually, there's also the lack of sexism, in curious ways. For example, in one of the first stories I read, there's a male character who is compared, at a number of points, to an old maid, and aspects of his behaviour and personality are referred to in terms of being "feminine"...

... and these are positive attributes, of a man who, in the story, is a VC and an unquestionable, absolute hero. He's just not a glory-seeking hero. His is the heroism of: "Someone needs to do this dangerous and frightening thing. I guess that someone should be me."

He even ends up marrying the beautiful woman who features in the story.

Most of the significant characters in the stories are still men, but in an odd way, it tends to seem like the women aren't involved as much as they might be because they're not silly enough for such foolishness.
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From:[personal profile] copracat
Date: September 24th, 2013 11:15 am (UTC)
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I've only read one collection of Father Brown stories which I found enjoyable cosy mysteries except for one odd thing: the habit the murderers had of committing suicide. The Catholicism I was raised in had suicide as a sin for which there was no salvation, due to you being dead and thus unable to repent and be redeemed of your sins. So I found it a little disturbing that so many people were denied hope of redemption, which I thought, to a faithful Catholic, would surely be worse than the death sentence. It made me think of Chesterton as a cold and unforgiving man, to write the very worst of punishments. Perhaps Chesterton meant to save the executioner?

Although I have read that there is some doctrine that God can ineffably deal with suicides in his own way, and that great mental distress or illness is a mitigating factor.
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From:[personal profile] fred_mouse
Date: September 24th, 2013 02:39 pm (UTC)
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I would claim to love the Father Brown stories, were it not for the fact that I got partway through a collection (complete? possibly) and then stopped. Not deliberately, just put the book down, and have never gone back to it. To the point that I have put it back on the shelf.

I had noticed some of what you say about the racism/inverting of the tropes, although I hadn't noticed it as pervasive. And I did love the bits that were so obviously Chesterton pointing out that being nice to people is a skill that takes practice, not a natural state of grace.
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