The author of the first book about Frances Chesterton, wife of G.K. Chesterton, spoke in the Gentile Gallery to a small but enthusiastic crowd on March 22 at 5 p.m. about the legacy of an often-overlooked woman.
In her talk, “The Woman Who Was Chesterton,” Nancy Brown, author of the book by the same title, shared little known details about the Chestertons’ life as a couple.
Brown has collected the plays, poems and essays of Frances Chesterton. Due to how little Frances was in the public eye, it took Brown over eight years of research and two years of writing to bring about a book about the woman.
“She liked being in the background,” said Brown. In her talk, Brown focused on the themes of faith, fear and friends in Frances’ life.
On the topic of faith, she emphasized how Frances didn’t convert to Catholicism from Anglicanism just because her husband did but waited four years after to prove her independent thought. During this time of ideological separation between the couple, Frances wrote all her plays.
Regarding fear, Brown traced Frances’ family history and enlightened the audience about how many disadvantages she faced. Health problems, social anxiety, depression and fear of death haunted Frances throughout her life, and her brother’s suicide even drove her into a frenzy of temporary insanity.
Brown said it was Frances’ marriage that saved her from insanity. The Chestertons had a tremendous influence on each other, and G.K. needed her. He even called her life a “heroic tragedy.”
The Chestertons both had the gift of hospitality, and Brown shared how they called their home the “Inn with the Open Door” because friends and children were always coming in and out. Though they couldn’t have any children of their own, “it was almost like they made a pact to be happy whenever they were with children. … They decided to do something different and love whatever children they came into contact with.”
Could they be considered saints? Brown asked. She argued that yes, they could because they didn’t succumb to suffering. “They were real people. … They overcame and they fought because there’s something good to fight for.”
Freshman Tori Swanner said, “It was really interesting to learn about the woman who was behind everything that (Chesterton) did.”
Caroline Luehrmann, a junior and member of the Chesterton Society, said, “I especially enjoyed hearing the little anecdotes about their married life, which were particularly beautiful and very humorous.”
The event was hosted by the Chesterton Society and featured coffee from the International Coffee Club.