Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Omaha Chesterton Society Discusses "Wisdom & Innocence" by Joseph Pearce

Joseph Pearce’s very thorough biography, Wisdom and Innocence: A Life of G K Chesterton, was the subject of last week’s meeting of the Omaha Chesterton Society. And an excellent time was had by all. Whether all this fun was due to Mr. Pearce’s talents as a researcher and writer, GK’s delightful and compelling life itself, or simply the fact that the OCS gang so enjoys each other’s company, I won’t venture to declare – although it seems to include all of the above reasons!

The meeting did present a bit of a surprise (a very nice one) in that it was larger than what we were figuring on -- this despite our fears that the biography’s 489 pages would be somewhat intimidating. We knew, for instance, that the Hakansons had moved back East. Also, Sister Rita has been dealing with health challenges but she bravely managed to make it as did Dick and Mary Ann, who we thought were still out of town helping family. Therefore, those folks, added to regulars Jeff, Chet, Quint, Carol, Denny, Claire and newcomers Mark and Daphne, made up a merry band. Sure, we missed Bill, Kathy, Tom, Jerry and Ryan but it was a delightful evening of spirited discussion.

Pearce makes no attempt to hide his immense respect and affection for GK Chesterton and that is part of the book’s strength and charm. Honest history need not include distance (or even cynicism) as so many modern biographers believe and Pearce gives a loving, well-researched and very full treatment of GK’s life and work. Indeed, the only small difficulty of the book, I might argue, is that it was, at times, too full with many, many passages from GK's own writings included in the text.

My greatest appreciation of Joseph Pearce’s Wisdom and Innocence is that it efficiently helps clarify the intent behind GK’s varied writings by putting them in a clearer cultural, chronological and even personal context. And when one considers how much GK wrote, in such a variety of genres, under greatly different circumstances, and especially along a long course of growing spiritual enlightenment, Pearce's biography is of tremendous help. Any fan of GK (who by definition is a person who has sometimes been perplexed and puzzled by GK!) will thank Joseph Pearce profoundly for the service he provides in this book.

So, if you have the time, go right ahead and tackle Wisdom and Innocence: A Life of G K Chesterton. It is a fine biography and you’ll find it of much value in understanding (as well appreciating) the immense genius of GK Chesterton.