Thursday, June 01, 2006
Gilbert and Frances: Always Lovers
G. K. Chesterton barely mentions his wife, Frances, in his autobiography.
That fact might lead someone to conclude that he cared little about her.
That conclusion would be wrong.
He cared about her and her wishes so much that when she asked not to be mentioned at length in the book, he complied.
Her desire to be out of the limelight and his desire to fulfill her wishes are typical of their relationship – a relationship marked by deep love, devotion and mutual respect.
They were lovers, friends, traveling companions, spiritual partners, and playmates who shared nearly 35 years of married life.
Gilbert Chesterton married the former Frances Blogg June 28, 1901, after a nearly 5-year courtship. About the time of their honeymoon, he wrote a poem called “Creation Day” in which he declared:
“Never again with cloudy talk
Shall life be tricked or faith undone,
The world is many and is mad,
But we are sane and we are one.”
Before they married, Frances had had ample warning what life might be like with G. K. who was in many ways just an overgrown boy – albeit a genius. He was absent-minded, unkempt, and terrible with money.
She quickly took charge of the mundane details to free him to write and speak. She paid the bills and tried to carefully dole out the money that he would inevitably lose, spend, or give to beggars.
It was she who suggested the slouch hat and cape that became his trademarks. The get up was not a fashion statement; it was a practical way to deal with his lack of concern for his appearance and how he was dressed. As biographer Maisie Ward pointed out, after a valiant battle to keep him neat and clean, she simply shifted strategies and made him “picturesque.”
It was she who kept his schedule and made sure he got out to give speeches, to keep appointments, or to get to the train on time. The most famous story of his reliance on her in this regard is when he telegraphed her one time saying, “Am at Market Harborough. Where ought I to be?”
And it was her deep faith that helped to bring him to Christianity – and ultimately to Catholicism. In 1911, he dedicated his Ballad of the White Horse to her declaring,
Therefore I bring these rhymes to you,
Who brought the cross to me.
Frances was devoted to her brilliant husband. At one point, she wrote to a priest friend, Father Ignatius Rice, “I am in a perpetual state of wonder at him.”
Chesterton, meanwhile, adored his wife. As Dale Alquist notes in his Common Sense 101: Lessons from G. K. Chesterton, he referred to her as his “bride,” his “queen,”
and his “friend.”
They had sadness and struggles. Early on, there were money woes. They both suffered perpetually from ill health.
And they could have no children. Frances underwent surgery to help with a problem related to this, but without success.
So they filled their homes with the children of friends. Chesterton’s secretary, Dorothy Collins, became almost like a daughter to them.
Fittingly, Chesterton’s last words were directed toward his wife and his “adopted” daughter.
On June 13, 1936, Frances and Dorothy were keeping vigil with the unconscious Gilbert when he suddenly awoke.
He looked at Frances and said, “Hello, my darling.” Then he turned to Dorothy and said, “Hello, my dear.”
He then lapsed into unconsciousness and died the next morning, June 14,
Frances felt his loss. In a letter written in July 1938, she said, “I find it increasingly difficult to keep going. The feeling that he needs me no longer is almost unbearable. How do lovers love without each other? We were always lovers.”
She died on Dec. 12, 1938.
If at death we are indeed met on the other side by those we love, it’s easy to imagine that he was standing there greeting her with, “Hello, my darling.”