Tuesday, May 30, 2006

GKC's Engagement

After Nick’s stunning opening salvo yesterday, I’m nervous about following-up. Readers shouldn’t expect the thoughtful and beautiful piece Nick penned. I’ll be happy if my entries today and tomorrow are reasonably tolerable.

It falls to me to write about GKC’s engagement. What’s there to be said? He met Frances Blogg, he fell in love, he proposed, she accepted.

Joseph Pearce in his excellent biography, Wisdom and Innocence, says it was love at first sight for the 22-year-old Gilbert (in 1896). Chesterton, recounting the occasion, characteristically said her beauty was elven (and I don’t think he was referring to the little pranksters, but rather the elves Tolkien would write about). Later that night, he penned a devotion to her:

God made you very carefully,
He set a star apart for it,
He stained it green and gold with fields
And aureoled it with sunshine;
He peopled it with kings, peoples, republics,
And so made you, very carefully.
All nature is God’s book, filled with his rough sketches for you.

The biographers say she was pretty, which is hard to believe, given GKC’s apparent physical unattractiveness, but then again, he hadn’t packed on all the extra pounds yet. Frances apparently thought he was handsome. According to Frances, he was “a striking figure . . . upright and with a gallant carriage. His magnificent head had a thick mane of wavy chestnut hair, inevitably rumpled. His hands were beautifully shaped, with long, slender fingers . . . “.

We don’t know as much about their courtship as we’d like, since Frances, being an intensely private person, destroyed the love letters she received from GKC. We know it took nearly five years to wed, though, because Chesterton simply wasn’t solvent enough. According to Alzina Stone Dale’s biography, Outline of Sanity, he was earning only 25 shillings a week, he hadn’t published his first book yet (which would be Greybeards at Play, published in 1900), and it wasn’t acceptable for a woman to work after she was married.

One of the purposes of this 16-day celebration is to give readers a feel for GKC’s times. We live in a money-obsessed culture, so I figure it’d be nice to demonstrate GKC’s financial straits. A shilling is 1/20th of a pound. Around the turn of the century, a pound was typically worth a little less than $5, so GKC was receiving about $6 a week. A dollar today would’ve been worth about $20 in 1900. Consequently, GKC was earning about $120 a week.

It’s no wonder that Alzina Stone Dale says “his salary was about enough to buy his lunch and snacks and to pay for his transportation, but little else . . .”.


To know what was going on in the literary world at this time, see these Wikipedia links: 1896, 1901.

Perhaps the cleverest URL in blogdom: http://francesblogg.blogspot.com/


Anonymous said...

"It falls to me to write about GKC’s engagement. What’s there to be said? He met Frances Blogg, he fell in love, he proposed, she accepted."

How very appropriate it is that the patron of so many Catholic bloggers would marry a woman named "Blogg". ;)

Nick Milne said...

Those are some great points to raise, Eric. I can't imagine how difficult all of this must have been for Gilbert, for whom money was always something of an enigma. He has often referred to himself as being skilled in half of business - the half that requires dispensing money - but an absolute duffer at that part of it that involves remembering what he has bought, bringing it home properly, saving for the future, etc.

Anyhow, his letters to his mother during his pursuit Frances are worth reading, and I may throw up a transcript of one of the better ones later for the sake of interest. For, indeed, the two did not initially see eye to eye about the match.

E said...


You're right. Frances' parents weren't keen on the courtship, either.

Can't imagine why (smile). How could they have known?