Frances Alice Blogg Chesterton: G.K. Chesterton’s Remarkable Wife, by guest writer Nancy Carpentier Brown

Gilbert and Frances ca. 1904. This photo is property of the Marion E. Wade Center and may not be used without permission.

Gilbert and Frances ca. 1904. This photo is property of the Marion E. Wade Center and may not be used without written permission. Click image to enlarge.

From the beginning, faith was a part of the relationship of Gilbert and Frances Chesterton. As a young man Gilbert Keith Chesterton, journalist and Marion E. Wade Center author, was interested in Christianity, but never knew anyone who actually practiced it. His future wife Frances read the Bible and taught Sunday school. She attended services faithfully each weekend. Besides that, she visited the sick, took care of the elderly, and served the poor in her neighborhood. She wasn’t just paying lip service to Christianity—she was living it. This attracted the young author, and intrigued him—as she intrigues us. It is often interesting to discover more about a famous writer by getting to know their spouse. Who was this remarkable woman?

Francis Alice Blogg Chesterton

Francis Alice Blogg Chesterton. Drawing by  Alfred Priest, ca. 1906. Click image to enlarge.

Frances Alice Blogg was a shy Victorian girl, the eldest in her family. She was born June 28, 1869 and raised in London, a city girl who discovered she loved gardening and country living. Her mother believed in modern education, and sent Frances and her sisters to the very first kindergarten in London.

After Frances attended primary school, she was sent to a high school for girls that operated along academic lines to prepare the girls for higher education. This was novel in the late 1800s, and Frances’s younger sister Gertrude was one of the first of a group of students to sit for the Cambridge Examinations. While she was in high school, Frances began writing poetry.

“How far is it to Bethlehem?
Not very far.
Shall we find the stable room
Lit by a star? . . .

God in his mother’s arms,
Babes in the byre,
Sleep, as they sleep who find
Their heart’s desire.”

– First and last verses of Frances Chesterton’s poem
How Far Is It To Bethlehem

Frances took after her mother in being drawn to the educational field, and after high school she attended college to become a teacher. It was during her time at this school, St. Stephens College, run by the Anglican Clewer Sisters of St. John, that Frances became a devout Christian. The daily routines of mass and the prayer life there were congenial to Frances, and she adopted devotional practices then that would last her lifetime.

After college Frances tutored students for a few years, and then took a job in 1895 at an educational institution called the Parent’s National Educational Union (P.N.E.U.) run by Charlotte Mason. Frances became the organization’s general secretary and administrator. She planned conferences, organized a lending library, took notes at meetings, gave speeches, edited their newsletters and magazines, and kept track of expenses. Frances worked for the P.N.E.U. for five and a half years, from 1895 until she married Gilbert in 1901.

Frances and Gilbert ca. 1898-1900. This photo is property of the Marion E. Wade Center and may not be used without permission.

Frances and Gilbert ca. 1898-1900. This photo is property of the Marion E. Wade Center and may not be used without written permission. Click image to enlarge.

Frances’s family lived in London’s first suburb called Bedford Park. It was a bohemian neighborhood, filled with artists, poets, socialists and communists. Frances’s mother, now a widow, loved the atmosphere. The Blogg family entered fully into the life of the neighborhood, and started their own debate club, called the I.D.K. Debating Society. (When members were asked what the initials stood for, they were to shrug their shoulders and say, “I Don’t Know.”) Lucian Oldershaw heard of this club through a friend and began visiting the interesting family with the hope of courting one of the beautiful sisters he found living there.

Oldershaw, along with Gilbert Chesterton, Edmund Clerihew Bentley, and many of their other school friends had started their own debate club back at St. Paul’s when the boys attended that institution. He told Chesterton about the Blogg’s debate club, and indicated that there were three attractive sisters in the household. And so it was that Chesterton went visiting one day at the Bedford Park home and met Frances Blogg.

A short time afterwards they were engaged, and in 1901 they married. Frances became Gilbert’s secretary, as well as his marketer, organizer, and biggest fan. It was said that things Chesterton said one day, Frances repeated the next day—not because she was blindly following, but because she believed he was right. Although they were never able to have children, the Chestertons hosted numerous children at their home in Beaconsfield, were very close to their nieces and nephews, and counted over 25 godchildren.

When Gilbert first met Frances, he was just coming out of a dark chapter in his life. Raised a Unitarian, Chesterton had dabbled in Spiritualism and later sunk into despair, not knowing where he could find certainty in life. He had held on, he said, with “one thin thread of thanks;” trusting there was a God, but not much more. At that moment he met Frances. She introduced him to the Trinity, and most importantly, to the person of Jesus Christ. The author would credit her afterwards with his conversion in the dedication of his epic poem, The Ballad of the White Horse, by saying:

“Therefore I bring these rhymes to you
Who brought the cross to me.”

Within a few years of their marriage, Frances would suffer her own crisis of faith when her brother committed suicide. In her distress and grief she sought the advice of a spiritual medium. While Frances sat with the medium, Gilbert composed a poem expressing his frustration with her choice, and reminding his wife of the faith which had been strong enough to convert him.

“I saw it; low she lay as one in dreams,
And round that holy hair, round and beyond
My Frances, my inviolable, screamed
The scandal of the dead men’s demi-monde.”

– G.K. Chesterton, “The Crystal”

Frances repented, and never sought this kind of advice again.

And so would the remainder of their marriage go: Frances helping Gilbert out of a depression or over an illness, and then Gilbert helping Frances in the same way. They were two lovers who needed each other very much, who helped each other, wrote love poems to each other all their married life; and prayed with and for each other, sometimes with hands twined together. This was the key to their relationship: their shared faith. It was the force which kept them together for 35 years, until Chesterton’s death in 1936. This remarkable woman, Frances Chesterton, kept Gilbert grounded, and was in all ways his helpmate. He could not have written all he did without her support, encouragement, and prayers.

Gilbert and Frances, 1930. This photo is property of the Marion E. Wade Center and may not be used without permission.

Gilbert and Frances, 1930. This photo is property of the Marion E. Wade Center and may not be used without written permission.

To learn more about Frances and G.K. Chesterton, visit the Reading Room and view the resources at the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College.


Nancy Carpentier BrownNancy Carpentier Brown is the author of two works concerning Frances Chesterton, both books researched extensively at the Wade Center. How Far Is It To Bethlehem, the Plays and Poetry of Frances Chesterton (2012) contains all the known writings of Frances Chesterton, and The Woman Who Was Chesterton (2015) is the only full-length biography of Mrs. Gilbert Keith Chesterton. Brown won the Kilby Research Grant for her work related to Frances Chesterton in 2011.

cover-howfarisittobethlehemThe Woman who was Chesterton

The Seven Literary Sages Christian History Issue: A closer look with Jennifer Woodruff Tait

ChristianHistory_2015The “Seven Literary Sages” Christian History issue 113 was released early in 2015 in honor of the Wade Center’s 50th anniversary, features the seven authors of the Wade Center, and highlights their continuing relevance to significant issues facing our world today. We have heard from many readers how much they enjoyed the issue, including  Dr. Leland Ryken, Professor of English Emeritus at Wheaton College, who comments: “This issue of Christian History is the best brief introduction to the Wade authors that exists. Its photographs are a feast to the eyes.  The accumulated information and insights are a treasure trove.”

Jennifer Woodruff Tait, managing editor of Christian History and Wade author enthusiast, graciously offers “Off the Shelf” readers some of her reflections on the “Seven Literary Sages” issue and its significance in her own life. Our thanks also go to Jennifer for the editorial expertise and creative work she contributed to make this issue such a success.


On November 22, 2013, C.S. Lewis was formally “installed” into Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey, gaining a memorial stone there along with such luminaries of British literature as Chaucer, Shakespeare, Byron, Dickens, Austen, the Brontë sisters, T.S. Eliot, and W.H. Auden. The service was dignified; the organ thundered; the choir sang. I was there. My husband, kids, and I spent the days before the service joining fellow Lewis enthusiasts at a meeting of the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society, a tour of the Kilns (Lewis’s home, now a museum), and a symposium on Lewis’s works and worth.

On the way home, we visited Dublin, Ireland and attended the Sunday morning worship service at Trinity College. There I met a woman who became interested in our trip to the Lewis memorial. She obviously knew of Lewis’s status as a British author and had seen the movie Shadowlands. But she was puzzled by my being there on behalf of a Christian magazine. “Was Lewis particularly religious?” she asked.

And I wondered: Though Christians have valued his work for decades, how much did Lewis and his friends and mentors change the society around them? What legacy did they leave to the modern secular world?

That question was part of the reason I was in Oxford and London. I was covering the memorial celebration for issue 113 of Christian History magazine, which was dedicated to the seven authors whom the Wade Center collects. Released in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the Wade Center, we called the magazine “Seven Literary Sages: Why We Still Need Their Wisdom Today.” It told the story of how those “Seven Sages” took on secularists, materialists, and modernizers with their weapon of choice: the pen.

With the assistance of the Wade we assembled a lineup of knowledgeable scholars: Suzanne Bray, Matthew Dickerson, Crystal and David Downing, Colin Duriez, Brian Horne, Kirstin Jeffrey Johnson, Alister McGrath, Michael Ward, Ralph Wood, and Edwin Woodruff Tait. They explained to our readers in fresh and entertaining ways how the Seven Sages expressed a vision for society in areas ranging from economics to education to the environment; a vision for Christian literature in their powerfully moving treatments of goodness and self-sacrifice; and a vision for discipleship in their pictures of love in community. They also emphasized how millions read their books and by those books were inspired, by the help of God’s grace, to create art, practice goodness, and seek the truth. (I am one of them: from Prince Caspian to Lord of the Rings to Gaudy Night to The Greater Trumps to Orthodoxy, the logical arguments and poetic visions of the Seven Sages have enriched my Christian discipleship for decades.) And we were able to illustrate the entire issue with a range of gorgeous photographs, many from the Wade’s own collection.

The magazine has turned out to be one of our runaway best-sellers since Christian History returned to publication by Christian History Institute in 2010. It’s by far our most popular issue judging by the number of online readers as well as requests for print copies. I’m personally thrilled to have been part of introducing so many new readers to authors who, in many cases, I have known and loved since childhood. But, not wanting to neglect others who have known and loved these authors for years as well, I commend the issue to you. Read, marvel, and enjoy!


TaitJennifer Woodruff Tait (Ph.D., Duke University) is managing editor of Christian History magazine, managing editor of the Patheos Faith and Work Channel, a candidate for ordination to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church, and author of The Poisoned Chalice and Histories of Us.  From 2004-2013 she was the recording secretary for the New York C.S. Lewis Society. She lives in Richmond, KY on an 8-acre farm with her husband (who proposed to her on the bridge in London where G.K. Chesterton proposed to Frances), her two daughters (both of whom love Narnia and Middle-earth), and her in-laws.

Merry Christmas from the Wade Center

Wade Center staff, volunteers, family members, and student workers at our Christmas party.

From the warm glow of the Wade Center in all its Christmas splendor, we wish you a very Merry Christmas.

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Wade Center Christmas tree

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Wade Center Reading Room

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Grabbing a seat next to the Reading Room fireplace during the cold winter months is a must-do!

THE HOUSE OF CHRISTMAS

By G.K. Chesterton in The Spirit of Christmas: Stories, Poems, Essays. London : Xanadu, 1984.

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost—how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.

This world is wild as an old wives’ tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

This happy little G.K. Chesterton Christmas ornament just arrived in the Wade Center's shop! You can also pick up one via the American Chesterton Society.

This happy little G.K. Chesterton Christmas ornament just arrived in the Wade Center’s shop! You can also pick up one via the American Chesterton Society.

October Artifact of the Month: G.K.’s Weekly

GKs-WeeklyOur October Artifact of the Month features the newspaper GK’s Weekly, a periodical that G.K. Chesterton edited, contributed to, and even bears his name in the title. Original issues of the paper are rare, but the Wade Center owns a complete run which visitors can access by request in the Wade Center Reading Room, along with a contents listing for every issue. Exploring the paper offers a unique view into the context of British society in the early 20th century, as well as the mind of G.K. Chesterton.

G.K.’s Weekly was a British newspaper headed by G.K. Chesterton from 1925 until his death in 1936. Chesterton was already an experienced journalist and had managed a previous paper called New Witness leading up to the launch of G.K.’s Weekly. The paper contained commentary on political, cultural, and social issues, as well as poems, cartoons, and fiction. The variety of content is difficult to categorize, as difficult indeed as it is to define Chesterton himself. His distinctive style is noticeable throughout. Along with Chesterton and a dedicated small staff of workers for the paper, other contributors included Ronald Knox, J.B. Morton, Walter de la Mare, Patrick Cahill, G.B. Shaw, Maurice Baring, Hilaire Belloc, Eric Gill, and Vincent McNabb.

In a period of severe economic, social, and political upheaval in Britain’s history, Chesterton viewed his work as a writer and a journalist as a way to champion the rights of the common man, and push against the ills which he believed accompanied the rampant urbanization and industrialization prevalent in Britain at the time. The Weekly served as the perfect platform from which to promote these goals. Distributism, the ideology at the heart of G.K.’s Weekly that was shared by Chesterton and others, focuses on private ownership, the value of small businesses, disengagement from usurious financial practices, governance within local communities consisting of families and small business owners (rather than by large government), and distribution of property in the widest possible way.

G.K.'s Weekly: A Sampler. Edited with an Introduction by Lyle W. Dorsett. Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1986. Mention this blog post and receive a FREE copy when you visit the Wade during the month of October.Thirty issues of G.K.’s Weekly have been republished in the volume, G.K.’s Weekly: A Sampler (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1986), which is available for sale at the Wade and was edited by Lyle Dorsett, the second Director of the Wade Center. Dorsett writes the following about G.K.’s Weekly in his introduction to the book:

“It is commonly said that there is nothing so out of date as yesterday’s newspaper … [but] for those who know and love the writings of Gilbert Keith Chesterton, this weekly that bears his initials contains some of his scarcest prose, making the reprinting of this weekly paper a service to people who appreciate the late Englishman’s work.”

-Lyle W. Dorsett

As any Chesterton enthusiast can tell you, his writing continues to challenge, delight, and inspire long after the day when G.K.’s Weekly first appeared on the local newsstand.

In celebration of G.K.’s Weekly as our October Artifact of the Month, we are pleased to offer a FREE copy of G.K.’s Weekly: A Sampler to Wade Center visitors who refer to this blog post during the month of October. So be sure to mention this blog post when you visit (sorry, no free copies via mail) and receive your free copy; limit of one per family. Hope to see you soon!

Need Summer Reading Ideas?

Reading in the Wade’s English garden.

Visitors to the Wade Center often ask: “Where do I start if I want to read books by the Wade authors?” This post will hopefully help in beginning to answer that question, and also give you some ideas to add to your summer reading list. Our seven authors wrote in a variety of genres, but the focus of this list will be on works of fiction. If you want to see lists of other books our authors wrote, the names below link to bibliographies available via the Wade’s website, so check those out too.

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THE SILVER TRUMPET by Owen Barfield

Owen Barfield: The Silver Trumpet

A fairy tale for children enjoyed by C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Tolkien’s own children. Lewis recounts in a letter to Barfield dated June 28, 1936 that the Tolkien children liked the story so much they were reluctant to return the book to Mr. Lewis, who had lent it to them. The story rests on the fate of the Silver Trumpet, the symbol of hope and the vibrancy of life for a kingdom and its inhabitants.

 

Father Brown: The Essential Tales by G.K. Chesterton

FATHER BROWN: THE ESSENTIAL TALES by G.K. Chesterton

G.K. Chesterton: The Father Brown Stories

Chesterton’s detection short stories featuring sleuth (and Catholic priest) Father Brown are hailed as classics in detective fiction, and have been adapted into several television productions over the years. They appeared in five original volumes, the first of which is The Innocence of Father Brown, and are available today in various editions. Father Brown: The Essential Tales is a good overview volume to start with to get a taste of the tales. If you are a reader of mystery stories (or even if you are not!), you need to meet Father Brown.

 

Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis

TILL WE HAVE FACES by C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis: Till We Have Faces

Did you know Lewis wrote other works of fiction besides The Chronicles of Narnia? Lewis considered this novel one of his finest books, and wrote it in collaboration with his wife, Joy Davidman. It is a dramatic re-telling of the Greek myth “Cupid and Psyche,” and explores the nature of love in human relationships. If you are looking for a thought-provoking and rewarding read, this is your book.

 

The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald

THE PRINCESS AND THE GOBLIN by George MacDonald

George MacDonald: The Princess and the Goblin

George MacDonald wrote many fairy tales for children, and this is one of his most well-known and loved. This novel-length tale features Princess Irene, Curdie the miner’s son, and their fight to protect the kingdom from some wicked goblins. The book was a particular favorite of G.K. Chesterton and stands as a classic in the fairy tale tradition.

 

Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers

GAUDY NIGHT by Dorothy L. Sayers

Dorothy L. Sayers: Gaudy Night

Sayers is one of two Wade authors who wrote detective fiction (the other being G.K. Chesterton), and she also made a name for herself in the craft with twelve detection novels featuring her aristocratic detective, Lord Peter Wimsey. In Gaudy Night (book 11 of the Wimsey books, and book 3 of the 4 books featuring Harriet Vane), Harriet returns to her Oxford college to help solve a series of unfortunate events. This book has love, crime, and academia all in one volume.

Want more detective fiction resources? Audio recordings from an earlier detection book group at the Wade Center are available on our website.

 

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

THE HOBBIT by J.R.R. Tolkien

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Hobbit

Tolkien’s classic tale for children and adults alike, and a wonderful introduction to his world of Middle-earth. The prelude to The Lord of the Rings in which Bilbo the hobbit, a band of dwarves, and Gandalf the wizard set off to recapture stolen treasure from Smaug the dragon. Even if you have read this book before, why not get a refresher read in before the third and final Hobbit film comes out in December 2014?

 

The Place of the Lion by Charles Williams

THE PLACE OF THE LION by Charles Williams

Charles Williams: The Place of the Lion

One of Williams’s seven novels described as “supernatural thrillers” by T.S. Eliot. In this story archetypes are embodied as gigantic animals roaming the earth, such as the Lion of Strength and the Butterfly of Beauty. Their interactions in the world cause havoc, but also produce engaging insights into the hearts of the humans they encounter. This book was highly admired by C.S. Lewis when he first read it in February 1936, and helped start the friendship between Lewis and Williams.

Remember, these books (and all the others the Wade authors wrote) are available for reading at the Wade Center in the beautiful surroundings of the Kilby Reading Room. Is there a particular edition you are looking for? There is a good chance we have it. Let us know, and we will be happy to pull it for you. Stop by and visit us this summer, either in person or via our online resources.

Happy reading!