G.K. Chesterton's 'The Wisdom of Father Brown'

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2003

16 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Summaries
2.1 The Paradise of Thieves
2.2 The Mistake of the Machine
2.3 The Perishing of the Pendragons
2.4 The Strange Crime of John Boulnois

3 Father Brown
3.1 Description of Father Brown
3.2 Development of Father Brown
3.3 Striking devices in “The Wisdom of Father Brown”
3.4 Chesterton and Father Brown



1 Introduction

Gilbert Keith Chesterton started writing when he was a schoolboy and today his work is well-known all over the world. In spite of his literary accomplishments, he considered himself primarily a journalist. But he also wrote a hundred books, contributions to 200 books, hundreds of poems, five plays, five novels and more than two hundred short stories, including a popular series on “Father Brown” which I think is one of his greatest works. These stories on “Father Brown” have been written between 1911 and 1935 and are summarized in five books called “The Innocence of Father Brown”, “The Wisdom of Father Brown”, “The Incredulity of Father Brown”, “The Secret of Father Brown” and “The Scandal of Father Brown”. All the books “constitute a fascinating summary of Chesterton practising what he preached”[1].

In my work I will concentrate on the second Father Brown book called “The Wisdom of Father Brown”. It was published in 1914 and contains twelve stories on the priest-detective Father Brown.

First I will give short summaries of the four stories I chose from the book and afterwards I will focus on the main character Father Brown, his attitudes and his development. To do this I will mainly give attention to the four stories I selected but also prove some of my statements by referring to one of the other stories. I will also compare Chesterton’s views with the attitudes of his figure Father Brown.

“The Wisdom of Father Brown” consists of the following stories:

- The Absence of Mr. Glass
- The Paradise of Thieves
- The Duel of Dr. Hirsch
- The Man in the Passage
- The Mistake of the Machine
- The Head of Cesar
- The Purple Wig
- The Perishing of the Pendragons
- The God of the Gongs
- The Salad of Colonel Cray
- The Strange Crime of John Boulnois
- The Fairy Tale of Father Brown

2 Summaries

2.1 The Paradise of Thieves

The rich English family Harrogate is on holiday in Italy. The young Tuscan poet Muscari who is described as “original”[2] and who likes fame, wine and the beauty of women is fond of Ethel Harrogate, the daughter of the banker from Yorkshire and therefore prefers to eat in the restaurant that is close to the hotel of the Harrogate family.

In the restaurant Muscari meets an old but forgotten English friend named Ezza. When they went to school together a lot of years ago Ezza was known as the wunderkind but he failed when he entered the literary world. Ezza tells Muscari that he is a Futurist, works as a courier and that he is conducting the Harrogate family now. At this moment the Harrogates enter the room: Mr Samuel Harrogate, his daughter Ethel and his son Frank. Ezza and Muscari are allowed to share their table. Miss Ethel Harrogate is proud of her father’s prosperity and fond of her fashionable pleasures but she is also a fresh and hearty “golden goodnature”[3]. The family seems to be excited because of some alleged dangers in the mountain pass they are to cross that week. Ethel has been told that this mountain pass is ruled by the King of Thieves called Montano and therefore is excited, but with an “awful relish of a schoolgirl”[4]. Muscari agrees to Ethel but Ezza contemptuously neglects any danger. When Ezza, Mr Harrogate, Ethel and Muscari leave the restaurant a priest walks towards the banker’s son Frank and asks him to take care of his sister in her great sorrow. Frank is very surprised and does not know what the priest refers to but the priest just says that one never thinks of the real sorrow and that one can only be kind when it comes.

Two days later the Harrogate family, Ezza, Muscari and the priest Father Brown start their journey to the menacing mountain range. They drive in a coach which is a kind of commodious wagonette and enjoy the landscape. But suddenly the horses stir and the coach tips over. The people and their bags fall on a grassy and flowery hollow with little damage. When Father Brown looks around he finds a glass bottle, sniffs it and is shocked: it is poison. But at that moment a poorly dressed man with a queer-shaped knife enters the scene and Muscari is convinced that the bandits are going to assault them. But when he asks Ezza for help he reveals himself as “Montano, King of Thieves”. More and more men with weapons come out of the bushes and Ezza/Montano explains that he wants to get two thousand pounds from Mr Harrogate now and in addition three thousand pounds ransom from his relatives.

Father Brown and Muscari sit down a few metres away later on and the priest explains that in his opinion there are three curious difficulties in this assault. The first one is that he heard Mr Harrogate and Ezza/Montano talking about a disaster which hangs over Ethel Harrogate’s head when they left the restaurant two days ago and he wonders what this might be. The second question is why Ezza/Montano put so much emphasis on the fact that he had taken two thousand pounds from his victim. The third objection is why the coach just fell off at this place where the police could easily find them.

Suddenly they hear a noise and suppose the police to come. Muscari doesn’t want to leave everything to the gendarmes and wants to fight against the bandits. He knows that they will be rescued by the police very soon. But Mr Harrogate doesn’t want his son Frank to help Muscari because he thinks that it is useless. When the police come they don’t arrest Ezza/Montano and the bandits but Mr Harrogate because of embezzlement of the funds of the Hull and Huddersfield Bank. But at that moment the banker jumps down the mountain and dies in the valley. One of the policemen explains that Harrogate was a really big bandit who fled to Italy with the company’s money and got himself captured by bandits in his own pay to explain the disappearance of the money and his own disappearance.

Ezza, however, who helped the police in this case is clapped on the shoulder and tells his old friend Muscari that he now wants to go to the new and modern cities Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and so on. In short: to the real Paradise of Thieves.

2.2 The Mistake of the Machine

Flambeau and his friend Father Brown sit together and talk about matters of legal process, for example psychometrical methods where a pulsometer is put on a man’s wrist to see how his heart goes at the pronunciation of certain words. Father Brown explains to his friend that he doesn’t believe in methods like this since he was witness of an incident which happened twenty years ago.

At that time Father Brown is chaplain in a prison in Chicago. One evening he is asked to come to Greywood Usher who is the second-in-command under the Governor. Usher first shows him a newspaper article on “Last-Trick Todd” who is a millionaire and likes to celebrate parties at his home Pilgrim’s Pond with a motto. It is supposed in that newspaper article that the motto of the coming evening could be “Parody of the simple manners and customs”. Father Brown is not interested in this story and so Usher immediately gives him a second article. It is about an convict called Oscar Rian who has escaped from a prison. On his way out of the prison he killed a warder and wrote with blood on a wall that it was self-defence because the man had a gun. He also wrote that he would keep a bullet for Pilgrim’s Pond. Usher now tells Father Brown that there is a connection between the two articles and that he himself has found the prisoner just a few hours before: He took a turn in the country lanes and suddenly saw a poorly dressed man running through the fields. Usher slung his hooked cane at his legs and brought him down. Father Brown is not convinced that this man is really the escaped prisoner but Usher tells him that he is sure about that and already knows everything about his motive. He is convinced that this man Oscar Rian wanted to kill Lord Falconroy, who is a guest in Pilgrim’s Pond and who pays his attention to the millionaire’s daughter Etta. Usher supposes that Rian is interested in Etta, too and wanted to cut out the rival. To confirm his supposition he tested the man with the Psychometric Machine (kind of lie detector) which can’t lie in his opinion. He wrote some words on a blackboard, for example “eagle” or “owl”. When he wrote “falcon” the man was tremendously agitated and Usher concluded that this was evidence enough (falcon – Lord Falconroy). Father Brown, however, makes clear that every machine depends on the man who works with it and on the right interpretation of the results. When Usher and Rian came out of the room and entered the vestibule some women shouted that this man was “Drugger Davis” who is said to be a murderer – but nobody was able to prove this so far. After this explanations Father Brown is sure that the man can’t be Oscar Rian because he was identified as Drugger Davis. And Drugger Davis can’t be arrested just because of this vague old stories. Usher is really amazed and can’t believe that he arrested the wrong man.

At that moment the door flies open and a man in shabby clothes runs in and screams that he doesn’t want to get fooled any longer. Father Brown is the only one who understands and makes clear the strange situation: this man at the door is the costumed Mr Todd who has just left his own Slum Dinner and who wants to pick up his friend Lord Falconroy who is costumed, too. Father Brown concludes that it is Lord Falconroy who had been arrested. He was on this motto-party when suddenly the escaped convict with the gun came in. Falconroy had to run away in a hurry and was then caught by Usher.

Next morning Father Brown reads an article which says that a laughable occurrence took place near Pilgrim’s Pond the day before. A woman sat in a car with a man wearing a prison dress. When the police interfered they recognized Etta Todd who had just come from the Slum Dinner at Pilgrim’s Pond with another guest.

A few days later another report was published saying that Etta Todd escaped with a convict after she had arranged the motto-dinner.


[1] Hunter: G.K. Chesterton, Explorations in Allegory, p. 140

[2] Chesterton: Father Brown Stories, p. 157.

[3] Chesterton: Father Brown Stories, p. 161.

[4] Chesterton: Father Brown Stories, p. 161

Excerpt out of 16 pages


G.K. Chesterton's 'The Wisdom of Father Brown'
Technical University of Braunschweig
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Chesterton, Wisdom, Father, Brown
Quote paper
Jessica Schulze (Author), 2003, G.K. Chesterton's 'The Wisdom of Father Brown', Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/35423


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