G.K Chesterton and C.S.Lewis are two of the best essayists ever because both share the same level of creativity and intellect. Both share personal experience, suffering, and doubt which enable readers to empathize. In this article, I will provide a deeper analysis of Chesterton’s “Don’t” and Lewis’s story “After Ten Years” and his interviewed conversation “Unreal Estates.”
Chesterton’s essay “Don’t” was published in the 1910 Daily News, and it covered a very controversial period. Because of his personality, Chesterton was involved in nearly all the controversies. Chesterton’s purpose for writing this essay is to vent one last time before moving past all these controversies and finding peace. Chesterton says, “I wish to gather up into this last article a valedictory violence about all such things; and then pass to where, beyond these voices there is peace.” But, before Chesterton can move on to a more peaceful place he says, “I should very much like to write one last roaring, raging book telling all the rationalists not to be so utterly irrational”. This one last “roaring and raging” book is about intellectual etiquette and delves into seven things one must refrain from doing.
The first rule Chesterton expresses is that, one should not use a noun and then an adjective that crosses out the noun because an adjective qualifies; it cannot be contradictory. An example of this is when someone says, “give me a chicken sandwich with no chicken in it”. The second rule that is given is that, one shouldn’t say they are not going to say a thing, and then say it. An example of this is when a tenant says, “of course I’m not going to threaten you, but if this budget passes the rents will go up”. The third thing to refrain from is that, one should not use secondary words as primary words. By this he means that words such as “happiness” is a primary word and “progress” is a secondary word. Progress is a secondary word because it is the approach one takes towards happiness. The fourth rule Chesterton states is that one should never say, “there is no true creed; for each creed believes itself right and the others wrong”. More than likely there is one creed that is right. Diversity shows that most views must be wrong, and it does not by the faintest logic show that they all must be wrong. The fifth rule stated is that, one should not answer that the madmen are only the minority and the sane only the majority. The sixth rule that is discussed is that, one should not say the idea of human equality is absurd, because some men are tall and some short, some clever and some stupid. There is no clever man who has not found that he is stupid and there is no big man who hasn’t felt small before. The seventh and final rule states is that, one should not say that Primitive Man Knocked down a woman with a club and carried her away.
A male should never have to use physical violence towards a female!
Lewis quickly contradicts the view of Chesterton in his essay “After Ten Years”. Chesterton stated that “one should not say that Primitive Man Knocked down a woman with a club and carried her away”. In Lewis’ version of the Helen and Menelaus story, Menelaus draws his sword to kill Helen after the fall of Troy which is contradictory in the sense that a man should never use physical violence towards a female.This work is not an essay but rather a retelling of the famous Greek Mythology story of Helen and Menelaus after the fall of troy. Lewis started the first chapter in 1959 prior to his visit the Greece. This retelling began during the time the Narnian stories began to grow. The problem with this retelling was the fact that Lewis had not worked out any of the plot for the rest of the story. Lewis had discussed multiple versions of the legends of Helen and Menelaus however no one knows which version he was going to expound upon. In August of 1960, after his trip to Greece, and after the death of his wife, Lewis found that he could not make up stories or finish this one. It was as if his imaginative spring had dried up. Naturally, it is not possible to know exactly which direction Lewis would have taken to finish the story of Helen and Menelaus however this does not matter. What we do have from Lewis’ version of the story is enough to contradict the words of Chesterton.
Lewis’s discussion in the transcript of “Real Estates” is another work that contradicts the views of Chesterton. This essay is a transcription of the conversation held by Lewis, Brian Aldiss and Kingsley Amis in Lewis’s rooms at Magdelene College. Their conversation starts off by discussing how the intended purpose of fiction and specifically science fiction novels is to be didactic. Aldiss says:
…but a lot of science fiction has been written from the other point of view: those dreary sociological dramas that appear from time to time, started with a didactic purpose- to make a preconceived point- and they’ve got no further
All three of these men agree that educating the reader within a science fiction text is a challenging thing to do. David Lindsay caught the eye of Lewis because his work titles Voyage to Arcturus was so unscientific. Even though scientifically, this work was terrible, Lindsay’s vision was still able to come through to Lewis.
Further into their conversation, the men begin to discuss how the world of serious fiction is very narrow. Amis provides an example of how in Philip Wylie’s The Disappearance, Wylie wants to deal with the difference between men and women in a general way. Amis says that his point is this:
…that men and women shorn of their social roles, are really very much the same. Science fiction, which can presuppose a major change in our environment, is the natural medium for discussing a subject of that kind. Look at the job if dissecting human nastiness carried out in Golding’s Lord of the Flies.
This idea that men and women are the same aside from their social roles is the typical Lewis view. It is no coincidence that Lewis chose to pick the version of Helen and Menelaus which had Menelaus killing Helen. Lewis agreed with his friend Amis that men and women were equal. Both Amis and Lewis on the contrary disagreed with Chesterton who clearly believes men and women are not equal.
While Chesterton and Lewis are both quality essayists, they did not always share common ways of thinking. Chesterton was very straight forward with his beliefs. If he had to say something, he would jump straight to the fact as he did in “Don’t.” Lewis would take a longer route to get his points across as seen in his retelling of the story of Helen and Menelaus in “After Ten Years” and “Unreal Estates.” Although both writers are iconic, and their work will be studied forever, Lewis and Chesterton differ on the social roles between men and women. At the end of the day, both these men are remarkable and can teach readers endless lessons about the human condition.