The Innocence of Father Brown (1911) is G. K. Chesterton’s first collection of short stories featuring Father Brown, a nondescript Catholic priest who solves crimes using intuition and by tapping into spiritual and philosophic truths rather than scientific details. The stories are clever, thoughtful, and lovely.
Here are some conversation starters and questions that got us thinking. We hope they’ll get you thinking, too! We invite you to be part of the conversation. You can share your thoughts using the form below!
The fantastic tales in The Innocence of Father Brown mix fantasy, humor, and horror and push the bounds of reality. Were you able to suspend disbelief? Did the stories seem contrived? Thoughtful? Charming?
Father Brown has brown hair. He’s featureless, inconspicuous, shabby, clumsy, self-effacing, and expressionless, his “eyes as empty as the North Sea.” In “The Blue Cross,” he’s very naïve. Does he evolve as a character in the stories? In what ways?
Father Brown has great spiritual intuition and the “kind of head that cannot help asking questions.” In “The Secret Garden,” he says, “Will God give me strength? Will my brain make the one jump and see all?” He observes details missed by others and is skilled in the art of deduction. He “put two and two together and made four million” (”The Queer Feet”). In what ways is he similar to Sherlock Holmes? In what ways is he different?
In The Innocence of Father Brown, Father Brown gets inside the criminal’s mind and empathizes with his evil motives. In “The Sign of the Broken Sword,” the world thinks Sir Arthur St. Clare was brave and heroic, but he was really a traitor who sent 800 men to their death to cover up a murder he had committed. Father Brown says, “I can’t prove it, but I can do more—I can see it.”
What surprised you most about Father Brown? Have you known people who seemed on the surface to be one thing and turned out to be something else altogether?
In “The Queer Feet,” the narrator says it is “unlikely that you will ever rise high enough in the social world to find ‘The Twelve True Fishermen’ or that you will ever sink low enough among slums and criminals to find Father Brown.” In “The Flying Stars,” Father Brown is asked what he would “call a man who wants to embrace the chimney-sweep?” Father Brown’s reply: “A saint.” Where do Father Brown’s (and Chesterton’s) sympathies lie in The Innocence of Father Brown?
In what ways did the stories’ Christianity (Catholicism) enrich or complicate the stories? Where did your sympathies lie? Which tale hit home hardest for you, and why?
In the “The Invisible Man,” a woman admits she has felt the presence of a former suitor. Her confidant says, “if he were Satan himself, he is done, for now you have told somebody. One goes mad all alone.” In what ways do we tend to discount our intuition? Does one go mad all alone?
In “The Wrong Shape,” Father Brown says Mrs. Quinton is “over-driven. That’s the kind of woman who does her duty for twenty years, and then does something dreadful.” Do you know anyone who fits the description of Mrs. Quinton?
“The Eye of Apollo”: “A frigid fierceness (peculiar to the modern woman)” drove Pauline “to what she considered a harsher and higher existence.” She invested her wealth in her typewriting emporium and causes that advanced such work among women. What are your thoughts about Pauline? Have you ever resented someone for holding a door open for you (as she resents Flambeau)?
In the first few stories in The Innocence of Father Brown, Flambeau is a “good criminal” who commits bloodless crimes such as theft. He’s a tall, streetwise, outlaw hero who enjoys the “game” of crime. Under Father Brown’s influence, Flambeau reforms and becomes an amateur detective. In “The Wrong Shape,” Father Brown says to Flambeau, “You are my only friend in the world, and I want to talk to you. Or, perhaps, be silent with you.”
In “The Sign of the Broken Sword,” Father Brown asks Flambeau if he recalls whom Dante put in the last circle of ice. (Answer: Traitors who committed fraud against those with whom they shared special bonds of love and trust.) Flambeau “could almost fancy he was Dante, and [Father Brown was] Virgil leading him through a land of eternal sins.”
How do you feel about the good criminal and the road that “goes down and down”? How important is it to you to have friends with whom you can talk AND be silent? Has someone guided you through parts of your life? Have any Judas’ or Brutus’ in your life?
Tell us what you think about the book, and we may just send you a fabulous sticker! (It really is a pretty swell sticker if we do say so ourselves.)
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Teasers & Tidbits
What do you think of when you hear the term “Victorian locked room mystery”? My first thought was of movies
Prior to hearing about The Big Bow Mystery, I had never heard of Israel Zangwill, author of this mystery novel.
The fact that there’s a Sherlock Holmes anti-Mormon controversy came as a surprise. (It’s probably a surprise to you, too.)