The Innocence of Father Brown - A Lovely Collection of Father Brown Mysteries
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. These Father Brown mysteries are clever and thoughtful and beautifully written.
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Father Brown Mysteries Podcast Transcript
Sarah Harrison 0:24
Welcome to Tea, Tonic & Toxin, a book club and podcast for anyone who wants to explore the best mysteries and thrillers ever written. I’m your host, Sarah Harrison
Carolyn Daughters 0:36
and I’m your host Carolyn Daughters. Pour yourself a tea, or a gin and tonic,
Sarah Harrison 0:42
but not a toxin
Carolyn Daughters 0:44
and join us on the journey through 19th and 20th century mysteries and thrillers, every one of them a game changer.
Sarah Harrison 0:56
Carolyn Daughters 0:57
Hello, everyone. We’re talking about The Innocence of Father Brown this month. It’s an amazing collection of Father Brown mysteries by G. K. Chesterton. We have a lot to say about this book. But before we get into that, I want to introduce our sponsor for Tea, Tonic, and Toxin. This month, our sponsor is Grace Sigma. Grace Sigma is a boutique process engineering consultancy run by our own Sarah Harrison. Imagine that.
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Sarah Harrison 1:52
You sure can. You can go to that website, and it’s going to work.
Carolyn Daughters 1:57
Unlike other months when we talked about this website, this month this website will actually work. There’s actual content on the site.
Sarah Harrison 2:06
We also have a super special listener this month. Her name is Jennifer Gardner, and she is listening from Chicago, Illinois. Jennifer is a recent listener, and she has been all kinds of awesome in reaching out and giving us five star reviews. So if you haven’t done that you should go and do it listener.
Carolyn Daughters 2:33
So where do people give us these reviews?
Sarah Harrison 2:35
I think on whatever podcast platform they’re listening to.
Carolyn Daughters 2:39
I love it. So whatever your podcast platform of choice is, we’re probably on it. And we’re open to five star reviews.
Sarah Harrison 2:48
We’re on all of them, I think.
Carolyn Daughters 2:50
All of them?
Sarah Harrison 2:51
Apple was the last bastion, and we got on there.
Carolyn Daughters 2:54
So we are everywhere you could possibly listen to a podcast, apparently. And we’re open to five star reviews.
Sarah Harrison 3:03
Wide open. So thank you, Jennifer, you are going to be receiving in the mail a beautiful sticker. Because we know you like mail. If you like mail, let us know on teatonicandtoxin.com.
Sarah Harrison 3:32
Send us some thoughts do some stuff. We are reading such a cool book today, and we have a really cool guest. But we’ll get to that in a second.
Today’s book is The Innocence of Father Brown. In 1908, G. K. Chesterton wrote a well-known work of Christian apologetics called Orthodoxy. In the preface, he says the work is an explanation, not of whether the Christian faith can be believed, but of how he himself personally came to believe it. Chesterton saw Christianity as the answer to natural human needs, not as an arbitrary truth received from outside the bounds of human experience. Chesterton also wrote a series of Father Brown mysteries about a Catholic priest. Father Brown is based on Father O’Connor, a priest Chesterton knew. One day, Chesterton and Father O’Connor were talking to some Cambridge undergraduates about philosophy. The students admired the priest’s intellect but dismissed him as being naive about the real world. Chesterton said he almost laughed out loud because the priest knew far more about the real world than the Cambridge men. In one of the Father Brown mysteries called “The Blue Cross,” he writes, “a man who does next to nothing but hear men’s real sins is not likely to be wholly unaware of human evil.” Chesterton wrote about domestic murders with human motives. His stories have an unlikely detective and a limited list of suspects. Chesterton’s in his writing is lovely, and his Father Brown mysteries include philosophical reflections and a moral or maybe several. Father Brown solves crimes by getting inside the criminal mind and the criminal heart he evaluates the human being instead of investigating external evidence. He often seems naive, but hiding behind his plain exterior is an intellect that’s on fire. Chesterton’s called Edgar Allan Poe’s detective stories the best ever written. Poet and short story writer Jorge Luis Borges, in turn, called Chesterton Poe’s great disciple. Today, we’re excited to talk about The Innocence of Father Brown. It’s our first book selection of 2023. You can find the entire list of books for 2023 on our website, teatonicandtoxin.com. Where you can comment and get a sticker, folks.
Carolyn Daughters 6:12
Yes, check out the website and comment and then you get all the great information on the site and you get this beautiful sticker.
Sarah Harrison 6:20
It’s a win, win, win.
Carolyn Daughters 6:21
We have a guest today. It’s our very first guest. Our guest today is Deb Donner.
Sarah Harrison 6:28
Carolyn Daughters 6:29
We’re very excited about this. Deb got to watch our seamless prep in action.
Sarah Harrison 6:35
We did really good and were super smooth.
Carolyn Daughters 6:39
I don’t want to speak for her, but she would probably say she was impressed.
Deb is a self-described bookaholic. Reading is her escape and her inspiration. Deb’s current favorite genre is memoir. She believes everyone has a unique life story, and she loves hearing other people’s stories. Part of her own story involves how she survived being in a religious cult. Her mother joined the cult when Deb was 12, and Deb escaped at age 19. She finds writing about that experience more healing than therapy. Deb also enjoys crafting, and her latest joy is slow stitching bits of fabric together into fabric stories. Deb shares her crafty fun on social media @debdonner62. She shares her experience of being in a cult on social media @let’stalkcults. Welcome, Deb.
Sarah Harrison 7:37
Deb Donner 7:38
Thank you. I’m glad to be here.
Sarah Harrison 7:41
Our first guest ever. We’re so excited.
Carolyn Daughters 7:44
Yes, no pressure, but you’re basically modeling how this is going to go for everyone else. Luckily you can handle the pressure, and we are very grateful for that.
Sarah Harrison 7:53
Yeah, Deb is a pro at podcasts. This is her second guest spot today. I’m a little intimidated, personally.
Carolyn Daughters 8:01
I never guest on podcasts. I want to start, though. I don’t know why I do, but I I suddenly want to.
Sarah Harrison 8:09
Folks, we’re open to being guests on your podcast.
Carolyn Daughters 8:13
We would love it.
Sarah Harrison 8:15
Deb, you were really excited about picking this book. I want to know what drew you to these Father Brown mysteries?
Deb Donner 8:27
Reading through your list of books. … I feel ashamed to say this, but I don’t read a lot of mystery-type books. I read a lot of books with mystery as the premise. But this one got my attention because of the religious aspect of it. Who is this Father Brown? Why is he innocent? Because in my world priests are not in innocent. And I wanted to know a little bit more about the man who wrote this book and these Father Brown mysteries. I did a little research and decided this is the one I want to be a part of.
Sarah Harrison 9:05
Did it live up to your expectations?
Deb Donner 9:07
It did in some ways, and in other ways these Father Brown mysteries blew me away with the — we’ll get into it a little bit more I’m sure — writing style. I was expecting to be preached at …
Sarah Harrison 9:24
Deb Donner 9:25
I really was.
Sarah Harrison 9:27
Who picks a book that is gonna preach at them, though.
Deb Donner 9:30
I wanted to shoot it down.
Sarah Harrison 9:32
You picked a book you wanted to shoot down on the podcast? I didn’t know you were such an insidious guest.
Deb Donner 9:40
No, that’s not really true. I wanted to understand how somebody could write through the eyes of this pastor, and I wanted to understand why he was innocent. Innocence. That is intriguing. And I’m still wondering that after reading the stories. Innocence in the way he didn’t commit crimes? He wasn’t the antagonist? Or innocent in the fact that his approach to solving crimes comes from an innocent perspective.
Sarah Harrison 10:13
That’s interesting. I didn’t have any idea before I read it. Similar to what you said, I’ve read very few of these books. I’ve never been a mystery junkie. I’m just a fiction junkie. So I’m into it, but I haven’t read it. But after reading it, I’ve taken it as he’s not so innocent in terms of naive. He’s not the fool that people keep mistaking him for. He was so clever.
Carolyn Daughters 10:52
Definitely. I was thinking of it as a purity of mind, body, and spirit. Nobody’s perfect. And this guy is plain, he’s dull. In the first story, he seems naive, the sort of person anybody could take advantage of. And over the course of the stories, he starts, in my mind, evolving as a character, as if G. K. Chesterton got to know his own character, which is not uncommon. He seems to evolve throughout the Father Brown mysteries.
Sarah Harrison 11:30
I wrote down a quote from Chesterton from the story “The Hammer of God,” where Father Brown says, “I am a man, and therefore have all devils in my heart.” He’s not perceiving himself in any way as some sort of innocent or superior. He’s using his own flawed self and his knowledge of human behavior. To really be … not a criminal. Not an innocent-minded person,
Carolyn Daughters 12:03
But he could be a criminal if he wanted to, because he’s one of those people who’s heard everything. You’re not going to take this guy by surprise.
Sarah Harrison 12:12
I wrote down another quote, I loved from the last story, “The Three Tools of Death.” He actually said, “If I ever murdered somebody, I dare say, it might be an optimist.” I feel ya. He doesn’t see himself above any of it, really. He’s just in the role of the priest, and he’s there to do his duty, it seems.
Deb Donner 12:40
And he knows human nature so well that he’s able to identify and see these “sins” of these criminals before the police can or other people who are in the same area at the same time. I mean, how is he picking this out? Is Chesterton writing him as a superhero pastor, preacher, or religious dude? Or is it what you just said, where he understands human nature, and he gets to that so fast.
Sarah Harrison 13:15
He’s not there to be the judge.
Carolyn Daughters 13:25
His intuition seemed sort of familiar, because we recently read Lady Molly of Scotland Yard, and she walks into a room and her takeaway from whatever the conversation is, is completely different from what anybody else’s would be. She has a sixth sense about what’s happening. And I think Father Brown does as well in these Father Brown mysteries. I feel like these two would have a lot to talk about at a dinner party.
Sarah Harrison 13:50
Yes, Baroness Orczy positions Lady Molly from a position of women’s intuition, whereas Father Brown has this deep knowledge of human nature. They had a lot of similarities in the way they would come in and read the room. Also in the way they were written, where the stories weren’t super connected. They ended up being somewhat connected.
Carolyn Daughters 14:17
Just to clarify, The Innocence of Father Brown is a collection of short stories. And these Father Brown mysteries are pretty quick reads, and they connect in a way. There’s a second character who’s in many of them. His name is Flambeau.
Sarah Harrison 14:36
Yes, I’d like that guy.
Carolyn Daughters 14:38
And he’s the flim-flam artist from Paris.
Sarah Harrison 14:41
I like their terminology. They call those guys “adventurers.” That’s a romantic way to put it.
Carolyn Daughters 14:49
For the most part, Flambeau is not this dangerous man. He’s not a murderer. He takes advantage of people. And we see him in action and he’s successful with almost everyone anywhere he goes, but he’s not successful If Father Brown is around.
Sarah Harrison 15:05
He’s a super thief. He can thief anything. And he gets called an artist several times for the way that he thieves.
Deb Donner 15:16
Exactly. He’s an artist. I kept looking for his motivation. And maybe you can help me identify it, but I couldn’t understand his motivation for being a thief. Was he just a sociopath? Was he just this poor dude who Chesterton writes about these classes of people. There’s these people who are dark-skinned and servants and dawn on the luck, and then there’s the aristocrats are these people who have money up here. Is he of that ilk, and so that is his personality and his being? Or what is his motivation?
Sarah Harrison 15:54
He almost it on his head about the fish. What was the fish story? What did they call it? “The Twelve Fishermen.” Flambeau actually perpetrates this crime because he can so perfectly fit in with the gentlemen that the servants don’t even recognize him. That’s a good question. Because I feel like Chesterton didn’t really get into that.
Carolyn Daughters 16:19
I think that describing him as an artist in the Father Brown mysteries is one of the best ways to say it. He’s an artist in the way that Sherlock Holmes is an artist. He’s an artist in the way that Hercule Poirot is an artist. They have this special talent, and they want to challenge themselves, and the game is afoot. Sherlock Holmes would have made it an amazing criminal, right? When he is eventually saved by the influence of Father Brown in these Father Brown mysteries, Flambeau makes a really wonderful innocent man. And he in fact turns his attention to solving crimes. He becomes a detective. I think it’s this special skill set and this desire to be the best you can be at whatever the thing is that you’re good at. So we all have something in our lives that we’re really good at. We put our time and energy and attention to it. And for Flambeau it was putting one over on people and taking things from them. Because he didn’t get the sense that he was stealing all these diamonds or jewels or sapphires so he could then buy himself a villa in France. I never got that sense. I think it was a challenge of stealing it.
Sarah Harrison 17:39
I think adventure is a really good way to describe it. I don’t even know if we have thieves like this anymore. In movies we do. They’re out there to steal the the world’s largest diamond or something. It seems like the challenge of accomplishment. And he always positioned himself as never really hurting anyone. While he may not have given it to the poor, I almost feel like maybe he was a Robin Hood type character. Like he felt like it wasn’t bad because he was taking from the rich.
Deb Donner 18:10
He also gives several of the items back.
Sarah Harrison 18:13
Yes. Whenever Father Brown is there.
Deb Donner 18:18
He walks away so easily. Like, okay, that wasn’t his motivation. Just the thrill of being the best.
Carolyn Daughters 18:25
And then he seems to disappear. So n the first story, there’s a police detective hiding in the bushes He’s listening to this entire confession where Father Brown has discovered who Flambeau really is and he has thwarted his plans. And then I’m thinking okay, Flambeau is now off to prison.
Sarah Harrison 18:51
Yeah, I thought he got arrested after the first story.
Carolyn Daughters 18:53
Oh, no, he’s in the next story.
Sarah Harrison 18:55
Deb Donner 18:56
What a bad boy.
Sarah Harrison 18:58
That’s why a lot gets left out of these stories, which is interesting.
Deb Donner 19:02
I liked that though. In the first couple of stories. I was like, this is the end? And in those those moments when I’m like … oh! And then it’s the end and I’m like, okay. But I think you were talking about this on your last episode. There’s, a bit of not building up that history or telling the backstory that makes this more intriguing to me. I don’t need to know all of that. I don’t need to know where this goes. It’s like, oh, wow, I can use my imagination, or I can continue on and find out what happens next. And I didn’t need any closure.
Carolyn Daughters 19:40
Because it’s not about, but it’s not about him. We don’t know his parentage. We don’t know where he was born. We don’t know even where he lives. He’s always serving a new parish, it feels, every story. We don’t know a lot of the details of his life, but we know the man. We know the human being who is able to detect the truth.
I was wondering this, is there a benefit to being this featureless, shabby, clumsy, brown haired …
Sarah Harrison 20:15
… blinking …
Carolyn Daughters 20:16
… blinking guy who comes into the room and is barely noticed? There are disadvantages, I’m sure, where you blend in with the wall and people don’t remember you. But on the flip side, there might be benefits to somebody not really paying attention to the fact that you’re there. Think of all the things you can see and hear in plain sight when nobody even cares or notices you’re there.
Deb Donner 20:43
Like my high school years.
Sarah Harrison 20:47
Were you solving mysteries in high school?
Carolyn Daughters 20:51
In high school, did you feel not seen?
Deb Donner 20:56
Yes. And I would hear people talk about things. Like I knew who was having sex with who, and who was seeing who, and all of these things. Who was getting the F who’s getting the A. I was was one of those people who nobody saw when I was in the room.
Sarah Harrison 21:13
Did you feel like it was an advantage or disadvantage?
Deb Donner 21:16
I hated it at the time. But now years later, talking to people, I’m like, that was kind of cool. You remember when you were ignoring me? Thank you. But I get what you’re saying with Father Brown. In the Father Brown mysteries, I couldn’t tell if that was just his personality or if that was his thing. His psychological manipulation.
Carolyn Daughters 21:49
Interesting. I wasn’t thinking psychological manipulation. But I want to hear about that. I was thinking superpower. Because when I was a child, I wanted to make myself invisible. So I would close my eyes and sometimes open my eyes wonder if people see me. Ah, they do. Someone just pointed at me and said something. But invisibility is interesting. Hiding in plain sight is a theme that we’ve been talking about in this podcast and said Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Purloined Letter.” This is a guy hiding in plain sight.
Deb Donner 22:27
Maybe this book isn’t this name. Maybe the Father Brown mysteries should be called “The Invisibility of Father Brown.”
Sarah Harrison 22:32
It’s interesting. Now that you say that, I think about his role because I felt super sad about him when … What was the one where they had the wiggly dagger? And the doctor confessed. Which one was that?
Carolyn Daughters 22:53
There are many, many stories, so we’ve got to figure out which one that is.
Deb Donner 22:59
I felt the same though. I felt sorry for him.
Sarah Harrison 23:00
When he says he says to Flambeau, “You are my only friend, and I want to sit with you.”
Carolyn Daughters 23:09
It’s “The Wrong Shape.”
Sarah Harrison 23:13
Yes, it’s “The Wrong Shape.”
Carolyn Daughters 23:17
Here’s a summary of one of the Father Brown mysteries called “The Wrong Shape”: A poet’s suicide note strikes Father Brown as having the wrong shape, much like the dagger that killed him. This clue helps Father Brown solve the mystery of the poet’s death. Now, in that story, he says what?
Sarah Harrison 23:35
He says to Flambeau, the guy he caught three times: “You are my only friend in the world. And I want to talk to you, or perhaps be silent with you.” And I thought, he’s being invited into all of these parlors, and all of these homes and all these places. But it’s always within his role. And so my father is a minister. And growing up, I know that can be a super isolating role because people have expectations. And they engage with you in your role.
Carolyn Daughters 24:13
Expectations of your father or of you?
Sarah Harrison 24:15
Both. But in this case I’m thinking my father as more parallel to Father Brown. It can be very isolating. I know growing up, my parents felt very isolated, often from other folks in the congregation because of the way they were perceived or the way they were viewed. You’re always the minister, and he’s always Father Brown. So it’s like, he gets to go everywhere, but he doesn’t get to be friends with everybody.
Deb Donner 24:43
Sarah Harrison 24:45
Yes, that a true friendship. For me, true intimacy is is not just somebody you can share everything with. It’s somebody who you’re comfortable being silent with. That seems like a lot. I mean, maybe my husband? Do you have friends you can just hang out and be silent with?
Carolyn Daughters 25:05
I have friends I can be silent with.
Sarah Harrison 25:07
Carolyn Daughters 25:08
I’m going to be silent with you right now.
Sarah Harrison 25:09
Okay, well, we’re on a podcast.
Carolyn Daughters 25:12
And on that note, the podcast is wrapping up … No, we’re just joking. I have friends I can be silent with and not nervous about being silent. And I have friends who have been silent with me, but you get a sense of their comfort in the silence. So there’s a uncomfortable silence with some people where I’ve taught a lot of classes. I’m teaching a freshman college literature class or writing class or something, and you ask a question of the class, and there’s dead silence. And, boy, you’re sweating bullets, at least the first year or so you’re teaching. It’s intimidating. Being comfortable with silence is something that takes practice and also a comfort level with either what you’re doing — teaching — or the people you’re surrounding yourself with.
Deb Donner 26:10
One of my first therapists when I escaped the cult told me, she said, you have an aversion to silence. And I said, I do? I asked her what she meant. She said, because I needed to fill every space, every moment, every air molecule around with some kind of noise. Either you’re moving or fidgeting or talking or nodding your head or responding. And she said, there’s there’s a comfort and a trust in a silent moment.
Sarah Harrison 26:51
How did you feel about that?
Deb Donner 26:54
It was terrifying. Gosh, it was terrifying at first. She would actually practice with me sitting silently,. And just trusting that it was a safe moment. Like I didn’t have to perform. I didn’t have to do anything. I didn’t have to say anything, or entertain the masses.
Carolyn Daughters 27:13
So what’s scary about the silence? Not that I don’t have any sense of what it could be because I’ve experienced it. But let’s just put words around what this idea is. What’s scary about it?
Deb Donner 27:26
For me, it was a PTSD response to being in a place where you didn’t know what was coming next. You didn’t know what was going to come out of the silence at you.
Sarah Harrison 27:39
It’s almost a little protection there. If you’re directing the attention, then things aren’t going to come sideways to you. Interesting.
Deb Donner 27:47
I had that line written down, too. When they’re sitting on the bench, and he’s like, maybe we can just be silent. I get that. I get that. And he’s gone from this man who’s being hunted by this rock star detective in the beginning of the book to where he’s sitting with the preacher on a bench as a friend. That was big for me.
Carolyn Daughters 28:14
Flambeau is serving a purpose in his life as well. He served it obviously a big purpose in Flambeau’s life. Flambeau’s not a criminal any longer. After the first four or six stories, somewhere in there, Flambeau reforms. It’s not a one way relationship. It’s the rare, probably from a priest or a pastor’s perspective, the rare time when somebody is able to actually be there also for you in a really human way. And not the “I’m going to always remember that you’re the priest and always have this invisible wall between us” way. I can actually be in your presence, you can be in mine, and we can be real people.
Sarah Harrison 29:03
That story, too, came off in a couple of layers. Because first Father Brown said this to Flambeau, and they’re sitting there. And it’s not until later like at the end, where you find out at this point that Father Brown already knew that the doctor had not just killed the guy, but killed him with Father Brown in the room. As you think back, did he know it at the time? Like he was trying to distract him by looking at this paper, and it almost seems that Father Brown looked at the paper too long. And he just let him do it. He let him distract him while he went over and stabbed the guy and came back. I thought, whoa. Is that when he’s sitting with?
Carolyn Daughters 29:54
I hadn’t thought of his being aware in the moment.
Deb Donner 29:57
I didn’t either.
Sarah Harrison 29:58
There were a couple of things. For example, he was almost abnormally interested in the paper. And for somebody as observant as Father Brown, I don’t think somebody could just go murder a guy in front of him and he wouldn’t notice.
Deb Donner 30:12
I think though that Father Brown susses out an entire family situation in another story. Where he’s talking about this man who’s just so happy and he entertains everybody else and he’s the life of the party.
Sarah Harrison 30:25
It’s the optimist he’s willing to murder.
Deb Donner 30:28
Right? I think he and his family are just these pathetic creatures roaming around looking forlorn and lost and I think not only does he see a situation for what it is at the moment — the murders the mystery the what’s coming — but relationally he looks at these people and he susses out the situation on a different level. That’s what I saw in that story. Like, wow, like that moment when I’m like “oh!”
Sarah Harrison 31:00
It was really fascinating. The friendship there to me was really fascinating.
Carolyn Daughters 31:07
In that story, I was reminded of The Big Bow Mystery where the murder — SPOILER ALERT —
Sarah Harrison 31:15
Pause. Go back. Read The Big Bow Mystery.
Carolyn Daughters 31:18
So just flip this forward. 30 seconds if you haven’t read it yet, because you should read it. And then also listen to our podcast episodes on The Big Bow Mystery. The detective walks in the room to discover the potential murder, but right then and there commits the murder. To me, that story in the Father Brown mysteries borrowed from The Big Bow Mystery.
Sarah Harrison 31:45
I was wondering if it was a direct lift? But it is the deal with the locked room mystery. It was so bizarre the way they were throwing their suspicion on the Indian guru. And everyone’s participating in it. But Father Brown takes his moment to not like what’s going on with eastern religions, but he’s not diverted by it. He still knows what’s going on with the actual murder.
Carolyn Daughters 32:15
So much about these Father Brown mysteries is so lovely and edifying. I finished the stories, and I’m still thinking about them afterward. Some of the stories I’ve finished weeks ago, I still think about a couple of them. One of the things that bother me about this book is a casual racism in some of the stories that I thought to myself, why couldn’t G. K. Chesterton have been bigger than this? Above this? Why do this? Why include this?
Sarah Harrison 32:48
Do you feel like it was like actual racism, racism, because I felt like it was religiously based. He mostly disliked the Eastern religions and what he felt like they represented or what they stood for.
Carolyn Daughters 33:06
I think, possibly. But then there’s this religion that I love and respect and there’s this other religion over here, a whole body of religions, eastern religions, whatever we want to say. But then there’s a physicality ascribed to the individual who practices that religion as if, if you are a member of that religious faith, you look a particular way. You look scowling or evil or angry. And that bothered me it. It bothered me all the more. This book was published in 1911. We’ve seen in the Victorian novels casual racism and all this all this stuff.
And, and heads up, folks, it’s not going to stop in the next couple books we’re reading. It’s a product of this time, and these super smart, insightful authors could not, in many cases get past it. And it’s disappointing. It’s for me particularly disappointing that G. K. Chesterton couldn’t get past it in these Father Brown mysteries.
Sarah Harrison 34:19
Tell me, why “particularly” G. K. Chesterton?
Carolyn Daughters 34:22
Because Father Brown is so subtle. Actually, I want to hear, Deb, what you think about this. You had said you came to this book thinking, “I’m going to be able to come at it from this angle and that angle” and it’s not a preaching book. It’s really interesting, profound book. I think P. D. James wrote something like this: G. K. Chesterton never wrote an ugly or clumsy sentence. They’re beautiful sentences. There’s no preaching. There’s no hitting you over the head. And you leave the story and you think about it for the next several weeks or potentially months. My expectations for this guy are sky high. So when he falls down on the job periodically, it’s upsetting to me.
Sarah Harrison 35:15
Tell us more from your cult perspective.
Deb Donner 35:17
Well, I did a little bit of reading on G. K. Chesterton before I started the book because I wanted to understand the author. I need to understand an author and see who this person is before I read the Father Brown mysteries.
Sarah Harrison 35:28
That’s really interesting.
Deb Donner 35:29
And I read that he wrote that book Orthodoxy, a Christian apologist. He was a prolific writer. He wrote 4,000 essays and was published in multiple newspapers in London during his life. He wrote 200, short stories, several hundred poems, 80 books. He was a prolific writer, but a lot of what I read indicated he was a racist. He was an anti-semitic. And some of his early cartoon characters were of Jews stereotyped as greedy, disloyal communists. And I think that, yes, it was very definitely the times that he lived in. But I also think that there’s this grooming of society as a whole to think black and white as Christians. Religious, white, good. Everything else? Not good. And disparaging of those not good or sinful things is your duty as a Christian. That was my perspective. And I expected to see more of it in the book. There are some very racist language. I mean, there’s the N word in our favorite story.
Sarah Harrison 36:52
Right. But that’s not coming from Father Brown. It’s coming from the doctor who was trying to pin the murderer on him.
Deb Donner 37:00
I think there was a normalizing of this type of ideology and mentality, at the time. You couldn’t get away with it today, of course.
Sarah Harrison 37:14
Deb Donner 37:15
But on top of that, his writing is beautiful. He’s very descriptive. He had me from his first sentence because he can put you in a scene. And as a writer, I really enjoy that. I like being taken into a story and shown everything and feeling like I’m right in the middle of it. So, yes, his writing is very beautiful. But unfortunately, there is this aspect of it that we can’t ignore, I think.
Sarah Harrison 37:43
Well, here’s the other part for me where I thought maybe it’s more religiously focused than literally race focused, and that was “The Hammer from God.” In that story, I think the smith isn’t Catholic, the smith is Protestant, I want to say he’s Presbyterian. And in that story, he makes a lot of comments about Presbyterianism and Scottish religion is commented on and he calls the smith not even a Christian. And that reminded me, oh, right, Catholics have closed communion. And this idea was really common, like if you weren’t Catholic, you weren’t Christian. And that was much more common to think back in that day. Even though I don’t think anyone consider Presbyterian not a Christian now, that’s what he says. And he goes on to think “that’s the problem with Scotch religion. They’re always up on the peaks looking down on everyone. They’re not down in the valleys, learning humility and seeing how small they are. That’s where I thought that the primary lens was this old, old style Catholic lens.
Carolyn Daughters 38:54
But G. K. Chesterton is not Catholic.
Sarah Harrison 38:58
No, but the priest is.
Carolyn Daughters 39:00
G. K. Chesterton becomes Catholic in later years after this book is published, but he was Anglican when he wrote this book.
Deb Donner 39:10
I didn’t realize that.
Sarah Harrison 39:11
That’s really interesting that he’s writing the Father Brown mysteries and taking those same positions. I don’t think about it now, but I know, having been raised in a very Protestant religion, that it can be extremely anti-Catholic. To the point of like, “that’s paganism.” So that level of divisiveness along religious lines is maybe not something you see as much today.
Carolyn Daughters 39:38
And I was raised Catholic. And I remember when someone very dear to me died in my early 20s. The person who died who was dear to me was Christian, but not Catholic. Family members consoled me by saying I think he probably still made it to heaven.
Sarah Harrison 40:01
That’s a new perspective. That’s not what’s Father Brown said.
Carolyn Daughters 40:06
That whole idea of Catholicism being this thing outside of Christianity. And really, whether it’s a different religion altogether, or it’s a different branch on a tree, that us versus them mentality I always thought was really interesting.
Sarah Harrison 40:30
Father Brown never seems to take it as an enemy, but he almost addresses in each story — and I really want to get your perspective on this one, Deb, the Apollo story, which is actually about a cult leader — He’s always taking it as, here’s the flaw in moral thinking here. And he’s just always addressing these different misguided ways of thought that have led to these misguided modes of life.
Carolyn Daughters 41:06
Let me just quickly summarize this story, then Deb, we want to hear what you have to say that. “The Eye of Apollo” is a short story where Kalon, I’m going to say that that’s how it’s pronounced, I have no idea. Kalon is the head of a new religion. And he sets up his office, conveniently in the same building where Flambeau has his office. And Kalon professes to believe that staring at the sun isn’t dangerous, and that wearing spectacles is a medical crutch. And he presumably has a number of other interesting beliefs. And he converts one of the women, Pauline, who has the typewriting business in the building. So, Deb, you probably had particular take on this story.
Deb Donner 41:49
You know, I really didn’t.
Sarah Harrison 41:50
Deb Donner 41:52
Removing the religious aspect of this because I expected to see more of it in the Father Brown mysteries. I expected to see Chesterton create this superhero Catholic priest who came in and figured everything out because he was smarter. But I think there’s a lot of humanism in this as well in the writing. I didn’t even I didn’t even see this as a cult thing. I saw it as a manipulation. It’s like, here he comes in and he is wooing and manipulating somebody, and it didn’t even occur to me that it was cultic.
Sarah Harrison 42:07
Oh, that’s interesting. I thought that would be the one because. I thought you would have thoughts about “The Eye of Apollo,” where this crazy leader is like, “if you were healthy, you could stare at the sun.”
Deb Donner 42:45
There was a point where I thought, wow, this dude reminds me of Lou, the leader of the group that I was in. I made that parallel, but I didn’t go so far as to say “cultish.” I think it was because my prejudice about the time period and the religious aspect — I thought that would not have been the terminology of the time. That would not have been the purpose. I think the purpose of writing that was showing these people as not Catholic or not Christian, not as cultic. Does that makes that makes sense?
Sarah Harrison 43:22
Kalon even referred to himself with that same word “adventurer.”
Deb Donner 43:26
There was terminology like that through the whole book, like “adventurer” and “fairies” or “fairy tales.” I wanted to figure out how many times the terms “fairy tale” or “fairies” and “fairy land” were used. It actually refocused my attention on to how this person sees things more as real and unreal, reality versus, unreality.
Carolyn Daughters 44:03
I felt like all these stories were a little bit fairy tale-like. I was writing a little bit about the willing suspension of disbelief, which I think is Coleridge. That idea that if the tale is well enough told, then the reader can distance themselves, recognizing that, yes, this probably could not or would not happen, but I’m going along for the ride because I’m invested emotionally in the story in the characters, in the resolution of this plot. I felt most of these stories required a willing suspension of disbelief. And I thought that was a charming element of the stories. I wouldn’t count that as a criticism from my perspective, but at no point in time could I picture this happening..
Sarah Harrison 44:58
I guess didn’t think about it one way or the other. And maybe that’s because Chesterton did a good job suspending my disbelief in the Father Brown mysteries. But it was never to the point where I didn’t believe the resolution. Sometimes there’s a resolution where I’m like, “what about …” I didn’t feel that way about any of the stores. I thought they were very touching and with depth and believable, although the situation is wild. I mean, life is wild. When you try to put people’s stories down. I mean, your story is bonkers, Deb.
Deb Donner 45:49
But also in the book we weren’t being hammered in the head with a theology or a belief or a point or a resolution. It was more about telling the story. I mean, there were moments where I said, “okay, that can happen.” But there were also moments like, oh my gosh, I didn’t see that coming.
Carolyn Daughters 46:02
A fairy tale where a child has an obvious moral right. And these didn’t feel like fairy tales for children. These felt almost like fairy tales for adults.
Sarah Harrison 46:15
I feel like what we got most of even, when there was a moral or several morals, what we got most of is empathy. The empathy of Father Brown, not only with the people being murdered, but with the murderer. There was always this deep empathy, and he desired them to confess and to change their lives.
Deb Donner 46:38
That confessing, that was off. After they would confess, he would let them go. He let murderers walk away, and I’m like, what? I’m gonna go to the next chapter …
Sarah Harrison 46:50
I want to talk more about that in our next episode.
Carolyn Daughters 46:57
We’re gonna do one more episode, and Deb has agreed to stick around with us. So we’re really grateful for that. We have a lot more to say. We want to hear more about Deb and talk more about these amazing Father Brown mysteries in The Innocence of Father Brown.
Sarah Harrison 47:10
So come back for our next episode. And in the meantime, stay toxic.
September 11, 2023
Sarah, Carolyn, and Mike Nugent keep the Maltese Falcon conversation flowing with LOADS more thoughts about Sam Spade, Effie Perine, Casper Gutman, Joel Cairo, and, of course, the ever-elusive Brigid O'Shaughnessy. Folks, we have a lot of ground to cover. Join us, won’t you?Listen →
August 4, 2023
Author Mike Nugent joins Sarah and Carolyn to talk about noir, crime fiction, and all things Sam Spade (who’s described as resembling a blond satan). The Maltese Falcon changed the way crime fiction was written. You’ll want to read it in one sitting and then give our podcast a listen.Listen →
July 30, 2023
Hey, Continental Op, what’s your deal? Are you a hero? Anti-hero? Something else altogether? Hear our thoughts about the Op, Dinah Brand, Whisper, and all the gang – and let us know your tally of how many people wind up dead in the book. It’s hard to keep track.Listen →