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G.K. Chesterton Collection

Identifier: MSE/MD 3817

Scope and Contents

The collection includes letters, manuscripts, published articles by Chesterton, published articles about him, photographs, drawings and sketches by Chesterton, and such miscellaneous items as a recording of some of Chesterton's verse. With regard to the letters, they are limited in number: a few by Chesterton and his wife Frances and several by Cecil Chesterton, the author's younger brother. Among the literary manuscripts are such essays as: Divorce versus Democracy and The United States and the World War as well as a typed manuscript of The Incredulity of Father Brown. The stories in the Father Brown book were first published in serials, and the manuscript in the collection represents that step between serial publication and book form. Many of the articles are loose, some are in scrapbook form. For example, the collector John Bennett Shaw organized many of Chesterton's early articles (1905-1907) from the Daily News of London into one scrapbook, while another is organized around articles from the Illustrated London News. Another scrapbook is comprised of articles when Chesterton died in 1936, while other scrapbooks are more disparate in nature. With regard to G. K. Chesterton's sketches and drawings, some are pen and ink, others pencil, while still others are pastels or watercolors. Some of the sketches and drawings were done to illustrate one of his own works such as The Club of Queer Trades and others to illustrate a work like Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone. Some of the sketches and drawings were never published.

The books and periodicals that have been cataloged separately include many different editions of Chesterton's work, among them many first editions; translations of Chesterton into other languages; runs of such serials with which Chesterton was associated as: The New Witness and G. K.'s Weekly; and other items.


  • Creation: 1893 - 1977


Language of Materials

Collection material in English.

Conditions Governing Access

There are no access restrictions on this collection.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright status for collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Biographical / Historical

G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936) was a man of diverse talents; he was an artist, poet, dramatist, novelist, philosopher, biographer, literary and art critic, and Christian apologist, but above all, he was a journalist. After attending the Slade School of Art, he began writing book reviews and then weekly columns for various papers. Such opinions as his opposition to the Boer War in 1899 attracted attention. He soon published several volumes of verse, and in 1901 he married Frances Blogg. His output continued to expand with such works as Heretics, biographical studies on Browning and Dickens, and such works of fiction as: The Napoleon of Notting Hill and The Club of Queer Trades. However, despite the varied interests, he continued to spend much of his time on journalism. In 1905 he began writing a weekly column for The Illustrated London News and continued this column until his death. At the same time he was involved in editing a series of journals: The Eye-Witness (1911-1914), The New Witness (1914-1923), and G. K.'s Weekly (1925-1936). In 1922 he converted to Catholicism, which, because of his theological, spiritual, and conservative bent, almost seemed inevitable. His circle of friends included: George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, Hillaire Belloc, and Max Beerbohm.

With regard to Chesterton's most important and most popular works, readers disposed toward his philosophic and theological side often cite Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man. With regard to biographical studies, some critics have credited Chesterton's work on Dickens as the book that heralded a scholarly appreciation of the 19th-century English author. Much of Chesterton's verse is occasional and topical; however, the British poet Humbert Wolfe believed that Chesterton's poetry would outlive his prose. With regard to fiction, The Man Who Was Thursday is often regarded as his best novel; however, the detective priest, Father Brown, who is at the center of five books of short stories, is his best-loved character.

Of added interest is Chesterton's association with the University of Notre Dame. While at the height of his fame in the fall of 1930, he came to the university as a visiting professor of English literature. He taught two courses of eighteen lectures each in Washington Hall, one on Victorian literature and one on Victorian political history. During his time at Notre Dame Chesterton fully embraced the life of the campus, even attending a football game; the team that year won the national championship in what was to be Knute Rockne's final season. The football game inspired Chesterton to write the poem "The Arena," which he dedicated to Notre Dame.


3 Cubic Feet


The collection consists of manuscripts, letters, articles by Chesterton, as well as articles about him, photographs, and drawings. In addition to the material described in this finding aid, the collection also includes over 2,000 books and periodicals that have been cataloged separately.


The collection is arranged in seven series. Series 1 is manuscripts comprised primarily of letters and literary manuscripts. Series 2 is comprised of articles, those by G. K. Chesterton and those about him. Series 3 is "Other Print" -- that is, items that do not fall into the category of articles -- for example, a Christmas card printed up for Frances and G. K. Chesterton or the Distributist League manifesto. Series 4 is photographs. Series 5 is sketches and drawings. Series 6 is audio, which contains only one item, and series 7 is comprised of the items of one of John Bennett Shaw's scrapbooks; unlike the other scrapbooks, it contains miscellaneous items: mourning cards, playbills, a script for an episode on Chesterton on Catholic Hour, etc.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The bulk of the G.K. Chesterton collection was acquired in 1965 from Notre Dame alumnus, John Bennett Shaw ('37). Over the years, items have been added.

Related Materials

The British Library in London has the best collection of Chesterton papers; however, Chesterton was so prolific that excellent collections can be found in New York Public, the Harry Ransom Center, and many other places. At Notre Dame, besides the collection described here, the Archives on campus hold manuscripts, letters, and other materials.

G.K. Chesterton Collection
Kenneth Kinslow and Zoe Thrumston
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the University of Notre Dame Rare Books & Special Collections Repository

102 Hesburgh Library
Notre Dame IN 46556