2.1 The Queer Feet
2.2 The Hammer of God
2.3 The Sins of Prince Saradine
3 The Innocence of Father Brown
3.1 Comparison of the three stories
3.2 Striking Elements in “The Innocence of Father Brown”
4 Father Brown
4.1 Characterisation of Father Brown
4.2 Father Brown in “The Innocence of Father Brown”
5 The title “The Innocence of Father Brown”
Gilbert Keith Chesterton started writing when he was still very young. He published hundreds of books and essays. His work consists of novels, short stories, poems and biographies.
But today he is only known for his Father Brown stories and they are also the most widely read stories of all Chesterton’s writing. Furthermore, they are the form of art in which he was most successful. You can call them his masterpiece. The Father Brown Stories consist of five books. Two of them are pre-War. They “constitute a fascinating summary of Chesterton practising what he preached” (Hunter 1983, p.140).
The first book of the Father Brown Stories is “The Innocence of Father Brown” consisting of twelve stories dealing with Father Brown. Then there is the “The Wisdom of Father Brown”, “The Incredulity of Father Brown”, “The Secret of Father Brown” and “The Scandal of Father Brown”.
All these books were published between 1911 and 1935.
In my work I will concentrate on the first collection of Father Brown Stories, “The Innocence of Father Brown” which was published in 1911 and was dedicated to Chesterton’s old friend Waldo D’Avigdor and his wife Mildred.
From this collection I chose three stories (“The Queer Feet”, “The Hammer of God” and “The Sins of Prince Saradine”).
I will give a summary of them and then I will compare them to find out differences or what is the same. After that I will talk about some striking elements in “The Innocence of Father Brown”.
As Father Brown is the only character that counts in the Father Brown Stories I will characterise him and later on write of his attitudes and role in this book. With the help of what I found out, I will try to explain the title of “The Innocence of Father Brown”.
2.1 The Queer Feet
The story “The Queer Feet” deals with Flambeau wanting to steal the silverware of the members of the Twelve True Fishermen having their annual club dinner at Vernon Hotel.
The Vernon Hotel is an exclusive hotel and a “topsy-turvy product” (Chesterton 1994, p.51). It only opens Thursday and only 24 people can dine there.
One of the 15 waiters of the Vernon Hotel whose owner is a Jew named Lever has been struck down with a paralytic stroke. Father Brown has been sent to the hotel for confession. After confession Father Brown asks for a room and writing material.
The room is between the office and the cloakroom without another outlet. Furthermore, there is no light. While writing the last and essential part of his document, Father Brown hears some strange footsteps consisting of a long rush of rapid little steps and at a certain point they stop and change “to a sort of slow, swinging stamp” (Chesterton 1994, p.56). Father Brown starts thinking of what that can be. Suddenly he has an idea. It is a “very strong, active man, in still yet tearing excitement” (Chesterton 1994, p.59).
Father Brown flings down his paper and goes back into the cloakroom on the other side. A man standing outside the cloak room in the corridor wants to have his coat. Father Brown gives it to him. Then the man says that he has not got any silver and gives him a half sovereign. In that moment Father Brown loses his head and finds out that the man called Flambeau has made these strange noises. Father Brown tells him that he is ready for confession.
When the Twelve Fishermen have taken their seats it is the custom for all fifteen waiters to stand in a line at the wall. The first to two courses of the dinner proceed with success. For the fish course the Twelve True Fishermen take their special fish knives and forks and celebrate the pudding as if it costs as much as their silver fork. This ritual finishes with the remark of the young duke that they cannot do it anywhere but there.
A waiter enters the room and suddenly stops. The guests know that something is going wrong because the waiter is going something unexpected and they want it to be over. Mr Lever tells the guests that he has sent a waiter to take the plates away, but the waiter has found them already away. The colonel wants to know if all waiters are there. The young duke answers that he has seen all fifteen waiters. But Mr Lever tells them that today there are only fourteen waiters as one of them has died. So the fifteenth waiter has to be a thief.
Suddenly, the sixth waiter enters the room declaring that he has found the pile of fish plates but without the silver. So the crowd of diners and attendants start searching it. Colonel Pound, the chairman and the vice-president run down the corridor leading to the servants’ quarters. They pass a man and the duke asks him if he has seen anybody. Father Brown does not answer the question directly but shows him the silver. First, the colonel thinks that Father Brown has stolen the silver. Father Brown tells him that he has not stolen it and then starts telling him how everything happened.
The crime has been “built on the plain that a gentleman’s evening dress is the same as a waiter’s” (Chesterton 1994, p.70). The rest has been acting. Furthermore, the criminal has not hidden in dark corners where one would have searched for a suspicious person. Every time he came among the guests he came “in the lightening style of a waiter, with bent head, flapping napkin and lying feet” (Chesterton 1994, p.71). When he was together with the waiters he became another man and it had nothing special that a guest was running around there. The most difficult situation was when all waiters stood in a row.
Father does not tell the colonel who the criminal is and what he has done to him. Then the colonel suggests wearing green coats instead of black ones to prevent confusion.
2.2 The Hammer of God
The story “The Hammer of God” deals with the murder of Norman Bohun, the elderly brother of Wilfrid Bohun, being murdered by a hammer.
After daybreak Wilfrid Bohun meets his brother just fishing his day. Wilfrid Bohun is very devout and seems to live for nothing but his religion. His brother is the opposite of him.
Meeting him he asks if he is afraid of thunderbolts and Norman shows him his head which is lined within with steel. Wilfrid Bohun realizes that it is from a trophy that hung in the old family hall. Then, he turns and goes into the church “with bowed head, crossing himself like one who wishes to be quit of an unclean spirit” (Chesterton 1994, p.116). When the curate enters the church he sees “Mad Joe”, the village idiot and nephew of the blacksmith, praying. As Joe leaves the church, Bohun sees how his brother throws pennies at his open mouth and he tries to hit it. This ugly picture shows him to his prayers and new thoughts. He goes to a pew in the gallery under the coloured window which he loves very much.
Half an hour later Gibbs, the village cobbler, arrives to tell him that he has to follow him because his brother is dead. His brother has been murdered by an incredible blow with a hammer. First, they think that it has been Simeon Barnes, the blacksmith. But he has been to Greenford. Father Brown looks at the hammer and thinks that such a strong man would not use such a small hammer. The doctor thinks that it could be a woman but Father Brown says that a woman cannot smash “a man’s skull out flat like that” (Chesterton 1994, p.124) because of physical impossibility. Wilfrid Bohun says that it has been the idiot. But he is a priest and a priest should not bring anyone to the gallows. Father Brown knows that it has not been the idiot.
The blacksmith tells them that Norman Bohun has died alone and that he has not murdered him as his hammer has no wings to fly half a mile. Then, Father Brown wants to go with Bohun to his church. They go to the balcony outside the building from which one can see the illimitable plain. Father Brown says that it is very dangerous to stand on these high places and to pray there. “Heights are made to be looked at, not to be looked from” (Chesterton 1994, p.130).
Then Father Brown tells Bohun that he knows what he has done. When he left his brother he was in such a rage that he took the small hammer. He did the hammer under his coat and prayed wildly in many places. Suddenly something snapped in his soul and “let God’s thunderbolt fall” (Chesterton 1994, p.132).
After that Father Brown says that he has to do the next step and that he leaves things to him because he has not got wrong very far. Then, they go down the stairs and Wilfrid Bohun admits that he has killed his brother.