Defiant Joy by Kevin Belmonte is both biography and literary analysis, much like the biographies written by Chesterton himself: a view of the man and his thinking from an admirer. I’d read Belmonte’s excellent biography of William Wilberforce and was eager to learn about “G.K.C.” Belmonte clearly christens him as the forerunner of C.S. Lewis. And while a convert to Catholicism, Chesterton is depicted as a Christian first, and a Catholic second. As such, and because of his apologetics (and awesome quotes) he is a favorite of Protestants, a guilty pleasure some of us are hesitant to admit to.
I think the title is a bit off; Belmonte clearly and repeatedly states that it was gratitude, not joy, that foremost defined Chesterton and that led to his becoming a Christian. Joy is the attribute we ascribe to Lewis. Also I would have preferred more biography. I now know Chesterton’s writings better, but I would like to know more about the man. His day-job as a journalist is briefly noted, but I wanted to know more about that, and more on his personal life. As Belmonte is Protestant, perhaps he could have also spent some pages talking about Chesterton’s appeal to Protestants (he does record Phil Yancey’s admiration, and it is because of Yancey that I read Orthodoxy). Now I am eager to read more of Chesterton’s books, particularly The Man Who Was Thursday.
In an age which Deborah Tannen has described as “the argument culture”, we need more witty and winsome debaters like Chesterton, who are endearing even (and especially) to their opponents. That may be the biggest “take-away” from Defiant Joy.
Just as Chesterton caused a revival of interest in Charles Dickens, I hope Belmonte’s new bio will inspire a Chesterton revival.