The Woman Who Was Chesterton, and shine the spotlight on a remarkable woman who managed to avoid the spotlight her entire life.
You might recognize Nancy Carpentier Brown from her other book on Frances Chesterton - How Far is it to Bethlehem. In that book, we got to see Frances from her plays and poetry, and those painted us a brilliant picture of Frances. Her new book illuminates her life even more for us. In the introduction, we are treated to a beautiful summary of Gilbert and Frances' life and marriage. "Frances and Gilbert worked together as a team; they were lovers and friends, writing coaches and companions. They worked, ate, laughed, and slept together for thirty-five years, dependent on each other physically, emotionally, and intellectually. The love between them defined her life - and his. [ . . . . ] It is not an exaggeration to say that she was the person who would affect Gilbert's life more profoundly than anyone. He was totally dependent on her for his happiness."
The book then takes us through a chronicle of her life. The first chapter chronicles her early life, and by early life I mean the first 27 years. This chapter includes mention of her parents and sisters and touches briefly on the mystery of her father's military career. What was fascinating to me is that she was the governess of Rudyard Kipling's children! Chapter Two elaborates on Frances' courtship to Gilbert, and the absolute giddiness he felt when with her. In this chapter, Ms. Brown includes previously unpublished letters between the two and also compares the writing of Frances and Gilbert to show how in sync the two were. Chapter Three details the wedding, mentions the lack of photographs from the wedding, and includes an untrue and awful tale that Gilbert's sister-in-law (his brother's wife) wrote about Frances and Gilbert's wedding and marriage. It was completely unfounded, and an awful thing for someone to write about their worst enemy, let alone their family. I could go on giving you a chapter-by-chapter synopsis, but you'll have to buy the book.
The closing chapter which touched on Frances' death, obituary, and legacy was the most moving to me. It underscores the fact of how much Frances was subsumed into the man that was G.K. Chesterton. However, it also emphasized how brilliant, talented, and deeply religious of a woman she was as well. It's an old, but true adage that behind every great man, there is a great woman. This is true of Gilbert and Frances as well. Ms. Brown did a splendid job of capturing Frances' life and putting it on paper for us. She also managed to include Gilbert in this book without him overshadowing his wife, which is no small feat. If you want to know what made him such a great man, and possible saint one day, then you have to know his wife, and I know of no better book to accomplish that than The Woman Who Was Chesterton. Be sure to pick up a copy of this book and How Far is it to Bethlehem. You won't regret it!
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