Thursday, March 23, 2006

Rumors and Common Knowledge

Just to correct all of the information out there, it has come to my attention that Frances Blogg Chesterton had brown hair. Not red. Brown. As in Father Brown.

Thank you.

Evidence provided upon request.


  1. I asked Dale about it a couple of weeks ago in Pennsylvania, and he said he honestly didn't now.

    I read she had red hair in an introduction to one of the Collected Works editions, I believe, in which the writer commented on why so many of Chesterton's heroines had red hair. I wish I could remember which one.

    So what's your evidence?

  2. Piece #1
    From Maisie Ward, Introduction to her book GKC, pages
    xi - xii

    Here, Maisie is refuting a book written by Ada (Mrs. Cecil) Chesterton (called The Chestertons), who, early on, apparently had some animoisity towards Frances. This was later smoothed over, and they were able to get along.

    The Chestertons is concerned with Gilbert and Frances as well as with Cecil; and the confusion between memory and imagination - to
    say nothing of reliance on feelings unsupported by facts - pervades
    the book. It can only be called a Legend, so long growing in Mrs.
    Cecil's mind that I am convinced that when she came to write her
    book she firmly believed in it herself. The starting-point was so
    ardent a dislike for Frances that every incident poured fuel on the
    flame and was seen only by its light. When I saw her, the Legend was
    beginning to shape. She told me various stories showing her dislike:
    facts offered by me were either denied or twisted to fit into the
    pattern. I do not propose to discuss here the details of a thoroughly
    unreliable book. Most of them I think answer themselves in the course
    of this biography. With one or two points I deal in Appendix C. But I
    will set down here one further incident that serves to show just how
    little help this particular witness could ever be.

    For, like Cecil's solicitors, I spoilt one telling detail for her. She told
    me with great enthusiasm that Cecil had said that Gilbert was really in
    love not with Frances but with her sister Gertrude, and that Gertrude's
    red hair accounted for the number of red-headed heroines in his
    stories. I told her, however, on the word of their brother-in-law, that
    Gertrude's hair was not red. Mr. Oldershaw in fact seemed a good
    deal amused: he said that Gilbert never looked at either of the other
    sisters, who were "not his sort," and had eyes only for Frances. Mrs.
    Cecil however would not relinquish this dream of red hair and another
    love. In her book she wishes "red-gold" hair on to Annie Firmin,
    because in the Autobiography Gilbert had described her golden plaits. But unluckily for this new theory Annie's hair was yellow, [See G.K.'s letter to her daughter, p. 633.] which is quite a
    different colour. And Annie, who is still alive, is also amused at the
    idea that Gilbert had any thought of romance in her connection.

    That's sort of negative evidence.
    Here's Piece #2
    This is quoted from Maisie Ward's second volume on GKC, Return To Chesterton, page x.

    "One test of a biography is brought by the acquisition of new material. If fresh letters, poems and stories fit in, if they do not damage but strengthen the original picture, the chances are that it was a true picture. I do not want to return here to the discussion of an inaccurate and distorted book about Gilbert and Frances Chesterton which appeared earlier than my biography. But one point has amused me: the author laid great stress on Gilbert's addiction to red-haired heroines as part of her proof that he had really loved another girl. Among the newly discovered material are four poems in praise of the brown hair of his beloved. It is only a detail, but a portrait is made up of details, true or false."

    I know this isn't direct evidence of the fact, but it seems to me as if Maisie is trying pretty hard to disprove the fact that Frances was a red head, although she doesn't directly say she had brown hair, this last comment leads me to believe that is indirectly what she was trying to say.

    What say you?

  3. Thanks for providing those quotes. But to me it seems as if Maisie is out to disprove Ada's malicious allegation that GKC longed for women other than his wife based on Ada's equally false assertion that these other women had red hair. However, the second quote works better than the first one, as Maisie mentions newly discovered poems by GKC that praise Frances' brown hair.

    So you're most likely right after all.

    This whole episode reveals to me that I have something in common with Chesterton aside from my tremendous girth: I too have a wife with brown hair, yet I have a thing for redheads (though my heart belongs only to my wife). Neat.

  4. Very odd attack. Chesterton's male heros and villains themselves often had red hair, too.

  5. Ada was like that, sad to say.

  6. We have a few photos of her, right? Isn't there some computer program that scans black-and-white photos and tells you what colors they ought to be?

  7. I don't know, Chanster. But it's worth a shot.

  8. I'll ask a certain member of this household who happens to be a professional photographer. I've not heard that that is possible, but I haven't heard of everything ;-)


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