G. K. Chesterton. The Napoleon of Notting Hill. 1904. Tragicomic fantasy.
Concise but richly written, this magnificent novel abounds with holy fools, starting with Auberon Quinn, who never takes anything seriously. So when made king of a Victorian England set in 1984 (that’s right, Chesterton inspired George Orwell too), Auberon, as a joke, issues heraldic arms and colors to each London neighborhood. Only a short-sighted draper’s assistant, Adam Wayne, the High Provost of Notting Hill, takes this return to medieval-style urban patriotism seriously, and with awe-inspiring, fanatical charisma he rallies Notting Hillers to defend Pump Street against hostile takeover by Bayswater- and Kensington-based business interests.
Street battles with swords, horses, and halberds fill much of the novel, and the absurdity of the premise makes for delightful satirical overtones, but Chesterton is truly serious about societal regeneration through faith—not a staid Christian faith but a zealous faith in something other than ourselves—in the power of the spirit to overcome mere odds and remake the world. The Notting Hillers demonstrate this faith and this power, to the wonder and ultimate joy of cynics like Auberon, who comes to recognize Adam’s romantic and heroic mode of being as sane and natural, whereas “he himself, with his rationality and his detachment and his black frock-coat, he was the exception and the accident—a blot of black upon a world of crimson and gold.”
Both comic satire and epic tragedy, this novel possesses in abundance the gravely comic and surreally grand Chestertonian eloquence so suitable for conveying that writer’s wisdom.