Does anyone understand "The Napoleon of Notting Hill"?

G.K. Chesterton’s first book. I just read it, essentially in one sitting, and… I don’t think I get it.

(In contrast, I think I get The Man Who Was Thursday. And I love The Man Who Knew Too Much, which appears, at first, to be a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, but, in the end, resolves itself into something different. The mysteries are, however, very good Holmesian puzzlers.)

Is it okay to progress without fear of spoiling? A hundred and ten year old classic doesn’t need protection here, does it? (The Butler Did It! Ha ha ha… Er…)

I read it years ago but don’t remember much about it, so either I didn’t “get” it or there wasn’t all that much to get. If you’re claiming that it’s not one of his better works, I’d certainly agree.

There was an old National Lampoon story (back when they used to be funny) about a fight for the royal succession…fought over the dinner table in a modern family home. Something to the effect, “I fought off my brother’s claim to the vice-regency, besting him sword-to-sword, but we had to call off the fight because Monday Night Football was on.”

Napoleon of Notting hill had some of that whimsical dissonance. Modern England…and they’re fighting with halberds? Okay…

I admire the moral of the story: you need both humor and reason. Chesterton always kept a bit of whimsy in his stories.

But… But… But… I think I don’t get it.

Napoleon of Notting Hill was written backwards in that he was walking along and noticed the water tank high up on the hill and thought about how if you had an army at the bottom of the hill you could sweep them away by unleashing the water on them. From there he imagines a scenario where an army is at the bottom and the war is won by threatening to unleash the water on them.
It is mostly a satire of science fiction in that the scenario he envisions for the future is self evidently silly whereas most futures are just as silly but take themselves seriously.

I can’t say I understood it. I got the feeling it was parodying something I have not read. I found it a reasonably enjoyable read but it was in the denouncement that it failed to work as I was just not sure what point was being made.

Now that’s funny! In a way, it makes the whole book funnier too.

Very much how I was feeling. I certainly enjoyed the book, and got a bunch of grins out of the funny bits. Chesterton isn’t “great literature,” but he is more contemplative, more thoughtful, more reflective than a lot of writers. He can pause and draw a moral lesson from, say, a bare tree, something modern writers are reluctant to do.

Thank you!

I can only join you in that I didn’t get it. I was on a Chesterton kick awhile back, read a bunch of Father Browns, the Man Who was Thursday, Ball and the Cross, and The Man Who Knew. But I didn’t finish Napolean, it just didn’t keep my interest.

I’ve read all of those you listed except Ball and Cross. And that…soon!

I really do like the bloke, even though I have to swallow his anti-Semitism. It isn’t too much his fault; it was fairly in vogue at the time. All the rest of the time, he’s so very cheerful and good-natured, upbeat (okay, with a light frosting of cynicism) that it seems odd when he indulges in that variety of bigotry.

It’s fun to imagine Father Brown as the “real” or “inner” Chesterton.