Father Brown

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For other uses, see Father Brown (disambiguation).
The Complete Father Brown by G. K. Chesterton, 1981 Penguin Books edition

Father Brown is a fictional character created by English novelist G. K. Chesterton, who stars in 51 detective short stories (and two framing vignettes), most of which were later compiled in five books. Chesterton based the character on Father John O'Connor (1870–1952), a parish priest in Bradford who was involved in Chesterton's conversion to Catholicism in 1922. The relationship was recorded by O'Connor in his 1937 book Father Brown on Chesterton.


Father Brown is a short, stumpy Roman Catholic Church priest, "formerly of Cobhole in Essex, and now working in London", with shapeless clothes and a large umbrella, and an uncanny insight into human evil. He makes his first appearance in the story "The Blue Cross" and continues through the five volumes of short stories, often assisted by the reformed criminal M. Hercule Flambeau. Father Brown also appears in a story "The Donnington Affair" that has a curious history. In the October 1914 issue of the obscure magazine The Premier, Sir Max Pemberton published the first part of the story, inviting a number of detective story writers, including Chesterton, to use their talents to solve the mystery of the murder described. Chesterton and Father Brown's solution followed in the November issue. The story was first reprinted in the Chesterton Review (Winter 1981, pp. 1–35) and in the book Thirteen Detectives.[1]

Unlike the more famous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, Father Brown's methods tend to be intuitive rather than deductive. He explains his method in "The Secret of Father Brown": "You see, I had murdered them all myself... I had planned out each of the crimes very carefully. I had thought out exactly how a thing like that could be done, and in what style or state of mind a man could really do it. And when I was quite sure that I felt exactly like the murderer myself, of course I knew who he was."

Brown's abilities are also considerably shaped by his experience as a priest and confessor. In "The Blue Cross", when asked by Flambeau, who has been masquerading as a priest, how he knew of all sorts of criminal "horrors," he responds, "Has it never struck you that a man who does next to nothing but hear men's real sins is not likely to be wholly unaware of human evil?" He also states a reason why he knew Flambeau was not a priest: "You attacked reason. It's bad theology." The stories normally contain a rational explanation of who the murderer was and how Brown worked it out. He always emphasises rationality; some stories, such as "The Miracle of Moon Crescent", "The Oracle of the Dog", "The Blast of the Book" and "The Dagger With Wings", poke fun at initially sceptical characters who become convinced of a supernatural explanation for some strange occurrence, while Father Brown easily sees the perfectly ordinary, natural explanation. In fact, he seems to represent an ideal of a devout, yet considerably educated and "civilised" clergyman. This can be traced to the influence of Roman Catholic thought on Chesterton. He is characteristically humble, and is usually rather quiet; when he does talk, he almost always says something profound. Although he tends to handle crimes with a steady, realistic approach, he believes in the supernatural as the greatest reason of all.[citation needed]


Father Brown was the perfect vehicle for conveying Chesterton's view of the world and, of all of his characters, is perhaps closest to Chesterton's own point of view, or at least the effect of his point of view. Father Brown solves his crimes through a strict reasoning process more concerned with spiritual and philosophic truths rather than scientific details, making him an almost equal counterbalance with Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, whose stories Chesterton read.[2] However, the Father Brown series commenced before Chesterton's own conversion to Catholicism. In his Letters from Prison, Antonio Gramsci made this partisan declaration of his preference: "Father Brown is a Catholic who pokes fun at the mechanical thought processes of the Protestants and the book is basically an apologia of the Roman Church as against the Anglican Church. Sherlock Holmes is the 'Protestant' detective who finds the end of the criminal skein by starting from the outside, relying on science, on experimental method, on induction. Father Brown is the Catholic priest who through the refined psychological experiences offered by confession and by the persistent activity of the fathers' moral casuistry, though not neglecting science and experimentation, but relying especially on deduction and introspection, totally defeats Sherlock Holmes, makes him look like a pretentious little boy, shows up his narrowness and pettiness. Moreover, Chesterton is a great artist while Conan Doyle was a mediocre writer, even though he was knighted for literary merit; thus in Chesterton there is a stylistic gap between the content, the detective story plot, and the form, and therefore a subtle irony with regard to the subject being dealt with, which renders these stories so delicious".[3]

Father Brown in other media[edit]

Father Brown, as he appeared in volume 13 of Case Closed

Reference to Father Brown[edit]

In Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, a quote from "The Queer Feet" is an important element of the structure and theme of the book. Father Brown speaks this line after catching a criminal, hearing his confession, and letting him go: "I caught him, with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world, and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread." Book Three of Brideshead Revisited is called "A Twitch Upon the Thread," and the quotation acts as a metaphor for the operation of grace in the characters' lives. They are free to wander the world according to their free will until they are ready and receptive to God's grace, at which point He acts in their lives and effects a conversion. In the miniseries made by Granada Television adapting Brideshead, the character Lady Marchmain (Claire Bloom) reads this passage aloud.

Compilation books[edit]



  1. ^ G.K.Chesterton (1987). Smith, Marie, ed. Thirteen Detectives. London: Xanadu. ISBN 0-947761-23-3. 
  2. ^ Chesterton also made 19 illustrations of the Sherlock Holmes stories, then not published and recently printed for the first time. See G.K. Chesterton's Sherlock Holmes, Baker Street Productions, 2003
  3. ^ Letters from Prison, Volume 1, Columbia University Press, 2011, p. 354 (ISBN 978-0-231-07553-7).
  4. ^ Cox, Jim, Radio Crime Fighters, 2002, p. 9, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, ISBN 0-7864-1390-5
  5. ^ Terrace, Vincent (1999). Radio Programs, 1924–1984:A Catalog of Over 1800 Shows. Jefferson, NC: McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-0351-9. 
  6. ^ "How Father Brown Led Sir Alec Guinness to the Church". Catholicculture.org. Retrieved 2014-08-21. 
  7. ^ Sutcliffe, Tom (7 August 2000). "Sir Alec Guinness obituary". Guardian (London). Retrieved 28 February 2007. 
  8. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0061324
  9. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0079850/
  10. ^ "Ralph McInerny". The Daily Telegraph (London). 18 February 2010. 
  11. ^ "J.T. Turner". J.T. Turner. Retrieved 2014-08-21. 
  12. ^ Chesterton, G. K. (Starbooks Classics) The Complete Father Brown Stories: Books 1-7
  13. ^ "Ignatius Press website". Ignatius.com. Retrieved 2014-08-21. 
  14. ^ "Thewordinc.org". Thewordinc.org. Retrieved 2014-08-21. 
  15. ^ "Chesterton.org". Chesterton.org. Retrieved 2014-08-21. 
  16. ^ "Booksoftheyearawards.com". Bookoftheyearawards.com. Retrieved 2014-08-21. 
  17. ^ EWTN. "Ewtn.Com". Ewtn.Com. Retrieved 2014-08-21. 
  18. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1489063/
  19. ^ http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3210260/
  20. ^ http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0003964/
  21. ^ Eames, Tom (22 June 2012). "'Harry Potter' Mark Williams cast in BBC drama 'Father Brown'". Digital Spy. Retrieved 3 August 2012. 
  22. ^ "BBC media centre". Retrieved 27 January 2014. 

External links[edit]