Created by G. K. Chesterton
Movie He can't stop doing it
Played by Heinz Rühmann
First appearance The Blue Cross
|Portrayed by Walter Connolly
J. T. Turner
Similar C Auguste Dupin, Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, Sherlock Holmes, Jules Maigret
Father Brown is a fictional Roman Catholic priest and amateur sleuth created in the early 20th century by English novelist G. K. Chesterton.
- The wisdom of father brown audiobook part 1
- After Chesterton
- Other references
- Compilation books
Father Brown is featured in a series of short stories where he solves mysteries and crimes using his intuition and keen understanding of human nature. The character was loosely based by Chesterton on Father John O'Connor (1870–1952), a parish priest in Bradford, who was involved in Chesterton's conversion to Catholicism in 1922.
The wisdom of father brown audiobook part 1
Chesterton portrays Father Brown as a short, stumpy Roman Catholic priest, with shapeless clothes, a large umbrella, and an uncanny insight into human evil. In "The Head of Caesar" he is "formerly priest of Cobhole in Essex, and now working in London". He makes his first appearance in the story "The Blue Cross" and continues to appear throughout forty-eight short stories in five volumes, with two more stories discovered and published posthumously, often assisted in his crime-solving by the reformed criminal M. Hercule Flambeau.
Father Brown also appears in a third story — making a total of fifty-one — that did not appear in the five volumes published in Chesterton's lifetime, "The Donnington Affair", which has a curious history. In the October 1914 issue of an obscure magazine, The Premier, Sir Max Pemberton published the first part of the story, then invited 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 in the book Thirteen Detectives.
Unlike the better-known 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," Father Brown 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 how he knew Flambeau was not really 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, but Father Brown easily sees the perfectly ordinary, natural explanation. In fact, he seems to represent an ideal of a devout but considerably educated and "civilised" clergyman. That can be traced to the influence of Roman Catholic thought on Chesterton. Father Brown is characteristically humble and is usually rather quiet, except to say something profound. Although he tends to handle crimes with a steady, realistic approach, he believes in the supernatural as the greatest reason of all.
Father Brown was a 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 than with scientific details, making him an almost equal counterbalance with Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, whose stories Chesterton read. However, the Father Brown series commenced before Chesterton's own conversion to Roman Catholicism.
In his Letters from Prison, the Italian Marxist theorist 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.
Like Sherlock Holmes, Lord Peter Wimsey, and Nero Wolfe, tales featuring Chesterton's priest detective continue to be created even after the original author's death. John Peterson has written a further forty-four mysteries solved by the indomitable Father Brown. Peterson's stories are set many decades after Chesterton's and, in them, Father Brown is a still spry nonagenarian priest attached as associate pastor to St. Dominic's Catholic parish in Bardo County someplace in the rural American Midwest. Peterson's stories are shorter than Chesterton's and, of course, in a much different style than Chesterton's paradoxical, quirky, and alliterative English, but, in them Father Brown still offers his insights into the criminal mind, serving justice and offering mercy.
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.