The Napoleon of Nothing Hill

by John Holbo on October 21, 2013

Once upon a time, I was going to write an article with that title. Finished a draft and everything. About Zizek (duh!)

But I’ll just leave that as an exercise to the interested reader. (It’s not a hard assignment, honestly.)

Have you read The Napoleon of Notting Hill, by G. K. Chesterton? I just reread it. It’s wonderful, fabulous! It’s so utterly solipsistic, with its two half-heroes completing each other – the jester king with the fairy name, Auberon Quin; and the dead serious Adam Wayne. There is only one woman in the whole book. And it has scores of characters before we’re done. She fits, with room to spare, in a nutshell-sized morality tale:

“In a hollow of the grey-green hills of rainy Ireland, lived an old, old woman, whose uncle was always Cambridge at the Boat Race. But in her grey-green hollows, she knew nothing of this: she didn’t know that there was a Boat Race. Also she did not know that she had an uncle. She had heard of nobody at all, except of George the First, of whom she had heard (I know not why), and in whose historical memory she put her simple trust. And by and by in God’s good time, it was discovered that this uncle of hers was not really her uncle, and they came and told her so. She smiled through her tears, and said only, ‘Virtue is its own reward.'”

I call that spectacular failure of the Bechdel Test – I do. Still, it’s nice to think that about virtue.

I don’t want to give away the ending – it turns out there’s a water-tower! – but I thought about the ending during the shutdown fight. Do you think Ted Cruz is sort of like Adam Wayne? Only the ending turned out differently? Or is he like Auberon Quin? Or is half of his brain one, and half of his brain the other?

Chesterton’s characters are so wonderfully likeable, and Republicans like Ted Cruz are so loathsome, not to put too fine a point on it. It isn’t because no one gets hurt, because Chesterton is fiction; or that no one gets hurt in the fiction – they do! It’s that Chesterton makes sure that the dangerous, ‘Every Day Is Like Thursday’, signature Chesterton protagonist delusionalism is utterly innocent and childlike at the root, even if the branches whack other folks, who are almost as innocent. Imagine thinking Cruz was fundamentally good-hearted, boy howdy. Wouldn’t that be a sight to tell your grand-kids you saw?

This post is sort of a sequel.