Home » Chesterton’s Jews

Chesterton’s Jews

Chesterton’s Jews: Stereotypes and Caricatures in the Literature and Journalism of G. K. Chesterton [2013]

Chesterton's Jews3-page-0 - frontG. K. Chesterton was a journalist and prolific author of poems, novels, short stories, travel books and social criticism. Prior to the twentieth century, Chesterton expressed sympathy for Jews and hostility towards antisemitism. He was agitated by Russian pogroms and felt sympathy for Captain Dreyfus. However, early into the twentieth century, he developed an irrational fear about the presence of Jews in Christian society. He started to argue that it was the Jews who oppressed the Russians rather than the Russians who oppressed the Jews, and he suggested that Dreyfus was not as innocent as the English newspapers claimed (Chesterton and the Dreyfus Affair). His caricatures of Jews were often that of grotesque creatures masquerading as English people. His fictional and his journalistic works repeated anti-Jewish stereotypes of Jewish greed and usurybolshevism, cowardice, disloyalty and secrecy. This concise book (125 pages) provides a focused yet easily-accessible examination of these stereotypes and caricatures in Chesterton’s discourse. It also examines Chesterton’s discussion of the so-called “Jewish Problem”, his belief that “every Jew” should be made to wear distinctive clothing, the claim that Chesterton could not have been antisemitic because Israel Zangwill was his friend, and the claim that the Wiener Library defended him from the charge of antisemitism.

Dr Dawn Eden Goldstein SThD (author; former rock journalist; doctor of sacred theology):

  • “I learned about Zangwill’s criticism of Chesterton from @mayerssd’s excellent book Chesterton’s Jews … In Chesterton’s Jews, Mayers catalogues stereotypes of Jews in Chesterton’s writings. I highly recommend the book over the one @chestertonsoc endorses” (link)
  • “I would like now to examine some representative samples of Chesterton’s writings on Jews. … For more, I would refer you to Simon Mayers’ excellent study, Chesterton’s Jews.” (Presentation at the 40th Annual Society of G.K. Chesterton Conference)

Kevin O’Brien (author; actor; artistic director):

  • “Chesterton was one of the best English writers of the 20th century.  His mystery stories, poetry and apologetics are powerful and lively.  But his antisemitism is strong and at times shocking.  While this aspect of Chesterton’s character has been dismissed and explained away by his fans, Simon Mayers presents evidence of GKC’s bigotry with quotations such as, “I have always said that there were healthy elements in Hitlerism, and even in Hitler; indeed I rather suspect that Hitler is one of the healthy elements in Hitlerism.” Mayers’ book is filled with such disturbing quotations, direct from the horse’s mouth. Those of us who love Chesterton and who are indebted to him for the good that he did and for the good that he wrote and for the God that he always pointed to – we cannot dismiss this.  We must admit frankly the great moral and intellectual failure of this otherwise great man.  To do anything less than that is to shy away from the God who is Truth, the God that Chesterton imperfectly loved and served. Simon Mayers’ Chesterton’s Jews will help us do that, will help us honour a great but flawed man, and honour him for the man he really was and not for the jolly and witty idol we’ve constructed.”

Chesterton’s Jews is available at:   Amazon UK    Amazon US 

A large sample (40%) of Chesterton’s Jews is also available for free via Google Books: Google Books