Father Brown

From Academic Kids

Father Brown is a fictional detective, the Reverend Father John Brown SJ, created by G. K. Chesterton and who stars in five volumes of short stories, 48 in total.



Father Brown is a short, stumpy Catholic priest, "formerly of Cobhole in Essex, and now working in London," with shapeless clothes and a large umbrella, but an uncanny insight into human evil. He made his first appearance in the famous story "The Blue Cross" and continued through the five volumes of short stories, often assisted by the reformed criminal Flambeau. Unlike his more famous near-contemporary Sherlock Holmes, Father Brown's methods tended to be intuitive rather than deductive: indeed, he explained his method in "The Secret of Father Brown" thus: “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.” In the "The Blue Cross", when asked by Flambeau, who had been masquerading as a priest, how he knew of all sorts of criminal "horrors", he responded: "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 stated a reason why he knew Flambeau was not a priest: "You attacked reason. It's bad theology." And indeed, the stories normally contain a rational explanation of who the murderer was and how Brown worked it out.

Despite his devoutness, Father Brown always emphasises rationality: some stories such as "The Miracle of Moon Crescent" and "The Blast of the Book" poke fun at initially skeptical characters who become convinced of a supernatural explanation for some strange occurrence, while Father Brown, despite his religiousness and his belief in God and miracles, easily sees the perfectly ordinary, natural explanation. In fact, he seems to represent an ideal of a devout, yet considerably educated and "civilised" clergyman, due to his familiarity with contemporary and secularist thought.

Interpretations and Criticisms

While the earlier stories enjoyed great popularity and acclaim due to their conciseness, philosophical issues and wit, the response to the later Father Brown stories is somewhat mixed. After Chesterton converted to Catholicism, the tone of the stories seemed to change in the eyes of some. Many readers saw the new stories as less punchy and more dogmatic, Father Brown being turned into a vehicle for espousing Chesterton's Catholic views. Certainly of the five volumes, the best known ("The Innocence of Father Brown" and "The Wisdom of Father Brown") are the earlier works.

Others consider the canon of Father Brown stories to be marred by elements of alleged racism and bigotry in some of the stories. In particular "The God of the Gongs" and some stories featuring Hindu fakirs are seen by some to perpetuate stereotypes of cultures and belief systems foreign to Chesterton's orthodoxy and the times he lived in.

Father Brown in other media

  • A 1954 film of Father Brown (released in the USA as The Detective) which had a formidable cast, with Sir Alec Guinness playing the part of Father Brown, is widely regarded as a minor classic.
  • A German television series based on the character of Father Brown, Pfarrer Braun, was launched in 2003. Pfarrer Guido Braun, from Bavaria, played by Ottfried Fischer, solves murder cases in the (fictitious) island of Nordersand. Martin Böttcher again wrote the score and he got the instruction by the producers to write a title-theme hinting at the theme of the cinema-movies with Heinz Rühmann.

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