The Underappreciated Writer’s Fanclub, a.k.a. Chesterton Society
Written by Jacky Eubanks
Walk through the dining hall during Saturday morning brunch, and amid the clanking of silverware on plates, chatter and laughter, you’ll find a crowded table of students reading and discussing the writings of G.K. Chesterton—an “underappreciated” writer, according to the club’s president.
Chesterton Society sprouted when two Hillsdale students who had never met before bumped into each other at a conference in Colorado over the summer of 2017.
Maggie Vangieson, president and co-founder of the club, first got hooked on Chesterton when her favorite high school English teacher suggested she read a book of his essays. The brilliance of his writing shocked her, and she found herself reading more and more of his books, both fiction and nonfiction.
“He talks about issues, one hundred years ago at this point, that are still relevant today,” Maggie said. “He does it with wit, he does it with humor, he does it with great knowledge and great humility. I was just taken by him.”
Falling in love with his writing, she thought there had to be some kind of group out there that appreciated his works. One quick Google search led her to the website of the American Chesterton Society, which happened to be holding a conference in a few weeks. She told her mom, got a plane ticket right away, and flew to Colorado to attend the conference.
“It was a total God thing,” Maggie said. “It was amazing how it happened. One day I didn’t know it existed, the next day I had a plane ticket.”
When she arrived, she happened to meet Seth Winter, a rising freshman at Hillsdale College. They discovered they had a mutual connection: his roommate for the upcoming semester was Maggie’s friend from high school. The two of them knew they just had to take their love for Chesterton back to Hillsdale once the semester started. They put together a reading list and a meeting time, contacted some friends, and dove in.
“We started doing breakfast meetings, Monday morning at 8 a.m.,” society member Emma Trist said. “We’d take a writing or poem or essay of Chesterton’s, take turns reading it around the table, and discuss it.” A semester later, they changed the meetings to Saturdays at 12:30 p.m. because, according to Emma, “Who wants to get up at 8 a.m.?”
The response has been surprising. At several meetings, the group has had to squeeze in many extra chairs at its table to accommodate the number of participators. “We’re never worried that people are going to show up,” Emma said. Maggie estimated at least ten to twelve people will be at any given meeting. By asking friends they think would be interested in joining and snagging people walking past their table, the group has continued to grow, and students who previously didn’t know much about the writer are becoming captivated by him.
“Chesterton has been largely ignored,” Maggie lamented. “We read a lot of his contemporaries and people that he would debate with—George Bernard Shaw, for example—and we also read C.S. Lewis who came after him. But Chesterton wrote the book that helped C.S. Lewis convert to Christianity. So I don’t understand why he’s been so overlooked when he’s so devoted to the truth.”
Emma and Maggie agree that reading Chesterton aligns with studying the liberal arts at Hillsdale. “We study the Good, the True, and the Beautiful here, and that’s really what Chesterton’s after,” Maggie said. “He does this from a number of different topics. He has an essay about cheese, which is hilarious, and he turns it into a discussion on the Eucharist. He really wants to approach truth from every possible angle, which is what we do with the liberal arts. We study all these different disciplines so that we can get the full picture of Western thought and Western tradition. Chesterton definitely participates in that.”
“He’s all about finding beauty and truth in the ordinary things,” Emma said. She recalled reading a work of his about how wonderful it is to simply lie in bed and stare at the ceiling; the only thing that would make it better, he wrote, would be if he had a pencil long enough to draw on the ceiling.
All the hype over the writer continues to pull students in, and the group looks forward to reading and discussing more “G.K.,” as they call him, in semesters to come.
Jacquelyn Eubanks, ’20 is an award-winning author with a passion for books, tea, and mountains. Someday she’ll be a world traveler, but for now you can find her typing away at her newest novel.