‘The Wrong Shape’ from G. K. Chesterton’s The Innocence of Father Brown concerns the death of Leonard Quinton, the decadent poet. Brown’s friend, the reformed criminal Flambeau, greatly disapproves of Quinton:
Choking oneself with opium and writing little erotic verses on vellum was not his notion of how a gentleman should go to the devil.
And Chesterton enjoys many sly jokes at the poet’s expense.
Father Brown read the words three times before he put down the paper. The words were: ‘I die by my own hand; yet I die murdered!’ They were in the quite inimitable, not to say illegible, handwriting of Leonard Quinton.
He was a pale, slight man, with loose, chestnut hair and a fringe of beard that was the paradox of his face, for the beard made him look less manly.
Quinton dominates the story despite only speaking a single line, and that’s from the wings. His indolence and self-indulgence create an atmosphere that sets off Father Brown’s mystical ramblings.
‘Don’t you ever feel that about Eastern art? The colours are intoxicatingly lovely; but the shapes are mean and bad — deliberately mean and bad. I have seen wicked things in a Turkey carpet.’
‘Mon Dieu!’ cried Flambeau, laughing.
‘They are letters and symbols in a language I don’t know; but I know they stand for evil words,’ went on the priest, his voice growing lower and lower. ‘The lines go wrong on purpose — like serpents doubling to escape.’
‘What the devil are you talking about?’ said the doctor with a loud laugh.
Flambeau spoke quietly to him in answer. ‘The Father sometimes gets this mystic’s cloud on him,’ he said; ‘but I give you fair warning that I have never known him to have it except when there was some evil quite near.’
Obviously, Flambeau is right.
This is a weaker Father Brown in my opinion. Quinton is an inspired creation (although he feels more like a satire on one of Chesterton’s contemporaries), but the culprit is both entirely obvious and revealed in an uninteresting fashion.
Past Offences by Rich Westwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.