This short book, The Napoleon of Notting Hill, written 100 years ago, is a futuristic fantasy, a political satire, a prophetic tale, and a comic novel, all intertwined. Published in 1904, The Napoleon of Notting Hill was G. K. Chesterton's first novel. It has been called the best first novel by any author in the twentieth century.
It has been some years since my first reading of The Napoleon of Notting Hill. Once again I find it to be enjoyable, humorous, highly entertaining, and decidedly thought provoking.
The setting is London in the year 1984, 80 years in the future. Chesterton had tired of endless predictions of futuristic technologies. His future London is identical to Edwardian London - all technological advance halted in 1904. One change is notable: the people have lost faith in political revolutions. Only slow, gradual change, akin to Darwinian evolution, was fashionable. No one was interested in voting, and consequently, democracy had withered away. A ruling monarch, a king, was selected in some capricious, random manner from the governmental class. All was well until Auberon Quin was chosen to rule as king.
As a lark, the new King designs colorful, medieval style uniforms, required dress for all governmental representatives of the London boroughs on official occasions. Reluctantly, city officials comply with the king's ridiculous wish to revitalize local patriotism. Unexpectedly, the Provost of Notting Hill, a sober young man named Adam Wayne, a man without humor, takes the King's command seriously. An attempt by other London boroughs to route a major thoroughfare through Notting Hill leads not only to acrimony, but to actual warfare.
The first chapter is Chesterton's scholarly criticism and friendly ridicule of contemporary (that is, early 1900) prophecies of scientific and technological changes, especially the more utopian futuristic projections, and is titled Introductory Remarks on the Art of Prophecy. The actual story does not commence until chapter two.
This inexpensive Dover edition includes a lengthy, interesting introduction by Martin Gardner. The artist W. Graham Robertson penned seven full page ink drawings and a map of the seat of the war.