Luca Fumagalli

In that majestic stretch of the English coast that takes the name of Cornwall there is something unusual. The less accustomed observer, attracted by the serene beauty of marinas, boats, fishermen and wooded inlets, may not notice the anomaly. But in the garden of Vane, a local nobleman, there are some very strange exotic plants, called “peacock trees”. They bring with them the aroma of remote lands and, at the same time, terrible legends about their origin: the myth tells that the Devil himself has convinced the plants to become violent, eager to kill anyone who comes within range. However, Vane, an incorrigible rationalist, does not mind what he considers only stupid superstitions. One day, however, when as a bet he agrees to spend a night under the “peacock trees” in order to prove once and for all that legends are just a heap of nonsense, he mysteriously disappears without a trace.

Halfway between the magical realism of Dino Buzzati and the cool irony of Charles Dickens, The Trees of Pride by G. K. Chesterton is a sort of moral apologue built with elements from fable and detective fiction, enriched with the inevitable paradoxes typical of the English writer. And it is in them that the bewitching beauty of the book is hidden.

There is a kind of medieval nuance in Chesterton’s pen that paints reality as a sign, or rather as a reflection of a higher Good which is the scaffolding of existence. It is no coincidence that it is the writer, the artist, who more than others has the gift of penetrating the mysteries of everyday life. In the pantomime of deceptions and illusions that is the mark of modernity, the anti-rationalist is the true rationalist, the madman is the only sane one. It is not science that is being belittled, rather the presumptuous attitude of materialistic positivism is condemned.

Later Barbara, Vane’s lovely daughter, speaking with Paynter, a literary critic and friend of the family, reaffirms the importance of knowing how to distinguish opportunities for salvation from the evil that is to be overcome. But to do this, once again, one needs a sincere eye, uncontaminated by prejudice.

The real protagonist of The Trees of Pride is, in other words, the mystery of everyday life, a twilight that suggests a new dawn. The disappearance of Vane is only the first of various events that lead the characters to question the world and life. The result is a vivid picture full of characters and twists – literature becoming revelation, with an unveiling of the beauty that radiates the world; joy does not hide tragedy, but redeems it, transforms it into an unexpected event that always has a positive value.

The greatest lesson of this novella by Chesterton, published in 1922, is an admonition of life-giving obviousness: the search for meaning is the only condition capable of moving man, of instilling passion in him, of making him alive.