In "The Vampire of the Village" by G. K. Chesterton, Dr. Mulborough was talking to Father Brown about a Great Scandal in their village, while they were going to a village by a train, saying:

I saw her and found her intriguing; one of those brown women, long and elegant and beautifully ugly, if you know what I mean. She is rather witty, and though young enough certainly gives me an impression of what they call — well, experience. What the old ladies call a Past.’

‘All the old ladies having been born this very minute,’ observed Father Brown. ‘I think I can assume she is supposed to have vamped the parson’s son.’

Does he make funny of them as they are very young?!

  • 1
    He is just being funny. And means all the women who would say "having a past". i.e. sleeping around.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 13, 2020 at 16:53

2 Answers 2


The reference is to gossipy old ladies who might say that the woman in question had 'a past', that is, a history of sexual, or at least romantic, adventures.

Father Brown comments satirically that of course the old ladies themselves have only just been born - that is, they have no 'pasts' and so are qualified to criticise someone else for having one.


Father Brown is making an observation that of course all the old ladies will also have "a Past" because of course they have not all been born this very minute.

This is a sarcastic expression. These are common in British English and literature but often not understood beyond our shores, even by native speakers of English in other parts of the world. Think of it as emphasising a point by saying the opposite of what's actually true.

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