The Man Who Was Thursday

The Man Who Was Thursday

3.8 85
by G. K. Chesterton

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G.K. Chesterton's classic novella tackles anarchy, social order, God, peace, war, religion, human nature, and a few dozen other weight concepts. And somehow he manages to mash it all together into a delightful satire, full of tongue-in-cheek commentary that is still relevant today. As the book opens, Gabriel Symes is debating with a soapbox anarchist. The two men…  See more details below


G.K. Chesterton's classic novella tackles anarchy, social order, God, peace, war, religion, human nature, and a few dozen other weight concepts. And somehow he manages to mash it all together into a delightful satire, full of tongue-in-cheek commentary that is still relevant today. As the book opens, Gabriel Symes is debating with a soapbox anarchist. The two men impress each other enough that the anarchist introduces Symes to a seven-man council of anarchists, all named after days of the week. In short order, they elect Symes their newest member -- Thursday. But they don't know that he's also been recruited by an anti-anarchy organization. And soon Symes finds out that he's not the only person on the council who is not what he seems. There are other spies and double-agents, working for the same cause. But who -- and what -- is the jovial, powerful Mr. Sunday, the head of the organization? Hot air balloons, elaborate disguises, duels and police chases -- Chesterton certainly knew how to keep this novel interesting. Though written almost a century ago, "The Man Who Was Thursday" still feels very fresh. That's partly because of Chesterton's cheery writing... and partly because it's such an intelligent book. He doesn't avoid some timeless topics that make some people squirm. Humanity (good and bad), anarchy, religion and its place in human nature, and creation versus destruction all get tackled here -- disguised as a comic police investigation. And unlike most satires, it isn't dated; the topics are reflections of humanity and religion, so they're as relevant now as they were in 1908. But the story isn't pedantic or boring; Chesterton keeps things lively by having his characters act like real people, rather than mouthpieces. From Symes to the Colonel to the mysterious Sunday himself, they all have a sort of friendly, energetic quality. "We're all spies! Come and have a drink!" one of the characters announces cheerfully near the end. And of course, once the madcap police investigations are finished, there's still a mystery. Who is Sunday? What are his goals? And for that matter, WHAT is Sunday -- genius, force of nature, villain or god? The answer is a bit of a surprise, and as a reflection of Chesterton's beliefs, it's a delicate, intelligent piece of work. "The Man Who Was Thursday" is a wacky little satire that will both amuse and educate you. Not bad for a book often subtitled "A Nightmare."

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

Another hot new series from Penguin, "Great Books for Boys" offers a handful of top adventure stories from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Each volume sports a nice vintage-looking cover to complete the spell. Great fun (and girls can read them, too!).

—Michael Rogers
From the Publisher
"A powerful picture of the loneliness and bewilderment which each of us encounters in his single-handed struggle with the universe."  —C. S. Lewis

"Brilliantly original."  —Kingsley Amis

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The Two Poets of Saffron Park

The suburb of Saffron Park lay on the sunset side of London, as red and ragged as a cloud of sunset. It was built of a bright brick throughout; its skyline was fantastic, and even its ground plan was wild. It had been the outburst of a speculative builder, faintly tinged with art, who called its architecture sometimes Elizabethan and sometimes Queen Anne, apparently under the impression that the two sovereigns were identical. It was described with some justice as an artistic colony, though it never in any definable way produced any art. But although its pretensions to be an intellectual centre were a little vague, its pretensions to be a pleasant place were quite indisputable. The stranger who looked for the first time at the quaint red houses could only think how very oddly shaped the people must be who could fit in to them. Nor when he met the people was he disappointed in this respect. The place was not only pleasant, but perfect, if once he could regard it not as a deception but rather as a dream. Even if the people were not “artists,” the whole was nevertheless artistic. That young man with the long, auburn hair and the impudent face—that young man was not really a poet; but surely he was a poem. That old gentleman with the wild, white beard and the wild, white hat—that venerable humbug was not really a philosopher; but at least he was the cause of philosophy in others That scientific gentleman with the bald, egg-like head and the bare, bird-like neck had no real right to the airs of science that he assumed. He had not discovered anything new in biology; but what biological creature could he havediscovered more singular than himself? Thus, and thus only, the whole place had properly to be regarded; it had to be considered not so much as a workshop for artists, but as a frail but finished work of art. A man who stepped into its social atmosphere felt as if he had stepped into a written comedy.

More especially this attractive unreality fell upon it about nightfall, when the extravagant roofs were dark against the afterglow and the whole insane village seemed as separate as a drifting cloud. This again was more strongly true of the many nights of local festivity, when the little gardens were often illuminated, and the big Chinese lanterns glowed in the dwarfish trees like some fierce and monstrous fruit. And this was strongest of all on one particular evening, still vaguely remembered in the locality, of which the auburn-haired poet was the hero. It was not by any means the only evening of which he was the hero. On many nights those passing by his little back garden might hear his high, didactic voice laying down the law to men and particularly to women. The attitude of women in such cases was indeed one of the paradoxes of the place. Most of the women were of the kind vaguely called emancipated, and professed some protest against male supremacy. Yet these new women would always pay to a man the extravagant compliment which no ordinary woman ever pays to him, that of listening while he is talking. And Mr. Lucian Gregory, the red-haired poet, was really (in some sense) a man worth listening to, even if one laughed at the end of it. He put the old cant of the lawlessness of art and the art of lawlessness with a certain impudent freshness which gave at least a momentary pleasure. He was helped in some degree by the arresting oddity of his appearance, which he worked, as the phrase goes, for all it was worth. His dark red hair parted in the middle was literally like a woman’s, and curved into the slow curls of a virgin in a pre-Raphaelite picture. From within this almost saintly oval, however, his face projected suddenly broad and brutal, the chin carried forward with a look of cockney contempt. This combination at once tickled and terrified the nerves of a neurotic population. He seemed like a walking blasphemy, a blend of the angel and the ape.

This particular evening, if it is remembered for nothing else, will be remembered in that place for its strange sunset. It looked like the end of the world. All the heaven seemed covered with a quite vivid and palpable plumage; you could only say that the sky was full of feathers, and of feathers that almost brushed the face. Across the great part of the dome they were grey, with the strangest tints of violet and mauve and an unnatural pink or pale green; but towards the west the whole grew past description, transparent and passionate, and the last red-hot plumes of it covered up the sun like something too good to be seen. The whole was so close about the earth as to express nothing but a violent secrecy. The very empyrean seemed to be a secret. It expressed that splendid smallness which is the soul of local patriotism. The very sky seemed small.

I say that there are some inhabitants who may remember the evening if only by that oppressive sky. There are others who may remember it because it marked the first appearance in the place of the second poet of Saffron Park. For a long time the red-haired revolutionary had reigned without a rival; it was upon the night of the sunset that his solitude suddenly ended. The new poet, who introduced himself by the name of Gabriel Syme, was a very mild-looking mortal, with a fair, pointed beard and faint, yellow hair. But an impression grew that he was less meek than he looked. He signalized his entrance by differing with the established poet, Gregory, upon the whole nature of poetry. He said that he (Syme) was a poet of law, a poet of order; nay, he said he was a poet of respectability. So all the Saffron Parkers looked at him as if he had that moment fallen out of that impossible sky.

In fact, Mr. Lucian Gregory, the anarchic poet, connected the two events.

“It may well be,” he said, in his sudden lyrical manner, “it may well be on such a night of clouds and cruel colours that there is brought forth upon the earth such a portent as a respectable poet. You say you are a poet of law; I say you are a contradiction in terms. I only wonder there were not comets and earthquakes on the night you appeared in this garden.”

The man with the meek blue eyes and the pale, pointed beard endured these thunders with a certain submissive solemnity. The third party of the group, Gregory’s sister Rosamond, who had her brother’s braids of red hair, but a kindlier face underneath them, laughed with such mixture of admiration and disapproval as she gave commonly to the family oracle.

Gregory resumed in high oratorical good-humour.

“An artist is identical with an anarchist,” he cried. “You might transpose the words anywhere. An anarchist is an artist. The man who throws a bomb is an artist, because he prefers a great moment to everything. He sees how much more valuable is one burst of blazing light, one peal of perfect thunder, than the mere common bodies of a few shapeless policemen. An artist disregards all governments, abolishes all conventions. The poet delights in disorder only. If it were not so, the most poetical thing in the world would be the Underground Railway.”

“So it is,” said Mr. Syme.

“Nonsense!” said Gregory, who was very rational when anyone else attempted paradox. “Why do all the clerks and navvies in the railway trains look so sad and tired, so very sad and tired? I will tell you. It is because they know that the train is going right. It is because they know that whatever place they have taken a ticket for, that place they will reach. It is because after they have passed Sloane Square they know that the next station must be Victoria, and nothing but Victoria. Oh, their wild rapture! oh, their eyes like stars and their souls again in Eden, if the next station were unaccountably Baker Street!”

“It is you who are unpoetical,” replied the poet Syme. “If what you say of clerks is true, they can only be as prosaic as your poetry. The rare, strange thing is to hit the mark; the gross, obvious thing is to miss it. We feel it is epical when man with one wild arrow strikes a distant bird. Is it not also epical when man with one wild engine strikes a distant station? Chaos is dull; because in chaos the train might indeed go anywhere, to Baker Street, or to Bagdad. But man is a magician, and his whole magic is in this, that he does say Victoria, and lo! it is Victoria. No, take your books of mere poetry and prose, let me read a time-table, with tears of pride. Take your Byron, who commemorates the defeats of man; give me Bradshaw who commemorates his victories. Give me Bradshaw, I say!”

“Must you go?” inquired Gregory sarcastically.

“I tell you,” went on Syme with passion, “that every time a train comes in I feel that it has broken past batteries of besiegers, and that man has won a battle against chaos. You say contemptuously that when one has left Sloane Square one must come to Victoria. I say that one might do a thousand things instead, and that whenever I really come there I have the sense of hair-breadth escape. And when I hear the guard shout out the word ‘Victoria,’ it is not an unmeaning word. It is to me the cry of a herald announcing conquest. It is to me indeed ‘Victoria’; it is the victory of Adam.”

Gregory wagged his heavy, red head with a slow and sad smile.

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What People are saying about this

Kingsley Amis
The Man Who Was Thursday is not quite a political bad dream, nor a metaphysical thriller, nor a cosmic joke in the form of a spy novel, but it has something of all three…it remains the most thrilling book I have ever read.

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The Man Who Was Thursday 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 85 reviews.
Sandy-shore More than 1 year ago
I'm not sure if the story was meant to be serious or not but I read it as if it were a farce and thought it was kind of humorous. It got quite exaggerated at the end but I still enjoyed most of the book. It's not a book for people who like to read best sellers.
MLucero More than 1 year ago
One of the earliest examples of the spy novel, The Man Who Was Thursday bears little resemblance to James Bond, his predecessors or successors. Thursday is a novel where nothing is what it seems; but it is partially a battle between law and anarchy. Not, we are told, the anarchy of peasants and the oppressed, who do not desire an escape from law or leaders (it is the rich, Chesterton insightfully observes, who wish to escape it) but rather from injust laws and bad rulers. The anarchy against which this book's hero, Gabriel Syme, is set, is rather the philosophical anarchy that is akin to the suicide of humanity, which is implicit in modernist thought. Each of the members of the High Council of Anarchists (the novel is not without its delicious irony) exemplifies a specific tendency of this modern philosophy. As the plot moves on, this battle of high stakes begins to give way to absurdity, until it seems at last that absurdity and anarchy have won not only the fight but the larger debate through sheer implications. Just at that moment the spirit of the story snatches that victory from anarchy's grasp, as the entire book itself is revealed as an allegory of law, order, and the triumph of meaning and goodness over meaningless and evil. Chesterton's witty writing is full of double meanings which reward re-readings; astute observations about the human predicament; and ironies the depth of which are not revealed until one fully considers the story as a whole. One of the most delicate and masterful touches is the sheer balance that is achieved between this irony and absurdism on one hand, and the pathos and almost sacred beauty of the final revelation. I believe this book is one of the most clever and hard to fully appreciate books I've read. It reminds me a lot of the television show Lost, in its depth of different layers, its character-centered plotline, and its allegorical examinations of some of the most important questions of our time.
Janus More than 1 year ago
'The Man Who Was Thursday' is not the type of book that will change lives or make the reader ponder philosophical conundrums for hours on end. Ultimately it is a window into the way anarchists were viewed by society during this time period. The book begins with plenty of promise but it eventually becomes formulaic in as much that every problem has the same solution. The ending scene is extremely strange and slightly hallucinatory in effect.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
G.K. Chesterton is a fantastic science fiction writer that "kids these days" don't know enough about. Some of my favorite quotes come from his stories. He does not disappoint in The Man Who was Thursday. An honest man doesn't know who to trust goes on a journey of self-discovery. Or it's a pre-apocalyptical story depicting the struggle between truth and honor, patriotosm and righteousness. Or it's a satire or perhaps a comedy. Whatever you're looking for (in this type of story- it's certainly not a romance... unless you count a man's relationship with his work), this story can deliver.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book. Starts off a bit slow, but it really picks up.
bekah_ann More than 1 year ago
Although I have yet to finish it, I find The Man Who Was Thursday an ingeniously thoughtful mystery. Who is Sunday? Will Thursday be discovered as a spy? Will anarchy ultimately reign, or will order be restored? Such questions have been running through my mind as the story unfolds, and each chapter brings more questions. I'm definitely going to find more G. K. Chesterton when I've completed this one.
Kerry_Nietz More than 1 year ago
The word that best describes "The Man Who Was Thursday" for me, is "witty." From start to finish it is an amusing read, with lots of fun little twists and an occasional dazzling insight. Linguistically, the style is different from what is common today, but not to the point of being unapproachable. (Unlike some classics.) The plot is straightforward and brisk--and with anarchist protestors gathering in cities around the world today, it all seems eerily relevant. This book is a diamond mine of quotable text. Through most of the narrative I wondered why "Thursday" was thought of as a "speculative" title. It primarily reads like a mystery. Then it reaches a point where the veneer pulls away and the classification makes perfect sense. Overall, I think "The Man Who Was Thursday" is an important read. Check it out. As a side note, I should mention that the Nook version I read (that by New Century) was pretty awful. The formatting was barely readable, and there was only one item in the table of contents. Makes it difficult to skip around the book looking for review material! If you're going to buy this book for the Nook, use a different version.
Ector-Crane More than 1 year ago
Though The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare is neither a theological work, nor a philosophical one, as people who know of Chesterton may expect, but is a piece of fiction. Peppered with Chesterton's classic wit, analysis, and endless puns, readers will find many recognizable themes within the book that have been copied and used by authors ever since. Readers must recognize that clichés such as, "Thieves respect property. They merely wish the property to become their property that they may more perfectly respect it." were not clichés at the time, as they came from this book. The story of the book itself is infinitely complex, and infinitely simple. The plot basically runs thus: Gabriel Syme is poet and undercover police detective. He to meet Lucian Gregory, a poet and undercover anarchist, has the honor, and Gregory finds him incredibly irritating. Gregory takes Syme to anarchist headquarters of the London chapter, and through a series of mishaps, the incredibly democratic Syme is elected to the position of Thursday, on the Supreme Anarchist Council. Syme shares this position with some of the most striking characters that can be found in literature. Professor de Worms is so old and dull; he is as good as dead. Dr. Bull looks like an absolute demon. The Secretary is bitter and seems almost disfigured. The Marquis de Saint-Eustache is a sly and cool man, visibly evil. There is Gogol, and Pole who looks almost absurdly hairy, and then there is Sunday, the Council's president, of whom the council is entirely afraid of, due to his almost god-like power. Syme is intensely paranoid of his position and has to bring down the Council, through ways he cannot understand. Thus, the adventure embarks. Along the way, there are recurring themes, ironic contrasts, delightful puns, and painful suspense and is always peppered with Chesterton's philosophical analysis and omniscient outlook. Those who have read Chesterton's work before will probably find it advisable to read the book multiple times. Chesterton's writing is incredibly dense. Some of the humor, and a good deal of meaning, may not be recognized the first time through. It is therefore, though one of the shortest, one of most meaningful and fullest (for lack of a better term) works that has been produced with meaning. As aforementioned, Chesterton's themes shall be instantly recognized, as Chesterton was influenced by and influenced himself countless other writers. The Nightmare shall always live on in humanity, for it poses a great question, itself: Humanity. Shall it survive? Can it survive? Or shall it destroy itself? A battle between anarchy and society, between a village and a motorcar, between sanity and madness, between reason and randomness, The Man Who Was Thursday is to be cherished and learned from.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Man Who Was Thursday was an amazing book. It keeps you guessing up until the end where it throws you a twist so huge and surprising you would never suspect it. The ending is one of the best I've ever read and because of the twist at the end that brings everything into focus, it keeps you hooked until the last page. Not to mention the clever jokes throughout the novel that add to the fun of reading this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I recommend reading the sample chapter for yourself.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A very interesting book. It constantly keeps you wondering what's going to happen next. And just when you think you have something or someone figured out it's not at all what it appeared to be. The ending is kind of bizarre and it'll leave you thinking. The book will make you question society and humanity and in the end it asks the question of whether or not man can only be good when he has not had to suffer the pain that supposedly made the bad man turn bad. But the climax reassures you that mankind can in fact be good inspite of what he has suffered.
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Makes you think but a fun ride
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
But engrossing
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
With so mant typos and editting problems, I did not past the first few pages. My advice is that it is not worth the time and trouble that it takes to read it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The text of the novel is well formated for the Nook and the biography of Chesterton is excellent.
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LucianoFB More than 1 year ago
As of yet I can say nothing for the quality of the story except that I've heard that it is superb. What I can say is that this copy is unappealing and odd- the pages are wide and, strangest of all, the paragraphs have no indentations so they look like this.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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