The Man Who Was Thursday

The Man Who Was Thursday

by G. K. Chesterton

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Overview

This edition of Chesterton's masterpiece and most famous novel, The Man Who Was Thursday, explicates and enriches the complete text with extensive footnotes, together with an introductory essay on the metaphysical meaning of Chesterton's profound allegory. Martin Gardner sees the novel's anarchists as symbols of our Godgiven free will, and the mysterious Sunday as representing Nature, with its strange mixture of good and evil when considered as distinct from God, as a mask hiding the transcendental face of the creator. The book also includes a bibliography listing the novel's many earlier editions and stage dramatizations, as well as numerous illustrations that further illuminate the text.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780368307669
Publisher: Blurb, Inc.
Publication date: 02/28/2019
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.41(d)

About the Author

GK Chesterton was born in London in 1874 and educated at St Paul’s School, before studying art at the Slade School. In 1896, he began working for the London publisher, Redway, and also T. Fisher Unwin as a reader where he remained until 1902. During this time he undertook his first freelance journalistic assignments, writing art and literary reviews. He also contributed regular columns to two newspapers: ‘The Speaker’ (along with his friend Hilaire Belloc) and the ‘Daily News’. Throughout his life he contributed further articles to journals, particularly ‘The Bookman’ and ‘The Illustrated London News’.
His first two books, poetry collections, were published in 1900. These were followed by collections of essays and in 1903, and his most substantial work to that point, a study of ‘Robert Browning’. Chesterton's first novel, 'The Napoleon of Notting Hill' was published in 1904. In this book he developed his political attitudes in which he attacked socialism, big business and technology and showed how they become the enemies of freedom and justice. These were themes which were to run throughout his other works. 'The Man who was Thursday' was published in 1908 and is perhaps the novel most difficult to understand, although it is also his most popular. 'The Ball and the Cross' followed in 1910 and 'Manalive' in 1912. Chesterton's best-known fictional character appears in the Father Brown stories, the first of the collection, 'The Innocence of Father Brown', being published in 1911. Brown is a modest Catholic priest who uses careful psychology to put himself in the place of the criminal in order to solve the crime.
His output was prolific, with a great variety of books from brilliant studies of ‘Dickens’, ‘Shaw’, and ‘RL Stevenson’ to literary criticism. He also produced more poetry and many volumes of political, social and religious essays. Tremendous zest and energy, with a mastery of paradox, puns, a robust humour and forthright devotion along with great intelligence characterise his entire output. In the years prior to 1914 his fame was at its height, being something of a celebrity and seen as a latter day Dr Johnson as he frequented the pubs and offices of Fleet Street. His huge figure was encased in a cloak and wide brimmed hat, with pockets full of papers and proofs.
Chesterton came from a nominally Anglican family and had been baptized into the Church of England. However, at that point he had no particular Christian belief and was in fact agnostic for a time. Nevertheless, in his late twenties he began to explore the possibility of a religious belief for himself, which he then discovered already existed as orthodox Christianity. In 1896, he had also met Frances Alice Blogg, marrying in 1901. She was a devout Anglican and her beliefs strengthened his Christian convictions. In 1922 he converted to Catholicism and he explores his belief in many works, the best known of which is 'Orthodoxy', his personal spiritual odyssey. In some ways, 'Orthodoxy' was an answer to earlier criticisms received after the 1905 publication of 'Heretics', which was a collection of studies of the then contemporary writers. The complaint was made that Chesterton discussed these writers’ attitudes to life, but offered nothing in respect of himself. He was an ebullient character, absent-minded, but quick-witted and will be remembered as one of the most colourful and provocative writers of his day.
G.K. Chesterton died in 1936.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

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.

Table of Contents

Introduction9
Dedication25
IThe Two Poets of Saffron Park31
IIThe Secret of Gabriel Syme50
IIIThe Man Who Was Thursday60
IVThe Tale of a Detective74
VThe Feast of Fear90
VIThe Exposure102
VIIThe Unaccountable Conduct of Professor de Worms114
VIIIThe Professor Explains129
IXThe Man in Spectacles145
XThe Duel167
XIThe Criminals Chase the Police187
XIIThe Earth in Anarchy198
XIIIThe Pursuit of the President220
XIVThe Six Philosophers238
XVThe Accuser254
Appendix267
Bibliography285

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.

Reading Group Guide

1. Discuss the Council’s role as a secret society. What is important about their ability to function as a group and their determination to keep their activities secret? What is the point of their conspiracy?

2. What is the meaning of the book’s title? How does the title’s ambiguity and mystery characterize the book as a whole? Is personal identity less important than collective identity, in Chesterton’s view? Does Syme, in effect, lose his identity? What does he gain?

3. What is the significance of the book’s subtitle, “A Nightmare”? What does Chesterton mean by this? Discuss the dedicatory poem that follows. What kind of tone is Chesterton trying to establish? Does he succeed?

4. Discuss the idea of anarchy as presented in the book. What kinds of activities does Gabriel Syme find himself engaged in? Are they dangerous to society, in your opinion? How do you reconcile the council members being revealed as policemen?

5. Critics have discussed the book as an allegorical work, particularly in Christian terms. Do you agree with this assessment? Who or what, in your opinion, does Sunday represent?

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The Man Who Was Thursday 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 116 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.
isabelx on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
'You spoke of a second question,' snapped Gregory. ¿'With pleasure,' resumed Syme. 'In all your present acts and surroundings there is a scientific attempt at secrecy. I have an aunt who lived over a shop, but this is the first time I have found people living for preference under a public-house. You have a heavy iron door. You cannot pass it without submitting to the humiliation of calling yourself Mr Chamberlain. You surround yourself with steel instruments which make the place, if I may say so, more impressive than homelike. May I ask why, after taking all this trouble to barricade yourselves in the bowels of the earth, you then parade your whole secret by talking about anarchism to every silly woman in Saffron Park?'Gregory smiled.'The answer is simple,' he said. 'I told you I was a serious anarchist, and you did not believe me. Nor do they believe me. Unless I took them into this infernal room they would not believe me.'First published in 1908, "The Man Who Was Thursday" is the story of secret policeman Gabriel Syme's infiltration of an anarchist gang and election to its ruling council whose code names are taken from the days of the week. The subtitle says it all really, as the events become more and more dreamlike as the story progresses, and less and less like a real world spy story.
overtheseatoskye on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I wish there were an entire genre of books in which surreal turn-of-the-century anarchist conventions become nightmarish costume parties presided over by sinister, size-variable criminal masterminds, but I only know of this one. And, er, I guess there's some allegory or something to it as well.
StephenBarkley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
You've got to be curious about any book described as a "surreal anarchist fantasy" (Wordsworth edition introduction). I was pleased to find the classic wit of Chesterton on every page.This book's paradoxical. Chesterton's writing is expansive and leisurely, yet the pace of the mystery is breathtaking at times. It's difficult to find a writer who can make paragraph length blocks of dialogue come alive so effortlessly.The plot itself is very curious. The story's about a group of seven anarchists (named after the days of the week), who have been infiltrated by a spy from Scotland Yard. I hesitate to share any more lest I give too much of the plot away. By the last couple chapters, I found myself questioning how Chesterton could possibly bring such a tale a fitting conclusion without being predictable. He exceeded my expectations. I'll return to that last chapter more than once to let it sink in.Chesterton's at his best: relaxing and thrilling, silly and profound. The entire narrative is laced with Christian symbolism that comes to a poignant theological head without sounding preachy. This is a great summer read.
Owan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is one very good book! Well written, short and fun. I need to re-read it though, thoroughly deserves a re-read.
TheBoltChick on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is part thriller, part fantasy, and even part comedy. It is certainly a strange combination, and not always successful. The was written during a time of anarchist bombings in London, and takes the core idea of the plot from those events. Detective Syme is assigned by Scotland Yard to infiltrate a group of anarchists. Each man is named for a day of the week. As he gets to know the men, he begins to fear for his safety. But the more he learns, the more he realizes none of them are exactly what they appear to be on the surface. The complete title of this novella is The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare. I think one must keep that in mind when reading, as the events and situations can come at the reader at near breakneck speed. The book's ending was a bit disappointing, but overall I will give this one 3-1/2 stars.
Riyale on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was really prepared to love this, but couldn't. The story it's self is wonderful, but I could not get past the narration. Plodding, monotonous...this narrator leant nothing to this work.
cookiebatter on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Obviously intended as a theodicy, but has things to say on a sociological and political level, too. The overarching themes are so big and grave that the insanity of the plot catches you unawares; I actually doubt it would have worked if not for the writing style. With regular pithy insights and some fantastic imagery, Chesterton forces you to take his story seriously, and you are rewarded, in the end, when the absurdity of the plot is equated to the absurdity of the universe. Worth reading unless one is completely allergic to Christian allegories. (So sayeth a dedicated atheist.)
kant1066 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This review contains spoilers.This was originally published in 1908 when Chesterton, one of the greatest Christian apologists of the first third of the twentieth century, was still a Protestant. He wouldn¿t convert to Catholicism until the 1920s. Yet even as a Protestant, he had managed to do some wonderful writing, including ¿Orthodoxy,¿ his classic defense of the inner workings of Christian faith. However, I found this book to be less successful. The characters were so obviously meant to be symbols of something above and beyond themselves that it comes across more as a fable (or, as the subtitle has it, a ¿nightmare¿) than a realist novel.The main struggle Chesterton presents ¿ relentlessly forced down your throat until you almost can¿t bear it anymore ¿ is that of anarchy versus order. Gabriel Syme (paladin of law and order) is a member of the Scotland Yard division that keeps an eye on political anarchists. He meets Gregory, an anarchist, at a party where they discuss what makes poetry poetic. Is it law, rationality, and reason ¿ or disorder and anarchy? Syme suggests that Gregory is only a tongue-in-cheek anarchist, since he rightfully claims that total anarchy would never be able to accomplish its political goals. Gregory counters by offering to take Syme to an underground anarchist meeting to show him that they really do exist.The rest proceeds almost predictably: we find that one member after another of the anarchist council is also working undercover as a member for the Scotland Yard. In fact, of the seven members (each named after a day of the week), five of them are discovered to be police officers. The first time or two this is surprising; by the fifth time, I was almost rolling my eyes. By the end, we find out that not even the leader of the group, Sunday, is an anarchist. Instead, he too has been a force for good. In the end, everything comes off sounding like a paean to reason and rationality, but the message comes off as both heavy-handed and confused, as difficult as that is to imagine. Maybe it was the overt force of the message mixed with the phantasmagoric style on top of the need for Chesterton to turn absolutely into a symbol with some latent meaning. There were just too many things he was trying to do here, and none of them come off with any virtuosity.
markbstephenson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Concise, fast moving, profound, and often funny. What's not to like?
cdeuker on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Read this at 20 and now again 35 years later. Chesterton can certainly write. Some of the images are startlingly beautiful, but the philosophy is a bit much to take. I'm sure the Chesterton lovers can make sense of it all, but to me it was a hodge-podge of conservative Christianity and Buddhism.
LisaShapter on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A book about how to be good in a world that may not be.A brilliant book -- read it instantly.Superb plot, stunning writing, gives you Chesterton's patented ethical vertigo when you begin to wonder whether he hates anarchists or sympathizes with them. (This was the era of the Haymarket riot.) Unlike C.S. Lewis' Narnia books (a pale shadow compared to this work) you do not have to be Christian to enjoy the depth and power of this book.Very, very highly recommended. (And very influential on later Fantasy.)
Crowyhead on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It's a classic spy novel of sorts. It's also absolutely hilarious, beautifully written, and happens to be a Christian allegory. I didn't quite catch all the allegorical elements, but I enjoyed it immensely just the same.
Pflynn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Not having read Chesterton before, but knowing of him generally, I was expecting something along the lines of Dostoevsky¿s Crime and Punishment, at least as regards the struggle between fiction and religion. In that novel, I have always found Raskolnikov¿s conversion to Christianity to be unconvincing. What makes that novel amazing is its ability to conjure up Raskolnikov¿s psychological character in full, and his jailhouse conversion seems to run contrary to what the novel has spent the bulk of its effort establishing, namely the interior of Raskolnikov¿s mind. Christianity emerges not from within the novel, not from within Raskolnikov¿s nature, but from without, imposed by the author.As he was a devout Christian, I expected Chesterton to fall into a similar trap in The Man Who Was Thursday, and to allow his convictions to delimit his imagination. In that regard, I was pleasantly surprised. The ending is wholly consistent with the rest of the novel, but in transitioning the novel fully into the realms of allegory, it leads to a different set of problems. The novel is not a form especially conducive to allegory, and if you don¿t believe me, try to read Pilgrim¿s Progress. As a set of ideas, it makes perfect sense, but to modern readers, it will seem like the barest skeleton of a narrative. Syme, Bull and the Marquis de St. Eustache are not fully imagined human beings in the way that Raskolnikov is, but Chesterton avoids Dostoevsky¿s problem because he does not intend his characters to be anything other than what they are.As such, if Thursday is to be judged, it must be judged as an allegory. Allegories can take an abstract, intellectual argument and make it come to life. Two exemplars that suggest where Thursday falls short are Kafka¿s ¿On Parables¿ and the story of the Prodigal Son from the New Testament. In a quarter page, Kafka produces a phenomenal riddle that seems to contain one of the mysteries of life. In the tale of the Prodigal Son, the whole essence of Christ¿s message is condensed into the story of one man.It is no accident that both of these examples are parables. Part of the genius of allegory is its ability to condense whole lines of argument and give them a tactile reality, a genius that is best displayed in parables. The novel is a far more expansive form that the parable, and it is unclear what Chesterton accomplishes in a 200-page allegory that could not be performed more concisely in a parable. Those two hundred pages are not at all painful to read, but they add little to the allegory revealed in the final chapter. Furthermore, allegory cannot achieve its own end. In the story of Sunday, the text hopes to present a convincing theodicy, a mark it falls far short of.I also find it striking that when Chesterton and so many other turn of the century authors (Conrad, Dostoevsky) cast about for a danger that would imperil society, they fingered anarchism, not knowing that World War I lay just around the corner.