The Man Who Was Thursday
The Man Who Was Thursday, G.K. Chesterton, World Classics Edition, Oxford University Press, 1994, ISBN 0-19-282359-0
Chesterton is quite a favorite author of mine, more on the strength of the Father Brown stories which I have read and reread, than for his other works which I have barely sampled. Having desired to increase my acquaintance with his works I acquired a copy of the classics edition of The Man Who Was Thursday.
This edition consists of the novel itself, two relevant essays by Chesterton, and an introduction by an academic. The novel is quite short – more a novella than a novel – and the work needs must be padded out with something to give it a respectable size. The introduction, I suppose, serves as well as anything to provide the necessary padding but it is pretentiously dull.
Chesterton is a delightful writer who produced many a delightful sentence. There is nothing in that; almost anyone might turn out a delightful sentence or two. Chesterton can do more; he can write a delightful book filled with delightful sentences.
This is no small thing. A book filled with delightful sentences can be a dull book. Many an author can grow a flower but not a garden of flowers. I need only mention … But, no, I refrain; you no doubt have your own list of such authors.
It would be a rare and wondrous thing to create a delightful book filled with nothing but dull sentences, a tour de force of sorts. I imagine that it has been done for, as Ysidro remarks in Those Who Hunt The Night, “Everything has been tried”. As it happens, no instances of such marvellous spring to mind whereas I can think of numerous dull books filled with dull sentences. The introduction serves as a model for writing such books and may safely be skipped.
The Man Who Was Thursday is, by repute, Chesterton’s masterpiece. It may well be as men reckon such things. Yet it is really too strange a book to be accounted a masterpiece – not because it is not excellent (it is) but because it defies categorization. It is a surreal detective story in which no crime is committed and which, in the end, is (perhaps) not a detective story at all. I shall respect the sensibilities of those who, on the strength of my comments, may rush out to purchase a copy (or more economically, rush to the library to borrow a copy) by not providing a tedious litany of the plot or an even more tedious litany of its literary excellences save to reveal the origin of the striking title.
The protagonist, Symes, becomes a member of the Supreme Council of an international organization of anarchists. This council has seven members and it is their fancy that each position in the council shall bear the title of a day of the week.
My partiality to Chesterton is an odd thing. I am not, you see, a Christian nor am I likely to ever become such, no more so than is it likely than a pig should sprout wings, take flight, and sing like a nightingale. If God is dead, as Nietzsche says, it is somebody else’s God, he has been long dead and buried, and I visit his cemetery only with the mild curiosity of a tourist surveying the tomb of a foreign king.
But it is just this Christianity of Chesterton’s (and Lewis, too, who also delights me) that is so attractive. He is, you see, a convert. There are people who have been Christians all of their lives and who wear their faith as a suit of conventionality. They have their faith, I have no doubt, but it is a mundane thing. With Chesterton the world is pregnant with religion; not only are the symbols real, they are eminently immanent. He was not, I suspect, such a good Christian as he thought he was – his Christianity smelt of Faerie. For all the claims of commonplaceness, the wild things were always peeking out from underneath the hem of Father Brown’s cassock.
This page was last updated July 3, 1998.