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February 2009: G.K. Chesterton: The Man Who Was Thursday

Anamnesis

Active Member
I was skeptical at first, but after reading a summary on Amazon.com I think I may join the fray when February comes around. All depends on whether I have the time or not . . .
 

Landslide

Well-Known Member
I have already ordered it. It will be my first BOTM participation and I'm looking forward to it.
 

silverseason

New Member
Was anyone else disappointed in this book? I listened to it as a recording so cannot readily refer to pages or examples, but I found the plot predictable and the fantasy at the end almost offensive.

I haven't read any other Chesterton. Was all the emotional diatribe against the dynamiters and the threat to western civilization serious -- or was it a parody of popular hysteria?

I did like the use of the days of the week. I'll try that approach in the next underground organization that I form.
 

oskylad

Member
I'm maybe half-way through. So far I am finding it delightful but disappointing. His quips are there, but the plot is not hanging together.

I have read about half a dozen other Chesterton books - two Father Brown mysteries, two biographies, and one or two philosophies. This one falls below his usual standards. :sad:
 

SFG75

Well-Known Member
The wikipedia entry on the book is an interesting read. Perhaps that can give some guidance as to the more "weird" things mentioned in the writing.
 

oskylad

Member
I haven't read any other Chesterton. Was all the emotional diatribe against the dynamiters and the threat to western civilization serious -- or was it a parody of popular hysteria?

The Man Who Was Thursday was written six years before the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand by "dynamiters". His assassination led to the First World War that in turn almost destroyed western civilization. Assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, 1914
 

kella

New Member
I just ordered it. We'll see.
 

beer good

Well-Known Member
I wasn't all that impressed with the book, though I didn't really dislike it either. I started reading with absolutely no idea of what the book was about (Gutenberg.org editions don't really have blurbs on the back cover). At first I thought it was a sendup of revolutionary thought similar to Dostoyevsky's Demons, then I thought it was a sendup of revolutionary acts similar to Bulgakov's The Master And Margarita, then it descended into proto-James Bond, and by the end I wasn't sure what the hell it was.

At its heart, I guess it's more of a philosophical thriller than a political one - the hunt for an anarchist parading as the hunt for meaning, ref Nietzsche's infamous talk of killing God etc - and there are definitely some interesting discussions, even if all the characters seem so foolish that I'm not sure whether we're supposed to take anything they say seriously. Not to mention whether Chesterton even bothered understanding the reasons behind socialism or anarchism (probably not since they're more nihilists than anarchists); at least Dostoevsky seemed to admit they had legitimate complaints even as he skewered them. Then again, Chesterton's novel obviously isn't meant to be a realistic image of turn-of-the-century politics, so that didn't bother me too much.

It is very funny at times. The duel scene, the chase through London, the first few reveals of the Council members (before we realise where it's all headed), etc - Chesterton's language is (for the most part) a joy to read, his dialogue snaps and his characters do what they can in the midst of all the craziness.
"The work of the philosophical policeman," replied the man in blue, "is at once bolder and more subtle than that of the ordinary detective. The ordinary detective goes to pot-houses to arrest thieves; we go to artistic tea-parties to detect pessimists. The ordinary detective discovers from a ledger or a diary that a crime has been committed. We discover from a book of sonnets that a crime will be committed...We were only just in time to prevent the assassination at Hartlepool, and that was entirely due to the fact that our Mr. Wilks (a smart young fellow) thoroughly understood a triolet."
Who are the brain police, eh? The plot, however, I found predictable and the reveal at the end overly preachy. "HA! Silly humans, you cannot fathom the nature of God!" OK, if that's your thing, sure. But then, doesn't that essentially say that they were naive to ever try? The moral seems to be "Sit back, don't worry your pretty little heads about it, and trust that it'll all work out." Which bugs me a bit; whether in politics or philosophy, I'm not sure Chesterton understood the arguments he seems to try to refute.

As a farce, it's a lot of fun. As a thriller, it's nicely paced but predictable. As a philosophical work, it's flawed. But it made me laugh, both with it and at it. :star3:
 

Sin

New Member
I don't know how that whole thing is connected with the assassination of Prince Ferdinand and the beginning of the World War I. I can't recall that anarchists have ever been a big threat to the Western Civilization, nor they have anything to do with the World Wars.

The book itself is a farce. It made me laugh from time to time but at the end I didn't get what Chesterton wanted to say. While the most of the book can be considered funny, the last several chapters are somehow artificially appended to the whole story. You could even say that it's pretentious. Maybe it's lack of my religious education but I didn't get what it was all about. I can’t say that book opened any new question for me, not to mention answering any of my existing ones.

The book has a subtitle "Nightmare" so maybe that's all that it is. I can’t say that Chesterton is not talented writer but I wouldn’t recommend this book to my friends.
 

beer good

Well-Known Member
I can't recall that anarchists have ever been a big threat to the Western Civilization, nor they have anything to do with the World Wars.
According to the links that oskylad and I posted on the previous page, important figures murdered by (people claiming to be) anarchists in the late 19th/early 20th century include one US president, one Russian tsar, one French president, one king of Italy, etc etc. Whether that constitutes a threat to Western Civilization is up for debate, I suppose, but it was definitely a real issue. Then again, it doesn't really form more than a backdrop for this novel.

While the most of the book can be considered funny, the last several chapters are somehow artificially appended to the whole story. (...) I can’t say that book opened any new question for me, not to mention answering any of my existing ones.
Agreed.

Maybe it's lack of my religious education but I didn't get what it was all about.
There are indeed some Biblical references at the end - from the introduction of the book:
The "Council" and the "Accuser" are, in the last scene, direct references to the Book of Job. The final chase through monstrous scenes, thronged with trumpeting and incredible beasts, is a glimpse of that animal world which Jehovah called up for Job. Syme is answered by the elephant, as Job was by Behemoth. These echoes multiply in the final chapter as the Sons of God shout for joy in the strange dance the Council witnesses. The parallels are finally established by Bull's quotation: "Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them."
But... so what? What does that add to the story, what makes that a relevant reference?
 

Libra

New Member
I am still early on to discuss it but I read up on the religious aspect and why he uses religion in the story.

Like most of Chesterton's fiction, the story is heavy in Christian allegory. Chesterton, a devout Christian by this time (he joined the Roman Catholic church about 15 years later), suffered from depression for much of his life, and claimed afterwards that he wrote this book as an unusual affirmation that goodness and right were at the heart of every aspect of the world. He had hoped the book would serve as an encouragement to himself and to other members of his family who also had the tendency to become melancholic.

On an interesting note the costumes that the anarchists/detectives don towards the end of the book represent what was created on their respective day. Sunday, "the sabbath and the peace of God", sits upon a throne in front of them. His last words, "can ye drink of the cup that I drink of?", is the question that Jesus asks James and John in The Gospel of Mark, chapter 10, vs 38-39, to challenge their commitment in becoming his disciples. The name of the girl Syme loves, Rosamond, is derived from "Rosa Mundi", meaning "Rose of the World" in Latin, and a title given to Christ.
 

oskylad

Member
I'm maybe half-way through. So far I am finding it delightful but disappointing. His quips are there, but the plot is not hanging together.

I have come to realize I have been reading the book in the wrong way. I was reading it as a conventional mystery/adventure story. Instead, it needs to be read as its subtitle suggests - a nightmare. That accounts for the impressionistic way the story jumps around - and far more besides.

Chesterton himself had this to say about the book:

"...The point is that it described, first a band of the last champions of order fighting against what appeared to be a world of anarchy, and then the discovery that the mysterious master both of the anarchy and the order was the same sort of elemental elf who had appeared to be rather too like a pantomime ogre. This line of logic, or lunacy, led many to infer that this equivocal being was meant for a serious description of the Deity; and my work even enjoyed a temporary respect among those who like the Deity to be so described.
But this error was entirely due to the fact that they had read the book but had not read the title page. In my case, it is true, it was a question of a subtitle rather than a title. The book was called The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare. It was not intended to describe the real world as it was, or as I thought it was, even when my thoughts were considerably less settled than they are now. It was intended to describe the world of wild doubt and despair which the pessimists were generally describing at that date; with just a gleam of hope in some double meaning of the doubt, which even the pessimists felt in some fitful fashion.

I still have quite a ways to go, but based on comments from the other posters and Chesterton's own description I am looking forward to the rest of the dream.
 
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