• Welcome to BookAndReader!

    We LOVE books and hope you'll join us in sharing your favorites and experiences along with your love of reading with our community. Registering for our site is free and easy, just CLICK HERE!

    Already a member and forgot your password? Click here.

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

SFG75

Well-Known Member
Sin
don't know how that whole thing is connected with the assassination of Prince Ferdinand and the beginning of the World War I
.

Indeed!, the members of the "black hand" that assassinated the Archduke were nationalists, not anarchists. Dynamiters yes, united by ideology, no.

beer_good
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.

Definitely not a threat to civilization, but we can credit the anarchist movement with the above mentioned assassinations. People like Emma Goldman in the U.S. gained a lot of attention and it sprang from Eastern European immigration into the U.S. They were definitely on the radar screen in regards to politics in the U.S. and elsewhere.

I've only read chapter one so far. Oskylad's last comments are leading me to belive that there is more to this story than what meets the eye. My own personal impression from the first part is that he is writing as a Christian apologetic, defending "form" and "order" against anarchy and chaos. His writing reminds me a lot of C.S. Lewis in that regard. His biography on wikipedia is full of references regarding his strong Catholic faith. The nightmare might very well be what will occur if the bad people take over?, will reserve judgment until I have read more tonight.
 

oskylad

Member
Definitely not a threat to civilization, ....

There is a causal link (albeit not the only cause, to be sure) between anarchial asssassinations, the nationalist assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, the outbreak of the First World War, the fall of Russia to the Bolsheviks, defeat of the Germans in the war, the takeover of Germany by the Nazis, and the killing of millions in Russia and Germany that followed. Killing of innocent people in the name of ideology constitutes more than a threat to western civilization - it constitutes the end of western civilization to those whose lives or freedoms are taken from them.

The lives and freedoms of millions of people in our own day are threatened by modern-day successors to the Black Hand and other groups. We ought not take lightly the story Chesterton puts before us.
 

beer good

Well-Known Member
Killing of innocent people in the name of ideology constitutes more than a threat to western civilization - it constitutes the end of western civilization to those whose lives or freedoms are taken from them. The lives and freedoms of millions of people in our own day are threatened by modern-day successors to the Black Hand and other groups. We ought not take lightly the story Chesterton puts before us.

If Chesterton's story were an honest attempt to understand and/or expose what makes someone kill in the name of ideology, rather than - paraphrasing what you and Libra posted above - just a "nightmare" that's essentially intended to comfort him and assure him that it won't really ever be that bad (and history seems to prove him wrong on that point)... then, sure. But since it's not, I'm taking it pretty lightly. There are other books which do a far better Job of it.
 

silverseason

New Member
If Chesterton's story were an honest attempt to understand and/or expose what makes someone kill in the name of ideology, rather than - paraphrasing what you and Libra posted above - just a "nightmare" that's essentially intended to comfort him and assure him that it won't really ever be that bad (and history seems to prove him wrong on that point)... then, sure. But since it's not, I'm taking it pretty lightly. There are other books which do a far better Job of it.

You have put your finger on what disapppointed me about the book. As I began reading I thought he was depicting anarchists and their actions and beliefs, as well as the actions and beliefs of those opposed to them. But as the book progressed the beliefs became caricatures and the actions became improbable (although I liked Sunday on the elephant). So then what? It turns out to be some sort of Christian allegory?

The last section was right out of the book of Revelation. Perhaps it was meant to impress the reader with the seriousness of it all, but it felt more like buying a railroad ticket to Chicago, observing that the train seems headed in the wrong direction and ultimately getting off the train in Oz.
 

beer good

Well-Known Member
The last section was right out of the book of Revelation. Perhaps it was meant to impress the reader with the seriousness of it all, but it felt more like buying a railroad ticket to Chicago, observing that the train seems headed in the wrong direction and ultimately getting off the train in Oz.

Spot on. I have no problem with books using religious texts or analogies as part of the plot - several of my favourite books do that. Those stories are so ingrained in our culture that you cannot ignore them completely, and whether you believe in them or not they still have value as stories. I do, however, have a problem when it's used as some sort of teacher's edition: when the author sets up a number of serious questions (not that Chesterton seems to take them all that seriously) and then ends it by essentially saying "Well, here's what the Bible says, so just go with that. Case closed." IMO, that's not only making it far too easy for oneself, but also missing the point of why it would be the right thing to do - why those stories are in the Bible to begin with, why they still have value as stories.

But that's getting close to off-topic, I guess.

I'm not sure Chesterton even tries to talk about political anarchism here. The only "proper" anarchist in the story is Gregory, and he comes across more as a pure nihilist. The story isn't about politics and heads of state; it's about philosophy, theology and godheads - more a (not very successful) riposte to Nietzsche's talk of killing God than an examination of political violence. Some might argue that those are connected, but they're certainly not identical.
 

SFG75

Well-Known Member
it's about philosophy, theology and godheads - more a (not very successful) riposte to Nietzsche's talk of killing God than an examination of political violence. Some might argue that those are connected, but they're certainly not identical.

I would agree with you, but chapter III makes me wonder if he isn't doing so to lampoon them, at least, Gregory. I love the end of II where Gabriel fesses up to being involved with the authorities and Gregory is just beside himself. His buddies show up and then what does Gabriel proceed to do? He steals the chair of being thursday from right under Gregory's nose! Gregory objects to it and tries to let the truth come out, but he just can't bring himself to do it. I also enjoyed how Gregory's speech came off as if he was the one for law and order, while Gabriel adapted to the role perfectly.

I am also enjoying the twisting and playing of words, esepecially as witnessed in chapter IV.

He came of a family of cranks, in which all the oldest people had all the newest notions.

The more his mother preached a more than Puritan abstinence the more did his father expand into a more than pagan latitude; and by the time the former had come to enforcing vegetarianism, the latter had pretty well reached the point of defending cannibalism.

Being surrounded with every conceivable kind of revolt from infancy, Gabriel had to revolt into something, so he revolted into the only thing left—sanity.


:lol::lol:
 

oskylad

Member
At the heart of the book is the ongoing battle between order and chaos (much like my desk). As I mentioned in an earlier post, I started reading the book as a rational, orderly tale. I came to realize it was a chaotic nightmare.

It is illustrative that Chesterton chose the name Gabriel for his main character. Gabriel was the name of the angel in the Bible that came to explain the meaning of Daniel's vision for the end times, thus bringing order out of Daniel's nightmare. In Chapter I of our book, Gregory said that "he (Syme) was a poet of the law, a poet of order; nay, he said he was a poet of respectability." As a policeman, he was also a defender of law and order.

Gabriel's protagonist in Chapter I was named Lucien (= Lucifer). Lucifer was the fallen angel who rebelled against God and brought disorder and chaos into the world. Chesterton said that Lucien "seemed like a walking blasphemy, a blend of the angel and the ape." He even had red hair.

The evening they met "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." Is it too much to imagine that the feathers came from the battle between the angels of order and chaos?

The battle between order and chaos is ultimately a battle as to whether life has meaning or at the end of the day turns out to be meaningless. I am still working my way through the book, so don't know which prevails in Chesterton's mind. But perhaps that is a question each of us is asking about our own lives.
 

Landslide

Well-Known Member
I finally finished it and to quote beer good:

I wasn't all that impressed with the book, though I didn't really dislike it either.

It's definitely not my kind of mistery book and I didn't really get the ending...

I also found it very predictable
as I considered the possibily of all of the members of the council being policeman when I found out the Professor was one.

I do think it was very well written (of course that, since I read a portuguese translation, I cannot be reliable on this) and it has very interesting dialogues between some of the characters. I also found it very amusing in some parts.

So, in the end what do you think it all was? A nightmare? A warning? A little bit of both?
 

oskylad

Member
Despite Garfield and my earlier doubts, I did finish the book - and am glad I did.

Some have complained that Chesterton does not take seriously the questions he raises. I think he does take them seriously, but chooses to tackle them in an unusual way. In Chapter XIV, he says:
Moderate strength is shown in violence, supreme strength is shown in levity.
And that is what he is doing in this book. Instead of violently attacking the pessimism of his age, a pessimism that took form in nihilism and anarchy, he uses levity to show their absurdity. I understand even the critics of his own time had trouble with this approach. Some "got it" while others did not.

That being said, I am still left with the thought Syme has in Chapter XV:
I am grateful ..., not only for wine and hospitality here, but for many a fine scamper and free fight. But I should like to know. My soul and heart are as happy and quiet here as this old garden, but my reason is still crying out. I should like to know.
 

oskylad

Member
The issue with Chesterton was not that the anarchists and nihilists wanted to abolish government. Rather, as Chesterton suggests in Chapter II, they aimed:
To abolish God! .... We do not only want to upset a few despotisms and police regulations; that sort of anarchism does exist, but it is a mere branch of the Nonconformists. We dig deeper and we blow you higher. We wish to deny all those arbitrary distinctions of vice and virtue, honor and treachery, upon which mere rebels base themselves. The silly sentimentalists of the French Revolution talked of the Rights of Man! We hate Rights as we hate Wrongs. We have abolished Right and Wrong.

In our day, some don't desire so much to abolish God as to ignore him. A group has been running ads on the bendy buses in England that say: "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying, and enjoy your life." * Others want to ban God from the public square and relegate him to our private lives, not to be shared with others. I doubt these are healthier reactions to the idea of God than the anarchists of Chesterton's time.

*(Ripostes to the bendy bus ads include "There's probably no jihad. Now stop scurrying and enjoy your -- oof!" and "There's probably no milk. Can you nip to the shop and get some? There's a dear.")
 

oskylad

Member
One poster has commented about how Chesterton reminds him/her of C.S. Lewis.

Lewis has compared the writings of Chesterton with Franz Kafka, our April BOTM author:
Is the difference simply that one is 'dated' and the other contemporary? Or is it rather that while both give a powerful picture of the loneliness and bewilderment which each of us encounters in his (apparently) single-handed struggle with the universe, Chesterton, attributing to the universe a more complicated disguise, and admitting the exhilaration as well as the terror of the struggle, has got in rather more, is more balanced: in that sense, more classical, more permanent?

Lewis finds that Chesterton is as serious as other writers about the issues he raises, but instead of being morose Chesterton approaches the subject with humor. Kafka is said to have commented that Chesterton "is so gay, that one might almost believe he had found God."
 

beer good

Well-Known Member
Definitely; everyone ignores the possible existence of Odin, Zeus or Tezcatlipoca at their own risk. :innocent:

You're right, of course, about what Chesterton's plot claims to set out to tackle; I maintain, however, that if he thinks "killing God" was the overriding goal of the political anarchists of the late 19th/early 20th century, he's clearly mistaken and his criticism of the movement misses the point. And if he's using anarchism as a metaphor for dealing with the then-current philosophical trends - again, "killing God" is a clear reference to Nietzsche - and the general fin de siecle angst, coupled with the approaching all-European suicide in WWI, then he takes them much too literally and offers a much too simple solution; the philosophical equivalent of "let them eat cake."

But hey, maybe it's just a farce after all and I'm asking way too much of it.

Incidentally, you can make your own bus slogan here.

ai22.photobucket.com_albums_b339_beergood_bus.jpg

ETA: for the record, I can see the difference, but I find Kafka a lot funnier than Chesterton.
 

oskylad

Member
There is probably no Kafka.
So take April off
and enjoy the flowers.

 

Libra

New Member
Despite Garfield and my earlier doubts, I did finish the book - and am glad I did.
Me too,took a while for me to get into it,but it got interesting after page 100.I was expecting a horror and not noticing that in the front of the book it says:
"Indescribably funny and incredibly clever":whistling:

It was funny and this scene made me laugh the most:

"Yes,he is gone too," said the Professor,and sat down on a stone."Everything's gone.I'm gone! I can't trust my own bodily machinery.I feel as if my own hand might fly up and strike me"
"When my hand flies up,"Said Syme,"it will strike somebody else,"..

I didn't really get the end though,each one represented a day in creation?:confused:
 

oskylad

Member
Leesha Harvey has a wonderful song about The Man Who Was Thursday: StumbleAudio (2 million+ music tracks to discover)


Here are the lyrics:

"The Song for Thursday"
(Leesha Harvey)

The universe has bottomed out
Look at that blood-red sky
Just poets in a shadowed park
You and I

Your anarchy needs order
Must have something there to fight
You can't see that tree before you
Without a light

We’re running through side streets
Chased by our fears
'cause the one that we hate and we love is getting near

Chorus:
Waiting for Sunday to appear
No way that we can hide
So drop the mask, all you fakers here
We’re on the same side (2x)

Am I asleep and dreaming
Or I’m a going mad?
Seems the thing that I’ve been looking for
I already had

We keep holding hard
To the thing unseen
It’s the only thing we know to be true in this crazy dream

(Chorus)

Where we going now?
This is getting strange…
Irresistibly pulled to the man who changed my name

(Chorus)

© 2007 Leesha Harvey
 
Top