Book: The Man Who Was Thursday
Author: GK Chesterton
Edition: Public Doman-Gutenberg
Read: June 2009
Rated: 4 out of 5
The Man Who Was Thursday is a pretty good GK Chesterton read. You read Chesterton not for his story line--even though sometimes is pretty good like this one, nor brevity of thought--his specialty is being expansive as he is personally; nor for a realistic view—that is definitely out. But if you want to enlarge your own view, see beyond our world, look at it with eyes afresh, then Chesterton is your man.
The basic story line is Syme is recruited to infiltrate anarchists. He does such a good job that he lands the position of Thursday on the council of days—the coordinating council of anarchists for Europe. The rest of the story dealt with Thursday trying to stop Sunday, the head of the council of days. Then there is the reward for a well done task.
As exciting of a storyline this is, it pales to the philosophical points Chesterton makes. He explores our fears of isolation, the encouragement of working together even against great odds; the ability of a few men banded together and their ability to stand before the world. Oh how to tell without giving away the plot?
But the big question which Chesterton asks is what are we here for and who are we? Like the Bible he starts in a garden or a park if you prefer, and it ends in a wild celebration where Chesterton answers questions such as, Why did God allow evil? Why do we have to encounter evil and suffer with it?
Chesterton’s story is a front, a front to examine who we are. We discover glimmers of ourselves more in conflict than in calm. We find ourselves as we are forced to such through life, rather than setting in a park discussing things. As one character said, “I strayed to close to hell”--but then he understood himself. But when we are able to rest from our labors, celebrating our lives, we can see our life clearer in retrospective.
The accusation says we have not hated because of never having lived—never been put to the test of being in the world. Chesterton’s response is we have been—we have stood up, we suffer in more ways to keep our honor then can be imagined. It is because we do not bend or if we do, we come back to stand upright, that we are able to hold our heads up.
Chesterton is definitely not a modernly politically correct person. He starts right out by talking about how this particular poet is laying down the law to men and women, particularly women. He notes the paradox of how easily an emancipated—liberated or feminist in our day—will do something which very few women will do—pay attention to what a man says. He seems much more witty witting about modern women than his other incorrectness concerning Jews and blacks.
Something Chesterton does real well at is turning an argument on his head—of course it is easier if you control the conversation. The argument which is made is that there is splendor in chaos, there is beauty in the wild. Man’s creations destroy. Gregory, the anarchist, says that he would much rather have a tree than a lamppost. Chesterton points out that is by the lamppost which you can see the tree.
There is a certain bit of irony and ticking which Chesterton plays in this story. There is a council of anarchists. Wouldn’t by its very nature anarchists would not need or even a desire to coordinate their activities? In chapter two Syme says to the anarchist, I know your passion for law and order. Ultimately nobody likes chaos, we yearn for order in our lives. But a good order. An order which allows us to flourish rather than the control which restricts. This is ingrained in us. The moment which two people get together we play by rules of a relationship, whether spoken or just understood.
Chesterton had a great deal of faith in the people. Not so much in their ability to choose right from wrong, but to look out for their own good. In chapter XI a mob is chasing our heros. During the dialogue Chesterton points out that the only defense the common people have is the right application of the rule of law. It is the rich who benefit by subverting it. If they do not like a law, they leave. The poor have to stay. At the end of chapter XII he says “Vulgar (common) people are never mad.”
But in chapter XIII he gets to the main point when Syme says, “…it is six men going to ask one what they mean.” Later on that page, he has Sunday asking them “…you want me to tell you what I am, and what you are, and what this table is, and what this Council is, and what this world is for all I know. Well, I will go so far as to rend the veil of one mystery. If you want to know what you are, you are a set of highly well-intentioned young jackasses.” While not a soothing answer, it probably is a correct answer. When you look at a life, most people are well intention, but failing and failing miserably people. But isn’t this only a partial answer on who e are? The other answer is given as Syme and his friends chase Sunday right into their victory celebration. We also see we are people who overcome. Overcome not only by our strength, but through the one who gives us strength.
Not major Chesterton points, nor are they going to be part of the Chesterton quote book, but there is a great line of thought:
- Syme is describing his father and mother, his mom being a vegetarian, the other hedonistic. The comment is made “by the time the former had come to enforcing vegetarianism, the latter had pretty well reached the point of defending cannibalism.” Just a great line.
- When Syme and his group come to confront Sunday, Syme sais “I attack him rashly because I am afraid of him.” When we are afraid, we are at our worst.
A Christian reading this book will find full meaning at the end; others will say it was a great adventure book, but he be bewildered at the end.
Notes from my book group:
Enjoyable book. But we did not discuss this much as we did a potluck and game night.
- Flaneur: French for an idle man around town.
- Colney Hatch: A lunatic asylum which in Britain was synonymous with any mental institution.
- Pate de foie gras: Foie gras is French for "fat liver," and this pâté is made from the livers of specially fattened geese or duck.
- Joseph Chamberlain: an influential British businessman, politician, and statesman, father to Neville Chamberlain. Malcolm Muggerridge mentions him in his Chronicles of a Wasted Time.
- Tim Healy: an Irish nationalist politician, journalist, author, barrister and one of the most controversial Irish MPs in the House of Commons
- Marat: a Swiss-born physician, political theorist and scientist better known as a radical journalist and politician from the French Revolution. His journalism was renowned for its fiery character and uncompromising stance towards the new government, "enemies of the revolution" and basic reforms for the poorest members of society. His constant persecution, consistent voice and uncanny prophetic powers brought him the trust of the people and made him their unofficial link to the radical Jacobin group that came to power in June 1793. He was murdered in his bathtub by Charlotte Corday, a Girondin sympathizer.
- Jacobins: a Jacobin originally meant a member of the Jacobin Club (1789-1794), but even at that time, the term Jacobins had been popularly applied to all promulgators of revolutionary opinions.
- Dosition: ???
- Décore: marked by propriety and good taste
- Proboscis: the trunk of an elephant; also : any long flexible snout b : the human nose especially when prominent
- Chiaroscuro: pictorial representation in terms of light and shade without regard to color
2 a : the arrangement or treatment of light and dark parts in a pictorial work of art b : the interplay or contrast of dissimilar qualities (as of mood or character)
- Duncaid: a landmark literary satire by Alexander Pope published in three different versions at different times
- Martin Tupper: an English writer, and poet, and the author of Proverbial Philosophy-long series of didactic moralisings composed in a lawyer's chambers
- What is there poetical about being in revolt ? You might as well say that it is poetical to be sea‑sick. Chapter I- THE TWO POETS OF SAFFRON PARK
- It is always the humble man who talks too much; the proud man watches himself too closely. . Chapter I- THE TWO POETS OF SAFFRON PARK
- I should think very little of a man who didn't keep something in the background of his life that was more serious than all this talking. Chapter I- THE TWO POETS OF SAFFRON PARK
- The soldier must be calm in the thick of the battle. The composure of an army is the anger of a nation. Chapter IV- THE TALE OF A DETECTIVE
- I don't know any profession of which mere willingness is the final test. I do—martyrs. Chapter IV- THE TALE OF A DETECTIVE
- Vulgar (common) people are never mad. Chapter XXII-THE EARTH IN ANARCHY
- Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Man_Who_Was_Thursday
- eText at Project Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/1695
- American Chesterton Society: http://chesterton.org/discover/lectures/10thursday.html
- Review by Chinsmith: http://www.revish.com/reviews/0140183884/Chinsmith/
- Review by Chamber Four: http://chamberfour.com/2009/06/12/review-the-man-who-was-thursday/
- Review on Fantasy Freaks by Saiaph: http://www.fantasyfreaks.org/reviews/saiph/tmwwt.html
- Review: Russ Beck: http://russwbeck.wordpress.com/2009/05/18/book-review-the-man-who-was-thursday-by-g-k-chesterton/