The Man Who Was Thursday (G.K. Chesterton)

By G.K. Chesterton

First published: UK, J.W. Arrowsmith, 1908

My review

This allegory, aptly subtitled “A Nightmare” is, without any doubt, the best of Chesterton’s novels. It has an actual — and epic — plot, even if it is surreal, a plot which is in parts very funny, and in others atmospheric — frightening or wondrous; it has eccentric and interesting characters — the poet policeman who infiltrates a circle of anarchists, only to find that they are all policemen, and other such Alice in Wonderland touches; a very funny yet disquieting scene in which an elderly and paralytic professor chases the hero down the street, and a later duello which achieves the same purpose; and a frightening part when the world goes mad in Chapters XI—XII, when the reader feels that the end of the world — of civilisation — has come, and the reader is genuinely relieved when Monday is revealed to be a policeman, before a very funny chase through London, building up nonsense upon nonsense. But above all — above the glorious writing, with its susceptibility to light, colour and weather — is the ultimate riddle of all: the nature of God. Very powerful and thought-provoking — a work which can only be described as “sublime.”

(Me, aet. 17 – and as fond – of dashes – as Virginia Woolf or Emily Dickinson)

Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (George Calderon, 5th March 1908):

It is Mr. Chesterton’s ordinary function to entertain us with slow-moving, long-drawn epigrams; something at once ponderous and roguish; paradoxes artfully disguised to look like common sense.  When he deviates into fiction, one is tempted to suspect him of some terrifying profundity.  But surprise is the very essence of him; and it is doubtful, in The Man who was Thursday—A Nightmare, whether it is not the point of the joke that it is after all only shallowness and high spirits disguised as profundity.  As an entertainment the book is only half a success; it is full of witty turns, but they are like the flashes of blue light in a tube railway, irrelevant expenditures of motor energy.  As literature, it is a hopeless confusion de genres; a scurrying, door-slamming farce that ends like a chapter in the Apocalypse.  As a moral or political lesson it is unconcerned with any issues which real life makes visible; for the anarchism upheld by idealists, the fight for a free criticism of tradition and an ultimate emancipation, cannot be overthrown by any arguments applicable to the bomb-throwing anarchism of the realists.   Mr. Chesterton’s missiles fly over the heads of the one sort, and fall far short of the other.