One possible clue to the many ambiguities and levels of meaning in The Man Who Was Thursday is in the novel’s subtitle, A Nightmare, which implies that after debating poetry and anarchy with his friend, Lucian Gregory, Gabriel Syme falls into a reverie in which symbolic events occur and then, the adventure completed, returns to reality. Once this dream structure is accepted, the apparently illogical and progressively symbolic narrative creates no insurmountable difficulties. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that any two readers will arrive at precisely the same interpretation of the meaning behind Syme’s adventures and his encounter with the enigmatic Sunday.
G. K. Chesterton states in his Autobiography that The Man Who Was Thursday was the product of his intellectually and spiritually unsettled youth: “The whole story is a nightmare of things, not as they are, but as they seemed to the young half-pessimist of the 1890’s.” Initially, the major targets of the satire are the negative philosophies that seemed to him to dominate the intellectual atmosphere of the late Victorian period. As Chesterton suggested in his poetic dedication to E. C. Bentley, “Science announced nonentity and art admired decay.”
Each of the anarchists embodies one possible perversion of intellect: Gogol (Tuesday) is the stereotypical gruff, bearded anarchist; Professor de Worms (Friday) is the perverted scholarly intelligence; Dr. Bull (Saturday) represents cold, scientific rationalism, whereas Marquis de St. Eustache (Wednesday) represents decadent aristocracy and death worship; and the Secretary (Monday) embodies political fanaticism and power madness. This political satire, however, changes into something quite different as each of the supposed anarchists is, in turn, exposed as an upholder of the moral order. “I thought it would be fun,” Chesterton commented in an interview, “to make the tearing away of menacing masks...
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