The Man Who Was Thursday

by G. K. Chesterton

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William Barry (essay date 1908)

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SOURCE: "Mr. Chesterton's Allegory of Anarchism," in The Bookman, London, Vol. XXXIV, No. 199, April, 1908, p. 23.

[In the following review, Barry praises The Man Who Was Thursday as a skillful attack against anarchistic and decadent intellectual stance.]

There are many ways of preaching a lay sermon; and it would be strange if Mr. Chesterton did not take his own. For he combines gifts which are seldom found together. With rare insight he has detected the glory of the commonplace; he is certain that genius and the ordinary man agree in their judgment about life, death, marriage, morals, and all the things that signify. Therefore he despises in good-humoured fashion the crank, the law-breaker, the "immoralist"—senseless persons who strike an attitude because they can do nothing else. But while cleaving to the old, he arrays it in new garments of a most surprising cut and lively colours. Why should paradox be always enlisted on the wrong side? Who has a better right to laugh than the man that believes in plain and saving Realism? Laugh, accordingly, in the very thick of a struggle to defend the Highest Law, our philosopher does, yet not without grimness, for the smoke of the nether deeps circles around him. The echo of that laugh reminds us in its peculiar accent, at once grave and gay, of Robert Louis Stevenson. And, on the whole, it is Stevenson's creed that is set before us, healthy, brave, rather high-strung, tender at last with a pity that hides itself in schoolboy fun and frolic.

But all do not construe allegory when they see it; a nightmare is an uncanny sort of vision, and the crowd may not understand. The Man Who Was Thursday begins like any other Anarchist make-up; singularly resembling "The Angel of the Revolution," but ironical, whereas that was no more playful than a thrust with a dagger. We get the thrill and the shock and are led cleverly astray. The "special constables of order"—a conception worthy of Sir Conan Doyle—put us on the qui vive; but for a time bewilder us, as they ought in so good a story. Their purpose—and here Mr. Chesterton means what he says—is to keep watch and ward against the most deadly kind of Anarchism. "Yes," exclaims the "Man who was Thursday," "the modern world has retained all those parts of police-work which are really oppressive and ignominious, the harrying of the poor, the spying upon the unfortunate. It has given up the more dignified work, the punishment of powerful traitors in the State and powerful heresiarchs in the Church. The moderns say we must not punish heretics. My only doubt is whether we have a right to punish anybody else."

How few will take this as seriously intended! The blasé reader will smile and rush on, gaping to know what becomes of Syme, the gentleman-detective, who has ventured his life by joining the supreme Anarchist Council, and is bound in honour to fight without help of Scotland Yard. Such racing and chasing ensue that we are caught up in the whirlwind of it, yet always with a point of horror, strongly Stevensonian, perhaps overdone. There are crowds of dark lines in this spectrum, showing finally as burlesque, but leaving an unpleasant trail behind. No doubt, if you want to throw on canvas the "City of Dreadful Night"—which is the true name for modern unbelief and disorder—you must deepen your sable tints; only our nerves cannot well endure them. These insane eccentricities which we reject have weakened us all; a healthier generation will look back on our...

(This entire section contains 892 words.)

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age of decadence with wonder and no slight contempt. But, anyhow, even by borrowing its own weapons, Mr. Chesterton strikes at the monstrous phantom which is always denying "the decencies and charities of Christendom," and he strikes hard.

In this mixture of the picturesque and the horrible there is something Japanese. We may remember among the sketches of Hokusai certain huge apparitions like the enigmatic President, "Sunday," or combats of weird beings, praeter-human and terrifying, over whom the artist flings a ray of sunshine that adds to their strangeness. At length our nightmare, which we have pursued through thick and thin, tumbles into absolute farce. The undergraduate humour of Syme breaks all bounds; and we feel hurt as we join in that mad chase after "Sunday" across London, where he plays the fool as he drives on. With sudden violence we are carried out of this harlequinade into a drop-scene, parable or what you will, and the philosophy of the book discloses itself. It is the old true Gospel of peace purchased by war, of valour standing up to be slain for its plighted word, of faith against appearances, of redemption through self-sacrifice. Was the message ever brought in a more unconventional garb? At all events, it is the genuine thing, as well as a challenge to the "science" that "announces nonentity," and the art that "admires decay." Beyond all question our intellectual anarchists proclaim a doctrine of suicide which the young, the ardent, the weaker sort, have acted upon or will act upon. To show us its meaning, with a hearty laugh at its extreme folly, may do the rest of us good. We wake from this nightmare into a world of sanity, and face the dawn with hope.


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The Man Who was Thursday

G. K. Chesterton

The following entry presents criticism of Chesterton's novel The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare (1908).

Often regarded as Chesterton's finest novel, The Man Who Was Thursday mixes elements of parable, spy fiction, and romantic fantasy as it follows the poet-detective Gabriel Syme on a mission to apprehend a mysterious anarchist known only as Sunday. Seen as humorous, bizarre, and at times diffuse by critics, the work is framed as Syme's dream-adventure and explores the existence of evil and the role of faith in the modern, materialistic world. An early work of Chesterton's, the novel invokes themes common to his writings throughout his career, including meditations on the wonder of life and the limits of human reason. In addition, The Man Who Was Thursday is said to be Chesterton's attack on the prevalent pessimism of his age, and an appeal for renewed optimism based on religious conviction.

Plot and Major Characters

The Man Who Was Thursday opens in the fictional London suburb of Saffron Park. Here two young poets, Lucian Gregory and Gabriel Syme, debate the relative merits of anarchy versus order. Syme, an undercover detective called upon to infiltrate the Central Anarchist Council, a secret group of seven men who plan to destroy the world, dupes Gregory into leading him deeper into the society. Managing to win the post of Thursday—one of the seven positions in the Council, each of which is named after a day of the week—Syme is brought before its remaining six members the following morning. Sunday—an imposing man of almost inhumanly large proportions—presides over the group, a motley assortment of villains: the Secretary of the Council (Monday) with his twisted smile, a hairy Pole named Gogol (Tuesday), the decadent Marquis de St Eustache (Wednesday), the almost corpse-like Professor de Worms (Friday), and a dark young physician called Dr Bull (Saturday). After some discussion of a plan to assassinate the Russian Czar and the President of the French Republic in Paris three days hence, Sunday exposes Gogol as a fraud—who, unbeknownst to Syme, was also working for Scotland Yard. Sunday, concerned that there might be a further breach of secrecy, leaves the details of the bombing to Dr Bull and the Marquis. Following the meeting Professor de Worms tracks down Syme and explains that he too is a police agent, and the two join forces only to learn that Dr Bull is likewise an undercover detective. The trio then travel to France, where Syme engages the Marquis in a duel in order to prevent him from reaching Paris and bombing the world leaders. After some swordplay the Frenchman removes his mask and introduces himself as Ratcliffe, a detective like the others. Meanwhile beset upon by Monday and a gang of masked men, a lengthy chase ensues until the Secretary catches Syme and his companions and reveals his own police credentials. Gogol soon joins the group, and all six men return to England in order to capture Sunday. The president eludes his pursuers, however, escaping by cab, elephant, and hot-air balloon. When the flight ends at Sunday's house the narrative takes on an even more fantastic tone as the six detectives are treated to the president's hospitality. After resting they are asked to clothe themselves in costumes that represent each of the six days of Biblical creation. The bewildered men are then brought before Sunday. In answer to their queries about who he really is, he replies, "I am the Sabbath.… I am the peace of God." Soon after, Syme awakes from this vision and finds himself again in Saffron Park. Dawn is breaking and he is still walking with Gregory, conversing as they had been before.

Major Themes

Many critics find the key to The Man Who Was Thursday in Syme's shifting perceptions of Sunday. The detective initially experiences a vague sense of evil in the presence of this enigmatic figure, but this foreboding is later replaced with an awed respect for the man, who is thought to represent the human failure to completely fathom the paradoxes of life and nature. Chesterton further dramatizes the limits of human understanding in the inability of Syme and the other police detectives to recognize one another for what they really are—each provides a threat that is only perceived, and is in actuality an ally in disguise. Overall, the novel is said to portray Chesterton's comic vision of the universe, one in which evil is nothing more than an illusion. Sunday, rather than being a menace to humanity, simply provides a test of Syme's faith and perseverance. In addition, the work is often seen as a social critique, in which Chesterton contrasts the noble qualities and hopeful optimism of Syme with what he saw as the prevalent attitude of pessimism and nihilism in vogue among his contemporaries.

Critical Reception

Early critical speculation about The Man Who Was Thursday often focused on the allegorical qualities of Sunday and a perceived lack of artistic control on Chesterton's part in the work, when not merely dismissing the novel altogether. At the time of its publication, even Chesterton saw his story as a somewhat amusing piece that was of considerably less consequence than many of his other writings. Several decades later, however, he set out to clarify some of the misconceptions that he had observed among critics. He answered them in his 1936 Autobiography, writing, "The point is that the whole story is a nightmare of things, not as they are, but as they seemed to the young half-pessimist of the '90s; and the ogre who appears brutal but is also cryptically benevolent is not so much God, in the sense of religion or irreligion, but rather Nature as it appears to the pantheist, whose pantheism is struggling out of pessimism." In the years since, C. S. Lewis has favorably compared the work to the dream-allegory of Franz Kafka, commenting on similarities of method and the shared theme in both writers of human bewilderment in relation to the vastness of the universe. The work has also been praised for its tongue-in-cheek humor and valued as a precursor of modern detective fiction, described by some, according to Miles Copeland, as "the best spy book ever written."

William Morton Payne (essay date 1908)

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SOURCE: Review of The Man Who Was Thursday, in The Dial, Chicago, Vol. XLV, No. 520, August 16, 1908, p. 89.

[The longtime literary editor of several Chicago publications, Payne reviewed books for twenty-three years at the Dial, one of America's most influential journals of literature and opinion in the early twentieth century. In the following review, he faults The Man Who Was Thursday for its improbable premises.]

Among our audacious latter-day sophists, who so neatly make the worse appear the better reason, Mr. Chesterton is gaining a high place. Indeed, he may almost dispute the honors of leadership with the priest-in-chief of the cult of paradox, Mr. G. Bernard Shaw. His latest "budget of paradoxes" takes the form of a novel—or, rather, of a fantastic invention, which has to be described as fiction because it bears no conceivable relation to reality. Even the author balks at his own imaginings, and passes off the whole invention as a dream when he comes to the last chapter. It is called The Man Who Was Thursday, and has to do with the conflict between anarchy and order. A central council of anarchists, seven in number, bear the names of the days of the week (which accounts for our title), and, under the leadership of an awe-inspiring Sunday, develop their programme of treasons, stratagems, and spoils. The gigantic humor of the conception is that these seven men are really Scotland Yard detectives, spying upon each other; for each of them thinks that all the others are genuine anarchists. The amount of fun that Mr. Chesterton gets out of this situation may readily be imagined, as well as the opportunity it affords him for the exercise of his talent for paradox. Like most dreams, the story grows more wildly impossible as the awakening is neared. It is a highly entertaining yarn, and exhibits the author in the light in which he ought always to be viewed—the light of a man not for a moment to be taken seriously upon any subject, but simply to be admired for a combination of nimble wit with diabolical cleverness.

G. K. Chesterton (essay date 1926)

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SOURCE: "The Man Who Was Thursday," in G. K C. as M C.: Being a Collection of Thirty-Seven Poems, edited by J. P. de Fonseka, Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1929, pp. 202-07.

[In the following essay, which was originally published in 1926 as an introduction to Mrs. Cecil Chesterton and Ralph Neale's stage adaptation of The Man Who Was Thursday, Chesterton comments on the origins and themes of his novel.]

It is the more desirable that I should write a few lines to express my thanks to those who have here paid my story [The Man Who Was Thursday (a play in three acts, adapted from the novel by G. K. Chesterton), by Mrs. Cecil Chesterton and Ralph Neale. Messers. Ernest Benn, Ltd., 1926.] the compliment of casting it in another and (quite probably) a better form, because long after I had given to them, and to them alone, such authorization as I am capable of giving, a rather ridiculous rivalry or invasion of their rights in the matter occurred, it would appear, in Eastern Europe. The Bolshevists have done a good many silly things; but the most strangely silly thing that ever I heard of was that they tried to turn this Anti-Anarchist romance into an Anarchist play. Heaven only knows what they really made of it; beyond apparently making it mean the opposite of everything it meant. Probably they thought that being able to see that a policeman is funny means thinking that a policeman is futile. Probably they would say that thinking Don Quixote funny means thinking chivalry futile; in other words, they are barbarians and have not learnt how to laugh. But in this case a certain consequence follows. Making fun of a policeman would always be fun enough for me. Treating this tale as a farce of balloons and escaped elephants would never trouble me; and I would never bore anybody about the meaning of the allegory. But if somebody, even in Moscow or Vienna, starts making it mean something totally different, or flatly contrary, I cannot avoid a word about its real origin or outline. I do not want to take myself seriously; it is Bolshevism, among its other crimes, that is making me a serious person for a moment.

So many people have lately been occupied in turning good novels into bad plays, that the authors of this adaption have conceived the bolder and more hopeful scheme of turning a bad novel into a good play. For though I know very little about The Man Wbo Was Thursday, only a very casual acquaintance is needed to make sure that if it is a novel it is a bad novel. To do it justice, by its own description, it is not a novel but a nightmare. And since that subtitle is perhaps the only true and reliable statement in the book, I may plead it as a sort of excuse for my share in the matter. Nightmares on the stage are not uncommon nowadays; and some of them are regarded as realistic studies, because they are examples of that very deep and bottomless sort of nightmare from which it happens to be difficult to wake up. Nevertheless, a distinction between the dreams of to-day and those of that remoter day, or rather night, is essential to understanding whatever there may be to understand. To do them justice, the new nightmares do generally belong to a night: as day-dreams belong to a day. They are aspects; they are fragmentary and, to do them justice, they are frivolous. It was not so with a certain spirit that brooded for a certain time over the literature of my youth. I can remember the time when pessimism was dogmatic, when it was even orthodox. The people who had read Schopenhauer regarded themselves as having found out everything and found that it was nothing. Their system was a system, and therefore had a character of surrounding the mind. It therefore really resembled a nightmare, in the sense of being imprisoned or even bound hand and foot; of being none the less captive because it was rather in a lunatic asylum than a reasonable hell or place of punishment. There is a great deal in the modern world that I think evil and a great deal more that I think silly; but it does seem to me to have escaped from this mere prison of pessimism. Our civilization may be breaking up; there are not wanting many exhilarating signs of it breaking down. But it is not merely closing in; and therefore it is not a nightmare, like the narrow despair of the nineties. In so far as it is breaking down, it seems to me more of a mental breakdown than a moral breakdown. In so far as it is breaking up, it may let in a certain amount of daylight as well as a great deal of wind. But it is not stifling like positive pessimism and materialism; and it was in the middle of a thick London fog of these things that I sat down and tried to write this story, nearly twenty years ago.

It is in relation to that particular heresy that much of its main suggestion must be understood. Perhaps it is not worth while to try to kill heresies which so rapidly kill themselves—and the cult of suicide committed suicide some time ago. But I should not wish it supposed, as some I think have supposed, that in resisting the heresy of pessimism I implied the equally morbid and diseased insanity of optimism. I was not then considering whether anything is really evil, but whether everything is really evil; and in relation to the latter nightmare it does still seem to me relevant to say that nightmares are not true; and that in them even the faces of friends may appear as the faces of fiends. I tried to turn this notion of resistance to a nightmare into a topsy-turvy tale about a man who fancied himself alone among enemies, and found that each of the enemies was in fact on his own side and in his own solitude. That is the only thing that can be called a meaning in the story; all the rest of it was written for fun; and though it was great fun for me, I do not forget that sobering epigram which tells us that easy writing is dashed hard reading. I think, however, the thing has possibilities as a play; because by the plan of it the changes are, as they should be in drama, only half expected but not wholly unexpected. I have been responsible for many murders in my time, generally in the milder and more vicarious forms of detective stories; and I have noticed a fashionable fallacy that is not irrelevant here. Because murdering or being murdered is generally felt by the individual involved to have something about it dramatic and striking, it is often supposed that any detective story will make a drama. The thing has been done and may be done again, but it is not easy to do. In such a story the secret is too sensational to be dramatic. The revelation comes too suddenly to be understood; and until it is understood all that ought to seem mystifying only seems meaningless. But in this foolish farce, it is at least true that the action proceeds along a certain course that can be followed, and I offer it gravely as an attempt to restore the canons of Aristotle and the classical unities of antiquity. In other words, a man may watch for the end of the play, when he would put down the book under the impression that he knew the story by having read half of it.

Further Reading

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Carter, Huntley. "Chesterton on the Moscow Stage." The Outlook LIII, No. 1362 (8 March 1924): 156-57.

Sees in the Moscow Kamerny Theatre adaptation of The Man Who Was Thursday a display of the dual nature of the Chestertonian hero—as both collectivist and individualist.

Review of The Man Who Was Thursday. The Dublin Review 143, No. 286 (July 1908): 190-91.

Calls The Man Who Was Thursday "a very fine parable," but faults Chesterton's lack of restraint in the work.

Youngberg, Karin. "Job and the Gargoyles: A Study of The Man Who Was Thursday." The Chesterton Review II, No. 2 (Spring-Summer 1976): 240-52.

Analysis of The Man Who Was Thursday that concentrates on the work as a piece of detective fiction concerned with paradox and "the riddles of life." Summarizes by calling the novel "a fantasy-search for meaning in the modern world."

Additional coverage of Chesterton's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Gale Research: Contemporary Authors, Vols. 104, 132; Concise Dictionary of British Literary Biography, 1914-1945; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 10,19, 34, 70, 98,149; Major Twentieth-Century Writers, Something about the Author, Vol. 27; Short Story Criticism, Vol. 1; Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Vols. 1, 6.

Evelyn Waugh (essay date 1947)

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SOURCE: "The Man Who Was Thursday (1947)," in G. K Chesterton: A Half Century of Views, edited by D. J. Conlon, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1987, pp. 72-4.

[Waugh was England's leading satirical novelist of the mid-twentieth century. In such works as Vile Bodies (1930), Scoop (1938), and The Loved One (1948), he skewered such targets as the bored young sophisticates of the 1920s, the questionable values of the British press, and the American commercial trivialization of death. Considered a major Catholic author after his conversion in 1930, Waugh is best known today for his novel Brideshead Revisited (1945), which examines the lives of members of a wealthy Catholic family. In the following essay, which was originally published in The Commonweal on 21 March 1947, he notes that the circumstances of the happy ending portrayed in Chesterton's novel seem improbable to readers of the post-World War II generation.]

The need for a secret society is one that many story-tellers have felt. Most good stories are, in some fashion, the conflict between Good and Evil, and whereas it is easy enough to pile up virtues until some fairly plausible hero has been created, villains, however black the crimes attributed to them, tend to remain limp in their makers' hands. Iago is wicked, but the reasons he gives for his actions are so fatuous that few readers, offhand, can remember them. Bosola is the unwilling agent of men of diabolic character; it is impossible to take seriously their statement that they are impelled by avarice. And the Elizabethans were far nearer to the springs of Evil than Miss Agatha Christie.

The writers of detective stories, indeed, are in a peculiar difficulty. Their concern is with the mechanics of crime and the logic of its discovery, rather than with Good and Evil. But convention demands that the crime be murder. This is the accepted token-coin of extreme wickedness, yet it is one of the few sins which the civilized man can regard quite dispassionately. However misanthropic, he has never been tempted to its commission as he has been tempted, say, to adultery or suicide, and he recognizes, as perhaps he would do with other sins, could he regard them with equal coolness, that the dangers and exertions are appalling and the rewards trifling. Moreover, conscience, silenced before more alluring transgressions, is here plainly audible, interposing its voice and debunking the tempter: murder for profit—'What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?'; murder for revenge—'Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord'; murder for love—'Love suffereth long and is kind'…

Only writers like Mr Graham Greene and M. Bernanos—how glibly the words come! What writers, in fact, are there like these two—who plumb the human spirit at depths where few venture, can create villains. More humble writers, who know they are qualified to deal only with rather ordinary characters, and who know that such people do not kill, are constrained, often, to exonerate their murderers either by inventing circumstances—blackmail, the threat of corruption of a loved one, etc.—in which the victim is an intolerable aggressor and his removal justifiable, in which case the forces of law are deprived of the reader's sympathy and only his intellect is engaged in the process of solution, or by borrowing from the psychologists. Schizophrenes, those rare and often harmless creatures, have become an accepted device of stage and fiction, such as identical twins were to an earlier age. The modern 'psychological-thriller' has, properly, no villain, for the crimes are not acts of free will.

But there is a third resource, the group villain—the gang, the spy-ring, the subversive organization, the secret society—which doubly commends itself to the critical reader, first by titivating the conspiracymania which is latent in most of us, and secondly by emphasizing the deep moral truth that men in association are capable of wickedness from which each individually would shrink.

The simplest case is the gang, the army of outlaws. Though there is a commercial 'racket' at the origin of it and wads of 'grands' disbursed, the essence of the gang, as it appears in fiction, is not the making of money, but an organized war against society; they take their orders, observe their own loyalties, and 'shoot it out' with the police without hope of victory. In advance of this is the organization which aims not merely at an independent existence in a law-abiding universe, but at the actual subversion of the social and moral order.

The conviction that such a conspiracy is feasible may be traced in history—for example in the Albigensian suppression and in the pogroms inflamed by the spurious 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion'. It is even more frequent in fiction. Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, John Buchan, Francis Beeding, Edgar Wallace—almost every writer of crime stories has at one time or another made use of this expedient. The classic example, of course, is in Chesterton's The Mao Who Was Thursday, only in that case, significantly, the whole thing turns out to be moonshine.

Significantly of Chesterton's character and age, Chesterton's cheerfulness was redeemed, but abundantly redeemed, from vulgarity only by his innocence. He was so sweet and virtuous a man that crime appeared to him as ingenious, schoolboy mischief and sin as something remote and palpably perverse, diabolic, scarcely human at all. Dr Fu Manchu was his type of villain. And he lived in an age when it was possible to retain this purity untarnished. The Man Who Was Thursday ends in a great chase when the Common Men rise and take arms; it is thought in cosmic anarchy; it is discovered in defence of order and truth; and the dionysiac Sunday is revealed as the beaming, tutelary, Cheeryble Brother, god of the hearth.

Could Chesterton have written like that today, if he had lived to see the Common Man in arms, drab, grey and brown, the Storm Troopers and the Partisans, standard-bearers of the great popular movements of the century; had he lived to read in the evidence of the War Trials the sickening accumulation of brutality inflicted and condoned by common men, and seen, impassive on the bench, the agents of other criminals, vile, but free and triumphant?

Chesterton was the poetic and romantic child of a smug tradition. It is typical of his age and class that the dawn of sweetness and light in which are dissipated all the night-fears of The Man Who Was Thursday should be the discovery that the secret society, so long hated and dreaded, proves to comprise nothing but policemen. For Chesterton the police were the angelic hosts in action; the corpulent blue figure under the Kensington lamp-post represented Justice and Order and held his commission from the innate and inalienable sanctity of popular good sense. For half the world today 'the police' are the Gestapo and the NKVD, and a very macabre parable might now be written of a poetic anarchist whose associates one by one unmask and reveal themselves as policemen, for they are the new secret society, so often foreseen in shadows, that conspires against the social and moral order.

Garry Wills (essay date 1961)

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SOURCE: "Paradox and Nightmare," in Chesterton: Man and Mask, Sheed & Ward, 1961, pp. 35-54.

[Wills is an American editor, educator, and critic who has written on diverse topics, including Chesterton, Catholicism, and race relations. He is best known for political commentaries, especially his examination of Richard Nixon's political career, Nixon Agonistes: The Crisis of the Self-Made Man (1970). In the following excerpt, he places The Man Who Was Thursday in the context of Chesterton's developing personal philosophy.]

The Wild Knight is typical, and a guide to Chesterton's work, precisely because it was born out of his early bafflement. It is true that Chesterton does not mention it when listing the works which sprang from this crisis, but that is almost certainly because of its attacks on priestcraft and narrow dogma. Instead, he cites The Man Who Was Thursday as the most complete expression of his youthful encounter with the aesthetes. Although the novel did not appear until 1908, its dedicatory poem bears out Chesterton's memory of the matter. The story of his plight is indirectly presented here (not, be it noticed, as a private fancy of his own adolescence, but as an historic mood shared by many). Solipsism and Impressionism are the foes:

Science announced nonentity and art admired decay.

Stevenson and Whitman are the allies:

I find again that book we found, I feel the hour that flings
Far out of fish-shaped Paumanok some cry of cleaner things;
And the Green Carnation withered, as in forest fires that pass
Roared in the wind of all the world ten million leaves of grass;
Or sane and sweet and sudden as a bird sings in the rain—
Truth out of Tusitala spoke and pleasure out of pain.
Yea, cool and clear and sudden as a bird sings in the grey,
Dunedin to Samoa spoke, and darkness unto day.

The novel has those qualities Chesterton ascribed to dreams: unity of mood and wild variety of incident. Unreality overclouds Gabriel Syme, the story's hero, destroying and dissolving everything he reaches out for. This is like a story by Kafka, in which stairs melt into crumbling sand, and horses gallop but carry one nowhere. But in Kafka's tales the spell is never broken, whereas Syme takes an irrational courage into every chamber of horror and is rewarded by a final collapse in which illusion dissolves.

The unity of the piece is not only one of mood. There is method in Syme's madness. He climbs ordered degrees of unreason, until he reaches the top and is left alone, for a dark space, in his tower of insanity. The first fears are childish ones, mere grotesques of an imagination that has run wild. Professor de Worms is "the crooked man who went a crooked mile," the bogy man which our plastic mind can, by some mystery of idolatry, first shape and then fear.

But the next encounter, with Bull, is even more unnerving—the encounter with cold and impersonal thought. Syme is now the child who has lost his world of poetry and personality:

Syme was increasingly conscious that his new adventure had somehow a quality of cold sanity worse than the wild adventures of the past. Last night, for instance, the tall tenements had seemed to him like a tower in a dream. As he now went up the weary and perpetual steps, he was daunted and bewildered by their almost infinite series. But it was not the hot horror of a dream or of anything that might be exaggeration or delusion. Their infinity was more like the empty infinity of arithmetic, something unthinkable, yet necessary to thought. Or it was like the stunning statements of astronomy about the distance of the fixed stars. He was ascending the house of reason, a thing more hideous than unreason itself.

The tyranny of astronomy and cold science goes with another invasion of childhood, the banishing of romance in the name of "realism":

About the Professor's make-up and all his antics there was always something merely grotesque, like a gollywog. Syme remembered those wild woes of yesterday as one remembers being afraid of Bogy in childhood. But here was daylight; here was a healthy, square-shouldered man in tweeds, not odd save for the accident of his ugly spectacles, not glaring or grinning at all, but smiling steadily and not saying a word. The whole had a sense of unbearable reality. Under the increasing sunlight the colours of the Doctor's complexion, the pattern of his tweeds, grew and expanded outrageously, as such things grow too important in a realistic novel.

The next stage of Syme's fear is reached in his duel with the Marquis, when death hovers over him, ready to blot out all things:

the fear of the Professor had been the fear of the tyrannic accidents of nightmare, and the fear of the Doctor had been the fear of the airless vacuum of science. The first was the old fear that any miracle might happen, the second the more hopeless fear that no miracle can ever happen. But he saw that these fears were fancies, for he found himself in the presence of the great fact of the fear of death, with its coarse and pitiless common sense. He felt like a man who had dreamed all night of falling over precipices, and had woked up on the morning when he was to be hanged.

He felt a strange and vivid value in all the earth around him, in the grass under his feet; he felt the love of life in all living things. He could almost fancy that he heard the grass growing; he could almost fancy that even as he stood fresh flowers were springing up and breaking into blossom in the meadow—flowers blood-red and burning gold and blue, fulfilling the whole pageant of the spring. And whenever his eyes strayed for a flash from the calm, staring, hypnotic eyes of the Marquis, they saw the little tuft of almond tree against the sky-line. He had the feeling that if by some miracle he escaped he would be ready to sit forever before that almond tree, desiring nothing else in the world.

The next step into nightmare—that caused by the flight from the secretary—is more healthy but not less real. It is the fear of defeat—not mere death, but irrelevant death. The army that advances after the fugitives seems like the whole world in cry at their heels. But beyond this shared despair there is a "last and worst" fancy that comes to Syme alone. Fleeing through the mottled shadows of the forest, pursued by men in masks and supported by men who have just removed their masks, Syme begins to wonder if anything is fixed in dependable identity:

Was not everything, after all, like this bewildering woodlands, this dance of dark and light? Everything only a glimpse, the glimpse always unforeseen, and always forgotten. For Gabriel Syme had found in the heart of that sun-splashed wood what many modern painters had found there. He had found the thing which the modern people call Impressionism, which is another name for that final scepticism which can find no floor to the universe.

Graphically the novel presents that "suicide of intellect" which Chesterton would describe in his next volume, Orthodoxy. The various shapes and suggestings of unreal things have led at last to Unreality itself. There is nowhere else to go. Here Chesterton must end the story, as Kafka would, in the farthest reaches of the unreal, or rescue his hero somehow.

That rescue involves the archetypal drama which hovers behind this entire pantomime of chase and nightmare. "The Council" and the "Accuser" are, in the last scene, direct references to the Book of Job. The final chase through 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."

Job's challenge to a meaningless world of pain was not met by the narrow rationalizings of his friends but by the answering challenge to battle which God issued. The whirlwind offers adventure, not explanation. If Job joins the war on chaos, about which the stars shout for joy, he must live with the mysteries of free will, suffering, and evil, not resorting to his friends' refuge of optimism. Chesterton called the Book of Job the finest proof that pessimists and optimists are both wrong. And he gave his novel the same theme, making of optimism the last and most seductive temptation which Syme must meet.

The pleasant daydream of Sunday's banquet resembles the earlier stages of nightmare; joy is substituted for horror, but it is the paralyzing joy of a dream, where individuality fades into a central fire. Everything had been illusion; now everything is God. A single-textured optimism can only lead to a single-textured world—to pantheism, which all the fighters resent as a denial of their struggle. Sunday remains truly their foe insofar as he is Everything. As Chesterton said many years later [in his Autobiography]:

the ogre who appears brutal but is also cryptically benevolent is not so much God, in the sense of religion or irreligion, but rather Nature as it appears to the pantheist, whose pantheism is struggling out of pessimism.

On the same page, Chesterton points to a change that overcomes Sunday, that figure of blind energy, of pure existential drive, when the last unveiling is reached. For Syme does rend this specious pantheism in the most violent manner. And only then does Sunday—the Lord's Day—become the Lord.

The Accuser, like Syme and the Professor, resents his scars; unlike them, however, he is seeking revenge, not explanation. He hurls at the others a taunt which Chesterton was all too familiar with, the ancient taunt of Job's diabolic afficter—that the good have not suffered, that believers know no doubts and cannot deserve the reward of heroic rebels. Syme's answer—and Chesterton's—is brief, though it raises a thunderous echo. Syme shouts a denial out of his own experience. He has fought in the dark against all the forces in and beyond the world. He has been wrong and stupid, running down empty passages, taking journeys none of his fellows of the Council shared. He has known real isolation and a terrible solitude. The story of each man on the Council is equally heroic, sealed in his own incommunicable self. Being is an exception in each of its manifestations. It appears only in definite shapes drawn in the hardest lines against the background of nonexistence. Loneliness is the best proof of individuality.

Chesterton was just at this moment on the verge of writing Orthodoxy, which—growing out of his controversy with Blatchford—would be his most complete statement of the idea of creation: creation means a sundering, a proliferation of individuals by the rearing of boundaries. God gave man glory and adventure by giving him free will, an independent path for his mind to explore. Existence God shares with us, at each instant, a living vein and open channel into his raging nature. But essence—identity—is ours. Man's life is caught in a tense dialectic on all levels, as Orthodoxy would demonstrate.

With a last touch of Job's audacity, Syme flings a challenge at Sunday, who has faded and grown vague in the twilight. His amorphous energy and dissolving outline seem to lift him above the struggle the others have undergone. But when Syme asks him if he is of their fellowship of battle a new note enters the distant voice as it thunders back: "Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of ?" In Ortodoxy Chesterton would suggest, darkly, that the Trinity is a proof that God knows personality and dialectic in a higher form of pure action without suffering. Here he glances at the Incarnation, whereby God's personality is established by His loneliness.

Chesterton saw that the simple existentialist is as unstable as the rationalist. The world of empty Forms leads to Platonic doubts and Schopenhauer's negations. But a worship of mere energy can as easily take a manic form, in Whitman's cheery effusiveness as in Nietzsche's dark worship of strength. Sunday is the god of Whitman.

Kingsley Amis (essay date 1968)

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SOURCE: Review of The Man Who Was Thursday, in The New York Times Book Review, October 13, 1968, p. 2.

[A distinguished English novelist, poet, essayist, and editor, Amis was one of the Angry Young Men, a group of British writers of the 1950s whose writings expressed bitterness and disillusionment with society. Amis's first and most widely praised novel, Lucky Jim (1954), is characteristic of the movement and demonstrates his skill as a satirist. Amis later rejected alliance with any literary group, pursuing instead his own artistic aims. Throughout his career Amis sustained an interest in science fiction; he was coeditor of the Spectrum anthologies and was the author of one of the first major critical surveys of the genre in New Maps of Hell (1960). In the following essay, he offers an appreciation of Chesterton's novel.]

Of supposedly serious contemporary writers, Gilbert Keith Chesterton was the first to make a strong and genuine impression on me. "Contemporary" is perhaps misleading: he and I only overlapped by 14 years, but I had come to value him enough to be dashed and bewildered by his death in 1936. One never quite gets over any early attachment. Even now I see something romantic, almost heroic, about Chesterton, while deploring what in those days I knew nothing of, his self-indulgent polemical writing and the whimsical playing with paradoxes so common in his later fiction. However, at least two of his novels and two or three dozen stories (mostly the justly celebrated Father Brown detective shorts) retain all their appeal.

I think it was The Man Who Was Thursday that started me off. I was instantly hooked by the mysterious title, the sinister subtitle—"A Nightmare"—the prefatory poem, with its again sinister hints of a vast conspiracy stealthily taking over men's minds:

A cloud was on the mind of men
    And wailing went the weather,
Yea, a sick cloud upon the soul
    When we were boys together.
Science announced nonentity
    And art admired decay;
The world was old and ended:
    But you and I were gay;
Round us in antic order
    Crippled vices came—
Lust that had lost its laughter,
    Fear that had lost its shame…
This is a tale of those old fears,

    Even of those emptied hells,
And none but you shall understand
    The true thing that it tells—
Of what colossal gods of shame
    Could cow men and yet crash;
Of what huge devils hid the stars,
    Yet fell at a pistol-flash.

This part has an up-to-date ring, but Chesterton, who was born in 1874, was only talking about late-Victorian rationalism and the "decadent" movement of the nineties, favorite targets of his. I thought he was bringing me news of the Devil (who often turned up in the other stuff I was reading at the time), or warning me that most grown-ups were mad (an equally acceptable idea).

This was not a bad frame of mind in which to approach the novel itself. Attempts to fix a label break down: it is not quite a political bad dream, or a metaphysical adventure, or a cosmic comedy in the form of a spy story, but it has something of all these. Anyway, it is unique, and also, what is not all that much easier to bring about, magnetically readable. We open in a remote quarter of that Edwardian London which Chesterton knew so exactly and lovingly. Outside the immediate center, this cannot have been such a very different place from contemporary London: a conglomeration of linked villages, each with its own look and feel and smell, a continual variousness I have never found in any North American city.

Chesterton sets the key at once, with the special intensity he always brought to descriptions of times of day and effects of light, reminding us that he started life with ambitions to become a painter. The suburb of Saffron Park, we are told, looked more like a work of art than a real place:

"More especially this attractive unreality fell upon it about nightfall, when the extravagant roofs were dark against the afterglow and the whole insane village seemed as separate as a drifting cloud.… This particular evening, 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."

Against this backdrop Gabriel Syme, poet and (as it transpires) policeman, confronts Lucian Gregory, poet and anarchist. In pursuance of a sort of bet, Gregory takes Syme to dinner in a greasy riverside pub that turns out to serve champagne and lobster mayonnaise. More surprisingly, dinner table and diners presently descend en bloc into an underground chamber—shades, or rather anticipations, of Ian Fleming's "Live and Let Die." For me, at any rate, this is much more than a coincidence. James Bond and Gabriel Syme differ in innumerable ways, but they share a quality of romance, of color and chivalry, almost of myth, that attracts me a lot more deeply than anything about the down-to-earth and up-to-the-minute heroes of writers like Len Deighton and John Le Carré. In the chamber under the pub, a secret anarchist meeting is held; not very plausibly, but after some enjoyable oratory, Syme gets himself elected in place of Gregory to the Central Anarchist Council, whose members are named after the days of the week. So the man who has become Thursday sets out by moonlight, in a heavy cloak and carrying a sword-stick, to take the war to the enemy:

"His chivalric folly glowed in the night like a great fire. Even the common things he carried with him—the food and the brandy and the loaded pistol—took on exactly that concrete and material poetry which a child feels when he takes a gun upon a journey or a bun with him to bed." I can still feel the gentle shock of reading that sentence for the first time, that flash of realization, not that you fully understand the author, but, far rarer and more memorable, that the author knows all about you.

The Anarchist Council members turn out to be a set of frightening grotesques, not merely malignant, but with a hint of the spiritual evil that from now on begins more and more to color the tale. The eyes of Saturday are covered by black glasses, as if they were too frightful to see. Monday, the Secretary, has a smile that goes up on one side of his face and down on the other and is wrong. The face of Sunday, the huge President, is so vast that Syme is afraid that at close quarters it will be too big to be possible, and he will have to scream.

When the spectacles and the mask of anarchy are removed, however, Saturday is human enough, a policeman, in fact, from Syme's own special branch, The Last Crusade. (I would love to see that emblazoned on some door in Scotland Yard.) One by one the other Days declare themselves on the side of the law, until only the Secretary stands between police and President. But Monday is Sunday's agent, with the power of turning the world itself against the crusaders. The chase sweeps across a France of sturdy peasants and soldierly patriots and cultured men of wealth (more fun to read about, at least, than most real Frenchmen) transformed one by one, in true nightmare fashion, into fanatical friends of anarchy. Finally the champions of reason and order, and of Christendom, turn at bay.…

The end is fantasy in a different key, though related to what precedes, indeed giving meaning to it. At the end of a second chase, in which the pursuers are helpless in the hands of the pursued, Sunday stands revealed—as beneficent, as the deviser of The Last Crusade, as something like Pan, as God, even. Years later, in a newspaper article published the day before he died, Chesterton tried to evade this last interpretation, to my mind unconvincingly. At any rate, the book views life as one huge joke, but a kindly joke which includes and reconciles and justifies everything.

The Man Who Was Thursday is high melodrama and is written in that style. In one of his essays, with characteristically deliberate overemphasis, Chesterton claims that melodrama is much more like life than realism is. Well: I only know that, after a surfeit of supposedly realistic accounts of the workings of espionage organizations, after reading about the 20th gray man in a gray raincoat with a sawn-off Smith & Wesson Centennial Airweight at his hip, I long for The Last Crusade and Gabriel Syme with his cloak and sword-stick, and wish that there were a few more books like this.

Lawrence J. Clipper (essay date 1974)

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SOURCE: "Detectives and Apocalypses," in G. K. Chesterton, Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1974, pp. 120-44.

[In the following excerpt, Clipper highlights the religious themes of The Man Who Was Thursday.]

If one wishes to date the beginning of Chesterton's commitment to religion as an answer to the problems of modern man, it is safe to point to 1908, the year of both Orthodoxy and The Man Who Was Thursday. In a later essay, he said that the novel was written "in the middle of a thick London fog of positive pessimism and materialism," and the dedication to E. C. Bentley speaks of that era when

A cloud was on the mind of men, and wailing went the weather,
Yea, a sick cloud upon the soul when we were boys together.

The subtitle A Nightmare, underscores one of its features (and also relates it to almost all his other romances). In the nightmare the hero, a young poet named Syme, hears of a Super-Council of Anarchists bent on the destruction of society, law, and religion. When Syme vows to fight this monstrous conspiracy, he joins a chapter of detectives whose sole purpose is to track down and destroy the anarchists. By accident, he is then introduced into a meeting of the Council of Seven Days, the very Anarchist Super-Council he has been seeking. The strange name is derived from the fact that its seven members carry the names of the days: the leader of the Council is a large, jovial, almost Falstaffian figure named Sunday; and he is strangely out of place, thinks Syme, at a meeting of such a sinister group. When Syme boldly asks to be made the replacement for a recently deceased member, Thursday, he is welcomed into the group.

Once inside the group, the hero has misgivings; he seems alone, cut off from all safety, surrounded by evil. In a rapid succession of shocking episodes, each of the others on the Council is revealed to be a detective enlisted in the same agency to fight the Anarchist Council; and each has been sworn in by the same large, hidden figure in a dark room. Although appearing to be Anarchists, they are really members of the police; they have been both Good and Evil, legal and illegal.

In a final fantastic sequence, the gross but harmless figure Sunday flies in a balloon to his estate, pursued all the way by his mystified lieutenants. Sunday, of course, proves to have two sides: he is Chief Anarchist and Chief of Detectives; he is the gay trickster; he is anarchic; he defies the codes of society; he is absent-minded and innocent; he is always well-meaning. (Chesterton was willing to admit that there was a touch of self-portraiture in Sunday.)

Sunday is like nature itself, or the universe; he is, indeed, Pan—the whole world, all of life. He shows that while life may appear to be dark, nasty, and brutish from one angle, from another and more informed point of view, it appears to be good. It is a matter of an individual's choosing; in having chosen to enlist in the fight against evil and nihilism, the detectives have transformed Sunday into what he really is. Their acceptance of life brings them into harmony with it; they find themselves accepted and loved by Sunday, who tells them at his mansion that they can now find "pleasure in everything." Their only argument now is with one another: each is sure that Sunday's estate is modeled on the scenes of his own youth. What they have gained with their understanding of Sunday is the innocent vision of youth which Chesterton always extolled.

The Man Who Was Thursday still presents problems for the critics since it seems to be teaching the highly un-Chestertonian message that there is no evil, that evil is an illusion, that things are not what they seem. Recognizing the ambiguity, Chesterton later explained, "I was not then considering whether anything is really evil, but whether everything is really evil; and in relation to the latter night-mare it does still seem to be relevant to say that night-mares are not true." The operative word here is "everything"; the problem is not the relativity of values but the discovery that—as the Dedication emphasizes—one might take a small step in finding some thing good in spite of the pessimism and gloom of the Edwardian period.

Even while writing, though, Chesterton must have sensed the shaky philosophical ground upon which he stood. In the last scene, while a general Dickensian reconciliation is occurring at a magnificently described masked ball, a Satanic figure steps forward to challenge Sunday again. The relativistic conflict of most of the book makes way for pure Manicheism. "Satan" demands to know the meaning of the masquerade that Sunday has arranged. Why were the detective-anarchists forced in ignorance to play two roles at once? Why were they not granted the meaning of the game without the mummery, the deceit, the struggle, the final embarrassment?

The answer that Sunday gives is straight out of Browning's "Rabbi Ben Ezra." The detectives, Sunday informs everybody, were made to fight "evil," or think they were fighting "evil," "so that each thing that obeys law may have the glory and isolation of the anarchist. So that each man fighting for order may be as brave and good a man as the dynamiter." The struggle against evil, the very sense of an evil to be overcome—has endowed the detectives with the moral virtue spoken of by Rabbi Ben Ezra, who teaches that evil is "Machinery just meant/ To give thy soul its bent."

Chesterton, however, moves beyond Browning's concept of evil. The Tempter still confronts Sunday with piercing questions; he accuses Sunday of not having suffered the fear and doubt felt by his lieutenants during their dark agony. Sunday painfully replies, in the words of Christ, "Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of?" As the book ends, Syme's nightmare is shattered by this question, which stands as a beacon now for the hero, for Chesterton, and for the reader. The Man Who Was Thursday is a mile-stone in Chesterton's progress from the secular-Medieval fantasies of The Napoleon of Notting Hill to the complete acceptance of Christian mystery and duty. Serenity and hope, if it can be found at all, will come to the individual who is willing to accept the burden of the Cross.

Ian Boyd (essay date 1975)

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SOURCE: "The Pre-War Novels," in The Novels of G. K Chesterton: A Study in Art and Propaganda, Barnes & Noble Books, 1975, pp. 40-76.

[In the following excerpt, Boyd centers on the various types of allegory apparent in Chesterton's novel.]

It is difficult to find any obvious common characteristic in the novels which Chesterton published between 1908 and 1914. They mark a distinctive period in his literary development and accurately reflect his political thinking in the pre-War years, but more than any other group of novels they create the impression of being heterogeneous in character. The themes found in each of them suggest his preoccupations in a particular period, but they are themes which link them not so much to each other, but to the earlier and later groups of novels. The curious double allegory of The Man Who Was Thursday has only a slight connection with the themes developed in the other pre-War novels, but its dramatization of a purely personal mood and its treatment of anarchy and order anticipates some of the themes dealt with in the later fiction, particularly in The Poet and the Lwatkcs and Tbe Paradoxes of Mr Pond. Manalive has the same curious air of being isolated from the other novels in the pre-War group, but its treatment of the theme of wonder recalls The Napoleon of Notting Hill and the part played by Innocent Smith recalls the role of Father Michael in The Ball and the Cross. The Flying Inn is equally distinctive, although its use of type characters associates it with the early romances and its somewhat negative political satire and apocalyptic tone link it to the Distributist novels which follow it.

The peculiar allegorical quality of The Man Who Was Thursday presents at once its most original feature and its chief difficulty in interpretation. For there is a sense in which the one novel contains two distinctive allegories, which are indeed related, but never completely integrated into a coherent whole. The first, which might be called the personal or private allegory, presents the story of Chesterton's reaction to what he regarded as the pessimism of the nineties. The second, which might be called the public or the political allegory, is concerned with the story of an individual's conflict with an international conspiracy which in fact never exists. The relationship between the two allegories is of course obvious. The terrors of the young policeman who discovers that his enemies are secret friends are as unnecessary as the terrors of the young Chesterton who discovers that he is living in an essentially friendly universe. The private allegory is the story of a man whose enemies turn out to be friends, and the political allegory is an elaboration of his misunderstanding. The interest and the poetic power of the novel comes from the way in which the political story, which is meant to illustrate the private allegory, gradually takes on an independent life and meaning of its own. The situation which haunts the imagination long after the fears of Chesterton's alter-ego have been explained away presents a doomed hero fighting a hopeless battle against a world-wide conspiracy of wealthy and powerful men.

Chesterton's own comments on the novel illuminate only the personal allegory. On the two occasions on which he discussed the novel, he was content to emphasize the way in which it allegorized a mood he experienced in the nineties against which he finally reacted. 'It was intended', he writes, '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.' On another occasion, however, he denied that the novel had anything to say about an ultimate kind of optimism: 'I was not then considering whether anything is really evil, but whether everything is really evil.' In fact Chesterton's explanation adds little to what the dedicatory poem to E. C. Bentley already made sufficiently clear. Indeed it is the poem rather than the explanation which draws attention to the way in which the novel expresses both the almost incommunicable sense of loneliness in a bewildering moral struggle and the sense that the adolescent difficulties were no less terrifying for being largely imaginary. At the same time the poem suggests the new psychological and moral poise which the novel also represents:

This is a tale of those old fears,
  Even of those empty hells,
And none but you shall understand
  The true thing that it tells—
Of what colossal gods of shame
  Could cow men and yet crash,
Of what huge devils hid the stars,
  Yet fell at a pistol flash.
The doubts that were so plain to chase,
  So dreadful to withstand—
Oh, who shall understand but you;
  Yea, who shall understand?

Between us, by the peace of God,
  Such truth can now be told;
Yea, there is strength in striking root,
  And good in growing old.
We have found common things at last,
  And marriage and a creed,
And I may safely write it now,
  And you may safely read.

Perhaps the most useful function of both Chesterton's comments and his dedicatory poem is the way in which they draw attention to the frame-story which encloses the central action of the novel. The fears of which he speaks in both instances are, as the sub-title reminds us, only a nightmare, but the nightmare takes place in the comfortable suburb which is described at the beginning and the end of the novel. The story of Gabriel Syme as a member of the Brotherhood of Anarchists must be related to the frame in which the story is placed. And the very details of the adventure in Saffron Park are important to an understanding of the dream-adventure which follows it. In the dream, the debate with Lucian Gregory is presented in another form, but it is essentially the same debate which begins in the park. A conflict in ideas is translated into the conflict of a Stevensonian romance. Even the smaller details of the frame-story throw light on the central action of the novel. The sound of a barrel-organ which Syme hears as he talks to Rosamund provides him with the courage he needs when he hears it again during his dream-meeting with the Anarchists. In the park, the music is a reminder of his love: 'His heroic words were moving to a tiny tune from under or beyond the world': In the dream, the music is a reminder of his role as a representative of the common people:

He found himself filled with a supernatural courage that came from nowhere. The jingling music seemed full of the vivacity, the vulgarity, and the irrational valour of the poor, who in all those unclean streets were all clinging to the decencies and the charities of Christendom.

Similarly, Syme's courtship of Rosamund not only provides what may be a graceful allusion to Chesterton's own courtship of Frances in the somewhat similar artistic colony of Bedford Park, but also prepares the way for Syme's meeting with Rosamund at the end of the novel and for the part she is supposed to play in inspiring the central action of the story:'… in some indescribable way, she kept recurring like a motive in music through all his mad adventures afterwards, and the glory of her strange hair ran like a red thread through those dark and ill-drawn tapestries of the night.'

The meaning of the personal allegory is also suggested by the purely descriptive passages which one finds in the frame-story. This is particularly true of the description of the sunset with which the novel begins and the description of the sunrise with which it concludes. At first these passages might seem to be examples of what Ronald Knox [in his introduction to Chesterton's Father Brown: Selected Stories, 1966] has called Chesterton's weakness for mere scene-painting and brilliant word-pictures, but on closer examination it becomes clear that far from being irrelevant digressions, they have an obvious relation to the main action and present important emblems of what the action means. Thus the most significant and obvious thing about the Saffron Park sunset is that it is a sunset. It expresses symbolically the fin de siecle mood of pessimism which is the central theme of this novel. On the other hand, the quiet and remarkably effective description of the sunrise at the end of the novel expresses perfectly the way in which Syme's fears are finally transformed into a new mood of hope:

Dawn was breaking over everything in colours at once clear and timid; as if Nature made a first attempt at yellow and a first attempt at rose. A breeze blew so clean and sweet, that one could not think that it blew from the sky; it blew rather through some hole in the sky.

The contrast suggested by the two descriptions is however more than a simple contrast between despair and hope. The particular quality of the despair is also suggested, and suggested in a way which anticipates both the dream which follows and the cautious optimism which eventually follows the dream. Thus the sunset is described in explicitly apocalyptic language: 'This particular evening, 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.' The weird imagery of colours as feathers which seem to brush the earth suggests a suffocating evil and malice, and foreshadows the story of the conspiracy: 'The whole was so close about the earth, as to express nothing but a violent secrecy. The very empyrean seemed to be a secret.' And yet, at the same time, the description also suggests an opposite mood. The 'red-hot plumes' which cover up the sun are hiding 'something too good to be seen', and the enclosed sky which seems to oppress is also emblematic of something which is called at the end of the novel 'some impossible good news, which made every other thing a triviality, but an adorable triviality'. The sky, we are told, 'expressed that splendid smallness which is the soul of local patriotism. The very sky seemed small'.

The movement from pessimism to a qualified optimism which is expressed in the frame-story's contrasting descriptions of sunset and sunrise is also represented in the dream itself. The unmasking of successive enemies who turn out to be friends has the authentic quality of the transformation of despair into something like optimism. Similarly the pursuit of Sunday by the Six Days and the investiture of the Six in their symbolic garb also suggests the discovery of an ultimate hope which lies behind the terror. In fact the entire dream can be interpreted in terms of Chesterton's sacramental view of life, according to which nature both conceals and leads to the divine. What the dream finally presents is a kind of Meredithian argument for nature's essential goodness as an ally which ultimately comes to the rescue. Thus, in one of Syme's final speeches, he interprets his adventures in language which might have been inspired by Butler's Analogy:

'Listen to me,' cried Syme with extraordinary emphasis, 'Shall I tell you the secret of the whole world? It is that we have only known the back of the world. We see everything from behind, and it looks brutal. That is not a tree, but the back of a tree. That is not a cloud, but the back of a cloud. Cannot you see that everything is stooping and hiding a face? If we could only get round in front—'

The chief imagery used in the personal allegory to present this philosophy of optimism is the imagery of masks. From one point of view, the masks represent what Chesterton regarded as the scepticism of the nineties, which had such an obsessive influence on him during his Slade school days. Thus Syme, while fleeing through the Normandy woods, sees the forest as a symbol of the scepticism represented by Impressionistic art:

The inside of the wood was full of shattered sunlight and shaken shadows. They made a sort of shuddering veil, almost recalling the dizziness of a cinematograph. Even the solid figures walking with him Syme could hardly see for the patterns of sun and shade that danced upon them. Now a man's head was lit as with a light of Rembrandt, leaving all else obliterated; now again he had strong and staring white hands with the face of a negro.… Was he wearing a mask? Was anyone wearing a mask? Was anyone anything? This wood of witchery, in which men's faces turned black and white by turns, in which their figures first swelled into sunlight and then faded into formless night, this mere chaos of chiaroscuro (after the clear daylight outside) seemed to Syme a perfect symbol of the world in which he had been moving for three days, this world where men took off their beards and their spectacles and their noses, and turned into other people.… Was not everything, after all, like this bewildering woodland, this dance of dark and light? Everything only a glimpse, the glimpse always unforeseen and always forgotten. For Gabriel Syme had found in the heart of that sunsplashed wood what many modern painters had found there. He had found the thing which the modern people call Impressionism, which is another name for that final scepticism which can find no floor to the universe.

But from another point of view, the masks represent not the 'mere chaos of chiaroscuro', but the sense that the frightening appearances of things hide an encouraging secret. The president of the Anarchist conspiracy who is seen only in daylight turns out to be the leader of the anti-Anarchist conspiracy who sits in the dark room and is never seen. The deadliest enemies are all of them secret friends. As C. S. Lewis remarks [in his "Notes on the Way" in Time and Tide, 9 November 1946], the pattern of the story suggests a comparison with Kafka:

… read again The Man Who Was Thursday. Compare it with another good writer, Kafka. Is the difference simply that the 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 one 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?

The apparently unnecessary terror which the masks create is also given a meaning. For it is through this seemingly gratuitous suffering that Syme gains his new hope. He had after all joined the anti-Anarchist police force because of his exasperation with the apparent smugness of the forces of order:'… I could forgive you even your cruelty if it were not for your calm.' At the end of the novel, he is identified with the forces of order he had previously reviled, and it is Gregory, the one real Anarchist, who repeats his protest: 'Oh, I could forgive you everything, you that rule all mankind, if I could feel for once that you had suffered for one hour a real agony such as I—' It is precisely the suffering that Syme has undergone in the time which has intervened between the two complaints which enables him to understand the difficulty which was once his own:

'I see everything,' he cried, 'everything that there is. Why does each thing on the earth war against each other thing? Why does each small thing in the world have to fight against the world itself?… For the same reason that I had to be alone in the dreadful Council of the Days. So that each thing that obeys law may have the glory and isolation of the anarchist. So that each man fighting for order may be as brave and good a man as the dynamiter. So that the real lie of Satan may be flung back in the face of this biasphemer, so that by tears and torture we may earn the right to say to this man, "You lie!" No agonies can be too great to buy the right to say to this accuser, "We also have suffered." '

And when the dream ends with Syme asking Sunday the same question and hearing the distant voice reply, 'Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of?', the echoes from the Book of Job acquire a more particular and more religious significance. For the story of the optimism which comes through suffering is now associated with the mystery of the Incarnation and the suffering of God.

The novel does therefore work to a remarkable extent in the way in which Chesterton said it was intended to work. It can be read as a convincing allegory of the solution to a personal problem, in which fear and scepticism are transformed into a real although cautious optimism, just as the apocalyptic sunset of Saffron Park is transformed into the new dawn of romantic hope. But the personal allegory does not exhaust the novel's meaning. In dramatizing his rejection of the supposed Zeitgeist of the nineties, Chesterton also presents an allegory of a political problem which remains after the private problem has been solved. The nightmare has a political meaning which to a degree undercuts and reverses the personal meaning which is meant to explain the nightmare away.

The political meaning is first suggested by the nature of the philosophical police force which is supposed to combat Anarchy. This curious organization remains interesting even though the conspiracy it fights exists only in the minds of the policemen, and the conspirators and policemen alike exist only in the mind of Syme. It is interesting not only because it might provide a plot for a kind of John Buchan adventure story, but because it is very much in keeping with Chesterton's own political and social thought. What the policeman on the Thames embankment invites Symes to take part in is in fact an elaborate though secret heresy hunt. The implication, which is entirely Chestertonian in spirit, is that the educated are the real criminal class:

'You have evidently not heard of the latest development in our police system,' replied the other. 'I am not surprised at it. We are keeping it rather dark from the educated class, because that class contains most of our enemies.… The head of one of our departments, one of the most celebrated detectives in Europe, has long been of [the] opinion that a purely intellectual conspiracy would soon threaten the very existence of civilization. He is certain that the scientific and artistic worlds are silently bound in a crusade against the Family and the State.'

The nature of the supposed Anarchist movement which the policemen combat is also in line with Chesterton's misgivings about the defects of Edwardian society. His conviction that great wealth carries with it great danger both to the person who possesses it and to the society in which he lives is given vivid imaginative expression in the picture of an Anarchist movement which is controlled by an immensely wealthy group of conspirators. Sunday himself is described as a mad Edwardian financier with cosmopolitan connections and right-hand men who are South African and American millionaires. Like John Buchan's criminal millionaires, Sunday and his henchmen combine enormous wealth with nihilistic principles. And there is a similarly Buchanian flavour to the contrast between Sunday's real and apparent position. Like Lumley and Medina, he is equally capable of directing a world-wide conspiracy or taking the chair at a humanitarian meeting. It is easy to imagine Ratcliffe's description of what Sunday has done as part of the plot of Buchan's The Powerhouse or The Courts of the Morning:

Can you think of anything more like Sunday than this, that he should put all his powerful enemies on the Supreme Council, and then take care that it was not supreme? I tell you he has bought every trust, he has captured every cable, he has control of every railway line.… The whole movement was controlled by him; half the world was ready to rise for him.

But there are important differences in the way in which Chesterton and Buchan treat this similar theme. Buchan's criminal millionaires are often defeated by the good millionaires who are their counterparts. There is little moral difference between the millionaire hero and the millionaire villain except that one tries to preserve the system which the other tries to destroy. And indeed, in one instance, the hero and the villain are the same person. For Castor is both the sinister cosmopolitan who creates a secret empire based on drugs and slave labour and the kindly philanthropist who destroys his own creation.

From Chesterton's point of view, Buchan's heroes and villains are interchangeable. His own thinking on this question is summed up in Colonel Ducroix's casual comment on the wealthy of a small French town:' "Four out of the five rich men in this town", he said, "are common swindlers. I suppose the proportion is pretty equal all over the world. The fifth is a friend of mine, and a very fine fellow."' Even the exception to this rule is a somewhat doubtful case, and Syme has no difficulty in believing that he, too, is treacherous: 'I suspected him from the first. He's rationalistic, and what's worse, he's rich. When duty and religion are really destroyed, it will be by the rich.' In Buchan's novels, the criminal behaviour of the wealthy never ceases to be a surprise: it has the special note of something monstrous, since it is the betrayal of society by those who are assumed to be its best and wisest guardians. In Chesterton's novels, the wickedness of the wealthy is more or less taken for granted: it is their occasional decency which surprises. The picture which is presented in The Man Who Was Thursday and which recurs throughout Chesterton's fiction is that of the wealthy as the permanent enemies of the social order and the poor as its permanent defenders:

'The poor have been rebels, but they have never been anarchists: they have more interest than anyone else in there being some decent government. The poor man really has a stake in the country. The rich man hasn't; he can go away to New Guinea in a yacht. The poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly; the rich have always objected to being governed at all. Aristocrats were always anarchists, as you can see from the barons' wars.'

Another expression of the same attitude is reflected in what is supposed to be the very organization of the Anarchist society. The inner and outer circles of the movement correspond approximately to the social division between the rich and the poor. The rank and file of the movement are for the most part simple people with genuine grievances who seek social improvement and the punishment of tyranny. Even the rhetoric which appeals to them suggests their naivety. What they like best are the cliches of romantic revolutionaries:

'I do not go to the Council to rebut that slander that calls us murderers; I go to earn it.' (Loud and prolonged cheering.) 'To the priest who says these men are the enemies of religion, to the judge who says these men are the enemies of law, to the fat parliamentarian who says these men are the enemies of order and public decency, to all these I will reply, "You are false kings, but you are true prophets. I am come to destroy you, and to fulfil your prophecies." '

The serious danger is presented by the inner ring of Anarchy. This is the group which is described as a kind of church. Whereas the outer ring who repeat Anarchist jargon unthinkingly form the laity of the movement, the inner ring who are completely cynical about official Anarchist beliefs form a sort of revolutionary priesthood. The two rings represent at once the division between the rich and the poor and the moral division between what the policeman calls 'the innocent section' and 'the supremely guilty section'. The members of the inner ring do not desire social reform or improvement of any kind or even complete freedom from restraint. Indeed they possess something of Chesterton's own scepticism about the possibility of progress and something of his conviction about the reality of original sin. They are inspired by a spirit which has been described as the psychic undercurrent of revolutionary politics which, in Buddhist fashion, teaches two things only—sorrow and the ending of sorrow. Behind the slogans of this 'rich and powerful and fanatical church', one can detect a longing for death:

They also speak to applauding crowds of the happiness of the future, and of mankind freed at last. But in their mouths… these happy phrases have a horrible meaning. They are under no illusions; they are too intellectual to think that man upon this earth can ever be quite free of original sin and the struggle. And they mean death. When they say that mankind shall be free at last, they mean that mankind shall commit suicide. When they talk of a paradise without right or wrong, they mean the grave. They have but two objects, to destroy first humanity and then themselves.

The complete meaning of this theory is never developed in the novel, but even in its incomplete form the description of the Anarchist conspiracy presents a suggestive critique of the revolutionary spirit. In The Napoleon of Notting Hill Chesterton argues the case for a balance between political idealism and irony. In The Ball and the Cross he suggests the need for a balance between secular and transcendental values. And in both these novels, the impossibility of social happiness resulting from mere material improvement is more or less taken for granted. But in The Man Who Was Thursday, he carries the argument one stage further. What he suggests is that there is an undercurrent in the desire for social reform which may eventually be turned against society itself, so that the reformers who have despaired of reform may seek a kind of Nirvana instead. In the first of the pre-War novels, Chesterton has translated his hatred of Edwardian plutocracy into a fantasy in which the revolutionary reformers and the rich coalesce for the purpose of pure nihilism, and a small band of common people make a vain attempt to rally the populace for a last desperate stand against their masters.

This is the meaning of the novel at the level of imagination. Superimposed on this political parable is the private parable about Chesterton's years of depression between 1891 and 1896. However effective and interesting the personal allegory may be, it weakens and contradicts the equally interesting and effective political allegory which is subordinated to it. The terrifying figure of Sunday becomes the somewhat unconvincing figure of the good policeman. And the story of the Anarchist Brotherhood and the ineffectual attempts to thwart it becomes first an extraordinarily detailed account of a misunderstanding and finally the inconsequential material of a nightmare. The Man Who Was Thursday is therefore a curiously ambivalent book. It may be read in the light of the dedicatory poem as a kind of extended commentary on the Book of Job, recounting the story of the new hope which is achieved through the anguish of doubt and isolation. At the same time it may also be read as a powerful though incomplete allegory on the social dangers of wealth and the meaning of the extreme revolutionary spirit. A personal comment on the ethos of the nineties ends as a serious political comment on a perennial political problem.

Garry Wills (essay date 1975)

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SOURCE: "The Man Who Was Thursday (1975)," in A Half Century of Views, edited by D. J. Conlon, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1987, pp. 335-42.

[In the following essay, which was originally published as an introduction to The Man Who Was Thursday, Wills discusses Chesterton's use of symbolism in the novel.]

Chesterton restrained himself from being Edgar Allan Poe or Franz Kafka, but something in the makeup of his personality leaned toward the nightmarish, something secret, and blind and central.

Borges, Other Inquisitions

This 1908 novel [TheMan Who Was Thursday] has long enjoyed a kind of underground cult among those with a special interest in fantasy. It is the story of a conspiratorial council of seven anarchists, each one named for a day of the week, with the mysterious Sunday as their president. Admirers of the tale have included J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, W. H. Auden, Jorge Luis Borges, and T. S. Eliot. Kingsley Amis has frequently written about it. Yet the wider reading public remains largely unaware of it.

No wonder. It is a detective story that seems to solve itself too easily, and lose its mystery. But those who stay with it, even after they think they have seen through it, are teased back and back by its ultimately unresolved nature, all the puzzles that remain after the last pages are read. It does not give up its secrets at a glance. Even Mr Amis, despite his enthusiasm for the tale, seems to misunderstand it—as when he writes: 'What I find indigestible in the closing scenes is… the person of the fleeing Sunday, who at one point makes off mounted on a Zoo elephant and who bombards the pursuit with messages of elephantine facetiousness, [Encounter, October 1973]. He is attacking the finest clue of all. But, more than that, he lapses into the condescending attitude he came to criticize—the view that Chesterton cannot resist buffoonery, even when he is onto something bigger and more startling than a good joke (or a bad one).

But Sunday's riddles go beyond joking, good or bad; they show a cruelty in humour like the cruelty of nature itself—they are taunts thrown back at men who have been tortured. The best parts of this racy entertainment, as Borges understood, are moments of weird near-break-down:

As he now went up the weary and perpetual steps, he was daunted and bewildered by their almost infinite series. But it was not the hot horror of a dream or of anything that might be exaggeration or delusion. Their infinity was more like the infinity of arithmetic, something unthinkable, yet necessary to thought. Or it was like the stunning statements of astronomy about the distance of the fixed stars. He was ascending the tower of reason, a thing more hideous than unreason itself.

The book is all a chase, an evasion, and a dream; a benign nightmare prolonged, page by page, beyond our waking. It has the compelling inconsequence of nightmare, its tangle of mutually chasing loves and hates, where the impossible becomes inevitable and each wish comes partnered with its own frustration. Nightmare is described in the book itself as a world of 'tyrannic accidents'. Auden and others have noticed Chesterton's power to evoke the despotic mood of dreams. Borges compared him to Poe in this aspect, and C.S. Lewis to Kafka. The reason we go on reading Chesterton's tale—after we have cracked its first secret (that all the conspirators are also, unbeknownst to each other, anti-conspirators)—is that a dream mood leads us on, linking all its incidents. It aims at an effect that intrigued Chesterton in his own disturbing dreams, one achieved in some of his favourite works of literature.

Here is the pursuit of the man we cannot catch, the flight from the man we cannot see; here is the perpetual returning to the same place, here is the crazy alteration in the very objects of our desire, the substitution of one face for another face, the putting of the wrong souls in the wrong bodies, the fantastic disloyalties of the night…

[Essay on 'A Midsummer Night's Dream', in W. H. Auden, G. K. Chesterton: A Selection, 1970]

So, even after we know that the anarchists are also cops, the dream-suspension of things in air continues—the flight from Age, through a crippling ache of snow; a slow climb up the mad tower of pure reason; the duel with a phantom who comes apart like meat being carved but will not bleed; the endless chase by anonymous somebodies who gradually become Everybody, embodying paranoia's logic. Then, after running as the quarry, the book's accumulating heroes turn and reach new stages of bewilderment as the pursuers. They knew more as the hunted than as hunters. Desperation gave them solidarity; but at a hint of victory they come apart again, each teasing at the private riddles addressed to him by Sunday. But this dominance of a nightmare mood should not blind us to the riddles addressed to us as readers. These are nicely differentiated, and cluster around two questions. Who are the conspirators? And: Who is Sunday?


Then thou scarest me with dreams and terrifiest me through visions.

Job 7.14

The first set of clues is almost too obvious—which makes men overlook further hints, to which the first set was only our introduction. The point is not only that everyone is in disguise, but that his disguise is revealing. Each man's secret is unwittingly worn like a shield instead of an emblem. The biggest clue can be overlooked because Chesterton has placed it so prominently in the title. A man can be Thursday only because other men are already Friday, Monday, etc. Granted, the Council of Days is a device that readers quickly penetrate; and most of them focus thence-forth on the identity of Sunday. But the riddle of Monday is not disposed of simply by knowing that he is Sunday's Secretary and also the hidden Detective's right-hand man. Chesterton tries to keep reminding us of this; but readers, so far as I can tell, still keep forgetting. When Dr Bull says, toward the end, 'We are six men going to ask one man what he means', Syme replies: 'I think it is six men going to ask one man what they mean.'

What does the Secretary, the first and most persistent of the Council, mean—with the cruel tilt of laughter as a doubt across his face? At the final banquet he will wear robes that make him more real—a pitch black garment with the struggle of first light down its expanse. He is Monday, light out of darkness, the first unstoppable questioning that is man's last boast—'And God said: Let there be light.' He comes after his fellow-conspirators in the long dream-scene of chase with a black mask on, his face a pattern of light and dark echoed in all his followers. He dwells in darkness, only to fight it, and is described from the outset as tortured with thought in its most naked form. Syme wonders why, when the Secretary gets tossed from the hood of the car, darkness comes on so soon—a minor riddle, but part of a large pattern. Monday, with his complex mind, is the simplest and truest of them all in his quest for truth. He will not stop asking impertinent questions even in the unknowable Emperor's palace.

Gogal, shaggy under his load of wild tresses, but transparent and easily found out, is as simple as the waters of the Second Day, Wednesday is the Marquis, whose absinthe philosophy brightens to the green clothing of earth. Thursday is Syme, a poet, a divider of planet from planet on a plan—as Michelangelo's sculptor-God on the ceiling shoulders moons off from the sun. Friday is the Professor, who has a nihilist's ethic of bestiality, but a deeper kinship, also, with the innocence of animals. Saturday is the last day, Man, a thing almost too open and childish to wear a disguise, an optimist of reason, the tale's French revolutionary, declaring the patent rights of man as king of the creation—each man a king.

All six of the men are puzzles, but elemental puzzles, the kind that one cannot really 'solve'. They represent man's status as a partner in his own creation—the question of man's questioning; the open energy of Gogol; the dim recesses of the Marquis; Syme's swagger; Friday's depths of despair; and Saturday's insaner hope. When Syme grieves that the conspirators have looked only on the fleeing back of the universe, we think his talk deals only with Sunday, since he is often glimpsed from behind in the story. But later, in the garden, all things—in dancing—turn a sudden face on the Council, each tree and lamppost. Everything has a story untold, an episode wandered into, a history only half-understood. And what is true of the clues is true of the detectives, who are themselves the main clues they must read. Each of them deceived the others because he was seen from behind or partially, at an odd angle. The 'back' of intellect is doubt; of subtlety, deviousness; of energy, rage. Everything in the tale, as in the world, needs deciphering, nothing more than oneself. We are all walking signs, signaling urgently to one another in a code no one has cracked. If anyone could understand himself, he would understand everything. So the last person to guess what the man called Monday means will be Monday. Sunday is not a greater mystery than the other Days, except in one respect—he is not only a clue, and a reader of clues; he also plants the clues. He may have cracked the code. That is why they go in search of him.

The tale is not an idle play with symbols. It gets its urgency and compression from the fact that it is the most successful embodiment of the seminal experience in Chesterton's life, his young mystical brush with insanity. In that sense, it is full of clues to his own mental crisis—his depression and near-suicide as an art student in the decadent 1890s. At the centre of Chesterton's best fiction there is always a moment of aporia, the dark seed of all his gaudy blossomings. In Thursday that moment comes when the chase is urged on by the masked Secretary:

The sun on the grass was dry and hot. So in plunging into the wood they had a cool shock of shadow, as of divers who plunge into a dim pool. The inside of the wood was full of shattered sunlight and shaken shadows. They made a sort of shuddering veil, almost recalling the dizziness of a cinematograph. Even the solid figures walking with him Syme could hardly see for the patterns of sun and shade that danced upon them. Now a man's head was lit as with a light of Rembrandt, leaving all else obliterated; now again he had strong and staring white hands with the face of a negro. The ex-Marquis had pulled the old straw hat over his eyes, and the black shade of the brim cut his face so squarely in two that it seemed to be wearing one of the black half-masks of their pursuers. The fancy tinted Syme's overwhelming sense of wonder. Was he wearing a mask? Was anyone wearing a mask? Was anyone anything? This wood of witchery, in which men's faces turned black and white by turns, in which their figures first swelled into sunlight and then faded into formless night, this mere chaos of chiaroscuro (after the clear daylight outside), seemed to Syme a perfect symbol of the world in which he had been moving for three days, this world where men took off their beards and their spectacles and their noses, and turned into other people. That tragic self-confidence which he had felt when he believed that the Marquis was a devil had strangely disappeared now that he knew that the Marquis was a friend. He felt almost inclined to ask after all these bewilderments what was a friend and what an enemy. Was there anything that was apart from what it seemed? The Marquis had taken off his nose and turned out to be a detective. Might he not just as well take off his head and turn out to be a hobgoblin? Was not everything, after all, like this bewildering woodland, this dance of dark and light? Everything only a glimpse, the glimpse always unforeseen, and always forgotten. For Gabriel Syme had found in the heart of that sun-splashed wood what many modern painters had found there. He had found the thing which the modern people call Impressionism, which is another name for that final scepticism which can find no floor to the universe.

The dragging in of impressionism here makes no sense except by its connection with the morbid experiences of Chesterton at the Slade School during the years 1892 through 1895, when a fashionable pessimism was cultivated by the same people who were taken with fashionable 'impressionism'.

Much of the material for Thursday comes directly out of the notebooks and poems of those art-school years, almost a decade and a half behind him when he wrote the novel. An early poem on suicide lies behind Chapter 10. The account of an art-school conversation is drawn on for the lantern episode in Chapter 12. The emergence from solipsism into fellowship, described in Chapter 8, lies behind much of his poetry from this period—like 'The Mirror of Madmen,' from which I quote just the opening and closing stanzas:

I dreamed a dream of heaven, white as frost,
The splendid stillness of a living host;
Vast choirs of upturned faces, line o'er line.
Then my blood froze for every face was mine.
Then my dream snapped and with a heart that leapt
I saw, across the tavern where I slept,
The sight of all my life most full of grace,
A gin-damned drunkard's wan half-witted face.

The same experience lies behind the novel's dedicatory poem, with its tribute to the two men who meant so much to him in his personal ordeal—Stevenson of Tusitala, who also rebelled against the aesthetes of his art school in Paris; and Whitman of Paumanok, who praised the mere existence of multiple things in a democracy of existence. Indeed, the first sketch of what would become Thursday was written as an exercise in Whitman pantheism. It appears in an unpublished Chesterton notebook from the early nineties:

The week is a gigantic symbol, the symbol of the creation of the world:

Monday is the day of Lent. (Light? Ed.)
Tuesday the day of waters.
Wednesday the day of the Earth.
Thursday: the day of stars.
Friday: the day of birds.
Saturday: the day of beasts.
Sunday: the day of peace: the day for saying that it is good
Perhaps the true religion is this
that the creator is not ended yet.
And that what we move towards
Is blinding, colossal, calm
The rest of God.

Chesterton opposed the chaos in himself and the life around him by considering each man's life a re-enactment, day by day, of the first verses of Genesis. One of his student letters has this passage: 'Today is Sunday, and Ida's birthday. Thus it commemorates two things, the creation of Ida and the creation of the world… Nineteen years ago the Cosmic Factory was at work; the vast wheel of stars revolved, the archangels had a conference, and the result was another person… I should imagine that sun, wind, colours, chopsticks, circulating library books, ribbons, caricatures and the grace of God were used.' Chesterton took as the ground of his hope that very sense of dissolution that threatened his sanity. By the energy of existence things keep re-emerging from dissolution. Creation uses chaos as its working material—just as the spirit, freed in dreams, uses the world as a set of signs, shifting their meaning in ways that terrify man while making him the master of 'unsignified' matter:

If we wish to experience pure and naked feeling we can never experience it so really as in that unreal land. There the passions seem to live an outlawed and abstract existence, unconnected with any facts or persons. In dreams we have revenge without any injury, remorse without any sin, memory without any recollection, hope without any prospect. Love, indeed, almost proves itself a divine thing by the logic of dreams; for in a dream every material circumstance may alter, spectacles may grow on a baby, and moustaches on a maiden aunt, and yet the great sway of one tyrannical tenderness may never cease. Our dream may begin with the end of the world, and end with a picnic at Hampton Court, but the same rich and nameless mood will be expressed by the falling stars and by the crumbling sandwiches. In a dream daisies may glare at us like the eyes of demons. In a dream lightning and conflagration may warm and soothe us like our own fireside. In this subconscious world, in short, existence betrays itself; it shows that it is full of spiritual forces which disguise themselves as lions and lamp-posts, which can as easily disguise themselves as butterflies and Babylonian temples.… Life dwells alone in our very heart of hearts, life is one and virgin and unconjured, and sometimes in the watches of the night speaks in its own terrible harmony.

['Dreams', in The Coloured Lands, 1901]

Chesterton was drawn back, constantly, to the Book of Genesis because of its beginning in chaos. Once one has experienced that nothingness, the emergence of any one thing into form and meaning is a triumph, the foundation for a 'mystical minimum' of aesthetic thankfulness. Then, as Blake saw, each sunrise becomes a fiery chariot's approach.

When we say that a poet praises the whole creation, we commonly mean only that he praises the whole cosmos. But this sort of poet does really praise creation, in the sense of the act of creating. He praises the passage or transition from nonentity to entity.… He not only appreciates everything but the nothing of which everything was made. In a fashion he endures and answers even the earthquake irony of the Book of Job; in some sense he is there when the foundations of the world are laid, with the morning stars singing together and the sons of God shouting for joy.

[St. Francis of Assisi 1928]

The Council of Days not only praises this transition, but effects it—as God creates through his six days. Creation is not only the beginning, but is always beginning—with the Council of Days in on the battle against chaos from the outset. They overthrow their own darker side, their evil brother, as God had to wrestle the sea-god into bonds in the Book of Job. When the six Days gather in Sunday's garden, they have gone back beyond their childhood 'where a tree is a tree at last—to the primordial self they could only accomplish by a struggle that, illogically, forms that self. Their end is to arrive at their own beginning, in a puzzle Chesterton often returned to:

It is at the beginning that things are good, and not (as the more pallid progressives say) only at the end. The primordial things—existence, energy, fruition—are good so far as they go. You cannot have evil life, though you can have notorious evil livers. Manhood and womanhood are good things, though men and women are often perfectly pestilent. You can use poppies to drug people, or birch trees to beat them, or stones to make an idol, or corn to make a corner, but it remains true that, in the abstract, before you have done anything, each of these four things is in strict truth a glory, a beneficent specialty and variety. We do praise the Lord that there are birch trees growing amongst the rocks and poppies amongst the corn; we do praise the Lord, even if we do not believe in Him. We do admire and applaud the project of a world, just as if we had been called to council in the primal darkness and seen the first starry plan of the skies. We are, as a matter of fact, far more certain that this life of ours is a magnificent and amazing enterprise than we are that it will succeed.

[T.P.'s Weekly, 1910]

David J. Leigh, S. J. (essay date 1981)

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SOURCE: "Politics and Perspective in The Man Who Was Thursday," in The Chesterton Review, Vol. 7, No. 4, November, 1981, pp. 329-36.

[Leigh is an American educator and critic. In the following essay, he analyzes Chesterton's use of allegory in The Man Who Was Thursday.]

The rediscovery of Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday by the critics (and even by Time, April 7, 1975) has illuminated the complexity of the allegorical nightmare which even G.K.C. admitted was overloaded with meaning. Although most critics—e.g., Barker, Clipper, Wills, Youngberg—call Thursday Chesterton's best novel, several critics find serious flaws of incoherence. In particular, Ian Boyd finds the novel's two allegories—philosophical and political—"never completely integrated into a coherent whole" [The Novels of G. K Chesterton: A Study in Art and Propaganda, 1975].

In this article, I will contend that Thursday can be read as a coherent pattern blending three main allegories: the approach to the Ultimate (chapters 1-12), the revelation of the nature of the Ultimate (chapters 13-15), and the social-political consequences of these two main allegories (passim). In interpreting these three allegories, the reader must adjust to the genre of eschatological allegory. In eschatological symbolism, the primary meaning dominates, in either its metaphysical implications (the Ultimate is good) or its theological implications (God has entered human history in Christ). These higher levels must retain their primacy in the sense that particular historical or political details or consequences are not to be taken too literally or to be allowed to dominate. Rather, as we shall see in Chesterton's novel, the significance of the higher level—once it is reached at the end of the tale—can enlighten the preceding political references. Like Gabriel Syme, the reader must learn to interpret in an analogical manner. And, perhaps most importantly, the reader must interpret this eschatological revelation progressively. At each stage of the allegory, the characters and events signify what can be grasped from a particular ongoing perspective. Read in this fashion, Thursday proves to be a revelation allegory in which Syme's poetic horizon is expanded step by step with each anarchist-detective he unmasks.

Most analyses of Thursday have noted the significance of the anarchists, from Gogol to the Secretary, as each is revealed. But no one, to my knowledge, has explicated the correlation between each anarchist and his perspective on Sunday. A close look at each anarchist shows not only such a correlation but also suggests a progression in the vision of the Ultimate in the anarchists' perspective on Sunday.

Gogol, the first to be unmasked, suggests the simple but mad idealism of a young adolescent, impulsive and eager for violent action, even if it is meaningless or ineffective. Correspondingly, his vision of Sunday is a blank, for on principle he refuses to think of the consequences or context—or the ultimate meaning—of his impulsive action. As Gogol tells Syme, "I don't think of Sunday on principle, any more than I stare at the sun at noonday." Once Gogol is unmasked, Syme, the searcher after the ultimate horizon, is free to continue his search by asking ultimate questions. Professor de Worms, suggesting perhaps the nightmare of late adolescence with its uncontrollable fears and imagination, is revealed after a hunting chase to be an actor playing the part of a notorious German nihilist. Correlative to this "too large and too loose" youth is his picture of Sunday as an infinite Face, an unimaginable and uncontrollable Buddha. His spiritualised vision is so beyond intelligibility as to be closer to a doubt than a creed. In the Professor's words: "His face has made me, somehow, doubt whether there are any faces."

In sharp contrast, the next anarchist to be unmasked is the rationalistic Dr. Bull, who turns out to be a city clerk disguised by thick blank spectacles as a British scientist. Exposed after a confrontation in which Syme feels himself reduced to a mere object, Dr. Bull eventually sees Sunday as an infinite source of Vitality, a cosmic elan vital to be wondered at and analysed. Here Sunday has been transformed from the youth's unthinkable ideal (Gogol) into the late adolescent's infinite spiritual Mystery (de Worms) and now into the modern scientist's object, infinite Vitality (Dr. Bull).

The Marquis presents a more difficult case. He does not present himself as a particular philosophy, but as an embodiment of human contingency. In the duel, he appears to Syme as a personal source of imminent death, a challenge to Syme's own existence. As Syme responds during the match with the Marquis:

All the fantastic fears that have been the subject of this story fell from him like dreams from a man waking up in bed. He remembered them clearly and in order as mere delusions of the nerves—how the fear of the Professor had been the fear of the tyrannic accidents of nightmare, and how the fear of the Doctor had been the fear of the airless vacuum of science. The first was the old fear that any miracle might happen, the second the more hopeless modern fear that no miracles can ever happen. But he saw that these fears were fancies, for he found himself in the presence of the great fact of the fear of death, with its coarse and pitiless common sense.

From this experience of human contingency, Syme learns to feel "the love of life in all living things." In combating this personal source of death, Syme senses he is confronting a diabolical threat, a Satanic force which can harm him but cannot do the one thing Syme must do—die. Correlatively, the Marquis's notion of Sunday derives from the perspective of one who has suddenly become aware of the unpredictability and incomprehensibility of death. To the deadly Marquis, Sunday is like an absent-minded tiger. The Ultimate for the Marquis—as for many who first awaken in early middle age to the reality of their own death—seems to be an arbitrary and inconsistent deadly force.

Finally, Syme reaches the most mature and yet most frightening stage in his approach to the Ultimate—that of the crooked smiling Secretary. As Garry Wills has noted, this man closest to Sunday appears in his pursuit of Syme across the French countryside as an impersonal and unintelligent mob. The Secretary appears even more horrible because Syme begins his flight through a forest of chiaroscuro ("Was anyone anything?"). He emerges from this chaos of scepticism into a world in which everyone he meets eventually seems to be on the side of anarchy. From the Secretary's perspective—that of the mature secular philosopher of 1900—Sunday appears to be "the final form of matter." The most frightful image of the Ultimate is that of a tragic and meaningless materialism.

Gabriel Syme, of course, is free, as a poet, from the limited horizons of each of these univocal notions of the Ultimate. He alone is able to learn from his encounters with each of these anarchists and their approaches. After listening to them, he turns from poet to prophet. As he explains:

Each man of you finds Sunday quite different, yet each man of you can only find one thing to compare him to—the universe itself. Bull finds him like the earth in spring, Gogol like the sun at noonday. The Secretary is reminded of the shapeless protoplasm, and the Inspector of the carelessness of virgin forests. The Professor says he is like a changing landscape.

In transcending each of the others' perspective, Syme is able to see the Ultimate as revealed in reverse. The mystery of Sunday, like the mystery of the world that reflects him, is the paradoxical mystery of a person whose back is nearly always turned. In Syme's words: "But when I saw him from behind I was certain he was an animal, and when I saw him in front I knew he was a god." In the end, the confusion of the early contradictory perspectives becomes the mystery of a paradoxical revelation by "a father playing hide-and-seek with his children."

Syme's interpretation of his fellow detectives' perspectives shows not only how each fits within a progressive scheme of human knowledge of the divine, but also reveals that his own interpretation of Sunday as both "back" and "face" is incomplete. Sunday himself interrupts Syme's explanation by "coming down" in his balloon and enticing the six searchers into an eschatological paradise. If the pursuit stories reveal various philosophical approaches to the Ultimate, this final scene in Chapter 15 moves into a more explicitly Biblical revelation of the nature of God. Here the image of God is more positive and, as we shall see, more coherent with itself and with other allegorical aspects of the entire tale.

From the various parallels with the Book of Job, several critics have shown how the final episode reveals more about both the pursuers and the Pursued. Each of the detectives is here clothed in a revelatory disguise from the days of Genesis, thus suggesting each one's ultimate meaning:

Gogol, or Tuesday, had his simplicity well symbolised by a dress designed upon the division of the waters, a dress that separated upon his forehead and fell to his feet, grey and silver, like a sheet of rain. The Professor, whose day was that on which the birds and fishes—the ruder forms of life—were created, had a dress of dim purple, over which sprawled goggle-eyed fishes and outrageous tropical birds, the union in him of unfathomable fancy and of doubt. Dr. Bull, the last day of creation, wore a coat covered with heraldic animals in red and gold, and on his crest a man rampant. He lay back in his chair with a broad smile, the picture of an optimist in his element.

Like Job, the searchers are not given an explanation. Sunday's self-description is a word addressed through darkness to faith. He tells them he has been a voice in the darkness commanding valour and virtue. He tells them he has been aware of them all even in their worst hour. Just at the point at which they learn the Ultimate to be personal and transcendent, Sunday tells them his real name—"I am the Sabbath. I am the peace of God."

This Jobean self-revelation in darkness immediately provokes a Jobean demand from each of the six for an answer to the problem of evil. Why—if Sunday is the peace of God—have they struggled and suffered? Once again the form of each one's objection is in accord with his earlier nature.

At this point the tale goes beyond philosophy and even the Book of Job to an explicitly Christian level. After Syme's defense of suffering as creative of valour, Syme turns to Sunday and presents the final demand: "Have you ever suffered?" Sunday's reply is more than a vague allusion to the Christian incarnation. For, in citing Jesus' response to the disciples who boasted of their right to suffer and rule, Sunday suggests the central mystery of the Redemption—"Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of?" The image of the cup in this passage suggests not only the human suffering of God in the crucifixion, but also the preparation for it at the Last Supper and the consequences of it in both the meals of Christ's risen life and the eschatological meal in the Eucharist and in the kingdom of Heaven. The profane cup at the earlier Feast of Fear has become the cup of salvation. What had happened in the search to be an arbitrary pantheistic God behind human suffering becomes not merely the transcendent God of the Sabbath but at the same time the incarnate God of the cup of sorrows. But this draining of the chalice of suffering is only one phase in the redemptive cycle of suffering, death, and resurrection. The gospel allusion carries the weight of the central Christian paradox.

This redemptive cycle symbolised by the cup is crucial to all the previous levels of the story. For in the light of the redemptive pattern, the previous struggles are all given new meaning. This "impossible good news" that Gabriel Syme brings back from his nightmare can now make "every other thing a triviality, but an adorable triviality."

In particular, the social and political allegory is not as "vain" as Ian Boyd suggests. The "battle against a worldwide conspiracy of wealthy and powerful men" is not entirely "hopeless" for Syme in his final stage. The theological allegory can enlighten (and lighten) the political allegory. The two aspects of the theological allegory we have seen are: 1) the double face of the Ultimate, and 2) the redemptive entry of the Ultimate into the pattern of suffering and death, thus, making the pattern redemptive (the "cup"). Both of these aspects can be then applied to the political struggle. Just as the ultimate "Establishment" proves to have two faces, so, too, the human establishment has a double potential—one for oppression and one for liberation. Certainly in 1908, Chesterton was more concerned about the oppressiveness of the larger societal forces, but his theological tale does not render all those in power "hopeless." For Sunday only appeared to be a magnate who had bought up industries and communications; the people (Renard, the Colonel, etc.) only appeared to be in arms against Syme's group. Chesterton did not work out the implications of his theological fable for the political sphere, but he was clear enough, from our reading, in asserting that evil is not ultimate—at any level. As he reflected in his Autobiography on this novel: "the point is that the whole story is a nightmare of things, not as they are, but as they seemed to the young half-pessimist of the '90's."

Thus, from the final perspective of the tale, we see that Sunday is revealed to be not the source of personal or political evil that he appears to be from previous viewpoints. And, most importantly, the final perspective of Sunday as redemptively involved in the process of struggle and suffering—such a perspective relativises all other viewpoints and frees the individual to enter into the personal or political struggle precisely with hope. The long-term political struggle with the rich and powerful is no longer a losing battle against South African and American millionaires, but a redemptive venture in which God is continually involved on the side of the suffering.

As the nightmare ends, we learn that what is needed is the eschatological vision of the poet and the religious energy of the prophet—both embodied in Gabriel Syme. For he awakes at dawn able to find the "good news" in the "adorable trivialities" of the human condition—from the political battles of "the red irregular buildings of Saffron park" to the personal meeting with the "girl with the gold-red hair, cutting lilacs before breakfast, with the great unconscious gravity of a girl."

Witold Ostrowski (essay date 1984)

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SOURCE: "The Man Who Was Thursday," in Litterae et Lingua: In Honorem Premislavi Mroczkowski, edited by Jan Nowakowski, Zaklad Narodowy im. Ossolinakich, 1984, pp. 141-52.

[In the following essay, Ostrowski examines the relationship between the conventions of detective novels, the phenomena of nightmares, and the structure of The Man Who Was Thursday.]

G. K. Chesterton's book The Man Who Was Thursday is one of the most curious and interesting literary compositions to a scholar who studies the relationship between the meaning and the structure and the typology of the novel.

Chesterton himself saw in the book "the very formless form of a piece of fiction", but a form justified by the fact that it was related to a nightmare. In fact, writing in his Autobiography about the disorientation of the critics which the book had provoked, he says: "But what interests me about it was this; that hardly anybody who looked at the title ever seems to have looked at the sub-title; which was 'A Nightmare', and the answer to a good many critical questions."


Perhaps the best starting point for an analysis of this novel is to take the hint from the author and to concentrate on the word Nightmare. It implies both a certain characteristic content and a certain form in which the unpleasant content is presented.

The nightmarish character of the experience which had inspired Chesterton to write about it has been described in detail in the dedicatory poem "To Edmund Clerihew Bentley," which begins with the words:

A cloud was on the mind of men,
And wailing went the weather,
Yea, a sick cloud upon the soul
When we were boys together.

The poem refers to The Man Who Was Thursday thus:

This is a tale of those old fears,
Even of those emptied hells,
And none but you shall understand
The true thing that it tells—

because "those old fears" were

The doubts that drove us through the night
As we two talked amain
And day had broken on the streets
E'er it broke upon the brain.

The experience of spiritual doubts and fears wafted, as it were, from the City of Dreadful Night known to J. Thomson and the 1890's had been a very personal kind of nightmare shared and therefore understood only by the two close friends. But when it found its literary expression in Chesterton's story, owing to his idiosyncrasy it became "an extraordinary book written as if the publisher had commissioned him to write something rather like The Pilgrim's Progress in the style of the Pickwick Papers" as Monsignor Knox has said [In the panegyric preached at Westminster Cathedral, 27 June 1936. Quotation after Maise Ward, Gilbert Keith Chesterton, 1958].

If the effect is not Kafka, it is due to the simple truth that Chesterton could not write like Kafka any more than Kafka could write like Chesterton.

But if the exuberant energy of the story seems rather to deny it the title of a nightmare, its structure perfectly confirms it. For the world presented in the story has many features of a dream. Its dreamlike quality is stressed on the very first page of the novel:

The place was not only pleasant, but perfect, if once he could regard it not as a deception but rather as a dream.

There is a strange, unrealistic atmosphere about the setting of the book which suggests an unusual state of consciousness even before the dream begins. This is how a "strange sunset" is evoked and perceived:

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. Across the great part of the dome they were grey, with the strangest tints of violet and mauve and an unnatural pink or pale green; but towards the west the whole grew past description, transparent and passionate, and the last red-hot plumes of it covered up the sun like something too good to be seen. The whole was so close about the earth as to express nothing but a violent secrecy.

The writer gives this unusual state of consciousness and its characteristic perception of the world to his main character, the poet Gabriel Syme. During his dispute with Lucian Gregory, another poet (and anarchist):

Once he heard very faintly in some distant street a barrel-organ begin to play, and it seemed to him that his heroic words were moving to a tiny tune from under or beyond the world.

He stared and talked at the girl's red hair and amused face for what seemed to be a few minutes; and then, feeling that the groups in such a place should mix, rose to his feet. To his astonishment, he discovered the whole garden empty. Everyone had gone long ago, and he went himself with a rather hurried apology. He left with a sense of champagne in his head, which he could not afterwards explain. In the wild events which were to follow this girl had no part at all; he never saw her again until all his tale was over. And yet, in some indescribable way, she kept returning like a motive in music through all his mad adventures like a red thread through those dark and ill-drawn tapestries of the night. For what followed was so improbable that it might well have been a dream.

The last quoted sentence is the author's sly signal that what follows is a dream. It is sly, because usually the reader does not pay proper attention to it; but formally it is as good, or almost as good, a warning of the change of the hero's mode of experience as Langland's words: "I fell asleep. And I dreamt a marvellous dream" or Bunyan's: "And as I slept, I dreamed a Dream".

The return to the day-consciousness is marked about the end of the story with a row of asterisks followed by the words:

When men in books awake from a vision, they commonly find themselves in some place in which they might have fallen asleep; they yawn in a chair, or lift themselves with bruised limbs from a field. Syme's experience was something much more psychologically strange if there was indeed anything unreal, in the earthly sense, about the things he had gone through. For while he could always remember afterwards that he had swooned before the face of Sunday, he could not remember having ever come to at all. He could only remember that gradually and naturally he knew that he was and had been walking along a country lane with an easy and conversational companion.

The disturbances of memory, so frequently associated with remembering dreams, were accompanied by a feeling of "an unnatural buoyancy in his body and a crystal simplicity in his mind".

In stressing the similarity between older dream-visions in fiction and The Man Who Was Thursday we should not, however, close our eyes to the strange lack of sharpness in the transition from Syme's reality to his dream and back. The explanation why Chesterton does not follow Langland's and Bunyan's examples of sincerity and precision, but tricks the reader with: "What followed was so improbable that it might well have been a dream", is simple: he wants the reader accept, for a time, the dream for reality. This is the trick practised in modern times by many writers introducing improbable tales.

Chesterton's ambiguity in the quoted passage which describes awakening is less conventional. Let us try to understand what he means by saying: "Syme's experience was something much more psychologically strange if there was indeed anything unreal, in the earthly sense about the things he had gone through" and when he states that Syme "could not remember ever come to at all".

The answer is that the narrator of the adventures wants them to be both a nightmare in a dream and, at the same time, a real and valid human experience. In this Chesterton not only follows modern psychology, which accepts dreams as real and valid human experiences, but also follows Langland, the author of The Pearl, and Bunyan. All these "dreamers" spiritually grow up in the course of their dreams. The same thing happens with Syme, because Chesterton considers his message as of the utmost importance.

There is yet another feature which makes the story like a nightmare and distinguishes it as one of the most original literary creations. It is the fluidity of the presented world. Its world, instead of being merely fantastic or even mad, but one with its own stability, constantly changes into another and yet another world. It reminds one of the croquet ground in Alice in Wonderland in which the croquet balls were live hedgehogs, and the mallets live flamingoes and the soldiers had to double themselves up and stand on their hands and feet, to make the arches. All those elements of the game moved of their own will and playing the game was very difficult.

Something like that happens in The Man Who Was Thursday. Characters change not only their looks, but even identities, becoming somebody or something else. The setting changes in quick succession in the unending scenes of escape and pursuit and underneath it some disquieting cosmic dimensions are felt. And the story which began in the world of politics, changes into a street carnival rag and frolic to develop into a philosophical garden party to evaporate into total blackness. Its end seems to forget its own beginning.


The starting point for action is a suspicion of crime and need for detection. Syme has insinuated himself into the Anarchist Lodge's favour and has been elected Thursday, one of the seven members of the Supreme Council of Anarchy, though he is a philosophical (or ideological) policeman. Both he and his friend and ideological opponent Gregory may fear the consequences of mutual exposure and both are bound by a reciprocal pledge to be silent about each other's ideological stance.

The situation has two aspects. One is philosophical. It is revealed when Syme asks Gregory: "What is it you object to? You want to abolish Government?"

Gregory's answer shows his militant atheism, or rather anti-theism, and moral nihilism:

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 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, honour 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.

The other aspect of the situation is political and social. Its dangers are more limited, but also more immediate. Syme has developed a "hatred of modern lawlessness", because he experienced a dynamite outrage which broke windows, made him blind and deaf for a moment, and wounded some people. Anarchist terrorism has become "a huge and pitiless peril" for him. And at the same moment he joined the Anarchist Council, the Czar was to meet the President of France and a bomb attempt was being prepared to kill the two. Crime is being planned and Syme's duty as a policeman is to counteract it, especially as he had been received into the secret police to take part in what his mysterious chief in a dark room had called "the battle of Armageddon" and "the Last Crusade" even at the risk of martyrdom. So the starting point of the adventurous action is the pursuit of criminal terrorists.

But these criminals are criminals raised to at least a second power. "The common criminal is a bad man, but at least he is—says Syme—as it were, a conditional good man. He says that if only a certain obstacle be removed—say a wealthy uncle—he is then prepared to accept the universe and to praise God. He is a reformer, but not an anarchist. He wishes to cleanse the edifice, but not to destroy it. But the evil philosopher is not trying to alter things, but to annihilate them".

Syme the policeman suspects that it is the Anarchist Council of which he has become a member that forms the mind and heart of that all-destructive programme or plan which was revealed to him by Gregory as the ultimate essence of anarchism. The need for detection is created. But at the same time a new motive force interferes with the detective's intention—the impulse of escape and pursuit. Among "the six men who had sworn to destroy the world" seeds of fear and suspicion are sown by Sunday's warning of the presence of a traitor among them. Then Gogol, the pretended Pole with the decidedly Russian name, is exposed as a detective with the same kind of blue card as Syme's. And Sunday suggests that this detection of an enemy may not be the end of the purge.

This suggestion comes home and Syme becomes wary while walking London streets in a snowstorm. He soon finds that he is being pursued by a half-paralytic Professor de Worms and has no doubt left about the matter when the old man chases him like a greyhound. Their mutual confession of being both in the police is one of the turning points in the action of the story. Syme says about Sunday:

I am afraid of him. Therefore I swear by God that I will seek out this man whom I fear until I find him, and strike him on the mouth. If heaven were his throne and the earth his footstool, I swear that I would pull him down.

Here the idea of detection and the idea of pursuit unite. Henceforth Syme will pursue Sunday in order to detect his mystery. The action of the novel will become a chain of chases in order to detect what is endlessly escaping. Syme's declaration is the more important, because, in the perspective of the final chapters of the novel, his detective activities will continue even if Sunday should turn out to be the lord of heaven and earth.

He is not alone. The professor joins him and the following day in the early morning they surprise the sinister-looking Dr Bull who, without his dark spectacles, is revealed as a harmless young man. He is the third policeman and they plan stopping the anarchist Marquis who was to go to Paris to throw a bomb at the Czar visiting the President of France. Syme wants to stop the Marquis at Calais by engaging him in a duel and his efforts are rewarded at least with a revelation that he fights against a fellow detective.

Each of the chapters of the novel following Gogol's exposure seems to bring a new revelation of reality. In Chapter IX it is revealed that appearances deceive—nobody is what he seems to be. In Chapter X men of the same purpose fight each other and are ready to die doing so. In Chapters XI and XII entitled (from the point of appearances) "The Criminals Chase the Police" and "The Earth in Anarchy," even the friends of the law and order—the peasant, the innkeeper, the rich townsman, and the French colonel—all turn against the bewildered detectives and at last their friend Dr Renard goes so far as to shoot at them.

It seems that each new discovery brings more and more confusion and nonsense in the strife for law and order. In the end the pursued members of the Supreme Council of Anarchy realize that there was no council of this kind and that they were chased by the police and the crowd, because they were taken for anarchists. Here, by the way, Chesterton makes consciously or unconsciously, his greatest point against the lunacy of conspiracy. Conspiracy provokes counter-conspiracy and then nobody knows who is what and against whom. (The same point was made two years earlier by Joseph Conrad in The Secret Agent).

But this political point is implied only. The funny and absurd incidents in France are serious not so much because they belong to politics, but because they acquire, increasingly, a solemn, metaphysical or even religious dimension. The "battle" at Lancy has some relation to "the battle of Armageddon" mentioned by the invisible police chief when he had received Syme into his service. Duelling, Syme thinks that he is fighting the Devil. Later he fights lighting his way in the falling darkness with an ancient lantern with a cross. The shout "The morning star has fallen!" is an obvious allusion to the fall of Lucifer, even though it refers to a friend's apparent betrayal. The six lines quoted from Dunciad expressly refer to a cosmic cataclysm in which Chaos and Anarchy begin to reign in universal darkness. They are introduced in a seemingly hopeless moment when "the Earth in Anarchy" makes "the hopeless Inspector" say: "The human being will soon be extinct. We are the last of mankind".

This is not yet the end, though. The five detectives are wiser at least by the discovery that "there never was any Supreme Anarchist Council" and that they are "all a lot of silly policemen looking at each other". The next obvious step is the pursuit of the President. This takes place in Chapters XIII and XIV mostly in London. Sunday jumps down from the hotel balcony and runs away in all possible means of transport, clowning in a wonderful circus parade round London until he soars up in a balloon stolen from the Earl's Court Exhibition.

Behind these farcical externals there is a serious purpose. The pursuit started with the need to find out what Sunday was. "What did it all mean? If they were all harmless officers, what was Sunday? If he had not seized the world, what on earth had he been up to?… Whatever else Sunday is, he isn't a blameless citizen". It is, again, the need for investigation, for acting on suspicion and for detection that moves all the six policemen to action.

Sunday's behaviour in their presence only deepens the riddle. He laughs at them and then declares: "I tell you this, that you will have found out the truth of the last tree and the topmost cloud before the truth about me. You will understand the sea and I shall be still a riddle"… "Since the beginning of the world all men have hunted me like a wolf—kings and sages, and poets and law-givers, all the churches, and all the philosophers. But I have never been caught yet.…"

And he sharpens their curiosity by stating: "There's one thing I'll tell you, though, about who I am. I am the man in the dark room, who made you all policemen". This and his escape from the balcony are an irresistible stimulus to the natural policeman. The investigation changes into a chase.


The careful reader of the book will observe that ever since Sunday declared himself to be a riddle to all kinds of men, a riddle like the riddle of the tree, the cloud, and the sea—he begins to change from a man into Nature. The policemen following him across the fields of Surrey become "six philosophers" who express their impressions and guesses about his nature. Each man finds Sunday quite different, but all of them compare him to the universe. His back looks brutal and beastlike; his face an archangel's. Syme says: "When I saw him from behind I was certain he was an animal, and when I saw him in front I knew he was a god". "Pan was a god and an animal"—confirms the Professor.

Here Syme identifies "the mystery of Sunday" with "the mystery of the world". At last he sums up his philosophical conclusions in this way: "Shall I tell you the secret of the whole world? It is that we have only known the back of the world. We see everything from behind, and it looks brutal… Cannot you see that everything is stopping and hiding a face? If we could only get round in front—".

Once this understanding of the dualism or ambivalence of Nature, and consequently of the world, and consequently of the ecology and existence of man is realized, the balloon carrying Sunday descends and the pursuers become his welcome guests.

The atmosphere changes again with the change of the setting. An old servant in the peaceful twilight of the evening, a white road, six carriages waiting for the guests, a countryhouse in a park which makes each man of them declare "that he could remember this place before he could remember his mother" suggest an unexpected ease and comfort, but also an allegory of coming home after a life full of strife and anxiety. Also in this Chapter XIV, entitled "The Six Philosopher," the Biblical allusions are continued ("Why leap ye, ye high hills?"; "It was like the face of some ancient archangel, judging justly after heroic wars".). Now it is the Bible that "provides" for every guest a role to be played at a fancy dress party that is being prepared and a costume symbolizing one of the Days of Creation according to Genesis.

Chapter XV begins with a pageantry reminiscent of medieval allegories, but instead of the Seven Deadly Sins we meet the Seven Days of Creation seating themselves on stone thrones surrounded with forest and lit by bonfires with cauldrons on them. Dancing proceeds until the fires almost die out, the merry-makers disappear into the house and stars come out. Then Sunday in his white robe sums up his own view of the events. He says:

Let us remain together a little, we who loved each other so sadly, and have fought so long. I seem to remember only centuries of heroic war, in which you were always heroes—epic on epic, iliad on iliad, and you always brothers in arms. Whether it was but recently (for time is nothing), or at the beginning of the world, I sent you out to war. I sat in the darkness, where there is not any created thing, and to you I was only a voice commanding valour and an unnatural virtue. You heard the voice in the dark, and you never heard it again. The sun in heaven denied it, the earth and sky denied it, all human wisdom denied it. And when I met you in the daylight I denied it myself.

This is a confirmation of Sunday's ambivalence. This is also a timeless presentation of life as an endless struggle of men to keep their human dignity, for Sunday adds: "You did not forget your secret honour, though the whole cosmos turned an engine of torture to tear it out of you".

But then the final question in the investigation of Sunday's mystery is asked "in a harsh voice":

"Who and what are you"? And the answer is: "I
am Sabbath. I am the peace of God."

This answer, instead of pacifying the six, rouses their dissatisfaction in varying degrees. Only one of them says: "I understand nothing, but I am happy". The strongest objection and criticism comes from the Secretary:

I know what you mean… and it is exactly that that I cannot forgive you… I am not reconciled. If you were the man in the dark room, why were you also Sunday, an offence to the sunlight? If you were from the first our father and our friend, why were you also our greatest enemy? We wept, we fled in terror; the iron entered our souls—and you are the peace of God! Oh, I can forgive God His anger, though it destroyed nations; but I cannot forgive Him His peace.

Here the encounter with Nature, which developed out of the encounter with Sunday the man, rises to the level of an encounter with God himself responsible for the creation of the universe and the condition of man. This is the moment for the only cosmic anarchist to appear—for Gregory. And he impersonates Satan. This is explicitly stated by Dr Bull who says: "Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them". This is an exact quotation from The Book of Job in the Authorized Version. In its context the title of this last chapter of the novel—"The Accuser" and its whole content acquire a decidedly Biblical significance. The Book of Job is a book about the suffering of the blameless man, which had been provoked by Satan's contention that man serves God only for something that he receives. Job, the sufferer afflicted by Satan through the permission of God, comes victorious out of the trial, but his protest against the obvious injustice of his lot sounds very much like the Secretary's protest against the peace of God while people are suffering.

"Man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward… Man, that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble. He comes forth like a flower and is cut down"—these are the most familiar quotations from the Book and they are in tune with the Secretary's accusation of complacency.

But the Accuser, who says about himself "I am a destroyer" has something more to say.

The thick texture of the novel does not allow us to analyse it on one level at a time so this is the moment in which the reader ought to be reminded that all that has so far happened and all that is to come is the logical development of the question of who and what Sunday is and whether he is a blameless person. By this time he has turned into Nature and the Peace of God crowning the Creation. The investigation of his identity seems at an end, but not the judgement on him. Gregory will act as the Accuser and Syme as the Defence.

But, by an ironic twist, what in the Bible was the congregation of the Sons of God sitting in judgement over the tried man and what has already turned into a trial of God by men now is becoming trial of God and man prosecuted by Satan.

The essence of Satan's accusations seems to be an anti-Establishment attitude which is much more popular today than it was in Chesterton's times:

You are the people in power! You are the police—the great fat, smiling men in blue and buttons! You are the Law… The only crime of the Government is that it governs. The unpardonable sin of supreme power is that it is supreme. I do not curse you for being cruel. I do not curse you (though I might) for being kind. I curse you for being safe!

This supremely anarchist attitude is pervaded by hatred which may be its root ("I would destroy the world if I could").

Syme springs to the defence of man. He has received sudden illumination. What is, he asserts, has been created in justice. Each thing on the earth has to war against each other thing and against the whole universe, alone, so that each thing that obeys law may have "the glory and isolation of the anarchist". Objectively, the universe is a benevolent conspiracy, but to a subjective view it presents a frightening exterior. The individual feels isolated, he fears and suffers, because all this is essential in gaining the glory, or the dignity of man through self-reliance and courage.

This is how Syme defends man and the meaning of the world. But at the same time he realizes that Sunday, hidden behind the scenes and knowing the dual nature of existence, may not have suffered as all others had done.

He asks "in a dreadful voice", his final question in the process of detecting who and what Sunday is: "Have you ever suffered?"

Then, again, a transformation of the nightmare world takes place. Sunday's face grows "to an awful size", "filling the whole sky", and disappears in blackness. From behind Nature, which has disappeared "a distant voice saying a commonplace text" is heard: "Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of?"

The text is Christ's words from St Mark's gospel. Like its paraphrase in St Matthew, it refers to suffering and death by crucifixion, as is obvious from the scene of Jesus' agony in the garden of Gethsemane, in which the cup is mentioned again.

Thus Syme's tremendous question is not answered by Nature, but by Christ who is, according to Christian faith, both God and a Man. And being, as a man, subject to all the conditions of Nature and the miseries of human social and political history, suffered like his creation, though sinless and blameless.

That this is the correct way of interpreting the final scene in the dream, has been confirmed by Chesterton when he said [in an interview quoted by Maise Word]:

There is a phrase used at the end, spoken by Sunday: "Can ye drink from the cup that I drink of?" which seems to mean that Sunday is God. That is the only serious note in the book, the face of Sunday changes, you tear off the mask of Nature and you find God.

What follows in the story is Syme's awakening and meeting Gregory's graceful sister cutting lilac before breakfast in her garden. This is a simple closing part of a frame-story which has no special significance, so we may leave it and return to the dream-vision.


It is not made of such stuff as dreams are made of, but rather of many materials such as Chesterton's experience of London life in the beginning of the twentieth century and of at least one visit to France; his walking discussions with Edmund C. Bentley; their fears of political and antitheistic Anarchism; their doubts about the sense and justice of the universe; The Book of Genesis, The Book of Job, and the Gospels; and some minor literary echoes, including, which is significant, Alice in Wonderland and allegorical dream-visions of English religious literature.

If we ask how from this hotchpotch any literary composition could be made, the answer is to be found in Chesterton's Autobiography:

I… was oppressed with the metaphysical nightmare of negations about mind and matter, with the morbid imagery of evil, with the burden of my own mysterious brain and body; but by this time I was in revolt against them; and trying to construct a healthier conception of cosmic life, even if it were one that should err on the side of health. I even called myself an optimist, because I was so horribly near to being a pessimist…All this part of the process was afterwards thrown up in the very formless form of a piece of fiction called The Man Who Was Thursday.

The urge to overcome late Victorian pessimism found its springboard for telling a story in the idea of investigating the mystery of existence and in Chesterton's mind this investigation meant a story of detection without crime. He has stated this in the following passage [of the interview quoted by Ward]:

In an ordinary detective tale the investigator discovers that some amiable-looking fellow who subscribes to all the charities, and is fond of animals, has murdered his grandmother, or is a trigamist. I thought it would be fun to make the tearing away of menacing masks reveal benevolence.

Intended as a story of detection, The Man Who Was Thursday began, like Conrad's The Secret Agent, as a novel (or a burlesque of it) of political crime, in which the investigation was to be conducted by a growing number of secret policemen. This literary form it preserves until the moment when only Sunday is left as an embodied mystery of conspiracy. His escape and the chase after him as a man develop into a riotous carnival which ends with his flight in a balloon. Then, in the natural (instead of the social) setting the detectives change into philosophers, because they are members of "a special corps of… policemen who are also philosophers", but the detection still goes on. Sunday's behaviour also changes, but the investigation of Sunday's character and the nature of the world continues.

With the change of the men's dirty and tattered clothes for the gorgeous robes of the Seven Days or Sons of God the search for the truth behind Sunday leaves general philosophical grounds and moves towards theology or Christian philosophy, because only a philosophy based on the assumption that God has become a man can make its arguments valid. Now the predicament of man is a moral and religious problem and Gregory becomes Satan who is the Archanarchist and the Accuser of men and God. The voice of Christ solves the mystery of suffering in human existence, but only for those who accept the Christian conception of God-Man and his fellowship with men in suffering and glory. That is why Chesterton shifts from philosophy to theology.

Here the investigation ends, because the mystery has been partly detected and partly revealed.

Chesterton has called the process of detection of the nonexistent, but strongly suspected cosmic crime "the groping and guesswork philosophy of the story". And, appropriately, the story assumed the form of a nightmare with the characteristic gradual transformation of the initial presented world into a series of differing succeeding worlds. But two constant factors make it a consistent and a valid book. One of them is the process of detection as the principle organizing its plot from the beginning to the end. The other is the fact that this detective "groping and guesswork" is a "philosophy".

To put in other words, The Man Who Was Thursday is a novel of ideas—a clash of two opposing philosophies of life: Anarchic Nihilism, which wishes to destroy everything, and Christianity which wants to fight evil, and thus to preserve creation.

The author of the book did not start from a previously assumed philosophical position. That is why the novel is not a mere illustration of a ready-made thesis, but a real debate, just like some other novels of ideas written at the beginning of the twentieth century by H. G. Wells and A. Huxley. But at the same time it is a mystery novel with a deepening mystery and therefore one in which simple police detection must give place to other kinds of investigation. As a novel of ideas and a mystery novel it is distinctly Chestertonian. It operates with allegory and symbol and combines detection with philosophy. This combination was further developed in the detective stories of Father Brown. It is unique or rare in presenting a successful detection without crime.

Michael Coren (essay date 1989)

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SOURCE: "The Man Who Was Orthodox," in Gilbert: The Man Who Was G. K. Chesterton, Jonathan Cape, 1989, pp. 167-89.

[It the following excerpt, Coren provides an overview of The Man Who Was Thursday.]

Gilbert's second novel, a work which he was unsure of and not satisfied with, appeared in the February of 1908. Subtitled 'A Nightmare', as The Man Who Was Thursday it received more recognition than any of his previous writings. He dedicated it to Edmund Clerihew Bentley, with an introductory poem

A cloud was on the mind of men,
  And wailing went the weather,
Yea, a sick cloud upon the soul
  When we were boys together.
Science announced nonentity
  And art admired decay;
The world was old and ended:
  But you and I were gay;
Round us in antic order
  Crippled vices came—
Lust that had lost its laughter,
  Fear that had lost its shame.
Like the white lock of Whistler,
  That lit our aimless gloom,
Men showed their own white feather
  As proudly as a plume.
Life was a fly that faded,
  And death a drone that stung;
The world was very old indeed
  When you and I were young.
They twisted even decent sin
  To shapes not to be named:
Men were ashamed of honour;
  But we were not ashamed.
Weak if we were and foolish
  Not thus we failed, not thus;
When that black Baal blocked the heavens
  He had no hymns from us.
Children we were—our forts of sand
  Were even as weak as we,
High as they went we piled them up
  To break that bitter sea.
Fools as we were in motley,
  All jangling and absurd,
When all church bells were silent
  Our cap and bells were heard.

Not all unhelped we held the fort,
  Our tiny flags unfurled;
Some giants laboured in that cloud
  To lift it from the world.
I find again the book we found,
  I feel the hour that flings
Far out of fish-shaped Paumanok
  Some cry of cleaner things;
And the Green Carnation withered,
  As in forest fires that pass,
Roared in the wind of all the world
  Ten million leaves of grass;
Or sane and sweet and sudden as
  A bird sings in the rain—
Truth out of Tusitala spoke
  And pleasure out of pain.
Yea, cool and clear and sudden as
  A bird sings in the grey.
Dunedin to Samoa spoke,
  And darkness unto day.
But we were young; we lived to see
  God break their bitter charms
God and the good Republic
  Come riding back in arms;
We have seen the City of Mansoul,
  Even as it rocked, relieved—
Blessed are they who did not see,
  But being blind, believed.

This is a tale of those old fears,
  Even of those emptied hells,
And none but you shall understand
  The true thing that it tells—
Of what colossal gods of shame
  Could cow men and yet crash,
Of what huge devils hid the stars,
  Yet fell at a pistol flash.
The doubts that were so plain to chase,
  So dreadful to withstand—
Oh, who shall understand but you;
  Yea, who shall understand?
The doubts that drove us through the night
  As we two talked amain,
And day had broken on the streets
  E'er it broke upon the brain.
Between us, by the peace of God,
  Such truth can now be told;
Yea, there is strength in striking root,
  And good in growing old.
We have found common things at last,
  And marriage and a creed,
And I may safely write it now,
  And you may safely read.

The intent of the novel was set down quite clearly in the poem: an attack upon the misconceptions of fashionable decadence, a defence of the values which Gilbert, his friends and—so he thought—his God cherished so dearly. He employs the character of Gabriel Syme, a romantic young poet who is also an undercover agent working for the British police. Syme's experiences throughout the book are based in the twilight area of the nightmare, and we are never sure where reality and dream mingle or become one. Syme passes himself off as an anarchist, defeating a real anarchist poet at his own game of distorted honour and bluff. As he walks through a haunting area of London, which is Bedford Park by all appearances, he learns more of an anarchist plot and the extent of the world conspiracy. The hub of the crime is the Central Anarchist Council, consisting of seven members who are named after a day of the week. By extreme demonstrations of courage and a calm wit Syme joins their ranks. He meets all the council members, discovering that they are undercover agents working for the police, mistrusting each other until the disguises are lifted. Only one member, the President, Sunday, is loyal and true to his cause. He is more than a man, more than a monster

The form it took was a childish and yet hateful fancy. As he walked across the inner room towards the balcony, the large face of Sunday grew larger and larger; and Syme was gripped with a fear that when he was quite close the face would be too big to be possible, and that he would scream aloud. He remembered that as a child he would not look at the mask of Memnon in the British Museum, because it was a face, and so large.

When the surreptitious detectives join together and chase President Sunday they undergo a series of outlandish adventures, eventually tracking the man who represents so much evil to his own garden. When confronted face-to-face their sworn enemy is exposed as the Chief of Police who originally gave them their orders, explaining why he was always hidden in darkness when he addressed his men. He is questioned but will only reply 'I am the Sabbath. I am the peace of God.'

Syme, the only character with any depth in the book, responds to Sunday's actions and to the appearance at the end of the novel of the real anarchist poet who he had hoodwinked earlier, with a fit of revelation; he shakes from head to foot

'I see everything,' he cried, 'everything that there is. Why does each thing on the earth war against each other thing? Why does each small thing in the world have to fight against the world itself? Why does a fly have to fight the whole universe? Why does a dandelion have to fight the whole universe? For the same reason that I had to be alone in the dreadful Council of the Days. So that each thing that obeys law may have the glory and isolation of the anarchist. So that each man fighting for order may be as brave and good a man as the dynamiter. So that the real lie of Satan may be flung back in the face of this blasphemer, so that by tears and torture we may earn the right to say to this man, "You lie!" No agonies can be too great to buy the right to say to this accuser, "We also have suffered."

'It is not true that we have never been broken. We have been broken upon the wheel. It is not true that we have never descended from these thrones. We have descended into hell. We were complaining of unforgettable miseries even at the very moment when this man entered insolently to accuse us of happiness. I repel the slander; we have not been happy. I can answer for every one of the great guards of Law whom he has accused. At least—'

He had turned his eyes so as to see suddenly the great face of Sunday, which wore a strange smile.

'Have you,' he cried in a dreadful voice, 'have you ever suffered?'

As he gazed, the great face grew to an awful size, grew larger than the colossal mask of Memnon, which had made him scream as a child. It grew larger and larger, filling the whole sky; then everything went black. Only in the blackness before it entirely destroyed his brain he seemed to hear a distant voice saying a commonplace text that he had heard somewhere, 'Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of?'

Gilbert's use of dream symbolism was a new departure for him, without doubt having its roots in the painful years of his lonely period, when his sleep as well as his waking hours were filled with nightmare visions which seemed never to leave him. He was to play down some of the theological meaning in the book, anxious that the story and the moral should stand on their own merits. He wrote that the tale was of a nightmare of things, 'not as they are, but as they seemed to the half-pessimist of the '90s …' In an interview published many years later, when The Man Who Was Thursday was adapted for the stage, he spoke of an ordinary detective tale and the tearing away of menacing masks.

Associated with that merely fantastic notion was the one that there is actually a lot of good to be discovered in unlikely places, and that we who are fighting each other may be all fighting on the right side. I think it is quite true that it is just as well we do not, while the fight is on, know all about each other; the soul must be solitary, or there would be no place for courage.

A rather amusing thing was said by Father Knox on this point. He said that he should have regarded the book as entirely pantheist and as preaching that there was good in everything if it had not been for the introduction of the one real anarchist and pessimist. But he was prepared to wager that if the book survives for a hundred years—which it won't—they will say that the real anarchist was put in afterwards by the priests.

But, though I was more foggy about ethical and theological matters than I am now, I was quite clear on that issue; that there was a final adversary, and that you might find a man resolutely turned away from goodness.

People have asked me whom I meant by Sunday. Well, I think, on the whole, and allowing for the fact that he is a person in a tale—I think you can take him to stand for Nature as distinguished from God. Huge, boisterous, full of vitality, dancing with a hundred legs, bright with the glare of the sun, and at first sight, somewhat regardless of us and our desires…


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