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The Man Who Was Thursday, a nightmare Kindle Edition
|Length: 140 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
|Page Flip: Enabled||
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This free Kindle edition is formatted well and easily readable. It has one paradoxical aspect: it has no introduction. I call it a paradox because without an introduction the reader may become as lost and mystified as the characters in the book, yet with an introduction much of the surprise and suspense in the book would be dissipated. And of course, any comment on Chesterton needs to use the word paradox!
'The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare' from 1908 is not all easy to place in just one category. I knew very little of it beforehand; and as I think that is really the best way to read it, I in turn don’t want to reveal too much detail, just write something of my impressions while reading.
Right from the start it struck me as a rather creepily up-to-date read from the aspect that one of its major themes has to do with anarchism/ terrorism and a bomb threat to a major European city. It also crossed my mind quite early on (from a certain scene), that this could well be another bok from which J.K. Rowling may have picked some inspiration for Harry Potter. Later on, I could also clearly see parallells to C.S. Lewis. In spite of the serious (and indeed, as the title suggests, nightmarish) background, and some deeply moral and philosophical discussions – the story does not only keep up a high degree of suspense, but also takes a lot of unexpected twists and turns and offers a good deal of humour. (Sometimes I even laughed out loud.) I found it very hard to put down – I just wanted to keep on reading to see what happened!
A teaser quote: “They were a balconyful of gentlemen overlooking a bright and busy square; but he felt no more safe with them than if they had been a boatful of armed pirates overlooking an empty sea.” (p. 66)
Each of the characters, the days of the week, have something to learn about themselves and each other. Even further, they have something to learn about humanity itself. They each approach the same possible hell; they each relay their experience in a chase for the enigma of a man known as Sunday, the lead-man of the Central Anarchist Council.
The ending feels a bit rushed, there are a lot of points playing around but it really seems that none of them want to be the close of the story. Toward the end of the story, when the surreal elements of the work begin really presenting themselves in outrageous happenings I found the aspect immediately disappointing. If for nothing else, than because the story had progressed so far without blatant dreamscaped surrealism. At the close of the story I can say that in retrospect, it seems a bit generic, almost borderline genre-fiction, but an engaging if passable story which I wouldn’t recommend to many as a ‘must’.
We initially meet Gabriel Syme and Lucian Gregory – two philosophers who happen in the same park. One says he’s an anarchist. The other says he couldn’t be! He’s flouting it too openly. But isn’t that the trick?
Gregory shows Syme his stockade and his anarchist party. However right before the rest of the party enters Syme beseeches Gregory to promise him something – a return for a promise, as Syme has promised not to expose Gregory as an anarchist, a dynamiter! Syme reveals his secret, and with providential intervention and quick wit, just manages to save his skin!
Working honorably the pair attempt to stand beside their respective promises to each other – not to release their professions: one an anarchist, the other: a policeman. The logic behind the propositions, the struggle for one-ups-manship and the very simple reason neither can squeal on the other – ‘you made a promise’ – is a very comical point to start. Watching Gregory’s ire rise as he has suddenly been usurped by a policeman with his quick wit as ‘a sabbathatarian – an ardent observer of Sunday’ – his bitter rival – for the position of Thursday on the Central Anarchist Council is quite entertaining.
Meeting the rest of the council and progressing through bizarre experiences with each of them, and they are generally comical and colorful experiences (the infirm Professor whom, no matter how fast Syme runs, is either always just ahead or just behind), Syme gradually discovers that each man, each day of the week, is also a policeman! Why would Sunday assemble a consortium of policemen to make up an Anarchist council?
Monday – ‘The Secretary’, the creation of light out of darkness. Philosopher of the formless.
Tuesday – ‘Gogol’, Polish – he is discovered by Sunday (or rather – given up) at the groups first council meeting. He disappears but returns to the story later.
Wednesday – ‘Marquis de St. Eustache’, French, referred to after his discovery as Ratliffe, representation of the earth and things ‘green’. The 3rd policeman who joins rank with Syme and de Worms. He brings with him Colonel DeCroix.
Thursday – Gabriel Syme, the creation of the moon and stars, a poet.
Friday – Professor de Worms, German. The 2nd policeman Syme encounters in the group. The professor is a character impersonator who has been enacting German Nihilist de Worms for quite some time.
Saturday – ‘Dr. Bull’, less known as Wilks. The disguised baby-face is the 4th policeman to join the ranks with Syme, de Worms and the Marquis. He considers himself and the rest of humanity mad during his experience running from the mob of anarchists.
After encountering the Marquis and discovering his identity, we approach my least liked part of the story: the entirety of a town turns on the group. Mistaking them for the anarchists they’re trying to stop the Secretary (Monday) leads the charge to arrest Syme and his associates. Discovering themselves all police officers it is time to question Sunday. During the chase Colonel DuCroix switches sides and claims he didn’t know the policemen he was assisting to escape from the mob were in fact policemen… A plot point gone awry.
Encountering Sunday and discovering he was also the Policeman who hired them from behind the veil provided by a darkened room, he soon escapes in fantastical fashion – bouncing, swinging like an orangutan, daring leaps and bounds. The chase then ensues with mishap aplenty along the way.
Arriving at Sunday’s home, the group is informed to be prepared to masquerade. Each day of the week then dresses in garb artistically appropriate to Chesterton’s mind-image of how the days of the week and their biblical descriptions would present. Sunday presents as the Sabbath – ‘the peace of God.’ (2273) and brings this unto the other members of the never existing Anarchist Council.
Lucian Gregory returns for a brief cameo. Presenting as one truly suffering due to governments rule, the group reaffirm to him – they have suffered also, particularly through this tale. And thus wakes our protagonist, Gabriel Syme.
‘There comes a certain point in such conditions when only three things are possible: first a perpetuation of Satanic pride, secondly tears, and third laughter.’ (997)
‘The poor have been rebels, but they have never been anarchists; they have more interest than anyone else in there being some decent government.’ (1596)
‘This is more cheerful,’ said Dr. Bull; ‘we are six men going to ask one man what he means.’… said Syme ‘I think it is six men going to ask one man what they mean.’ (1923)
‘If you want to know what you are, you area set of highly well-intentioned young jackasses.’ – Sunday to the group. (1943)
‘Moderate strength is shown in violence, supreme strength is shown in levity.’ (2075)