Book Chat 16: G.K. Chesterton/The Man Who Was Thursday
Blogger freddie said...Well, I for one am dying to know what everyone thought of this book!
Blogger Evil Editor said...I read it three weeks ago and don't remember it as well as I should. I do remember the ending seeming weird for what came before it. What happened there?
Blogger Steve said...Well, the ending segues into an overt religious allegory, but you have to expect that kind of thing with Chesterton, don't you?
Blogger Evil Editor said...You tell me. You're a big fan, right?
Blogger Steve said...I will own up to being a big (well, fat) Chesterton fan ...
Blogger Evil Editor said...Do all his books become Christian allegories?
Blogger Steve said...Chesterton was a passionate Catholic and something of a social reformer - his books aren't all Christian allegories, but there's an openly displayed religious feeling in them. "TMWWT" is an extreme case, I think.
Blogger fairyhedgehog said...As I got to the end I felt that it was all a set up to present a Christian view of the world, and in particular a Christian view of the problem of evil and suffering. I didn't know enough about Chesterton to expect it. It did remind me of CS Lewis though, at the end of That Hideous Strength.
Blogger fairyhedgehog said...The ending was wild and I didn't see it coming. I'd listened to part of this being read on the radio but I didn't remember the ending at all.
Blogger Evil Editor said...Allegorically speaking, who's Sunday? Who's Thursday?
Blogger freddie said...Maybe Sunday represented Christianity?
Blogger fairyhedgehog said...Sunday claims to be the Peace of God - he's a personification of God, surely, especially when he says: Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? which in Christian theology is Christ's words to the disciples when he is talking about his crucifixion. Christians believe that suffering is justified because God was willing to suffer too.
Blogger Evil Editor said...Are the cops disciples? I suck at allegories, obviously.
Blogger freddie said...Don't they become disciples at the end? Can't remember.
Blogger Evil Editor said...Wait, is the elephant Hinduism?
Blogger freddie said...Could be, EE.
Blogger fairyhedgehog said...I'd be surprised if the elephant was Hinduism as it all came across rather racist to me - very much of its time where the foreigners were regarded as heathen.
Blogger freddie said...I remember the Christian allegory at the end, but mostly I noticed the political aspects.
Blogger fairyhedgehog said...I think the religious bits creep up on you and suddenly I'm thinking, this is so CS Lewis (who was influenced by Chesterton, I imagine.)
Blogger Evil Editor said...I didn't notice (or at least pay any attention to) anything religious about it until the end. Now I was just thumbing thru the book and read from the bottom of 126 to the middle of 128, and it all seems religious.
Blogger Steve said...Sunday's last words are "Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of?" ... sounds like a pretty explicit Christ-figure to me.
Blogger Matthew said...Chesty wrote this book to show that goodness is at the heart of every aspect in the world--or so I've heard.
Blogger Evil Editor said...So the Christ figure "recruits" six policemen to the non-existent anarchy league...why?
Blogger Matthew said...I believe it has to do with Jesus and the way he recruited apostles who were initially thought to be bad people.
Blogger Steve said...It's possible that Sunday is setting them up so they can befriend and redeem the only real anarchist in the book - Lucien Gregory. (Who looks like he's going to be the main character for the first couple of chapters, only for Syme to take over.) Hmm. Actually, I just thought of something. Suppose the whole book actually is Lucien Gregory's story? Suppose the nightmare is his nightmare? Just an off-the-wall thought ...
Blogger fairyhedgehog said...Each of them had to learn something by having everyone turn against them. Then they found out that God is good after all so that's all right.
Blogger Steve said...I think Syme/Thursday is more of an everyman figure ... actually, I think all the "anarchists" are. The people they're pretending to be fall into different anarchist types - the poet, the foreign radical, the elderly academic, the aristocratic dilettante - but once the disguises are off, they're all fairly similar in character.
Blogger Robin S. said...I liked the undisguising of the disguises, Steve. I see what you mean about the 'types'. FH- I thought of the entire novel as allegorical for that reason (the learning...) Steve, I like the idea of the Everyman figure - aspects of - as you mentioned. Hadn't thought of that while reading.
Blogger Matthew said...Writers influenced by christianity tend to lace their books with religious allegory--It's very obvious if you know what you're looking for.
Blogger Evil Editor said...Now I'm wondering if other mystery/thrillers are allegories. The Maltese Falcon represents heaven, with the Fat Man as Satan.
Blogger Robin S. said...Ha, EE! What about Rex Stout's stuff?
Blogger Steve said...EE, interesting idea, but something tells me Dashiell Hammett wasn't the kind of guy to write Christian allegories. (At least not deliberately.)
Blogger Robin S. said...I had no idea what to expect with this novel, never having read Chesterton. I was surprised, I suppose, because I always thought of Chesterton as being a writer of mysteries/detective novels - Father Brown - though I haven't read them...
Blogger freddie said...Well, it was supposed to be a nightmare. I read this a few years ago and confess I only got halfway through on this reading. I chose to read a lot of it aloud to the cats, who think it was a strange but enjoyable book.
Blogger Steve said...(Person actually leading discussion feel free to contradict me) ... Reversal of expectations is a Chestertonian theme - take some of his detective stories, where what looks like a crime at first actually turns out to be a blameless and heroic act.
Blogger freddie said...For some reason as I reread the first half of this, I kept thinking of Sherlock Holmes. Must've been the time period.
Blogger Evil Editor said...It was written in the approximate time of Sherlock Holmes, I believe. Didn't Baker Street get mentioned a few times?
Blogger freddie said...I think so, EE. Must've been what triggered it.
Blogger Evil Editor said...I liked the idea of all the days turning out to be infiltrators. And the elephant chase. So it seemed basically to be some kind of comedy mystery. I was expecting a normal resolution.
Blogger Steve said...I think "The Man Who Was Thursday" is very much Chesterton letting himself go - it's a book where things are continually being stood on their heads. There's a lovely word, enantiodromia - the process of things turning into their opposites. "The Man Who Was Thursday" is all about the enantiodromia.
Blogger Evil Editor said...So the main idea is that there is no anarchy group, but everyone's so worried about it that anarchy results.
Blogger fairyhedgehog said...On a totally different tack, what's with all the sunsets?
Blogger Freddie said...I wonder if the sunsets and so forth rep'd Genesis and the making of the world?
Blogger fairyhedgehog said...Maybe the sunsets were part of the whole "how lovely the world is" theme. I felt that the book started very slowly and got faster and faster until the end.
Blogger Aimee K. Maher said...If you start a novel with sunsets, and end it with "Can ye drink..." I think of death or the end of a cycle. But not having read it, I'm just throwing that into the pot.
Blogger freddie said...On the cover of mine (a Penguin Classic) is a wonderful painting of Syme—or a man Chesterton used to describe Syme. I thought the part where Syme stole Gregory's seat on the Anarchist Council was hilarious.
Blogger Robin S. said...Freddie- that's where I began to enjoy my reading of the novel - at that meeting where Syme takes on Gregory. It was interesting how Chesterton chose pieces of people - physical characteristics - and with each person it was different. As with Dr. Bull - his eyes gave him away as a non-anarchist, and so they were covered with dark glasses. Mirrors/windows of the soul, that kind of thing...An aside - I thought it was interesting when I read background on this novel (yeah, I wiki'd it) and found Neil Gaiman to be a huge fan. Also to find out it may have been Chesterton who brought Dickens back from the dead, or his fiction anyway, by writing his biography.
Blogger fairyhedgehog said...It started terribly slowly for me and gradually picked up speed till it rushed to the end. The "it was all a dream" aspect really annoyed me.
Blogger fairyhedgehog said...I found the first chapter almost unreadable. It could have done with a good editor telling him to start where something was happening!
Blogger Evil Editor said...The requirement to start with action is a fairly recent phenomenon.
Blogger fairyhedgehog said...I think I am saying that I can see where starting with the action is a good innovation. I got really tired of skies and sunsets.
Blogger Robin S. said...The 'start with action' thing doesn't appeal to me as an absolute rule, anyway. I want to be in the world right away, and I was with this one, although I wasn't sure what the world was - apt, since it fell out from under the feet all through the novel. Cleverly done.
Blogger freddie said...I'm pretty patient with not starting with action in 19th century novels.
Blogger sylvia said...I didn't notice the lack of action at the beginning. I loved the setting. The frantic pace was ok with me (fit into the nightmare conceptually) but I felt frustrated by the feeling of wait, is he dreaming? I spent the book struggling with "is this real or fantasy" and "is Sunday a man or a demon" and although the ending settled that, I didn't feel any better about it.
Blogger freddie said...I personally enjoy slow set-ups, but that's just me.
Blogger Steve said...I think the increasingly frantic pace of the book is part of the whole "nightmare" thing - reminds me a bit of the Gilbert and Sullivan "Nightmare" song from Iolanthe.
Blogger Robin S. said...I wondered about that, Steve. The pacing. I liked it. Felt like it feels when you're having a bad dream and you keep inserting a bit of consciousness, working to wake up.
Blogger sylvia said...Did you guys have the extract at the end about Chesterton whining about readers not reading the title?
Blogger Robin S. said...I saw the subtitle " A Nightmare" in the 'extract of an article' section at the end of my copy - which I read before beginning the book - but I took it to mean that it could be 'a living nightmare'...
Blogger Steve said...Sylvia - the bit from the "Illustrated London News"? It's in my copy, yes.
Blogger Robin S. said...yeah, sylvia - I read that extract. Then I read the book. But all through the book, I chose, I suppose, to forget about the 'nightmare'.
Blogger sylvia said...Steve: yes, exactly that. "Earnest critics might solve many of their problems about what a book is, merely by discovering what it professes to be." was probably my favourite line in the whole book!
Blogger fairyhedgehog said...My copy didn't have that sylvia and my title was only The Man Who Was Thursday without any subtitle.
Blogger sylvia said...Fairyhedgehog: Oh no! Chesterton would be turning in his grave.
Someone has posted the excerpt, it's particularly ignoring the term nightmare that he's objecting to.
Blogger Evil Editor said...The subtitle isn't on the cover of mine, but it's on the title page.
Blogger Steve said...I think there are elements all the way through that are meant to remind us about that subtitle - deliberately nightmarish things. Like the way the Professor keeps appearing wherever Syme goes, or the way the Marquis doesn't bleed when Syme stabs him in the duel. Even though they're given (semi)rational explanations, there's a definite creepy-surreal touch about them while they're happening.
Blogger sylvia said...Even though they're given (semi)rational explanations, there's a definite creepy-surreal touch about them while they're happening. I guess that's where I struggled. I was happy accepting the story as creepy-surreal but then a (semi) rational explanation infused it with a realism that made me feel that although it all FELT surreal, none of it was. Then I found out that it all was surreal after all.
Blogger Robin S. said...Steve - I see what you mean about the nightmarish elements. They made me uncomfortable sometimes when reading and trying ot find resolution where there was none - being frustrated. Figure that's how I was supposed to feel.
Blogger fairyhedgehog said...It was quite a window into the thinking of a white, male Christian at the beginning of the 20th century. Although the exuberant surrealism was not typical, I'm guessing.
Blogger Robin S. said...Exuberant surrealism - perfect way to put it, FH! I kept thinking about walking inside a surreal world, as I was reading.
Blogger freddie said...That was my favorite aspect of the novel. I always put it down feeling like I'd just woken up from a dream.
Blogger fairyhedgehog said...Oddly enough, although I don't share the Christian worldview I enjoyed the end of the book much more than the beginning. Maybe because more was happening.
Blogger Robin S. said...I don't share the Christian worldview either, but I did very much enjoy this book, although enjoy may be the wrong word - as I had to work when reading, as I did last month with the Rushdie. And Chesterton has a very singular way of describing people and feelings that I really enjoyed reading, and thinking about.
Blogger Matthew said...Another good example of religious allegory is The Old Man and the Sea
Blogger Evil Editor said...Is the old man Jesus?
Blogger Matthew said...Yes. If you're familiar with the various things Jesus suffered during torture, you can spot the old man experiencing similar things throughout the book (especially his struggle with the marlin as I recall)
Blogger fairyhedgehog said...Jesus had a struggle with a marlin?
Blogger Matthew said...The old man suffered during his struggle with the marlin much in the same way Jesus struggled with torture.
Blogger Evil Editor said...Is the Marlin Judas?
Blogger Matthew said...Umm...it's been awhile but I believe the marlin represented the sins of man--which would include Judas.
Blogger Matthew said...I believe Chesterton put himself in the Thursday novel much in the same way Hemingway put himself into Old Man and the Sea. Chesty and Hemingway show more about themselves in these books than they realize. Hem takes a character similar to himself and portrays him as Jesus--showing his Hubris
Chesty takes a character similar to himself and displays him as an apostle...showing he is humble.
Blogger Robin S. said...Matthew- Never thought about Hemingway writing that book for the reason you mention. He was aging when he wrote it- I always assume he felt himself slipping from life, and wrote accordingly, about 'an old man'...
Blogger Matthew said...I believe Hem's hubris followed him into old age...though I didn't know him personally.
Blogger Robin S. said...I don't think Hemingway suffered from hubris as much as he suffered no fools, and acted and wrote accordingly. But I didn't know him either, so...
Blogger Matthew said...Isn't suffering no fools the same as hubris? The tolerant man seeks to educate. The arrogant man will simply dismiss.
Blogger Evil Editor said...And they both get a fist in their face if they keep it up.
Blogger Robin S. said... Ha! An EE quote to live by. Matthew, In all honesty, I don't think 'suffering no fools' and hubris are related. I'm not an arrogant person (far from it, actually) and I'm a 'suffer no fools' person down to the core. But this is just my opinion on Hemingway.
Blogger Matthew said...It's just a theory. All speculation because we never met him. Second hand accounts can be...revisionist.
Blogger fairyhedgehog said...I found that by the end I wasn't having to work nearly so hard. When Syme got his clean clothes though, I got stuck on him not having a bath! In his place I'd have really wanted to get out of my torn dirty clothes and soak off the dirt before putting on the domino. (I need to google domino.)
Blogger Evil Editor said...I thought he was dressed like a domino. Sort of like Alice in wonderland characters dressed as playing cards.
Blogger fairyhedgehog said...I've googled domino. It's a hooded cloak used instead of dressing up at a masquerade. Which is how Tuesday had a dress that separated upon his forehead and fell to his feet I guess. I had trouble picturing that at first.
Blogger sylvia said...Going back to last month's chat, I felt it very clear in this book that the author had no time for women (whereas in the Enchantress of Florence, I felt it was the character) I'm not sure what makes the difference.
Blogger Robin S. said...Women are so rarely mentioned they are rendered unimportant. This is an ascetic novel, I think. Asexual, or at least, not interested in the female.
Blogger sylvia said...Robin: they are only at the start and end, to give the real characters someone to speak at. :)
Blogger fairyhedgehog said...I think Chesterton comes across very much as a man of his time. Many men considered women to be almost a different species from men and even when I was young (NOT in 1908!) I read a lot of books that just didn't go in for women characters. Adventure and science fiction were a male preserve, pretty much.
Blogger sylvia said...even when I was young (NOT in 1908!) I just choked on my coffee! :)
Blogger Steve said...Sylvia, what do you make of Gregory's sister, then?
Blogger sylvia said...Steve: I'm struggling for the right kind of word. She is a sounding post for them to bounce off of and a reason why they should succeed. I suppose, she's a symbol. And it didn't matter - I didn't mean that as a gripe. Just that I was surprised that I took that as Chesterton's attitude rather than Syme's. Last book, I did exactly the opposite.
Blogger Steve said...I'm thinking of the bit where it says:-"... in some indescribable way, she kept recurring like a motive in music through all his wild adventures afterwards." It seems she's meant to be a significant offstage presence in some way ... Must remember, Chesterton was a Catholic; so, is she the Madonna? Or some similar inspirational figure like Dante's Beatrice?
Blogger Evil Editor said...Sounds like she has a bigger role in the planned sequel.
Blogger fairyhedgehog said...Gregory's sister is described at the end as having the great unconscious gravity of a girl. She seems to me to have a very separate existence from the men and yet to be part of the natural beauty and maybe desirable in a chaste, chivalric way. I have to say I prefer our current attitudes to women but that was then.
Blogger sylvia said...It seems she's meant to be a significant offstage presence in some way ... Must remember, Chesterton was a Catholic; so, is she the Madonna? That actually makes a lot of sense. "The name of the girl Syme loves, Rosamond, is derived from 'Rosa Mundi', meaning 'Rose of the World' in Latin, and a title given to Christ. Chesterton would have meant this as a deliberate allusion."
Blogger Steve said...Sylvia, that makes a lot of sense - given Chesterton's sensibilities, it must be the fact that she's offstage that makes the story a nightmare.
Blogger Robin S. said...that line you mention, FH, the last line "having the great unconscious gravity of a girl" was beautifully done. I agree with you, I prefer now to then, not being worked up about females as accessories, but still, it was well done.
Blogger Robin S. said...Agreed about the women. I devoured Holmes stuff when I was younger - it didn't bother me, the roles women were 'assigned'. Same era as Chesterton. It's simply part of the way of the times. But as a woman, I do notice.
Blogger Matthew said...Many books written by men 100 or more years ago are unkind to woman (like The Count of Monte Cristo)
Blogger Steve said...In all honesty, there's a fair bit of racism - unintentional, I'm sure - in some of Chesterton's writing. He was a product of his times, and it was normal for people to talk about "national character" and suchlike
Blogger sylvia said...I should mention this was the first thing that I'd ever read of Chesterton. It wasn't what I expected! But I don't know what I did expect.
Blogger Evil Editor said...My first too. I chalked up the odd stuff to the time it was written, never expecting it to lack a standard ending.
Blogger Steve said...At novel length, Chesterton does tend to go a bit weird - his short stories are more conventionally constructed. Of the novels, I think "Manalive" has a conventional ending - and it's another one full of sudden reversals, though less surreal than "TMWWT".
Blogger sylvia said...There were some very rich descriptions and a number of great lines in the dialogue. These book chats are starting to make me realise that I like books to be one thing or the other (fiction or historical, surreal allegory or crime novel) and I struggle when the lines are fuzzy
Blogger Robin S. said...Oh, Sylvia - I was hoping you'd mention the descriptions and the beautiful lines!
Blogger sylvia said...When I read the first line, I put the book down and smiled. "The suburb of Saffron Park lay on the sunset side of London, as red and ragged as a cloud of sunset." It's not just beautiful words and a touching metaphor but I also immediately had a clear image of it. Maybe that led me to expect too much and thus I became hypercritical.
Blogger Robin S. said...A couple of my favorite lines..."Every man knows in his heart," he said, "that nothing is worth doing." "Through all this ordeal his root horror had been isolation, and there are no words to express the abyss bewteeen isolation and having one ally." Two of my favorite lines in the novel.
Blogger sylvia said...“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.”
Blogger Evil Editor said...He sounds really annoying.
Blogger Robin S. said...Sylvia, I love the line you chose - and the opening line, as you mentioned, is perfect for more than one reason.
Blogger Steve said...The philosophical policeman gets one of my favourite lines of all time: "Thieves respect property. They merely wish the property to become their property, that they might more perfectly respect it."
Blogger sylvia said...Steve: I agree, I loved that line!
Blogger Evil Editor said...Yes, great line.
Blogger Robin S. said...Steve - agreed. That one was instant classic stuff.
Blogger Robin S. said...I was gonna ask what we talked about last time. Steve, you've read Chesterton but I don't think others have. Would you have read this book if not for the chat series? I wouldn't have, most probably, and I'm glad I did.
Blogger sylvia said...Hmm, I might have read this one, as I've always been curious about Chesterton. I probably would have finished it too; it's a very fast read. The last one, I probably would have put down and not bothered to pick up again.
Blogger Steve said...I can't remember when I first read "The Man Who Was Thursday" - I re-read it for the session, obviously. (And I think the chat's given me a better understanding of it, which is good. And I got to use "enantiodromia" in a sentence, which is also good.) I'm kind of looking forward to more of these things, preferably with books I haven't read - I can stand having my outlook broadened!