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The Man Who was Thursday

By: Gilbert K. Chesterton

Two poets in a London park at sunset, debating on the attributes of poetry and whether it's really a metaphor for anarchy. A group that meets in secret, planning to overthrow the world order. Disguises and deceptions, ideals and ideology. A medley of themes and genres makes this a great read for anyone who's a fan of Chesterton and his iconic Father Brown. The Man Who Was Thursday includes Chesterton's favorite theme of Christianity with touches of delightful humor to enliven the twists and turns that abound throughout the book. Set in the early part of the twentieth century, the novel's main protagonist, Gabriel Syme is a Scotland Yard detective who's assigned to break the trend of anarchic groups mushrooming all over London. He hides his true identity and takes on the role of a poet. He meets Lucian Gregory, also a poet, and they become friends. One evening, they get into a passionate debate on the true function of poetry and whether it is a symbol of revolution. As the debate rages on, Gregory is incensed and indiscreet enough to confess that he is part of a secret group that espouses anarchy. The group meets in a remote public house in Chiswick on the banks of the Thames and Gregory invites Syme to join them that evening, to prove that he (Gregory) is indeed a true blue anarchist. At the meeting, Syme discovers that the group of seven are all code named by days of the week. Currently, the slot of Thursday is vacant and Gregory is a strong contender for the post. The rest of the story describes how Syme is drawn into the group and uncovers some of its deepest and most incredible secrets. The final conclusion is typical Chesterton – almost unbelievable and totally unexpected! Orson Welles, who was one of Chesterton's most devoted fans directed the first radio adaptation of The Man Who was Thursday in 1938. Since then, the book has been adapted for radio readings and a film was also planned based on the book, though it wasn't made. The appeal of the book lies in its extremely readable style, exciting twists and turns of plot, memorable characters and the lyrical descriptions of Edwardian London. For die-hard Chesterton fans, this would be a great new addition to their list, while those whose good fortune it is to encounter Chesterton for the first time in this novel will certainly enjoy the experience!

In Victorian-era London, Gabriel Syme is recruited at Scotland Yard to a secret anti-anarchist police corps. Lucian Gregory, an anarchistic poet, lives in the suburb of Saffron Park. Syme meets him at a party and they debate the meaning of poetry. Gregory argues that revolt is the basis of poetry. Syme demurs, insisting the essence of poetry is not revolution but law. He antagonises Gregory by asserting that the most poetical of human creations is the timetable for the London Underground. He suggests Gregory isn't really serious about anarchism, which so irritates Gregory that he takes Syme to an underground anarchist meeting place, under oath not to disclose its existence to anyone, revealing his public endorsement of anarchy is a ruse to make him seem harmless, when in fact he is an influential member of the local chapter of the European anarchist council.

 

The central council consists of seven men, each using the name of a day of the week as a cover; the position of Thursday is about to be elected by Gregory's local chapter. Gregory expects to win the election but just before, Syme reveals to Gregory after an oath of secrecy that he is a secret policeman. In order to make Syme think that the anarchists are harmless after all, Gregory speaks very unconvincingly to the local chapter, so that they feel that he is not zealous enough for the job. Syme makes a rousing anarchist speech in which he denounces everything that Gregory has said and wins the vote. He is sent immediately as the chapter's delegate to the central council.

 

In his efforts to thwart the council, Syme eventually discovers that five of the other six members are also undercover detectives; each was employed just as mysteriously and assigned to defeat the Council. They soon find out they were fighting each other and not real anarchists; such was the mastermind plan of their president, Sunday. In a surreal conclusion, Sunday is unmasked as only seeming to be terrible; in fact, he is a force of good like the detectives. Sunday is unable to give an answer to the question of why he caused so much trouble and pain for the detectives. Gregory, the only real anarchist, seems to challenge the good council. His accusation is that they, as rulers, have never suffered like Gregory and their other subjects and so their power is illegitimate. Syme refutes the accusation immediately, because of the terrors inflicted by Sunday on the rest of the council.

 

The dream ends when Sunday is asked if he has ever suffered. His last words, "can ye drink of the cup that I drink of?", is the question Jesus asks St. James and St. John in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 10, vs 38–39, a rhetorical question intended to demonstrate that the disciples are wrong to covet his glory because they are unable to bear the suffering for the sins of the world for which he is destined.

Book Details

Language

English

Original Language

English

Published In

1908

Author

Chesterton wrote around 80 books, several hundred poems, some 200 short stories, 4,000 essays (mostly newspaper columns), and several plays. He was a literary and social critic, historian, playwright,...

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