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The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton

The Man Who Was Thursday (1908)

by G. K. Chesterton

Other authors: Martin Gardner (Editor)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
4,3161061,145 (3.82)170
  1. 20
    Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (flissp)
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    The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie (rockhopper_penguin)
    rockhopper_penguin: I read 'The Secret Adversary' just after reading 'The Man Who Was Thursday'. At the time, 'The Secret Adversary' seemed like the book you *thought* you were getting for quite a lot of 'The Man Who Was Thursday'. Clever, and a good mystery, but not as good (or weird) as 'The Man Who Was Thursday'.… (more)
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    The Chronicles of Amber, Volume I (Nine Princes in Amber and The Guns of Avalon) by Roger Zelazny (mulrah)
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  4. 10
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  5. 10
    The Napoleon of Notting Hill by G. K. Chesterton (kkunker)
    kkunker: These books have a similar fast paced wild feel to them. I read "Napoleon" while in London, which just made the book seem so much more alive. Both very good books by Chesterton.
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English (96)  Spanish (4)  Czech (1)  Portuguese (1)  Catalan (1)  French (1)  German (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (106)
Showing 1-5 of 96 (next | show all)
Absurd. ( )
  Michael.Xolotl | Nov 11, 2015 |
I have had some slight contact with Chesterton through his 'Father Brown' stories and 'The Napoleon of Notting Hill', a fantastical novel about that distant year of futurity, 1984. So I came to this eager to see what he made of politics and aesthetes in Edwardian London.

An aesthete is recruited to an anarchist conspiracy. As he digs further, there are multiple reveals and life and events get stranger and stranger. Finally, it turns into a shaggy God story and then the main protagonist wakes up - the book is, after all, sub-titled "A Nightmare".

Many have commented on the religious allegory in this book, which is a little obvious but not unexpected for a story from such a man in such a society. What I found interesting was the political perspective. There is a critique of capitalism in this book barely acknowledged by a lot of people; and a perspective on anarchism no less unexpected - especially as the initial premise, that there is a "Central Council of Anarchists", is either massively tongue in cheek or horrendously misguided as to the true nature of anarchism. (I'm reminded of a university Anarchists Society I once encountered, which was required by the university to register its rules. They literally had to produce their one and only rule, which said 'The First Rule of the Anarchist Society is that the Society shall have no rules.') Chesterton then goes on to make some telling points that we would do well to remember in our modern times; that the poor have never been in favour of anarchism; it is always the rich who are the greatest exponents of total anarchy, as laws are far too restrictive upon their own freedom to act as they choose in the pursuit of their own interests.

Many writers of the fantastic have tried over the years to depict anarchist societies; few have succeeded well, in that they always need some sort of body that allocates resources or makes some sort of policy decisions for the whole society. Those who have depicted truly libertarian societies have ended up showing us unpleasant alternatives where the strong prey on the weak at all levels, and even if resources are scarce and no-one can acquire very much more than anyone else, that doesn't stop some individuals getting better positions in life than others, unless the society starts out from a very low base of material availability. Descriptions of the purest form of an anarchist society, which has no central law-making or law-enforcing bodies, but who devise laws for themselves from within communities and enforce them equally from within those communities, are rare. Chesterton starts out by adhering to the popular image of the 19th century anarchist, opposing all forms of governance and fighting governments with bombs and individual acts of violence; yet that is only possible with a degree of leadership and organisation that operates entirely counter to the whole concept of anarchy.

The situation of the protagonist. who, one by one, finds that all the anarchists are, like him, actually policemen, is well described and gave me a good picture of the aesthetic life of the era - until surrealism took over. Those who recollect Patrick McGoohan's 1960s tv series The Prisoner' will warm to the ever-escalating levels of weirdness; and then will be perhaps a little surprised to find God standing behind it all as protagonist , instigator and nemesis.

My edition was the 2001 US Modern Library edition, with various critical commentaries by modern and contemporary writers, and a set of discussion points for 'reading groups' which made me feel as though I'd opened a very slick-looking school textbook.
1 vote RobertDay | Nov 8, 2015 |
Loved the symbolism, disorientation, and potent dose of philosophy at the end. A goldmine of ideas in a dream narrative, but not really a thriller by today's standards. ( )
  albertgoldfain | Sep 26, 2015 |
With amazing suspense and continual anticipation, Chesterton positions the reader to the edge of their seats on a wild ride with twists, turns, and delightful encounters. It was a joy to read this work of genius. It was a shorter book. However, with the style and prose of Chesterton, it takes longer than usual. It was well worth the time and investment. ( )
  Noah_Schumacher | Apr 28, 2015 |
There are so many reviews which comment on the religious allegory of this book so I will refrain from doing that, except to say I enjoyed the "dueling with the devil" scene the most. There are also many reviews that mention how weird the story gets. Agreed. Completely. This is one of those situations in a story where purpose overshadows plot because the whole thing is really quite ridiculous. In a nutshell, Gabriel Symes is an undercover detective who infiltrates an anarchist group (Council of the Seven Days) only to find that the entire membership, with the exception of its leader, is made up of undercover New Detective Corps members. Each member goes by a day of the week for an alias, hence the Council of the Seven Days. Symes has just been nominated as "Thursday". As a collective week they are all trying to get at the elusive leader, "Sunday". Except, they are all in the dark as to each others true identities. What I find curious is that when Sunday sniffs out a spy his fears are confirmed when the undercover policeman reveals he is carrying his membership card to the anti-anarchist constabulary. Wouldn't you remove that piece of evidence, especially if you bother to go through the trouble of wearing an elaborate disguise? Gogol posed as a hairy Pole, accent and all. The Professor posed as an invalid old man with a huge nose. Turns out, all six policemen are carrying the tell-tale blue identification card. Not one of them thought to leave it at home. But, I digress. For most of the story it is a cat and mouse game with the good guys chasing the bad guys (until one by one, they find out they are all good guys). The theme of "who can you trust" is ongoing. ( )
1 vote SeriousGrace | Feb 13, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 96 (next | show all)
The novel increasingly revels in the disorder of dreams. Chesterton's great achievement is to imbue the everyday world with wonder; everything becomes exotic and fantastical. His portrayal of London in particular is an enchanting evocation of the modern metropolis – the city is rendered as a psychedelic wonderland, as both an ocean and a mountain range, as both the depths of hell and the unexplored surface of a foreign planet.

» Add other authors (61 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
G. K. Chestertonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gardner, MartinEditorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Amis, KingsleyIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Covell, WalterNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Keith, RonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lethem, JonathanIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Muniz, Alicia BleibergTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thorn, DavidNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vance, SimonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Edmund Clerihew Bentley
Edmund C. Bentley
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The suburb of Saffron Park lay on the sunset side of London, as red and ragged as a cloud of sunset.
"can ye drink of the cup that I drink of?"
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375757910, Paperback)

In an article published the day before his death, G.K. Chesterton called The Man Who Was Thursday "a very melodramatic sort of moonshine." Set in a phantasmagoric London where policemen are poets and anarchists camouflage themselves as, well, anarchists, his 1907 novel offers up one highly colored enigma after another. If that weren't enough, the author also throws in an elephant chase and a hot-air-balloon pursuit in which the pursuers suffer from "the persistent refusal of the balloon to follow the roads, and the still more persistent refusal of the cabmen to follow the balloon."

But Chesterton is also concerned with more serious questions of honor and truth (and less serious ones, perhaps, of duels and dualism). Our hero is Gabriel Syme, a policeman who cannot reveal that his fellow poet Lucian Gregory is an anarchist. In Chesterton's agile, antic hands, Syme is the virtual embodiment of paradox:

He came of a family of cranks, in which all the oldest people had all the newest notions. One of his uncles always walked about without a hat, and another had made an unsuccessful attempt to walk about with a hat and nothing else. His father cultivated art and self-realization; his mother went in for simplicity and hygiene. Hence the child, during his tenderer years, was wholly unacquainted with any drink between the extremes of absinthe and cocoa, of both of which he had a healthy dislike.... Being surrounded with every conceivable kind of revolt from infancy, Gabriel had to revolt into something, so he revolted into the only thing left--sanity.
Elected undercover into the Central European Council of anarchists, Syme must avoid discovery and save the world from any bombings in the offing. As Thursday (each anarchist takes the name of a weekday--the only quotidian thing about this fantasia) does his best to undo his new colleagues, the masks multiply. The question then becomes: Do they reveal or conceal? And who, not to mention what, can be believed? As The Man Who Was Thursday proceeds, it becomes a hilarious numbers game with a more serious undertone--what happens if most members of the council actually turn out to be on the side of right? Chesterton's tour de force is a thriller that is best read slowly, so as to savor his highly anarchic take on anarchy. --Kerry Fried

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:02 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

Chesterton's masterpiece is a surreal, psychologically thrilling novel which centres on seven anarchists in turn of the century London who call themselves by the names of days of the week.

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3 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141031255, 0141191465, 0141199776

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