Sunday, 19 January 2014

THE MAN WHO WAS THURSDAY

A STRANGE ROMANCE.

HUMOR AND PHILOSOPHY.

"The Man who was Thursday." by G. K. Chesterton. Bristol: J. W. Arrowsmith.

Admirers of Mr. Chesterton expect something original when they turn to his pages. Few writers are less bound by conventionality than he is, and he usually manages to make his writings interesting, and often decidedly striking. To some people there may seem to be an almost daring incongruity in treating such a serious subject as a society of anarchists in the light, humorous fashion which pervades the greater part of this work, but the most sombre-minded critic will scarcely be able to repress the impulse to laughter as he reads of the strange experiences of the seven men named after the days of the week, who constituted the society. It is at the meeting, held of course in a secret place, for the purpose of electing a member, Thursday, that Syme makes the confidential confession to a brother minor poet that he is connected with the Anti-Anarchist Philosophical Detective Corps. Syme is the successful candidate for the place of Thursday, the band being in ignorance of his connection with the body of men who "go to artistic teaparties to detect pessimists." Having risen to the dignity of '"Thursday," Syme starts out on his dual mission. The strange dilemma is added to when it is made known that "Friday" is also a detective. Merriment becomes the dominant feature of the book as further revelations succeed each other, until at last the truth is out, and it is discovered that six of the party are detectives, each spying on the rest. But concealed in the fun there is a hidden philosophy. It is only when men look below the surface of things that they discern what in them is of real value. Often the exterior is a contradiction of the enfolded spirit, or at most it half-conceals and half reveals the soul within. Enlightenment came to "Thursday."

"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 life 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.' "

The Advertiser  2 May 1908


 Mr. Chesterton calls "The Man who was Thursday" a nightmare—and we quite agree with him. We have seldom seen a worse. It is quite probable that Mr. Chesterton is the most amazingly tantalising person at present on earth. It is quite possible that this "nightmare" is instinct with philosophy; indeed, we know that it is. But who can believe in a Sphinx garbed as a clown? Who can laugh it a clown who is a disguised Sphinx? Yet each of these things Mr. Chesterton asks us to do. The surface story is mere absurdity, trifling, empty absurdity. An impossible suburban person is lured into the haunts of anarchy. Just before, he has been lured by an intellectual policeman into enrolling himself as a volunteer detective. In the haunts of anarchy he is elected, by reason of a ferocious and poetic speech prompted by fear, as a member of the Central Council of Anarchy in Europe. We are led to believe it is the real thing. It is a Council of Seven named after days of the week. The chief is Sunday. One after the other each mysterious week day is discovered, like our hero Syme, to be a volunteer policeman in disguise. All the anarchists are policemen. Of course, we can argue on.   Sunday is a policeman. Any farcical stage might approve the interim action. It is funny even if we cannot understand the epigrams of volunteer philosophical policemen. But much worse is in store. We discover—what we were desperately afraid of all along—that Sunday is an Allegory. An anarchist who is also a policeman is bad. An anarchist-policeman who is also Allegory is simply indigestible. At the end the seven policemen sit on seven thrones in seven sets of allegorical robes and worship before the consummate Allegory— Sunday himself. We are thankful to say that we are far too commonplace to understand what it all means and we are quite sure we would not reveal it if we did. But if anyone is more rash the key is for him to find in a prefatory poem, yet it is quite possible that those who do not understand the Allegory will not understand the poem. At any rate, there is surely no one who will pretend to fathom Mr. Chesterton.
The Sydney Morning Herald 11 April 1908




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