When I was a kid I read the mystery story “The Blue Cross” featuring that amiable detective of sorts, Father Brown, and it made me a lifelong fan of G.K. Chesterton.
Besides being a funny mystery — You can read the story yourself HERE, or you can Netflix the Alec Guiness movie more or less based on it — “Blue Cross” serves up such G.K. good mots as:
“The most incredible thing about miracles is that they happen.”
That said, another Chesterton classic The Man Who Was Thursday flummoxed me when I was twenty-five and flummoxes me still. A new edition of the beloved classic oddity from good ol’ Penguin Books grabbed me with its snazzy cover and prompted me to revisit this novel, or narrative, or story, or allegory, or whatever it is.
Thursday has just enough plot to hold the duels, speeches, carriage chases, fights, paradoxes, witticisms and arguments together: Gabriel Symes, a young, idealistic Edwardian poet (or is he late Victorian?), blusters his way into becoming one of the seven secret leaders of an outlawed anarchist organization dedicated to the destruction of everything he exults about in his poetry.
The committee of seven — each of whom is given a pseudonym based on the days of the week — is named the Central Anarchists Council. Symes is dubbed “Thursday.” Before long he uncovers the Council’s bizarre secret which is the gist, kernel, nub, thrust and point of the whole goings-on, or would be if I understood what that secret was.
Oh, I get that Thursday was a Chestertonian riposte to the late Victorian (or is it Edwardian?) cult of nihilism (now in full bloom in our benighted culture). But why the six anarchists (plus their nonsensical leader “Sunday”), who are actually fervent defenders of law, wind up enthroned at a masked ball costumed as the seven days of creation from Genesis… well, I didn’t get that and still don’t.
The fellow who pushed the book on me so many years ago asserted that the anti-anarchist/anarchist-ringleader named “Sunday” should be taken at face value when he announces, “I am the Sabbath. I am the Peace of God.” But I don’t know about that. He didn’t seem so peaceful to me when he literally goes “bouncing like a great ball of india-rubber” down a London street and leads the anarchists/detectives in a reckless horse chase while pelting them with wads of paper bearing Dadaisms such as “The truth about your trouser-stretchers is known. — A FRIEND.” The book-pusher was dead wrong, as Chesterton himself made clear (sorta) when he drew attention, years later, to the sub-title of the novel: “A Nightmare.”
All of which doesn’t make the weirdness of Thursday — shelved, by the way, for no reason I can understand, in the “Children’s Books” section of the bookstore where I bought it — any less weird. Still, it’s an exhilarating read if only for the liberal scatterings of quotable Chestertonisms like:
“Bad is so bad that we cannot but think good an accident; good is so good that we feel certain that evil could be explained.”
The Man Who Was Thursday
by G. K. Chesterton
(Penguin Books, Paperback, 209 paradoxical pp.)