Chesterton Mystifies and Alludes

Chesterton ReviewGilbert K. Chesterton. 2018. The Man Who Was Thursday (Orig Pub: 1908). Overland Park, KS: Digireads.com Publisher

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

No one understands life’s minutiae like a novelist. It is one thing to experience a trifle; it is another to describe it and the emotions conveyed therein with a minimum of words. The reader thus inherits the author’s inner life’s ruminations and is then free to explore another. The more spirited the writer, the greater the inheritance.

Introduction

Gilbert K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday sets the stage for his tale with a curious mixture of personal and grandiose observations:

“A cloud was on the mind of men, and wailing went the weather, year, sick cloud upon the soul when we were boys together. Science announced nonentity and art admired decay; The world was old and ended: but you and I were gay [happy].”(1)

This odd description appears either primordial or simple gibberish. If primordial, our minds run to the creation account:The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.” (Gen 1:2 ESV) Yet, the object being described is not the earth, but the “minds of men”and we are immediately told that the world is old, not new, as might be true during creation. What is new is that “we were boys together.” Enigmatically, science shows no interest and art is only interested in decay. But “you and I”read on happily perhaps more out of curiosity than out of comprehension.

Still, we soon catch an allusion—“Blessed are they who did not see, but being blind believed”—to Jesus’ words to doubting Thomas (John 20:29) that comes across as a promise to readers that we will soon understand what it all means.

Poetic Duel

The second scene sprints from one end of creation to the other:

“This particular evening, if it is remembered for nothing else, will be remembered in that place for its strange sunset. It looked like the end of the world.” (5)

In this strange end time saga, we are introduced to two poets:

“For a long time the red-haired revolutionary had reigned without a rival; it was upon the night of the sunset that his solitude suddenly ended. The new poet, who introduced himself by the name of Gabriel Syme was a very mild-looking mortal, with a fair, pointed beard and faint, yellow hair. But an impression grew that he was less meek than he looked. He signaled his entrance by differing with the established poet. Geogory, upon the whole nature of poetry. He said that he (Syme) was a poet of law, a poet of order; nay, he said, he was a poet of respectability. So all the Saffron Parkers looked at him as if he had that moment fallen out of that impossible sky. In fact, Mr. Lucian Gregory, the anarchic poet, connected the two events.”(6)

The two poets now contend for supremacy, one representing chaos while the other order, suggesting tension between the primordial muck and the created order introduced by God (Gen 1:1-2). Syme pokes fun at Lucian, describing his anarchy as dull, vomitus, and revolting (7). Lucian is irritated and invites Syme to visit his lair, scene three, where he proves himself to be a real anarchist, not just an angry poet. Further on we learn that his name, Lucian, is aptly chosen.

Assessment

Gilbert K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday is on the surface a quick, page-turning mystery novella set in early twentieth-century London, but on deeper inquiry proves to be a metaphysical allegory filled with biblical allusions. It got me thinking; you might also find it fascinating.

Chesterton Mystifies and Alludes

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