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Reader's Den: The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton - Week 4

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Penguin Books, 2011 (art by Félix Vallotton)Penguin Books, 2011 (art by Félix Vallotton)Our final discussion will cover Chapters 13 - 15 of The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton. Mystery Summer continues in August with an online discussion of Dashiell Hammett's classic 1930 novel The Maltese Falcon

If you are looking for the previous posts, please visit the following links for our earlier discussions of Chesterton's book:

Week 1: Chapters 1-4

Week 2: Chapter 5-8

Week 3: Chapters 9-12

Many critics have debated the meaning of the ending of the novel as well as who or what Sunday symbolizes. In Chesterton's autobiography, he commented at length about the novel. The following passage provides some context as to his authorial intentions, and perhaps even more importantly, gives insight into the intellectual environment of the late 19th and early 20th century during which he was writing:  

"I have often been asked what I mean by the monstrous pantomime ogre who was called Sunday in that story...But the point is that the whole story is anightmare of things, not as they are, but as they seemed to the young half-pessmist of the '90s; and the ogre who appears brutal but is also cryptically benevolent is not so much God, in the sense of religion or irreligion, but rather Nature as it appears to the pantheist, whose pantheism is struggling out of pessimism. So far as the story had any sense in it, it was meant to begin with the picture of the world at its worst and to work towards the suggestion that the picture was not so black as it was already painted."

From this perspective, one could almost view the novel in terms of the inevitable chaos and order found in the natural world. What is interesting about the conclusion to the novel is, despite the philosophical dialogue between Sunday and the other members on the Council of Days, it ultimately ends almost like a conventional love story:

"Dawn was breaking over everything in colours at once clear and timid; as if Nature amde a first attempt at yellow and a first attempt at rose...Syme felt a simple surprise when he saw risingall round him on both sides of the road the red, irregular buildings of Saffron Park. He had no idea that he had walked so near London. He walked by instinct along one white road, on which early birds hopped and sang, and found himself outside a fenced garden. There he saw the sister of Gregory, the girl with the gold-red hair, cutting lilac before breakfast, with the great unconscious gravity of a girl" (p. 265).

As Martin Gardner notes in The Annotated Thursday, Chesterton met his wife in Bedford Park (fictionalized as Saffron Park in the novel) and the two characters, Gabriel and Rosamond, can be seen as thinly-veiled versions of the real life couple (p. 264).

Thank you for reading and discussing The Man Who Was Thursday as part of NYPL's Reader's Den. Please join us in August for The Maltese Falcon.

Questions:

  1. Would you classify The Man Who Was Thursday as a mystery, conspiracy novel, or something else?
  2. How did you interpret the ending of the novel? Did you find the conclusion satisfying?
  3. If you had to summarize what this novel is about, how would you describe it?

Comments

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I wouldn't classify this

I wouldn't classify this novel as a mystery or conspiracy novel but moreso focusing on philosophy. Although you said above that Chesterton does not necessarily mean for Sunday to be viewed as God, I definitely took him to be just that--esp. in the way and with the kind of questions that the men posed to him.

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