Gilbert Keith Chesterton, (29 May 1874 – 14 June 1936), was an English writer, philosopher, journalist, orator, lay theologian, and literary and art critic. Chesterton made a great spiritual search in his life. He was born amid the rites of the traditional Anglican Church of the United Kingdom. The writer was later agnostic, but ended up becoming the Roman Catholic faith. In fact, Chesterton was declared, after his death, “defender of the faith” (Fidei Defensor) by the Vatican.
One of the works that more metaphorically reflect the Catholicism and the metaphysical system of G.K. Chesterton is “The Man Who Was Thursday”, a novel that we will review now.
In his 1901 essay Dreams, GK Chesterton rapturously advocates works of literature that “present such a picture of literary chaos as might be produced if the characters in every book from Paradise Lost to The Pickwick Papers broke from their covers and mingled in one mad romance”. Few novels could quite match Chesterton’s description but his own 1908 masterpiece, The Man Who Was Thursday, comes admirably close. The novel is a raucous carnival of genres: thriller, farce, detective story, dystopia, fairy tale and gothic romance. It can be read as a philosophical treatise or a fraught expression of religious conviction but above all it is gloriously entertaining.
When the reader thinks that a new surprise is no longer possible, Chesterton gives an unexpected twist to the novel and leaves us astonished again. Such are the narrative ways of “The Man Who Was Thursday”. Many literary critics consider it the masterpiece of G.K. Chesterton. I agree with those specialists in British literature.
It begins conventionally enough, at a suburban garden party, but an argument soon whisks Gabriel Syme away on a phantasmagorical romp through London and beyond. We follow Syme – a poet-turned-detective – as he infiltrates a group known as the Central Anarchist Council and struggles to derail a terrorist plot. Chesterton makes a habit of pulling the rug from under us – the quotidian perpetually morphs into the extraordinary, the surreal turns back into the sensible. Syme begins to feel that “the cosmos had turned exactly upside down, that all trees were growing downwards and that all stars were under his feet”.
One of Chesterton’s most notable achievements in his novel “The Man Who Was Thursday” is the shape of the characters. We can cite as an example the strange German professor De Worns, who is a man who looks like a living dead. A man with a look so sick, you can think that he would die at any moment. However, De Worns manages to chase the young detective Gabriel Syme and catch up. What is the mysterious motor that moves so quickly to the living body of the German professor?
Each character Chesterton presents in “The Man Who Was Thursday” is very strange, extravagant, weird, and mysterious. That, undoubtedly, makes the reader can not abandon the book. “The Man Who Was Thursday” is a novel that one can read from beginning to end in a span of three or four hours.
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.
Also, Chesterton is often referred to as the “prince of paradox”. Time magazine has observed of his writing style: “Whenever possible Chesterton made his points with popular sayings, proverbs, allegories—first carefully turning them inside out.”