The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare (1908)

by G. K. Chesterton

“A Nightmare” isn’t included in the title of every edition of The Man Who Was Thursday, but the subtitle is a clue to this enigmatic book. That it is an allegory is plain, but what the allegory means has been continually discussed.

Scotland Yard policeman Gabriel Syme infiltrates a European anarchist council whose members are each named for a day of the week and whose leader is the dreaded Sunday. Syme weasels his way into the Thursday vacancy. As he gets to know Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, Syme discovers that they have all been recruited for the same mission; they are allies. Even Sunday turns out to be good.

Chesterton once commented that the “point is that the whole story is a nightmare of things, not as they are, but as they seemed to the young half-pessimist” of the turn-of-the century. The guise of a nightmare allows the author to take the story into increasingly bizarre directions. Readers who find the plot itself anarchic aren’t off base; it is not easy to follow the twists and turns. The frequent contradictions of what came before allow Chesterton, an avowed “orthodox Christian,” to get across a message about things not being what they seem and about the limits of human understanding. He also explores the nature of evil and the role of faith in combatting pessimism.

Chesterton’s most famous work and often regarded as his finest, The Man Who Was Thursday attracted a cult following over the century after its publication.


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