Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Man Who Was Thursday, by G K Chesterton

What to make of The Man Who Was Thursday? The title always makes me think of Hitchcock, and certainly its themes of people not being who they assert themselves to be, are very Hitchcockian (if I can put it like that). Most notably Hitch’s North by North West kept coming to mind.

Reading through the first hundred pages or so of this novel, I thought I had a handle on what the subjectl was about. Or at best I thought I may at least have an inkling. This is a political novel, I presumed, something like Dostoyevsky and Kafka. But then it changed into Alice in Wonderland, and finally ended up as a sort of Christian fantasia. When I finished the last page all I could think of was Milton’s Paradise Lost, and his extraordinary character of Satan. Perhaps with a bit of Hobbes thrown in, as the novel does end up with a very authoritarian feel.

G K Chesterton converted to Catholicism about 15 years after he wrote this novel, and my understanding is that he was a devoted Christian at the time he wrote it. Once you’ve read the novel it’s impossible not to think of Chesterton’s Christianity.

To sum up: the first half of this novel leads you into thinking it is a political novel. How else can you describe a plot to infiltrate a group of diabolical anarchists as anything but supremely political? Yet it ends with the chief anarchist turning into – how should this be described? – a kind of god, or indeed God himself. Even Sunday’s last words are those of Jesus to John in the Gospel of Mark: ‘Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of?’

This is a weird, weird novel, written to help the author cope with his melancholy, and to make us all realise that at the centre of the world there lays goodness.

I got the feeling of a resignation to the rule of authority, no matter how wacky that authority is. Even worse: better bad, unstable authority than anarchy. Just as Hobbes wrote in Leviathan.
This is not to dismiss Chesterton as a lover of authority. He's far too complex for that. He is really very much a poet.

Literary critic Harold Bloom was a big fan of Chesterton’s literary criticism, and I look forward to reading some of his essays to gain further insights into this intriguing writer.

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