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The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare

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G. K. Chesterton's surreal masterpiece is a psychological thriller that centers on seven anarchists in turn-of-the-century London who call themselves by the names of the days of the week. Chesterton explores the meanings of their disguised identities in what is a fascinating mystery and, ultimately, a spellbinding allegory.

As Jonathan Lethem remarks in his Introduction, The real characters are the ideas. Chesterton's nutty agenda is really quite simple: to expose moral relativism and parlor nihilism for the devils he believes them to be. This wouldn't be interesting at all, though, if he didn't also show such passion for giving the devil his due. He animates the forces of chaos and anarchy with every ounce of imaginative verve and rhetorical force in his body.

182 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1908

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About the author

G.K. Chesterton

3,090 books4,814 followers
Gilbert Keith Chesterton was an English writer, philosopher, lay theologian, and literary and art critic.

He was educated at St. Paul’s, and went to art school at University College London. In 1900, he was asked to contribute a few magazine articles on art criticism, and went on to become one of the most prolific writers of all time. He wrote a hundred books, contributions to 200 more, hundreds of poems, including the epic Ballad of the White Horse, five plays, five novels, and some two hundred short stories, including a popular series featuring the priest-detective, Father Brown. In spite of his literary accomplishments, he considered himself primarily a journalist. He wrote over 4000 newspaper essays, including 30 years worth of weekly columns for the Illustrated London News, and 13 years of weekly columns for the Daily News. He also edited his own newspaper, G.K.’s Weekly.

Chesterton was equally at ease with literary and social criticism, history, politics, economics, philosophy, and theology.

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Profile Image for Fergus, Quondam Happy Face.
970 reviews17.6k followers
May 25, 2023
Gilbert Keith Chesterton’s own life stories were every bit as madcap and zany as this book is. I’ll tell you a bit more, if you like...

One day, during the days of his éminence grise littéraire - the days late in his unbuttoned life, entre deux guerres - we find him on his own madcap mystery tour on the de rigeur readings and signings circuit. The total stress and if-this-is-Friday-it-must-be-Paris kaleidoscopic feeling of it all, must have overwhelmed this poor, usually windbaggish bonhomme...

For, totally lost and panic-stricken, he cabled his worry-wart wife tersely:

“Am in Golders Green. Where SHOULD I be?”

Came the prompt longsuffering reply from his wife:


And, oh, Yes - fittingly, THESE are the madcap adventures of a mild-mannered Scotland Yard investigator who has stumbled onto an Anarchist plot in Edwardian London, but can't reveal it to anyone. Art mirrors life.

Substitute "terrorist" for "anarchist", substitute "post-Brexit" for "Edwardian" London, and you have the makings of a rollicking good yarn.

And Chesterton delivers!

Being Catholic, he has an acutely suspicious eye for pure evil - which sobriquet precisely fits this odd and ornery assortment of bad guys.

And he expertly holds our attention to the end, a dénouement which is truly apocalyptic - in the best religious sense of the word.

It has to be that way, you know!

Because, you know, the more our awareness grows, the more evil becomes amorphous. Part of the scenery. But... it’s there.

But that doesn’t mean we won’t resist it all the more. But our resistance sustains and feeds evil. And all our seemingly innocuous indulgences give it ample space to grow to a blackly cynical adulthood.

C.S. Lewis has noted wisely that evil is by nature parasitic. It grows stronger the more we try to be good. Why do you think good kids are more likely to be bullied?

That’s the raison d’être for Apocalypse. It’s like someone calling in the Cosmic Cops. God blows the whistle that ends the game.

Whether it’s an earthly one or a fictional type as here, apocalypse is the only possible eschatological answer to evil that has grown out of all proportion.

So here Chesterton is faced with that same type of crime - one calling for a Deus ex Machina!

Modern times, which were really only beginning when he wrote this, had already blurred the lines between good and evil. So what does he do? He confuses us even more!

Pure poetic license.

That was one of his own favourite stock-in-trades - blurring the lines between extremes and absolutes. You no longer know which side is Up.

He creates such weird and wonderful, baroquely crowded, phantasmagorical stories, all a delightful PARODY of our crazy times.

And that’s why the stunning apocalyptic conclusion of this novel WORKS.

It is as fantastic as every changing mood, every twist, every bizarre character in this wonderful story.

And what is he telling us?

That the result of mass, widespread confusion and anarchy can only be Apocalypse, whether the apocalypse of mental collapse, or the apocalyptic end of the old world, and the Dawn of the New Heaven and New Earth.

And that Apocalypse is revealed in the final horrible transmogrification of the Head of the Anarchists...

Into the Infernal Diabolical Power behind this planet’s innumerable Nondescript Gnostics. I must admit, though, on first reading my heart went out to him. Sympathy for the devil, as Mick Jagger sang! It was a horrid feeling.

But it all changes at that point into quite a peaceful, reassuring mini Apocalypse...

For in the end, ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL!

And Suddenly, everything ‘dulce et decorum est.’

The world returns to its Eden...


It is no wonder that Chesterton called this yarn a "nightmare"... but it’s a nightmare that's loads of fun, and you know why?

It’s all (every last bit of it?) JUST a DREAM!
Profile Image for Chris.
341 reviews959 followers
August 30, 2008
I lost my backpack thanks to this book.

It was years and years ago, probably my first winter in Japan, and I'd picked up this book at Maruzen. I had heard about Chesterton, mainly from the dedication page of Pratchett and Gamian's Good Omens ("The authors would like to join the demon Crowley in dedicating this book to the memory of G.K. Chesterton. A man who knew what was going on.") and the title looked weird enough to be entertaining. So, I was reading the book on the train, as I often do, and I had my backpack on the floor between my feet. When the train got to my station, I stood up, still reading, and walked off.

It wasn't until I had to put the book down again to eat that I realized I no longer had my backpack.

This was no small problem, either - the bag had a lot of important stuff in it, not the least of which was my Palm Pilot with all my friends' addresses on it. There were also about two dozen Christmas cards in there, along with other various and sundry things. And it was a good bag, too.

Long story short (too late), I never got the bag back. The staff at my school, and even one of the students, were kind enough to call the Keihan lost & found a few times to see if anyone had turned it in, but with no luck. And whoever got it didn't do the obvious thing and look at the return address on every single one of those Christmas cards, nooo....

Ahem. I'm over it. Really.

My point is this: beware the seductive power of this book. Beware the enchantments laid upon it, and the dreamlike web that it weaves. For if you let it, this book will enrapture you, and gods help you if that happens.

The story is one that sucks you in almost from the first page, when two passionate poets argue the worth and detriment of society. Should it be torn down, and let chaos reign in the world? Is order the true glory of humanity, the crowning jewel of mankind? Should the existing paradigm by praised or destroyed, and is he who advocates the path of anarchy true to that path?

From that moment, that confrontation of poet-philosophers, we are drawn into a dark heart of true anarchy, where no one can be trusted to be who he appears to be. And not even the protagonist himself can be absolutely sure where his path will end.

Needless to say, I think this book was awesome on many levels. The whole thing reads like a dream, moving in and out of locales with odd fluidity, and it's honestly hard to put it down. It has a great cast of characters, each one distinct and interesting and worth your attention, and a great ending that, while not making a whole lot of sense, is entirely fitting.

What's really interesting is the modern applicability of this story. Its major theme is that of law versus anarchy, and when Chesterton wrote this back one hundred years ago in 1908 the anarchist movement was seen as a real threat. These people were not the angry kids, spray-painting Anarchy signs all over the place and listening to punk rock. The fringe radicals of the Anarchist movement advocated violence. They liked dynamite and struck terror in the hearts of the citizenry, much in the way that terrorists still do today. And like modern terrorists, they were driven by a twisted and dark ideology which placed their own motivations above society. In the world that Chesterton has made, the Law is in a perpetual battle with the forces of chaos, the dark and shadowy enemies who are always out to destroy us.

Sound familiar?

The hunt for terrorists is a great plot for any writer, and hundreds of them - good and bad - have used this trope as a way of telling a story. Chesterton, however, reached into the heart of that idea and found the uneasy twist that we are not always willing to deal with. He found the Nietzschean paradox about what happens when you battle monsters, and saw that it could very well be true. He has shown us that it is dangerous to act without knowing the truth, even if the truth isn't what you want it to be.

Neil and Terry were right - Chesterton knew what was going on. This book is just as relevant today as it was a century ago, even if Chesterton never meant it to be. No matter what the subtitle to the book may be, and no matter how he may have meant it, the book is still valuable to us. Well worth reading.
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,194 reviews9,467 followers
July 1, 2020
They say that LSD was first synthesisterised in 1938, so it couldn't be that. But opium was imbibed in British society as we know from Thomas de Quincy up to Sherlock Holmes, so I'm going with opium.

This strange novel is a phantasmagoria which begins as a surrealistic spoof of Boy's-Own detective adventures in which our hero infiltrates the central council of the evil anarchists who are bent on destroying human society. Gathering more absurd elements (elephant chases through central London, medieval dance raves), it ends up as some kind of incoherent religious parable. The only sense I could make of it was that the message is Hindu - all of the world is divine, all of the world is God, all of the world is God dancing joyously with herself. That's about it, if anyone can nail it down more than that, I'm all ears.

As I read this, two things struck me, aside from thinking GK Chesterton's cocoa had been spiked with acid - I thought of an Arthur Penn movie from 1966 called The Chase, which begins conventionally and gets weirder and wilder as it progresses - must see that one again. And I thought that I've never come across so many beards in a single novel - maybe GK was a male facial hair fetishist - every character, and they're ALL men, has their beard or lack of beard carefully noted, so many beards there are that each time I opened my copy I thought I heard sociologists singing folk songs.

In one word : bonkers.
Profile Image for Leonard Gaya.
Author 1 book862 followers
September 12, 2020
Possibly the shortest way to describe Chesterton’s famous novel is to say that it is Alice's Adventures in Wonderland for grownups. The story of Gabriel Syme is just as bizarre as that of little Alice. It also echoes in many ways with the oppressing nightmares of Kafka and Dostoyevsky.

Still, The Man Who Was Thursday starts like a rather typical detective novel. The protagonist comes in contact with a small group of anarchists/nihilists in a London basement who, to all appearances, are planning an attack against the tsar of Russia and the French président. Syme manages to get enrolled as one of the group, but we soon find out that he is, in fact, an undercover policeman, with a mission to stop the anarchists. This revelation is just the beginning of a series of “curiouser and curiouser” turn of events, coming thicker and faster, that will send Syme’s (and thereby the reader’s) head spinning into utter bewilderment and paranoia: “Syme had for a flash the sensation that the cosmos had turned exactly upside down, that all trees were growing downwards and that all stars were under his feet”. The end of the novel strings together a carnivalesque chase around London on elephant back and hot-air balloon, and a final revelation of Dantesque proportions.

Chesterton was able to capture, with his wonderfully chiselled prose, the atmosphere of London and the zeitgeist in Europe at the turn of the 20th century: communists, nationalists and anarchists on the rise and the menace of a significant terrorist attack — indeed, a couple of years after the publication of this novel, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand tipped the world over into war.

He also managed to turn a spy mystery into an utterly dizzying reflection on religious symbolism, mysticism and the nature of reality. This way of depicting ordinary existence and then twisting and wringing it out in ways that make it almost unrecognisable, but somehow express something hidden within it, undoubtedly inspired the surrealist movement. And, later on, quite a few American authors as well, like Philip K. Dick, Kurt Vonnegut, William Burroughs or Thomas Pynchon, even Neil Gaiman. Not forgetting some Latin-American magic-realist writers, primarily, Jorge Luis Borges.
April 17, 2017
"Η Βίβλος διδάσκει να αγαπάμε τον πλησίον μας. Να αγαπάμε και τον εχθρό μας. Πιθανότατα επειδή πρόκειται για τα ίδια άτομα".

G. K. Chesterton.

"Ο άνθρωπος που τον έλεγαν Πέμπτη",είναι μια παραβολή αποδόμησης της πραγματικότητας.

Μια ιστορία μυθοπλασίας με καυστική ειρωνεία,
χιούμορ,έντονους κοινωνικούς σχολιασμούς
και ευφυέστατη κριτική αφηρημένων ιδεών και εννοιών.

Παράλληλα, το φανταστικό π��αίσιο εξέλιξης,η αγωνιώδης πλοκή,οι συνεχείς ανατροπές,οι μεταφυσικές αναζητήσεις και οι γέφυρες ανάμεσα στα αιώνια δίπολα της ανθρωπότητας μας οδηγούν σε ένα ταξίδι με άγνωστο προορισμό.

�� Τσέστερτον αδιαμφισβήτητα θαυμάσιος αφηγητής με πρωτοποριακές και διορατικές ικανότητες σκέψης, γράφει ένα έργο ξεδιπλώνοντας φιλοσοφικά κάθε αντίθεση που συνάδει χαοτικά και άναρχα με τη ζωή,τον υλικό κόσμο και τις ανύπαρκτες ισορροπίες των εννοιών και των δυνάμεων.

Οπλισμένος με μια πένα γεμάτη βιτριόλι,ελίσσεται με άνεση και ευκολία απο την κωμωδία στην τραγωδία γράφοντας με απλό και κατανοητό τρόπο μια πολυσύνθετα αλληγορική ιστορία όπου τίποτα δεν είναι αυτό που φαίνεται.

Οικοδομεί με λογοτεχνική πρωτοτυπία το οικοδόμημα του κόσμου χτίζοντας γέφυρες ισορροπίας ανάμεσα στο "είναι"και ότι διατηρεί το "είναι".
Ανάμεσα στην "τάξη"και τον "κόσμο", σε ότι οδηγεί απο την
"αλήθεια" στην "επιστήμη"
και στην αρχή που πηγάζει απο το "ον" και τη "γνώση".

Έτσι,φτάνουμε στην ταύτιση
αναρχικών-αταξίας-καταστροφής και
Νόμος και παρανομία, καλό και κακό,δραματικό και γελοίο, άσπρο και μαύρο.

Όλα δυο όψεις. Όλα πορεύονται άναρχα και μοιραία,ενώ έχει χαθεί κάθε ισορροπία και επικρατεί αδυναμία κατανόησης της αλήθειας,της ανθρωπιάς,της οικειότητας,της αγάπης,του ενθουσιασμού και του διττού ρόλου που μοιραία γεννιέται με κάθε ύπαρξη.

Η ουσία είναι να καταλάβουμε πως πρέπει να κοιτάμε και τις δυο πλευρές σε κάθε "Είναι" σε κάθε "αγαθό", ώστε να ερμηνεύσουμε τη φύση μας και να κατανοήσουμε τον εαυτό μας μέσω των άλλων εύκολα και απλά.
Να γεφυρώσουμε όλα τα άκρα...

«Μπορείς να πιεις απο το ποτήρι που ήπια εγώ;»

Ένα βιβλίο που μπορεί να ερμηνευτεί με άπειρους συνδυασμούς τρόπων..

Καλή ανάγνωση!!
Πολλούς ασπασμούς!
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,867 reviews16.5k followers
May 13, 2015

What the hell did I just read?

Anarchists and poets. That part was deliciously, rebelliously fun to read. No doubt this is a novel idea and Chesterton’s imagination is superb. The first 30-40 pages were awesome and I thought this could be my next 5 star rating. As I began to read this book enthralled; I found myself smiling frequently, laughing often, and being thoroughly impressed.

Then I found myself lost in an absurdist, magical realism murky realm of steam punk whatthehell???

And then the ending … a steaming hot cup of damnedifIknowwhatthehellhewasgettingatsomekindofChristianallegory.

Chesterton’s mastery of the English language, his rare skill at irony and his insidious ability to turn a phrase are on shining display in this 1908 publication. There are likely English professors out there who will say this was the best thing since macaroni and cheese.

But not me.

Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 3 books248k followers
January 25, 2020
”A man’s brain is a bomb,” he cried out, loosening suddenly his strange passion and striking his own skull with violence. “My brain feels like a bomb, night and day. It must expand! It must expand! A man’s brain must expand, if it breaks up the universe.”

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Gabriel Syme attends a dinner party of his friend, the poet Lucian Gregory. He is there under a pretense of friendship, but his true intention is to find out if his friend can be his entry into joining a group of anarchists. You see, Gabriel Syme ”was not merely a detective who pretended to be a poet; he was really a poet who had become a detective.” There might be some assumptions that the best way to infiltrate an anarchy group is by hanging out in dive bars, brothels, and dens of inequity (my favorite) where the disgruntled, unwashed masses would gather, but Syme is much more suited to mingling with the intellectual set. These men of high ideals might see anarchy in a romantic light and prove to be as dangerous in their naivete as the man, scarred by life, looking to get even with a government for ill treatment or with a society who chose to ignore him.

”The ordinary detective goes to pot-houses to arrest thieves; we go to artistic tea-parties to detect pessimists.The ordinary detective discovers from a ledger or a diary that a crime has been committed. We discover from a book of sonnets that a crime will be committed. We have to trace the origin of those dreadful thoughts that drive men on at last to intellectual fanaticism and intellectual crime.”

Syme, purposely, pushes his friend. Traps him really, into feeling a need to prove to Syme that he is a true anarchist and not just a man of radical thought incapable of deed. Syme tries to reassure Gregory’s pretty sister that all will be fine. She feels her brother may have said too much. ”Now, sometimes a man like your brother really finds a thing he does mean. It may be only a half-truth, quarter-truth, tenth-truth; but then he says more than he means---from sheer force of meaning it.”

I’d like to know how many times I’ve said something that sounds clever, but logically is full of holes. Someone pops off with some dismissive comment, and the next thing I know, I’m scrambling to defend a thought that was barely a concept to begin with. I’m bailing water out of the boat and trying to patch the bottom at the same time, but I’m too stubborn to just let it go because I know the seed of the idea was something worth defending. So we do wonder if Gregory has any real idea of what true anarchy is or is he just a bored poet who finds the whole idea of belonging to a bomb throwing organization... exciting.

In other words, is he a true believer or an annoying, bombastic, romantic moron?

For the purposes of our hero Syme, it may not matter. The young man turns out to have a legitimate connection to a group of anarchists who each go by a name of the week. Gregory is intent on becoming Thursday, but Syme convinces the group to add him to their network instead of his friend. He deftly gets what he wants and at the same time puts his friend out of harm's way.

Syme is a ”rebel against rebellion” which is really, if truth be known, what I am as well. I don’t want the general social order to be disrupted. Usually the people who die when a bomb is exploded are just normal, hardworking people who are picking up food for dinner, or dancing with some friends, or going to work. Their deaths are meaningless, except for the fact that their death provides a number that will have terrorists giving each other high fives and politicians wringing their hands. So I’m against anarchy because all it does is destabilize society in an attempt to replace a government with a new government that would quickly resemble the old government.

Besides bombs, gunfire, rape, murder, and all that screaming tends to disrupt my reading time.

G. K. Chesterton was a serious man passionately interested in the occult, theology, and philosophy. Usually when I see those three branches of study all attached to the same individual, I think to myself that this was a person questing to understand the mysteries of life. The interesting thing about this book is you can read it on a multitude of levels and still enjoy the book. You can see it as a metaphysical thriller or as sarcastic political intrigue or as commentary on a society searching for god in all the wrong places.

The power in the anarchist group rests with the man Sunday, who intimidates the rest of the members. He is a large man or does he just seem to expand when he needs to make a point. His eyes are blue, blue as the sky. His hair is snow white, like the peaks of the highest mountains. As the plot turns fantastical, he takes on a supernatural aspect that leaves this reader wondering if he was the god, or a god, or just a man touched by god.

Of course, it all becomes comical as one after the other, the members of this anarchist society, turn out to be someone other than what they pretended to be.

I mentioned philosophy; how about this for something to ponder?

“‘Listen to me,’ cried Syme with extraordinary emphasis.’Shall I tell you the secret of the whole world? It is that we have only known the back of the world. We see everything from behind, and it looks brutal. That is not a tree, but the back of a tree. That is not a cloud, but the back of a cloud. Cannot you see that everything is stooping and hiding a face? If we could only get round in front -.’”

There is also intrigue. Syme is finally relaxing in the belief that he has lost a man who has been tailing him all over the city.

”When he had been seated for about half a minute, he heard behind him a sort of heavy asthmatic breathing.

Turning sharply, he saw rising gradually higher and higher up the omnibus steps a top hat soiled and dripping with snow, and under the shadow of its brim the short-sighted face and shaking shoulders of Professor de Worms.”

 photo G.20K.20Chesterton_zpsiaflxwbf.jpg
Chesterton was a large man standing 6’4” and weighing 286 pounds.

There is no doubt in my mind that G. K. Chesterton was brilliant, quite possibly a renaissance man in his desire to understand everything. His prose is at times exquisitely glistening with honey dipped poetry. The book can be confusing with twists and turns made more difficult with an overlay of nightmarish fantasy. I wish I’d been able to read it in one sitting so I could keep the reins of the many divergent thoughts firmly held in my hands like a team of prancing Lipizzan horses.

This is a fascinating book that deserves to be read more than once, and without a doubt I’d be closer to understanding exactly what Chesterton was intending the more times I read it. My copy of the book will be slid back on the shelf very gently in case there are any bold ideas or a stray piece of dynamite that could roll out on the floor at my feet. Both are equally dangerous, and I’m simply not as fast on my feet as I used to be.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
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Profile Image for Dan Schwent.
2,925 reviews10.6k followers
October 8, 2010
The Man Who Was Thursday reads like P.G. Wodehouse writing from a Phillip K. Dick plot while on a Nyquil bender. It begins with two poets arguing in the park about whether poetry is more akin to law or anarchy. It turns out that the poet espousing anarchy is actually a member of an anarchist soceity and takes Syme, the other poet, to their meeting place to prove it after a vow of secrecy. Syme is actually a member of an anti-anarchy branch of Scotland Yard and usurps Gregory's spot as the new Thursday in the Council.

Gabriel Symes tells the story of his own recruitment into Scotland Yard by a philosopher policeman and goes on to infiltrate the Council of Days, each one taking the name of a day of the week.

None of the Council members are what they seemed at first glance. About halfway through, I was convinced none of them were actually anarchists.

I'm a little torn between whether I like this better than The Napoleon of Notting Hill. They probably really shouldn't be compared since they're different kinds of books.

Profile Image for Fernando.
680 reviews1,093 followers
October 8, 2020
"¡El cerebro del hombre es una bomba! ¡Yo siento que mi cerebro es una bomba a toda hora del día y de la noche! ¡Quiere estallar! ¡El cerebro del hombre necesita estallar, aún cuando destruya el universo!"

Nueva relectura en lo que va del año. Había leído esta novela hace cuatro años atrás y tenía un vago recuerdo de ella. Sólo sabía que se trataba de anarquistas y del peculiar personaje principal, el poeta Gabriel Syme.
Realmente me resultó gratamente entretenida. Su acción es constante y yo la considero una verdadera novela de aventuras en donde nada es lo que parece y los constantes giros de los acontecimientos hace que el lector esté atento a lo que pueda llegar a venir.
Cada situación desemboca en otra totalmente opuesta y esto hace que la dinámica de la lectura no se detenga.
La manera en la que Chesterton maneja los distintos cambios de ritmo es perfecta y es digno de destacar de este gran autor inglés, que fuera uno de los preferidos de Jorge Luis Borges.
Syme, es un poeta devenido en detective de la policía que debe infiltrarse dentro de una grupo de anarquistas, todos ellos con una función muy particular, que obedecen al mando de un hombre gigantesco que se hace llamar Domingo. A cada uno de los anarquistas le corresponderá un día de la semana, título un tanto extraño pero que se develará recién en el capítulo final de la novela.
Todo lo que Syme deberá descubrir está teñido por un juego de apariencias hasta el punto que nadie es quien parece ser y las sospechas e intrigas harán que el lector divague entre lo que Syme ve o lo que él cree que puedan ser o parecer los distintos personajes del libro.
El tema del anarquismo, muy en boga a principios del siglo XX (la novela fue publicada en 1908) es el central y el que maneja todos las peripecias que suceden en la novela.
El anarquismo, junto su pariente inmediatamente anterior y cercano, el nihilismo, aglutinó a muchos hombres que a partir de la negación de todo poder sembró el pánico en gran parte de Europa, especialmente en países como Rusia, Irlanda e Inglaterra, tendría su apogeo hasta casi mediados de siglo, en las épocas en donde la dinamita se hacía sentir sin anuncio alguno.
Toda la acción, que comienza tranquilamente en una plaza se trasladará a distintas ciudades de Inglaterra y concluirá en una misteriosa mansión en donde finalmente quedarán aclaradas (o tal vez no) las dudas que se le plantean tanto a Gabriel Syme como al lector de esta excelente novela. Difícilmente creo que un lector pueda aburrirse por como están planteados los hechos. Para lograrlo, Chesterton, Syme y todos los anarquistas y detectives se embarcan en una aventura trepidante y entretenida.
En un momento de monólogo y reflexión, Syme exclama "La aventura puede ser loca, pero el aventurero debe estar cuerdo."
Luego de tantas idas y venidas, corridas y persecuciones, no hay mejor frase para definir qué tipo de novela es "El hombre que fue jueves".
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 29 books13.6k followers
February 18, 2020
- Mr Syme?

- Yes sir.

- You wished to make your report in person.

- Yes sir.

- Not in writing. This is most irregular.

- Yes sir. I had expected that I would be talking to--

- The person to whom you are referring no longer works for our organisation.

- Yes sir. May I ask--

- No, you may not.

- Yes sir.

- Well?

- Ah, yes sir. Ah, I understand very well that my account may seem a little, ah, unusual, but you must take into account that the Czar is still with us and has not been--

- The Czar?

- Yes sir. He hasn't been exploded. At least to the best of my knowledge.

- And why, pray, would the Czar have been "exploded"?

- Ah, I'm sorry sir. I had expected that your, ah, your predecessor would have--

- I have received no communication whatsoever from the person in question. The whole matter is irregular in the extreme, and I am very far from happy with it. Very far indeed, do you understand?

- Yes sir.

- Well, what's this about the Czar?

- There was a plot on his life sir. A gang of anarchists. A desperate gang. I was tasked with infiltrating them.

- And did you succeed?

- Yes sir, I did.

- Well, that's something. And who, may I ask, were these desperate men? Foreigners?

- Not exactly sir.

- Radicals?

- Ah, not that either sir. With one exception, they all turned out to be members of the metropolitan police force.

- You infiltrated an organisation composed entirely of your own colleagues? With one exception?

- Yes sir.

- And who was the dangerous exception, that you and your colleagues so diligently neutralised?

- Ah, I'm not sure, but I think it was God sir.

- God?!

- But He escaped on an elephant.

- An elephant?!!

- We almost caught Him sir. But then He hijacked a balloon.

- A balloon?!!!

- Yes sir. I know it sounds a little far-fetched sir. But as you can see, the Czar is alive and well.

- Mr Syme, have you been drinking?

- No sir. Well, perhaps a bottle or two of Burgundy. And some Saumur.

- Have you done anything else that may have put you in this, shall we say, unusual state?

- I stayed up rather late last night reading poetry sir. The Divine Comedy. By Signor Dante. It's jolly good stuff. Sir.

- Mr Syme, we are both detectives. We examine the forensic evidence. We use logic and we make deductions.

- Yes sir.

- Do you consider it possible - I repeat, possible - that you dreamed all this?

- Ah, in fact sir--

- Yes or no.

- Ah, yes sir. I can't rule out the possibility that the whole thing was a nightmare induced by reading Dante after a few bottles of good wine. But--

- Thank you Mr Syme, that will be all for now.

- But sir--

- I said that will be all. Dismissed.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Luís.
1,861 reviews519 followers
March 10, 2023
Lucien Gregory, an anarchist poet, is amidst controversy with his colleague Gabriel Syme, the poet of order and reason. Mr. Syme plays a double game. It is an agent of the secret police whose mission is to infiltrate the Central Council of the Anarchists of Europe. This organization has more the air of a cenacle of strongly degraded dressed up than a dispensary of dangerous nihilists. The chef's name is Sunday, and his colleagues, like him, bear the name of one of the days of the week. During a meeting having agenda on the election of a Thursday replacing the deceased Thursday, our infiltrator usurps the honorary title to the chagrin of named Gregory, who aspired to the post. An anarchist danger has settled a brigade of anti-anarchist philosophical detectives. I liked the book's first half, which is remarkable for its English humor and absurdity. Then the story sinks into the grotesque - an uneven book.
Profile Image for Jeff .
912 reviews693 followers
September 5, 2018
A sure fire cure for writer’s block.

Now, my opium-toking friend, you are on the road to writing a classic, time-tested piece of literature that’ll influence writers for decades to come.

It’s difficult to give any sort of concrete plot synopsis without major spoilers, but, Gabriel Syme, a police detective recruited by odd means into an anti-terrorist squad, infiltrates a band of seven anarchists all named after the days of the week. Sunday is the leader; Mr. Syme is now Thursday.

Wacky surreal nihilistic hijinks ensue.

Like many books written around this time, The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday (Still with me, Goodreader?), attempts to take on a slice of the times, in this case anarchism. Chesterton also throws in an occasional religious epiphany and a WTF-I-don’t-remember-this-from-Sunday-School ending.

Despite some mind bending elements, this is a nice tongue-in-cheek adventure, loaded with wit and quotable passages – the chapter where the protagonists are pursued by a mob is especially memorable. Reading it, reminded me of a decent episode of the Avengers.

This was a buddy read with the Pantsless-opium-smoking-den-of-non-crunchy anarchists.

File this one under wacky literary classics that don’t suck but will leave you scratching your head.

Profile Image for Praj.
314 reviews796 followers
December 13, 2011
‘Humanity crushed once again’. ‘50 dead, 120 injured’. ‘Grave face of terror strikes again’. Familiar headlines scream through the pages of the newspapers each time a bomb goes off annihilating blameless lives. Through teeth gritting resilience, public outcry resonates through the deafened ears of failed intelligence and faith in the state’s law and order hangs by a thin string. As the weeks pass by rapid sketches of the alleged bombers, email links, forensic reports, collected evidence from the attacked ground and pictures of rehabilitating victims are splashed across the dailies. If by any chance the investigation comes through, anonymous visages covered with black rags are photographed outside the courtroom, readied for trial procedures, which may go on for months, maybe even years. As the days go by, life returns to normalcy (yes! It is a tricky word); everything is forgotten and the news fade until once again “humanity is crushed” by another dastardly attack. The analytical carnival starts once again. This is the time I dearly wish we had ‘philosophical policemen’ just like Chesterton describes in his book. Policemen- (officers of law), who would discover the book of sonnets and verses from where the crimes will be committed; those that recognize the intricate web of intellectual crimes. The derivation of dreadful thoughts- the human mind, so malicious and calculating camouflaged within an affluent, composed and erudite exterior. It is that very egocentric brainpower which churns out sadistic alterations from harmless verses and then picks vulnerable actors to craft that design into realism.

“Evil philosopher is not trying to alter things but to annihilate them”.

This book is more than a mere plot of undercover detectives and their clandestine exploration of the Secret anarchist Councilmen. Chesterton pens that a small time criminal is more of a good person. His aim is to eradicated only a certain obstacle and not annihilate the edifice. What caught my eye in one of the chapters was the elucidation of stereotyping poverty to rebellious festering.

“You’ve got that eternal idiotic ides that if anarchy came it would come from the poor. Why should it? The poor been rebels, but they have never been anarchists; they have more interest than anyone else in there being some decent government. The poor man really has a stake in the country. The rich man hasn’t; he can go away to New Guinea in a yacht. The poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly; the rich have always objected to being governed at all. Aristocrats are always anarchists; as you can see from the baron’s wars”.

When a bomber or an active terrorist is caught, he mostly turns out to be from an impoverished background, where his ravenous mind and mislaid faith is manipulated to find refuge in an illusionary godly abode. These are mere actors for crying out loud, chosen by the scheming selfish elements who are coward enough to remain behind the backstage curtains. The affluent as elucidated in this narration are the ones to be feared. They have an abundance of monetary resources, have sheltering capacity in far away lands, if need be and have a mind that concocts the unexpected. Where do you think the enormous funds come for fertilizing terror? I do not want elucidate detailed reports of various pathways of monetary funds wired to definite cults or “charitable” institutions that ultimately fund the immoral actions. But, the currency sure is not a bequest from the poor or some excise complements from our paychecks. The respective courtesy comes from those societal fundamentals that remain unscathed or unfazed by decree. Who do you suppose manages the advanced scientific technologies in various bombing devices? The knowledgeable elite, isn’t it? The erudite or should I say the crème de la crème of religious preachers who instead of spreading peace and equality manipulates vulnerable populace digging their raw wounds every time through words that revolt in their bleeding wounds? I could go on and on, as it angers me to see such naivety among the elements of law and order or purposefully turning a blind eye on the so-called modernists who may be responsible in concocting the ongoing mayhem of lawlessness. Why couldn’t there be some ‘philosophical policemen’ here in India or any place that incessantly plays the role of a powerless victim?

Chapter 4- The Tale of the Detective is the deciding chapter that outlines infinitesimal details of who Gabriel Syme really is. Syme sneaks his way into a clandestine council of seven men, each named after a day of the week. Syme becomes the inevitable Thursday though a pact he made with Lucian Gregory ,a poet and a true anarchist. Fear catches with Syme as his path deepens into the sinister world of the other six council men; the President being the most feared of all. Chesterton throws a light on various aspects of fear that thrives within and outside us. We rebel against the only side that corrupts us. What makes a mutineer and destroy the very notion of survival? We try and run from fear and pain, until one eventually catches up and makes us susceptible to uncouth rudiments that shelter our mental nakedness. It is the most treacherous survival, if every time we need proof of familiarity to feel safe. When fear caught up with Syme suffocating his senses, he would feel protected only if a blue card ( a source of identification given to every policemen in England) was shown to him. How vulnerable was Syme to live in a world of treachery and deceit? Makes me think of all the trepidation we feel every time we walk outside our homes or travel; the security checks, the sense of familiarity that we seek in bloodcurdling situations, the proof of safety that we search or reveal; spins a web of utter vulnerability that looms within the safest corners of our thoughts. The Man Who Was Thursday is a treasure that needs to be dug up by reading between the lines of a puzzling narrative to know what Chesterton is really saying.

“Revolt in its abstract can be revolting. It is like vomiting.”

Lastly, if everything leads to God and when nature if dissected reveals the face of God, then should I assume that evil is illusionary? Is malevolence the creation of couple menacing minds? If God means endurance then why is such mutinous extermination carried in God’s name after all?

Profile Image for PattyMacDotComma.
1,433 reviews813 followers
August 1, 2017
Loved the language and loved the beginning. It’s like a mad Monty Python story, but it lost me half way through. And to be fair, the Python crew, Terry Pratchett and others may well have been weaned on tales from Chesterton, so perhaps he should get more credit.

The main character, Syme, is a detective who is invited to a secret meeting of anarchists who are preparing to overthrow governments using bombs. He promises Gregory, the man who invited him, not to divulge anything of what he says. Gregory, in turn, promises to keep Syme’s police identity secret. Both are champing at the bit to break their promises, but . . .

Syme attends a meeting to find the President is called Sunday, and the other members are named after days of the week, with a convenient vacancy for Thursday. He finds himself elected to be Thursday. Now what? Is he expected to bomb someone? Where? How?

He finds their next meeting at a very public restaurant breakfast table where they all openly discuss anarchy and laugh loudly. The theory is that they will be taken for fools and disregarded (which seems to be true).

In amongst the kind of boys-own action, there is a lot of musing and pondering and observing and pontificating on Life, some of which I quite enjoyed, especially considering this was written over a hundred years ago.

“Most of the women were of the kind vaguely called emancipated, and professed some protest against male supremacy. Yet these new women would always pay to a man the extravagant compliment which no ordinary woman ever pays to him, that of listening while he is talking.”
. . .

“And it is always the humble man who talks too much; the proud man watches himself too closely.”

. . .
I quite like this explanation of the power of monogamy:

“. . . there are no words to express the abyss between isolation and having one ally. It may be conceded to the mathematicians that four is twice two. But two is not twice one; two is two thousand times one. That is why, in spite of a hundred disadvantages, the world will always return to monogamy.”

And I’ll leave you with a last one that could explain today’s politics:

“The poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly; the rich have always objected to being governed at all.”

I enjoyed Syme’s gradual uncovering of the secret society, but eventually, the story wore thin. I’m afraid this doesn’t stand up very well against the many years of fantasy and science fiction that have been written since, but I assume it must have been a cracker of a story in its day.
Profile Image for Carmen.
2,056 reviews1,856 followers
August 22, 2018
Through all this ordeal his root horror had been isolation, and there are no words to express the abyss between isolation and having one ally. It may be conceded to the mathematicians that four is twice two. But two is not twice one; two is two thousand times one. That is why, in spite of a hundred disadvantages, the world will always return to monogamy. 45%

Okay, a lot of what I have to say about this book will be spoilers. I am going to hide the spoilers.

First, let's examine what I can say without spoilers.

Ostensibly, this is a book about an undercover policeman who infiltrates a group of anarchists. It was published in 1908. Remember when anarchists were a thing? Remember Sacco and Vanzetti?

Chesterton is a good author. He is skilled at keeping his reader engaged. I kept chuckling, I kept gasping. I was pretty riveted. Things kind of fall apart at the end, but overall it's a fascinating little novel.

Chesterton is also quite funny. This book isn't dry, it's very amusing. I laughed out loud more than once.

This book reminded me of:
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
A Wrinkle in Time
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
And many others, but those stick out.

There's a lot of great quips, a lot of great observations about life, and the book moves at a fast and interesting pace.

Now let's get to some of the spoilers:

Chesterton sees the enemy as The Rich.

"You've got that eternal idiotic idea that if anarchy came it would be from the poor. Why should it? The poor have been rebels, but they have never been anarchists; they have more interest than anyone else in there being some decent government. The poor man really has a stake in the country. The rich man hasn't; he can go away to New Guinea in a yacht. The poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly; the rich have always objected to being governed at all. Aristocrats were always anarchists..." 67%

There's more like this sprinkled through the book. Poor people are workers and honest and Christian, the rich are lazy and immoral and bored. We have more to fear from the rich, who don't care about God, government, and their fellow human beings than we do from poor people who are simply trying to live.

TL;DR - Quite an amusing and strange little book. Where it ends up may not please you, Chesterton does get a little , but I thought it was overall enjoyable and rather charming. It's weird, but Chesterton also has a great sense of humor.

Like any man, he was coward enough to fear great force; but he was not quite coward enough to admire it. 32%
Profile Image for Eliasdgian.
409 reviews110 followers
May 21, 2018
Ο Γκάμπριελ Σάιμ, μυστικός αστυνομικός, αποκρύπτοντας την αληθινή του ταυτότητα, εκλέγεται μέλος του Ευρωπαϊκού Κεντρικού Συμβουλίου των Αναρχικών. Ο Σάιμ γίνεται ένα από τα επτά μέλη μιας συνωμοτικής κολεκτίβας που έχει θέσει ως στόχο να καταστρέψει τον κόσμο, ανατινάζοντας τον Τσάρο της Ρωσίας και τον Πρόεδρο της Γαλλικής Δημοκρατίας. Πιστοί στους συνωμοτικούς κανόνες οι επτά ‘Αναρχικοί’ αποκαλούνται μεταξύ τους όπως οι ημέρες της εβδομάδας. Ο Σάιμ είναι ο Άνθρωπος που τον έλεγαν Πέμπτη.

Ο Σάιμ, όμως, δεν είναι ο μοναδικός μυστικός αστυνομικός της ιστορίας. Μέσα από απίθανες συμπτώσεις κι εντυπωσιακά παράδοξες σκηνές καταδίωξης, μία προς μία οι μάσκες πέφτουν, αποκαλύπτοντας το αληθινό πρόσωπο των ανθρώπων που τους έλεγαν Δευτέρα, Τρίτη, Τετάρτη, Πέμπτη και Σάββατο. Μόνον ο άνθρωπος που λεγόταν Κυριακή, ο Μέγας Πρόεδρος του Συμβουλίου, ο εχθρός της τάξης και της ασφάλειας, η αντίρροπη δύναμη που αναπόφευκτα υπάρχει προκειμένου το σύμπαν να ισορροπεί, δεν έχει ανάγκη τα προσωπεία.
«Θέλετε να μάθετε τι είμαι, αυτό δε θέλετε;… Όμως σας λέω ότι θα βρείτε την αλήθεια του τελευταίου δέντρου και του πιο απόμακρου σύννεφου, πριν μάθετε την αλήθεια για μένα. Θα καταλάβετε τη θάλασσα κι εγώ θα σας παραμείνω ένα αίνιγμα∙ θα ξέρετε τι είναι τ’ αστέρια και δεν θα ξέρετε τι είμαι εγώ∙ από τη γέννηση του κόσμου, με κυνηγούν όλοι σαν τον λύκο –βασιλιάδες και σοφοί, ποιητές και νομοθέτες, όλες οι εκκλησίες και όλοι οι φιλόσοφοι. Δε μ’ έχουν πιάσει όμως ακόμα και τα ουράνια θα πέσουν την εποχή που θα με τσακώσουν».

Μαστοριά στο λόγο και τις περιγραφές, παραδοξότητες χωρίς τέλος, υπαινικτικές αναφορές στην πολιτική πραγματικότητα της ηπείρου μας στο έμπα του εικοστού αιώνα και σωρεία συμβολισμών. Καλώς όρισα στον μαγικό, παράδοξο κόσμο του G.K. Chesterton!

Βαθμολογία: Θέλει και ρώτημα;
Profile Image for Enrique.
346 reviews85 followers
January 20, 2023
¡Ay ay... que locura es esta! Policías que son filósofos, poetas que son policías, anarquistas y poetas mezclados, policías que se hacen anarquistas, un cuerpo de policía especializado en combatir los delitos futuros….lo dicho una locura total.

“Desempeño el oficio de policía filósofo –dijo el del uniforme azul-. El oficio es a la vez más atrevido y más sutil que el de un detective vulgar. Este tiene que ir a las tabernas sospechosas para arrestar ladrones. Nosotros vamos a los tés artísticos para descubrir pesimistas. El detective vulgar, hojeando un libro mayor o un diario, adivina un crimen pasado. Nosotros, hojeando un libro de sonetos, adivinamos un crimen futuro. A nosotros nos toca remontar hasta el origen de esos temerosos pensamientos que conducen a los hombres al fanatismo intelectual y al crimen intelectual”.

Como siempre me ocurre con estos libros un tanto distintos, al principio me surgieron muchísimas dudas; nos resistimos siempre a los cambios, es nuestra naturaleza, no queremos salir de la zona de confort. La forma de plantearlo y el arranque un tanto disparatado me dejó en shock. Decididamente al cabo de dos o tres capítulos dejé de resistirme y me eché en brazos de Chesterton, diciéndome que se trataba de una chifladura estupenda y que valía la pena disfrutar la experiencia sin ataduras ni lastre.

Al grano. Me ha parecido que hay que ser muy transgresor para desarrollar esta idea como decía un tanto loca y particular. No conocía esa faceta de Chesterton, solo lo había leído en la serie del padre Brown. Plantea el autor una filosofía de altos vuelos dentro de una novela policiaca (no es la primera vez que lo veo, y de hecho creo que las mejores novelas policíacas son las que tratan de resolver enigmas sobre el interior de la persona, más que enigmas sobre delitos), pero esa es otra cuestión que llevaría más tiempo desarrollar.

Aquí vemos una especie de mundo-escenario un tanto distópico, un tanto irreal, pero genial y que acabas por hacer tuyo. La narración tiene como cierto toque fantasmal, como si se tratara de una pesadilla en el sentido literal, al cabo de unos capítulos parece que estuviera narrando un sueño fantástico. Juega con ese enfoque tan clásico de la literatura de final del XVIII y XIX que coloca al lector ante la duda de si está ante la realidad o ante un sueño.
Profile Image for Matthias.
107 reviews338 followers
February 19, 2016
This book is on my favorite shelf but was missing a review, even though I loved it from the very first time I encountered it.* Time to set things straight.

"The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare" is a unique book, that starts as a spy novel with a very compelling premise of underground anarchists, a mysterious police force and a game of hide-and-seek. Pretty early on there's shimmers of philosophical ramblings that will grow into an overpowering element later in the book. A table in a bar that turns out to be an elevator way down to the anarchists' local headquarters is the beginning of the spy-novel-ride getting bumpier, wilder and certainly stranger.

Soon you'll find that nothing is what it seems. The anarchists are mysterious and darkly looming, and you dread being there when their plans and identities are exposed. But it's the mission at hand to unmask these devils and as Gabriel Syme, the protagonist poet-detective, walks closer to his goal his steps become a glide and he slowly seems to lose control over where he's going to. Things get weirder and the tumble down the rabbit hole gains in pace. Elephants give chase to hot-air balloons through English landscapes and snow starts falling on summer days. And so the book itself turns into something that you'd never expect it to, given the way the stage was set. Sure, it says so in the title: "a nightmare", but it's often quite funny and not really scary enough to fall under that category. Anarchists have lost some of their fear-factor since the time this book was written, so I imagine it must have been more of a nightmare to Chesterton's original readership. This book doesn't scare like a nightmare does, not until Sunday gets in the picture, that is.

By the end of the book I wasn't quite sure how the hell I got there or even where I was, but I loved the ride. Magical realism, philosophy, humour and a very sharp pen all in one book, and it seems to be well ahead of its time. All this is coming from an author who's mostly known for books on Christian orthodoxy, which in itself seemed somehow surprising, even though Christian philosophy is clearly present, especially towards the end. But it's not dry at all, not at all like how I would have expected someone preaching orthodoxy to deliver his message.

Additionally, the idea of having weekdays as codenames somehow strikes an enormous chord with me. It just seems all the more sinister by using these everyday codenames**. I wonder if this is where the Reservoir Dogs got their inspiration from, or if it really was just M&M's and Skittles. All I can say is that the title alone completely hooked me, and I'm glad it did, because the rest of the story reeled me in.

* My first encounter with this novel was through a video game, Deus Ex. I'm adding this reference because it introduced me to many books, such as Gravity's Rainbow (Pynchon, which I haven't read yet), Underworld (DeLillo, not read yet either) and The Napoleon of Notting Hill (written by Chesterton as well).
The Man Who Was Thursday in particular was presented in this game with small excerpts of dialogues, whose power and intriguing nature even as stand-alone pieces of text completely won me over.

** Pun intended
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,967 followers
October 29, 2020
It's really not that hard to describe this novel, but it's hard to really capture the real flavor of something, from 1908, really belongs in a melting pot that includes the Keystone Cops, Kafka, Peter Sellars, and a hefty dose of LSD comedy. If that isn't enough absurdity for you, then please take a BIG helping of Christian Allegory.

*Wait. Did he just say what I think he said?*

Yes, I just lumped Christian Allegory in with all that. Bite me.

Seriously, though, reading this was often a wild and funny ride. We got to play with militant poets and zany upper-crust anarchists and a dire thriller for all those cops trying to put a final stop to the perceived plague of lawlessness and vile bombers.

Of course, I perceived early on that this "thriller" was much more like a satire than a gripping police drama, and this was exactly what it was.

Honestly, at one point, I even expected the last villain to tear off his mask and say, "And I would have gotten away with it, if it weren't for you darn kids!" (But twisted to Chesterton's unique message, of course.) (And no, I'm not spoiling that bit. It's worth enjoying for yourself.)

Oddly enough, I swear SO much of this is used as a template for the best zany cop dramas of today's films, by way of the zany cop films of 50 years ago. One really ought to tip one's hat to this particular novel for paving this particularly goofy way.
Profile Image for Nancy.
557 reviews769 followers
October 24, 2008
A very original, wonderfully quirky, thought-provoking little book about an English detective who infiltrates a group of anarchists. Part fantasy, part mystery, part philosophical, lots of Christian symbolism that is not apparent until later in the book, but you don't have to be a Christian to enjoy it. There is so much going on here that I will have to reread it at some point.
Profile Image for Cláudia Azevedo.
270 reviews116 followers
May 30, 2019
Livro curioso, este, que obriga a refletir ao mesmo tempo sobre a criação divina e sobre as máscaras que carregamos pelo mundo fora. Afinal, nada é o que parece e o que aparenta ser alguma coisa mais não será do que o seu exato contrário. A insegurança de viver assim, sem poder acreditar no que os olhos veem e o coração sente, é assustadora. Tenho os nervos esfrangalhados, mas valeu a pena ler.

"A distração num homem mau é uma coisa terrível, imaginamos os maus sempre alerta. Não podemos conceber um indivíduo perverso que seja também, honesta e sinceramente, sonhador porque não podemos imaginar um homem mau só consigo próprio. Um distraído é um bem intencionado, é um indivíduo que, se reparar em nós, pede desculpa. Mas já pensaram num distraído que, se nos vir, nos mata? Isso é que esgota os nervos, a abstração combinada com a crueldade."
Profile Image for MihaElla .
205 reviews341 followers
March 13, 2023
One searches for truth, but it may be that one pursues instinctively the more extraordinary truths. And I offer this book with the heartiest sentiments to all the jolly people who hate what I write, and regard it (very justly, for all I know), as a piece of poor clowning or a single tiresome joke. For if this book is a joke it is a joke against me. If there is an element of farce in what follows, the farce is at my own expense. This book recounts my elephantine adventures in pursuit of the obvious. No one can think my case more ludicrous that I think it myself; no reader can accuse me here of trying to make a fool of him: I am the fool of this story, and no rebel shall hurl me from my throne.

The Man Who Was Thursday , subtitled “A Nightmare”, was published in Feb 1908, and it is a work of fiction set in contemporary time , using the plot device of a dream sequence, or perhaps, as a nightmare. Chesterton dedicated the book to his school friend E C Bentley and he fashioned his dedication in the form of a poem which outlined the theme of the novel: Chesterton’s attack on modern decadence and the defence of Christian values.

The main character of the novel is a young man called Gabriel Syme , an undercover agent for Scotland Yard who moonlights as a romantic poet . Once he is recruited as an agent, joins an anti-anarchist force. Syme infiltrates an organization called the Central European Council of Anarchists and, compromising his own values, defeats a real anarchist poet by the name of Lucian Gregory . The two of them debate the true meaning of poetry – if for Syme is law and order, for Gregory is rebellion and revolt. Refusing to take Gregory seriously, Syme is taken to an underground anarchist meeting where is made aware of a plot that will tear apart the European life.
By an unexpected twist of events, Syme joins the Council of Anarchists and is given the code name of Thursday . From here onwards starts a dream that leads Syme through various wild mad adventures, in the company of the other members of the council, who are seven and each one has a code name of a day of the week. The leader of the anarchists, in fact the only true anarchist of the council is a man called Sunday. Sunday is the one that fulfils the prophesy by leading his team through a whirlpool of fantastic happenings and eventually, once the conflicting situation is resolved, asks them about their complaints with regard to his ‘ruling’.

Once I started the reading I felt as if I have stepped into a written comedy. In fact the writing pace must have bewitched me, and I felt a furious curiosity about the unfolding of the tale. I have to say that Chesterton struck me as a man of very massive common sense, humour and wit. The book feels like a comedy but in fact it is a tragedy, however like a character says, always be comic in a tragedy. What the deuce else can you do?, as sometimes ascending the house of reason, is a thing more hideous than unreason itself. Large parts of the book had a sense of unbearable reality, and some talks of the characters were like torrents of nonsense. Yet I have enjoyed them greatly, that is to say that now and then I have broken into a high crow of laughter or bubbling over with laughter.

It was really hilarious how by the end of the tale all the characters turn to be buffoons, in a way some very desperate men at war with a vast conspiracy, a secret society of anarchists that eventually seem to hunt the men of law like hares. The unfolding of the plot raises lots of questions, especially an overwhelming sense of wonder, Was anyone wearing a mask? Was anyone anything?, so on and so forth..

All in all I have liked the best the chapter titled ‘The pursuit of the President’, as this was the trigger that made me aware that this book is a perfect ‘reinventing’ of The Gendarme Series, starring the unforgettable Louis de Funès, who is a sort of leader like Sunday, and might raise the challenge to all, saying Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? As it happens, the only simple conclusion is to say that the sane man knows that he has a touch of the beast, a touch of the devil, a touch of the saint, a touch of the citizen. Nay, the really sane man knows that he has a touch of the madman. For me this was a truly entertaining read. Many thanks to my GR friend Laysee for making me reach to it sooner than I might have done on my own ;)
Profile Image for Jonathan Terrington.
593 reviews559 followers
November 15, 2012

The Man Who Was Thursday is my first venture into the writing of G.K. Chesterton having discovered the existence of this writer earlier in the year. Of course the first I heard of him was in reference to his Father Brown stories, one volume of which I have on my to read stack. I then heard that his most recognised book is this one, so naturally I organised to read it.

The Man Who Was Thursday is truly a classic detective tale, yet it is also an allegory. I didn't realise the book was an allegory when I begun reading until I read up on the book and discovered that fact. However on finishing this book I can clearly see the allegorical nature of this book.

What did I love about this book? I loved the whit and humour in the writing. I loved the philosophical asides in the novel and the way in which G.K. Chesterton views humanity. I loved the uniqueness of this book. I may have seen the plot twists way before they happened but I still found everything else wholly unique.

The plot of this novel follows one man, a Philosophical Policeman/Poet as he goes undercover to infiltrate a bizarre group of anarchists. These anarchists each have a name of the week as their title and the main protagonist, Gabriel Syme, is given the title of Thursday. However he quickly discovers that it may be harder to hide who he is in the group than he realises as he discovers some surprises about the anarchists themselves. As for the allegory of the book? It seemed to me that G.K. Chesterton was suggesting that Christian believers are undercover agents if you will in the world and must go nearer to the devil at times than they do. What I mean by that is that I know of churches that believed dancing or drinking slightly was an evil and I think G.K. Chesterton is saying that Christian believers need to be less aloof and religious and more down to earth. That is what I saw in this book anyway...

I will admit I didn't 'get' the entirety of this book. Maybe study would be needed to fully grasp the hidden complexity of this novel. Do I recommend it for everyone? Not for everyone. I recommend it for those who like an allegory, a mystery or a laugh. I recommend it for those who want to read about the many faces we as humans wear to hide our true identities from the anarchists around us.


Others have suggested that the book was about people experiencing pain and hurt in order to also experience joy. I may have to re-read this book or those sections. Is it dated? A little, but still highly readable. It's very surreal and crazy, still can't stop thinking about it's ending and what it all means...


I have since reading this days ago discovered more about G.K. Chesterton. He's apparently a noted literary theorist, poet, novelist, short story writer, a friend of George Bernard Shaw, influencer of C.S.Lewis with his apologetics work and witty journalist. He is known as the 'prince of paradox'. I look forward to reading more of his work!
Profile Image for Laysee.
498 reviews233 followers
March 10, 2023
Edited Mar 10, 2023 to include spoiler alert.

Jan 2, 2015 Review

Frederick Buechner, author of "The Alphabet of Grace", referenced G.K. Chesterton's 1908 classic in his book and called it a "strange, wild novel" which few people have read. That is enough to send me scurrying for a copy to read. The first thing that struck me was its curious title. "The Man Who Was Thursday" is a clever, profound, and intriguing detective story that is also Christian allegory, told in an uproariously fun and thought-provoking way.

It is beautifully written and supremely engaging. An enigmatic but charismatic leader (The President) recruited six unlikely men and named each of them after a day of the week, to serve as members of the Central Anarchist Council. Gabriel Symes, a police detective who hated anarchy and modern lawlessness, became Thursday when the post of Thursday fell vacant. He thought he had cleverly infiltrated the Council to foil the evil plans of the dynamiters bent on wreaking destruction in Europe. The Anarchists' purpose was to abolish the law, overthrow despots, and ultimately get rid of God. These anarchists were equivalent to modern day terrorists, which made the concerns of the novel uncannily relevant, written as it was in a far flung era.

The big-face President, also known as Sunday, was regarded by the Council members with inexplicably mixed feelings of admiration, affection, awe, and fear. The mission when he called the unsuspecting men to be law enforcement officers required the ultimate sacrifice. In his words, "I'm condemning you to death."

The six anarchists were clueless about the demands of their Council involvement. Each of the six men thought he was the only non-anarchist in the group. When the truth of their identities broke, they fearfully confronted Sunday with the truth about himself.

The suspense was very well built up. Nothing was what it seemed and not a single person could be trusted to be who he appeared to be. An intricate web of mystery and surprises kept spinning and became more fantastical like a bizarre dream. Like the six men, I too was caught up in the feverish chase of hunting down Sunday and finding out who he really was.

The denouement that followed was the most beautifully written segment of the novel but also most perplexing. Its meaning was open to multiple interpretations.

To me, this novel is an allegory of the tension between order and anarchy. The serious anarchist (the Evil One) wanted to abolish all distinctions of right and wrong, of vice and virtue. The denouement seems to parallel man's eventual encounter with God. Each person has questions for which he seeks understanding.

Most enlightening for me was each of the six men's response to Sunday's revealed identity -

"The Man Who Was Thursday" is an epic read. An unusual gem.
Profile Image for Paula Mota.
963 reviews307 followers
November 14, 2020

“Organizou o grande atentado dinamitista de Brighton que, se as circunstâncias tivessem sido mais felizes, teria morto todos os que estavam no cais. Como sabem, a sua morte foi uma prova de abnegação tão grande como a sua vida, pois morreu devido à sua confiança numa mistura higiénica de giz e água que tomou em substituição do leite, pois considerava esta bebida bárbara, por ser uma crueldade para a vaca. Sempre o revoltou tudo o que fosse crueldade ou que com ela se parecesse.”

Há muito tempo que um livro não me apanhava na curva, com tantas travagens bruscas e mudanças de direcção, numa corrida a que só tenho a apontar o ritmo irregular, já que preferi as partes mais calmas de troca de ideias e galhardetes e não apreciei tanto as perseguições desembestadas.
Nos primeiros capítulos, quando os poetas Syme e Gregory se conhecem, sendo este último anarquista, G.K. Chesterston parece encaminhar o livro para uma crítica feroz ao anarquismo e aos seus métodos subversivos através de um clube cujos membros têm o nome dos dias da semana. Embora isso aconteça, é o tom de paródia que impera, e o absurdo acaba por não poupar ninguém, muito menos os detectives da Scotland Yard incumbidos de impedir um atentado desses revolucionários.

“Mas é óbvio que não seria conveniente empregar polícias vulgares numa investigação que é também uma caçada à heresia.
Nos olhos de Syme brilhava curiosidade simpatizante.
- Que fazem então?
- O trabalho do polícia filósofo é ao mesmo tempo mais audacioso e mais subtil que o do polícia vulgar. Este vai aos tascos prender ladrões, nós vamos aos chás de artistas descobrir pessimistas. O detective vulgar descobre, por uma agenda ou por um diário, que se cometeu um crime. Nós, num livro de sonetos, descobrimos que se vai cometer um crime.”

A ideia do clube secreto cheio de homens tresloucados e audaciosos remeteu-me à partida para “O Clube dos Suicidas” de Robert Louis Stevenson, mas esta obra de Chesterton tem, sem dúvida, mais substância e um enredo mais intrincado.

“Quer um disfarce seguro, não é verdade? Uma máscara que o faça parecer inofensivo, um fato sob o qual nunca ninguém procuraria uma bomba?” Fiz que sim com a cabeça. Ergueu subitamente a sua voz de leão: “Pois bem, seu idiota, vista-se de anarquista!” (...) Segui o conselho e nunca mais me arrependi. Dia e noite pregava sangue e atentados àquelas mulheres, e elas, benza-as Deus, deixavam-me empurrar os carrinhos das crianças."
Profile Image for Olga.
147 reviews40 followers
February 23, 2023
It is a strange, surrealistic (Kafkian in a way), philosophical and allegoric thriller about the place of God in the world and the eternal struggle between good and evil. The author explores the metaphysical concepts employing humour which makes the book an enjoyable read.

“Have you noticed an odd thing,” he said, “about all your descriptions? Each man of you finds
Sunday quite different, yet each man of you can only find one thing to compare him to—the universe itself. Bull finds him like the earth in spring, Gogol like the sun at noonday. The Secretary is reminded of the shapeless protoplasm, and the Inspector of the carelessness of virgin forests. The Professor says he is like a changing landscape. This is queer, but it is queerer still that I also have had my odd notion about the President, and I also find that I think of Sunday as I think of the whole world.”
“Listen to me,” cried Syme with extraordinary emphasis. “Shall I tell you the secret of the whole
world? It is that we have only known the back of the world. We see everything from behind, and
it looks brutal. That is not a tree, but the back of a tree. That is not a cloud, but the back of a cloud.
Cannot you see that everything is stooping and hiding a face? If we could only get round in front—”
“Then, and again and always,” went on Syme like a man talking to himself, “that has been for
me the mystery of Sunday, and it is also the mystery of the world. When I see the horrible back, I
am sure the noble face is but a mask. When I see the face but for an instant, I know the back is only
a jest. Bad is so bad, that we cannot but think good an accident; good is so good, that we feel certain
that evil could be explained. But the whole came to a kind of crest yesterday when I raced Sunday
for the cab, and was just behind him all the way.”
Profile Image for K.D. Absolutely.
1,820 reviews
August 3, 2013
This is my first book by G. K. Chesterton (1874-1036) and I am very much impressed. This is one of the classic books included in the 501 Must-Read Books so I bought it three years ago but I only read this now because a good friend wanted to borrow this book.

This is a story of a undercover detective called Syme who joins Europe's Central Anarchist Council to infiltrate and fight against the growing anarchist movement. The central council members are named after the days of the week so when Syme joins, he gets the name "Thursday." He however, later finds out that out of the other six members, five are also undercover detectives like him. The only one who isn't is the head of the council called "Sunday." Or so Chesterton made us readers to believe so.

Basically a detective novel, this is also partly political thriller, horror, comedy, romance and Christian allegory. I think this beautiful blending of genre worked quite well as it did not leave any of the pages boring and uneventful. Most of the genres you can explicitly recognize while reading for example the comedic flavor is in those scenes involving hot-air balloon chase and a high-speed elephant pursuit towards the end. However, the Christian allegory is something that you have to deduce. For example, the revelations of the true character of the council members is similar to finding out that we are all sinners despite the fact that we project ourselves to always be morally upright and spiritually enlightened. The character of the leader made me think of him as Jesus and his 6 council members are among his 12 disciples. However, these are just my interpretations as I know other readers have their own and I cannot blame them since this multi-genre book is definitely multi-layered despite its brevity and simplicity in style.

I will definitely need to read more Chesterton books. Thanks to Berto for bringing the author to my attention.
Profile Image for Jason Pettus.
Author 18 books1,279 followers
February 8, 2008
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com].)

The CCLaP 100: In which I read for the first time a hundred so-called "classics," then write reports on whether or not they deserve the label

This week: The Man Who Was Thursday (1908), by GK Chesterton
#4 in this essay series

The story in a nutshell:
Part detective tale, part absurdist comedy, The Man Who Was Thursday tells the story of poet and intellectual Gabriel Syme, living in the bohemian London neighborhood of Saffron Park at the beginning of the 20th century. Ah, but what most people don't know is that Gabriel is an undercover anti-anarchist cop as well, a "philosopher cop" who opposes the actions of blue-collar terrorists purely on ideological grounds. After striking up a friendship with Lucian Gregory, the only other political poet in Saffron Park, the other man lets Gabriel in on his little secret -- that he is actually part of a very serious underground anarchist cell himself, one that hides itself precisely by going around loudly announcing its violent intentions in public, fooling the rest of society into thinking they're a group of harmless cranky eggheads.

Through a series of surreal clandestine meetings, then, Gabriel eventually enfolds himself into the group, even convincing them to eventually elect him their cell's leader; this then gets him saddled with the code name "Thursday," matching as it does the code names of the other six cells in their particular terrorist network. Ah, but as the plot thickens and the cloak-and-dagger action increases, both Gabriel and we readers learn something ironic and funny about the whole situation; turns out that there are actually more undercover cops in the anarchist cell than there are actual anarchists, all of them recruited into Scotland Yard by the same shadowy authority figure, and that they've been spending the majority of their time chasing each other instead of the actual criminals.

(WARNING: The next paragraph reveals important information about the end of the book.)

In fact, by the end of the story we realize that not a single member of the terrorist cell is a terrorist at all; that the entire thing was cooked up by the aforementioned Lucian, all the way down to the mysterious Scotland Yard official who recruited them all, specifically to prove to Gabriel the contention of their very first argument, that he is a "serious" anarchist who shouldn't be underestimated. In what can only be called a bizarre and nonsensical ending, then, the group chases the main leader "Sunday" across the city via elephant, hot-air balloon and other strange transportation, where eventually they are led into the English countryside and a highly symbolic, costume-laden confrontation inside a large private estate. Was it all a dream, when all is said and done? After all, Chesterton did give the book the subtitle "A Nightmare," and for the rest of his career complained about how many people didn't bother to notice.

The argument for it being a classic:
The biggest argument for this being a classic, I think, is that it's a great example of a small but very important time in Western literary history; the transitionary period between Romanticism and the Modern era, that is, or the years between 1900 and World War I. It was these two decades, historians argue, where such things as abstract poetry were embraced for the first time, dreamlike narratives, modern psychological theories and a lot more; sure, it wasn't until the Jazz Age when such groups as the Dadaists and Surrealists made abstract art really famous, but it was the bold experimenters of the generation before them who really set those events in motion. At the same time, though, fans say that Chesterton's work is a unique creature unto itself, and that this is also a major reason to continue reading and enjoying him; he not only laid the groundwork for a lot of modern complex "weird" literature, his fans argue (for example, Neil Gaiman is a big fan, and even based his Sandman character "Fiddler's Green" on Chesterton himself), but was also a master of smart, black humor, arresting visual images, and the notion of vast secret worlds existing among us in plain sight.

And then finally, its fans argue, this book is also a nice record of a period of history becoming more obscure by the day -- the period right before the rise of organized labor, where working conditions had become so bad and with so few legitimate avenues to complain, a whole generation of poor liberal immigrants ended up taking matters into their own hands, creating a wave of domestic violence and public terror that rarely gets talked about in this country anymore. It was an issue that divided this country when it originally occurred; Thursday, its fans argue, captures the zeitgeist of that issue nicely, even if the story itself is a symbolic one that in reality has little to actually do with anarchist terrorists.

The argument against:
The main argument against this being a classic is one used a lot -- that it is simply too obscure to deserve the label, a historically important and personally entertaining book to be sure but not one that you can legitimately say that all people should read before they die. And indeed, if you look at the long-term reputation Chesterton has earned over the decades, you'll see that the thing which makes him so well-loved in certain circles is the same thing making so few of his books "classics" in the traditional sense; that he was a quirky writer, one who employed a self-satisfied writing style sure to turn a lot of people off, delving into philosophical topics on random whims and sometimes digressing into pure abstraction. I don't think anyone would argue that Chesterton still has a modern audience who will love him, even a hundred years after this book was first published; it's just that this is a niche crowd, just like it was when Chesterton was alive, making Thursday still relevant but not exactly a classic.

My verdict:
After reading the book now myself, I'm still a bit on the fence about whether it should be considered a classic. On the one hand, its critics are definitely right, that this is an unusual book that requires a certain specific type of sense of humor to really enjoy (think Monty Python), and that its ending devolves into the kind of "Twin Peaks" unexplainable weirdness that makes some people even to this day shrug and throw their hands in the air when it comes to the subject of Modernist literature. But then again, isn't it important that we understand this period of history in order to understand the much more important period that came afterwards? This is why the great transitionary periods of the arts always get short shrift -- that even as they are important for bridging two major periods of human culture together, the works actually made in those interregnums are often clunky and full of basic problems.

On the one hand, a book like Thursday can be safely skipped by most general readers, in that its main strength was in laying the groundwork for the mature modern authors who came afterwards; there'd be no James Joyce, after all, without the Chestertons who got a general audience ready for them. On the other hand, though, this arguably then makes Chesterton as historically important a writer as Joyce himself, and certainly books that are easier to understand and contain a lot more sly humor. I guess, then, that I will puss out this week and not declare a general answer at all, but rather two specific ones: that Thursday should be considered a classic by those who read older books more for the historical sense of continuance they provide, but not by those who read older books just for random pleasure. In either case, though, it's definitely a fun and fast little novel that I recommend just for sheer entertainment, especially to those who enjoy other projects that combine fantastical genre elements with witty pessimistic humor.

Is it a classic? Kinda
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Liam O'Leary.
479 reviews116 followers
January 6, 2021
My 6th best read of 2020.
I've never seen spirituality and surrealism paired explicitly together. It's hilarious, but surprisingly fitting.

It's very close to the perfect book I think — it's funny, minimalist, exciting and serious. And I am glad to finally have found a good British author writing a good story set in London!

Some might not like it because it certainly does fail the Bechdel test, with only a single female character who barely talks in the entire book, or because it has messages of Christianity that surprisingly come out of nowhere — like most things in this story. It's not attempting realism, it's not conventional fiction, and expects it's readers to be ok with being duped and fooled around with. But in the latter respect it's kind and family-friendly. It's also not as aggravating or cruel as many postmodern classics.

But I think this should ideally be viewed as a theological work, not a thriller, as the Christian allusions aren't trivial or simply for entertainment. It has a strong resemblance to Kierkegaard's writings. I'm really on the fence about giving this a 4 or 5*, I'm keeping it as 5* for now. There is a clear dip in how thrilling the plot was in the second half (between the sword fight and garden). Some might also find the humour tedious, the plot meandering, the lack of romance. 'Isn't it all a bit silly?' But no. I found it very pleasant and fun. Books these days have forgotten how to be this fun, haven't they?

But I think on further reflection, my understanding of the religious message elevates it beyond the wackiness. It takes it from being a funny thriller to a philosophical work. The basic take-home messages are:
1. be careful what you pretend to be as you will be treated as what you pretend to be,
2. and do not make promises before you know the consequences!

So on the surface, it is very much like a surprisingly funnier Christian version of Kurt Vonnegut's Mother Night, in that respect. And it's hard to deny that's also an incredible book too!

I've left my interpretation below for spiritual messages (big spoilers).

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