The Man Who Was Thursday and reading Chesterton

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Last night, unbeknownst to us at the time, my bookclub celebrated GK Chesterton’s birthday. It was our monthly get together, which met in my new home, and our book for this month was The Man Who Was Thursday. I am a fan of much of what I have read of Chesterton here and there and of his poetry, and after recently re-reading Surprised by Joy, in which CS Lewis is a great admirer of his work, I had intended to read more, but I came to read this book without having much of a notion of what it was. The subtitle “A nightmare” did not entirely enthrall me, but I was quite transfixed once I began, and almost missed getting off the bus at work yesterday morning so engrossed was I in the later chapters.

I had also meant, over the course of this weekend, to read some articles on this book, as I am still wrapping my thoughts around some of what it contained. Then this morning one of the girls from book club has pointed me to this article in Relevant Magazine, in which The Man Who Was Thursday is described as ultimately reflecting on suffering, with some suggestion that it is a Christological interpretation of the Book of Job. Fascinating – and I quite agree, as a particular portion of the book that I loved and read out in book club is this (Sunday is the Christ/God figure, and I love it that it is the poet among the company who says this 🙂 ):

“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 …

“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 a 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—”.

I am definitely going to read this book again, in a paper copy and with a pencil. It’s a fabulous little read, with Lewis and Tolkienesque murmurs (though they of course came after Chesterton and the influence flows the other way) and there are a lot truths and gems of insight to be mined from it.


  • I shall add it to my list, theodicy and the question of suffering being of special interest to me. I have always wanted to read more of Chesterton, since I read "What's Wrong with the World" at the behest of a friend 15 years ago. And didn't he write the Father Brown mysteries? I think he did.

  • I am so sorry I have stumbled late upon this post. You may not even see this belated comment… I am an intermittent reader of your blog and always find something to delight in when I stop by. I was tickled that you too enjoyed this book by Chesterton. I found it quite challenging to understand but loved it nonetheless. The audio version helped me a lot. I have posted my response to this book at my blog:http://dawnskelton.blogspot.ca/2013/02/chewing-on-chesterton.html if you might be interested. –Linda Dawn

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