George Bernard Shaw

55 Classics Review #2 – “The Man Who Was Thursday” by G.K. Chesterton


I get a little disappointed when I think about G.K. Chesterton.

I’m disappointed because the man was a force of sheer genius in almost every approach to the written word. Sadly, he is remembered for a very small portion of his prolific work, and what’s worse is he is often thought of simply as some guy who inspired some other guys people still really like. I do not intend to demean his most reputed works, but to reveal him as a far more expansive and influential catalist in British literature. Lets take a look at what some other people had to say about him.

Chesterton was “a man of colossal genius.” – George Bernard Shaw

“I cannot think of a single comic poem by Chesterton that is not a triumphant success.”

and

“When he is really enthrall we with a subject he is brilliant, without any doubt one of the finest aphorists in English Literature.” – W. H. Auden

“There is no better critic of Dickens living than Chesterton.” – T. S. Eliot

“[Chesterton] had a genius simply for having original ideas. . . It is hardly possible to read a page of Chesterton without finding an unexpected idea, at best wise, at worst fiendishly ingenious” – Wilfred Sheed, concerning the author’s essays.

“He was spontaneously witty, but he could also be carefully epigrammatic. He thought of words not as neutral rational counters, but as confetti, bonbons, artillery.” -Anthony Burgess

“The man is exuberant, so disrespectful to the learned, so deadsure, so comic where most serious.” – Maisie Ward

“Chesterton was a brilliant philosophical journalist. . .The range of talent was almost alarming. . .[He] was simply what the word ‘genius’ meant” – Wilfrid Sheed

But I’m afraid I’ve lost the plot. Back to the book.

All of these great statements about Chesterton do serve well to help illustrate the qualities found in The Man Who Was Thursday. While the book is less than 200 pages long, it is by no means a light read. It is dense with constant wit and aphorisms and is, according to the author’s subtitle, a nightmare. It is an extremely dense nightmare.

The book can best be split into three sections. Like a dream, however, the fluidity with which these segments flow together makes it impossible to recognize where the transitions take place until after they have happened. The book starts out as a very logical, philosophical and political debate between a poet of chaos/anarchy/nihilism and a poet of order/law/God. This is set within the realm of artistic community and at the pace of a detective novel. Things are reassuringly lucid at this point. The story becomes somewhat comic in sequence from the get-go, then at some point near the middle of the novel the reader pauses, looks wonderingly at the large portion of completed text in his left hand, and wonders when the story changed so drastically into a bizarre, Kafka nightmare. Everything has gone from a jaunty, shocking little narrative to to a heavy and incomprehensible nightmare world. Just as the reader begins to mentally threaten to drop the book for sheer emotional exhaustion, the story turn more whimsical and philosophically complex that ever before and suddenly all of the original questions of politicking and law-and-order are turned on their heads to be the real questions at the center of both the universe and ever individual’s struggle against it. In the end, questions are compounded and ideas of answers are hinted at, then all is left behind like a bad (or wonderful) dream.

Throughout all this the novel is decidedly Chesterton as described further above. The more serious the subject matter at hand, the more whimsical his writing. He has all the witty epigrammatic skills attributed to the Benjamin Franklins and the Winston Churchills of the world. He seems always to be poking fun at everyone, so that his opponent may be made the more furious even as he mocks his own inconsistencies. His main character Syme is distinctly like he himself as the narrator. While the other characters may be optimists or pessimists or anarchists or madmen, both narrator and protagonist take a light and poetic view that seems always to look at the bigger picture and remain almost in the third person for their seeming lack of personal pride at their own conclusions.

The book, among other Chesterton, has been compared to Kafka. He himself has even been called the anti-Kafka. Kafka read The Man Who Was Thursday and remarked “He is so gay, one might almost believe he has found God.” This is a great insight, because Kafka and Chesterton view the world from much the same standing, coming to drastically differing conclusions. Both men view the universe as a terrible and isolating empty space full to the brim with suffocating questions, yet their opposite tones display a response that could not be more drastically different. Kafka refused to be comforted or to believe in community. His comfort is in being honest about the horrors he feels, even in embracing them. The Man Who Was Thursday shows us clearly that Chesterton believed that isolation is an illusion and the source of a large majority of our unfounded fears. His characters are always realizing, comically, that their assumed enemies are actually their disguised advocates. The Man Who Was Thursday is in no way Chesterton’s attempt to simplify or resolve the complications of the unanswered overflow, but it is a reassurance that we can remain joyfully human and rest in faith.

For Fans Of: The Castle by Franz Kafka, That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis, The Stranger by Albert Camus

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The Classics Club


This morning I stumbled upon a wonderful blog called The Classics Club. Its exactly what I never knew I was searching for!

The premise of the club is a simple one. To join, one must simply submit a list of at least 50 titles that you personally consider classic in some way and commit to attempting to read and review all of them within a time frame of hire own choosing, up to five years. I eagerly spent some of my morning and afternoon building my own classics list.

A Few Notes Concerning My Selections

• I chose a very broad spectrum of titles because I am interested in a broad spectrum of fiction. I am aware that many, nay most, are probably not classics or only exist as classics in a certain subculture.

• They are in the order I came up with them, so I will not be reading them in this or any other particular order.

• I chose a number of children’s titles because I love children’s literature more now than when I was a kid.

• The spirit of the club is to read new titles, so I have only allowed myself step or three re-reads. I chose them mostly because they are lesser known titles and I was eager to re-read them to review them.

• Most of these are either titles I own and have not read or titles I started once and got side-tracked from finishing.  I thought this seemed like a great opportunity to officially pursue them more diligently.

• The list is mainly novels and chapter books, with a smattering of short story collections, picture books, essays, and curated diaries.

• I intend to use the maximum allotment of five years, finishing the list by 2/22/2019.

The List (55 titles)

– The Plague by Albert Camus

– The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

– Watership Downs by Richard Adams

– Letters To An American Lady by C.S. Lewis

– On Stories by C.S. Lewis

– The Worm of Ouroboros by E. R. Eddison

– The Giver by Lois Lowry

– Mr. Bliss by J.R.R. Tolkien

– Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

– The Railway Children by E. Nesbit

_______

– Odd And The Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman

– Phantastes by George MacDonald

– The Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier

– The Silmarilion by J.R.R. Tolkien

– Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

– Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

– A Room With A View by E. M. Forster

– Redwall by Brian Jacques

– Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie

– Poems of John Keats by John Keats

________

– Brothers and Friends : The Diaries of Major Warren Lewis by Warren Lewis

– The Third Man by Graham Greene

– The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

– The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

– Peril At End House by Agatha Christie

– Bring It To The Table: On Farming And Food by Wendell Berry

– The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

– Descent Into Hell by Charles Williams

– War In Heaven by Charles Williams

– The Food Of The Gods And How It Came To Earth by H. G. Wells

_____________

– Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang by Ian Fleming

– Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers

– The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

– At The Back Of The North Wing by George MacDonald

– Jeeves In The Offering by P. G. Wodehouse

– Heavy Weather by P. G. Wodehouse

– Middlemarch by George Eliot

– The Narrative Of Arthur Gordon Pym Of Nantucket by Edgar Allan Poe

– Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

– The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham

__________

– On Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham

– A Confederacy Of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

– An Arsene Lupin Omnibus by Maurice LeBlanc

– The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton

– The Innocence of Father Brown by G. K. Chesterton

– King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard

– The Sorrows Of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

– Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw

– In The Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak

__________

– Runaway by Alice Munro

– The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchanan

– I Sing The Body Electric by Ray Bradbury

– Walden by Henry David Thoreau

– My First Summer In The Sierras by John Muir

_______

As a somewhat saddening side-note, I realized while curating this list that I finished reading every Sherlock Holmes novel years ago. While there are only four novel-length Holmes stories, I was surprised to realize that I had finished all of them years ago. I’m certain that I haven’t read all the short stories yet, but it was a strange sensation to realize that I had long since finished these and even forgotten that I had completed every one of them.

Anyway, I am excited to get any feedback as I start! If you have any personal thoughts, experiences, or opinions on any or all of these titles, I would love to hear them. I need all the advice I can get!