9.18.2013

Currently Reading: The Man Who Was Thursday

The Man Who Was Thursday“I tell you,” went on Syme with passion, “that every time a train comes in I feel that it has broken past batteries of besiegers, and that man has won a battle against chaos. You say contemptuously that when one has left Sloane Square one must come to Victoria. I say that one might do a thousand things instead, and that whenever I really come there I have the sense of hair-breadth escape. And when I hear the guard shout out the word ‘Victoria,’ it is not an unmeaning word. It is to me the cry of a herald announcing conquest. It is to me indeed ‘Victoria’; it is the victory of Adam.”

Gregory wagged his heavy, red head with a slow and sad smile.

“And even then,” he said, “we poets always ask the question, ‘And what is Victoria now that you have got there?’ You think Victoria is like the New Jerusalem. We know that the New Jerusalem will only be like Victoria. Yes, the poet will be discontented even in the streets of heaven. The poet is always in revolt.”

“There again,” said Syme irritably, “what is there poetical about being in revolt? You might as well say that it is poetical to be sea-sick. Being sick is a revolt. Both being sick and being rebellious may be the wholesome thing on certain desperate occasions; but I’m hanged if I can see why they are poetical. Revolt in the abstract is—revolting. It’s mere vomiting.”

Author: G.K. Chesterton

Mini-Synopsis: After sounding forth against anarchy to an anarchist poet, undercover detective Gabriel Syme finagles his way onto a secret council of anarchist bombers who call themselves by the days of the week. Hoping to find a way to reveal himself and the council to the police without breaking his promise of secrecy to the poet, he begins his investigations with zeal and fear—only to discover that none of his new companions are who or what they seem.

Little Notes: This book defies review, probably because like most nightmares—and it claims to be a nightmare in its own subtitle—it defies comprehension. At least, on first read. Half suspenseful detective novel and half fanciful pursuit of God, the novel juxtaposes the unmixable; the scene near the end with the thrones and the descriptive clothing, which reminded me forcibly of Lewis’ That Hideous Strength, didn’t seem to have much to do with the scene in the underground room near the beginning.

Possibly I just need to read it again, perhaps in turn with That Hideous Strength. Usually I can understand Chesterton, even with his backwards aphorisms, but I wasn’t sure what to make of this. I will say, however, that there’s a touch of comprehension to be had in this quote from his own commentary upon the novel:
“It was not intended to describe the real world as it was, or as I thought it was, even when my thoughts were considerably less settled than they are now. It was intended to describe the world of wild doubt and despair which the pessimists were generally describing at that date; with just a gleam of hope in some double meaning of the doubt, which even the pessimists felt in some fitful fashion.”
Chesterton is ever worth reading for his gleams of hope. And for his humor, which is to be had in plenty in this story, and for his beautiful prose. Even when his story is openly as changeable and confusing as a dream.

2 comments:

  1. I love this Nightmare of his; and though he wrote it at a time when he was not Catholic, it very well could have been. He insists that the imagery at the end with Sunday is not supposed to be of God, but I can't see how it isn't.

    It starts out normal, like nightmares often do, and grows more and more unsettling and absurd, until you have the scene at the end. Then Syme "wakes up" and finds himself as everything was before. Almost an Alice-in-Wonderland situation (which I also love!). Not quite sure if it was a dream or a vision.

    Anyway, the paragraph that summons the tears each reading is when, after all the angry shouting and indigence at being led on and made to felt that they were the only sane man left in the world, one of them curls up and says like a child, "I wish I knew why I was hurt so much."

    I feel like that so often in the big, mysterious hands of God, and wonder why he's abandoned me . . . when really, like Orual in 'Til We Have Faces, we've only been seeing the back of God's head and mistaking it for a great gaping monster--we couldn't look him face-to-face yet until we'd each gone through that little death and resurrection our own. Indeed, we must do it daily, this dying to ourselves in order that we may see God.

    The Gregory accuses Sunday of making them each feel utterly, inconsolably alone, the voice echoes as from a far off place, and we know that we are not alone in suffering because even God Himself was once forsaken. <3

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for the thoughts! I felt the same way about the imagery with Sunday. It's good to hear the contexts that come to your mind, because I was having a hard time placing things, knowing what to do with them.

      I like Alice in Wonderland, too! Haven't read it in years. That might be a good re-read one of these days.

      And I love Till We Have Faces, of course.

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