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|Author||G. K. Chesterton|
|Genre||thriller, philosophical novel, adventure, fantasy|
|Set in||London and France, 1900s|
|Publisher||J. W. Arrowsmith|
|Media type||Print (hardcover)|
|Pages||viii, 330 pp|
|Text||The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare at Wikisource|
In Edwardian era London, Gabriel Syme is recruited at Scotland Yard to a secret anti-anarchist police corps. Lucian Gregory, an anarchistic poet, lives in the suburb of Saffron Park. Syme meets him at a party and they debate the meaning of poetry. Gregory argues that revolt is the basis of poetry. Syme demurs, insisting the essence of poetry is not revolution but law. He antagonises Gregory by asserting that the most poetical of human creations is the timetable for the London Underground. He suggests Gregory isn't really serious about anarchism, which so irritates Gregory that he takes Syme to an underground anarchist meeting place, under oath not to disclose its existence to anyone, revealing his public endorsement of anarchy is a ruse to make him seem harmless, when in fact he is an influential member of the local chapter of the European anarchist council.
The central council consists of seven men, each using the name of a day of the week as a cover; the position of Thursday is about to be elected by Gregory's local chapter. Gregory expects to win the election but just before, Syme reveals to Gregory after an oath of secrecy that he is a secret policeman. In order to make Syme think that the anarchists are harmless after all, Gregory speaks very unconvincingly to the local chapter, so that they feel that he is not dangerous enough for the job. Syme makes a rousing anarchist speech in which he denounces everything that Gregory has said and wins the vote. He is sent immediately as the chapter's delegate to the central council.
In his efforts to thwart the council, Syme eventually discovers that the other five members are also undercover detectives; each was employed just as mysteriously and assigned to defeat the Council. They soon find out they were fighting each other and not real anarchists; such was the mastermind plan of their president, Sunday. In a surreal conclusion, Sunday is unmasked as only seeming to be terrible; in fact, he is a force of good like the detectives. Sunday is unable to give an answer to the question of why he caused so much trouble and pain for the detectives. Gregory, the only real anarchist, seems to challenge the good council. His accusation is that they, as rulers, have never suffered like Gregory and their other subjects and so their power is illegitimate. Syme refutes the accusation immediately, because of the terrors inflicted by Sunday on the rest of the council.
The dream ends when Sunday is asked if he has ever suffered. His last words, "can ye drink of the cup that I drink of?", is the question Jesus asks St. James and St. John in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 10, vs 38–39, to challenge their commitment in becoming his disciples.
The work is prefixed with a poem written to Edmund Clerihew Bentley, revisiting the pair's early history and the challenges presented to their early faith by the times.
Like most of Chesterton's fiction, the story includes some Christian allegory. Chesterton, a Protestant at this time (he joined the Roman Catholic Church about 15 years later), suffered from a brief bout of depression during his college days, and claimed afterwards he wrote this book as an unusual affirmation that goodness and right were at the heart of every aspect of the world. However, he insisted: "The book ... 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".
The costumes the detectives don towards the end of the book represent what was created on their respective day. Sunday, "the sabbath" and "the peace of God," sits upon a throne in front of them. The name of the girl Syme likes, Rosamond, is derived from "Rosa Mundi," meaning "Rose of the World" in Latin, and a title given to Jesus. (Usually a title given to the Virgin Mary.)
Martin Gardner edited The Annotated Thursday, which provides a great deal of biographical and contextual information in the form of footnotes, along with the text of the book, original reviews from the time of the book's first publication and comments made by Chesterton on the book. A less thorough annotation was done for the edition of the novel published as part of The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton (D. J. Conlon, 1986–).
On 5 September 1938 The Mercury Theatre on the Air presented an abridged radio-play adaptation, written by Orson Welles, who was a great admirer of Chesterton. This was almost two months before the infamous War of the Worlds broadcast.
The adaptation omits some of the metaphysical and theological discussions and treats much of the whimsical and comedic asides more seriously. Almost all of Chapter 14: The Six Philosophers is left out, in which the greater part of the metaphysical speculation is found.
It was reported in January 1967 that Jerome Hellman and Arthur P. Jacobs' APJAC Productions were preparing movie projects including a musical adaptation of Chesterton's novel by Leslie Bricusse. The film was not made.
There have been at least two adaptations broadcast by BBC radio over the years.
In 1986 the BBC broadcast a four-part series dramatised by Peter Buckman and directed by Glyn Dearman. It featured Michael Hadley as Thursday/Gabriel Syme, Natasha Pyne as Rosamond and Edward de Souza as Wednesday/The Marquis de St. Eustache. The episodes were titled:
In 2005 the BBC broadcast the novel as read by Geoffrey Palmer, as thirteen half-hour parts. It has been re-broadcast several times since then, including in 2008 (one hundred years after first publication) and 2016. The episodes were titled:
Hungarian Balázs Juszt has written and directed a film adaptation, starring François Arnaud, Ana Ularu and Jordi Mollà, which was premiered on 21 June 2016 at the Edinburgh Film Festival. Juszt's inspiration was his mentor, István Szabó.
The 2000 video game Deus Ex features several excerpts from the book and lists Gabriel Syme as a current resident of the 'Ton Hotel'.
In Neil Gaiman's The Sandman comics, the Library of Dream's castle contains every story ever written plus every story dreamed of but never written. Among the latter is The Man Who Was October by G. K. Chesterton, which is supposedly a sequel to his Thursday. Also, the metaphysical being known as "Fiddler's Green" manifests in a physical form resembling Chesterton.
In Kim Newman's Anno Dracula: 1895, the Council of Days, led by Sunday, exists and is plotting to overthrow Dracula during the tenth anniversary of his rule over Britain. The Council includes Gabriel Syme, Peter the Painter (Friday), and Newman's recurring character Kate Reed.
In Echo Bazaar, the Council of Days is referenced as the Calendar Council, an anarchist cell under the leadership of February.
Martin Wallace used The Man Who Was Thursday as one of his sources of inspiration (together with Neil Gaiman's short story A Study in Emerald and Alex Butterworth's The World That Never Was: A True Story of Dreamers, Schemers, Anarchists, and Secret Agents) in his boardgame A Study in Emerald.
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