The Man who was Thursday by G K Chesterton (1908)

The terrorist murders in France and Germany last year made me think more about previous eras when ordinary life was shattered by ideologically-driven violence. I recalled the IRA, Red Brigades and Baader Meinhof Gang and I wanted to read something that might give me an insight. The only novels I could think of were about early 20th-century anarchists:  The Secret Agent and this one.

I started Thursday some months ago, and since then there have been further murders in Manchester and London. Chesterton offers no insights at all about nihilism. It’s not a book about anarchists but a nightmare; its farcical plot is based on fear of anarchy and the (tongue-in-cheek?) view “that the scientific and artistic worlds are silently bound in a crusade against the Family and the State”. Ironically, given my reason for picking it up in the first place and then forcing myself to wade through it, the book is infused with religion. Obviously Christianity in this case: Gabriel (the “poet of respectability “) is the good guy and Lucian the bad. The final chapter with the Genesis ball brings the tale to a peaceful and optimistic conclusion.

I liked the exuberance and vibrancy of the writing but not much else. There’s something reactionary about Chesterton’s worldview that I am out of sympathy with – not something I felt with Jerome K Jerome.

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