Monday, December 28, 2009

The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton

I have been reading this month, but I haven't felt like writing about what I've read. I've considered giving up blogging, but for now I'm going to revert to my original plan when I started over a year ago, that is, to record my favorite quotations from the books that I've read with very little commentary. In order to avoid copyright infringement, I will limit myself to no more than five quotations and will provide full bibliographic information at the beginning of each post.

Chesterton, G. K. The Man Who Was Thursday. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1986 reprint of 1908.

“The rare strange things is to hit the mark; the gross, obvious thing is to miss it. We feel it is epical when man with one wild arrow strikes a distant bird. Is it not also epical when man with one wild engine strikes a distant station? Chaos is dull; because in chaos the train might indeed go anywhere...” (3)

“But indeed, this comic contrast between the yellow blossoms and the black hats was but a symbol of the tragic contrast between the yellow blossoms and the black business.” (72)

"'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...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 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 – ?'” (110)

“'No,' said Syme, 'I do not feel fierce like that. I am grateful to you, not only for wine and hospitality here, but for many a fine scamper and free fight. But I should like to know. My soul and heart are as happy and quiet here as this old garden, but my reason is still crying out. I should like to know.'
'I am not happy,' said the Professor with his head in his hands, 'because I do not understand. You let me stray a little too near to hell.'
And then Gogol said, with the absolute simplicity of a child - 'I wish I knew why I was hurt so much.' (118)

I've heard some people comment on the incomprehensibility of this short novel, and I can't say that I've figured it all out either. I was able to guess how the plot would unfold fairly early in the book, but I haven't unraveled the meaning or determined if it was meant to be allegorical, satirical, or both. I'll leave such ponderings for another day. For now, I enjoyed it as a well-crafted story with beautiful descriptions interspersed with tidbits of wisdom. I look forward to reading more of Chesterton, both fiction and non-fiction, including The Complete Father Brown Stories, Orthodoxy, and Saint Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox. What is your favorite Chesterton work?


Laura said...

Chesterton is an interesting fellow. This year I read his bio of Aquinas and found it very interesting. I also read his bio of St Francis of Assisi and found that having read that one first helped. He skips over some details and is very folksy in how he writes, but I did feel I knew something good about Francis of Assisi and Aquinas when I was done.

I enjoyed The Man Who Was Thursday quite a lot until the strange ending. Like you, I'm not sure what to think about it.

The Father Brown stories are great, but it's been years. I hope to read Orthodoxy in 2010.

Carrie said...

Well, I'm glad you aren't totally giving up on blogging! But I do understand how it feels sometimes to think about reviewing a book. Taking a break is sometimes the way to go! I found that even giving myself some short breaks over the holidays helped to remotivate me. (And I needed some remotivation.)

Thanks for linking up these reviews though to the Classics Bookclub. I hope you'll keep doing it so that we can see what you are reading and enjoying!