Tuesday Books: ‘The Man Who was Thursday’ (G. K. Chesterton)


Last week I mentioned the ‘Mystery and Detective Fiction’ class that I took in college. My favorite book from the class introduced me to the writings of G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936). Chesterton is most known for two things: his book Orthodoxy, which is a classic work on his philosophy and belief, and his astonishing ability to turn a phrase. Due to the latter, Chesterton is quoted frequently by people with all sorts of beliefs. You have probably heard some of his quotes without even knowing it was from him. Let me give you just a taste of what I mean:

  • “A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.”
  • “If there were no God, there would be no atheists.”
  • “An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered.”
  • “I did, like all other solemn little boys, try to be in advance of the age. Like them I tried to be some ten minutes in advance of the truth. And I found that I was eighteen hundred years behind it.”
  • “Imangination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad; chess-players do.”

Good stuff (just so you know the last two, and perhaps some of the others are from Orthodoxy, it’s a fun read).

Most have not encountered much of Chesterton’s fiction, but he was skilled as a novelist as well. He did an entire series on the character of Father Brown, a priest who often finds himself working as a detective (think Sherlock Holmes with a humble/religious twist). The BBC even made some of those stories into a television series (I have some on DVD if you would like to borrow them). If you enjoy good detective stories with a quirky lead character, then you will love the Father Brown series!

My favortie work of fiction by Chesterton that I have read is ‘The Man Who was Thursday’ (the novel assigned to us in the class in college). I don’t want to give too much of it away, but it tells the story of a man getting brought into a secret group of seven anarchists in London (each named after a day of the week, thus the title). As he struggles to understand his role and their plans as a group, the story develops around the other six members of the group. It is a strangely fascinating tale with a crazy, unexpected ending. It is a great story that wrestles with philosophy and knowledge and paradox and God without getting too academic (hey, its only around 150 pages). If you have never read any Chesterton then it is a great place to start!

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