What does Sunday want?


From New Statesman:

Chesterton’s metaphysical thriller The Man Who Was Thursday is subtitled A Nightmare, a coda that indicates the author’s unease. The novel gives the lie to his Christian faith in a meaningful universe. In an article published on 13 June 1936, the day before he died, he insisted that a nightmare was all that the book recounted: “It was not intended to describe the real world as it was, or as I thought it was . . . It was intended to describe the world of wild doubt and despair, which the pessimists were generally describing at that date.”

Yet it is hard to resist the thought that the world portrayed in the book is the one Chesterton suspected was real. Its protagonist, Gabriel Syme, joins a secret anarchist council of seven men – each named after a day of the week – who are dedicated to destroying order in the world, only to discover that five of the other members are undercover police operatives, as he himself is. Thursday (as Syme is now called) discovers that the centre of the conspiracy is the mysterious Sunday, a godlike figure. But what does Sunday want? He will not say, only crying out “in a dreadful voice, ‘Have you ever suffered?'” The book ends with Syme waking up suddenly, as from a disturbed dream.

Though some have tried to interpret The Man Who Was Thursday as a type of Christian allegory, the world it describes has more in common with the interminable labyrinth of Kafka’s Castle. In the orderly Christian cosmos, in which Chesterton wanted to believe, nothing is finally tragic, still less absurd. The world is a divine comedy, the ultimate significance of which is never in doubt. In The Man Who Was Thursday, the world is illegible and may well be nonsensical. This was the nightmare he struggled, for the most part successfully, to forget. Producing a succession of wearisome polemics and mechanical paradoxes, he spent his life denying the vision that informed his greatest work.

“The Wit and Wisdom of G K Chesterton”, John Gray, New Statesman