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Intro to the Man Who Was Thursday July 30, 2007

Posted by Ashleigh in The Man Who Was Thursday by GK Chesterton.

Because I have company arriving this week who’ll be here through next week, I decided to get an early start on leading our August book, The Man Who Was Thursday, by 20th-century writer G.K. Chesterton. For those of you discussing Gilead, this isn’t meant to rush you in your discussions. Keep talking! Take your time. I’m simply getting a head start so that I don’t fall behind.

Before beginning the book, I thought it’d be helpful to do two things. First, to learn more about the man behind the story.


Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) has been hailed as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. According to Wikipedia, he “wrote around 80 books, several hundred poems, some 200 short stories, 4000 essays, and several plays. He was a literary and social critic, historian, playwright, novelist, Catholic theologian and apologist, debater, and mystery writer.” Dale Ahlquist, president of the American Chesterton Society, describes Chesterton by saying:

This man who composed such profound and perfect lines as “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried,” stood 6’4″ and weighed about 300 pounds, usually had a cigar in his mouth, and walked around wearing a cape and a crumpled hat, tiny glasses pinched to the end of his nose, swordstick in hand, laughter blowing through his moustache. And usually had no idea where or when his next appointment was. He did much of his writing in train stations, since he usually missed the train he was supposed to catch. In one famous anecdote, he wired his wife, saying, “Am at Market Harborough. Where ought I to be?” His faithful wife, Frances, attended to all the details of his life, since he continually proved he had no way of doing it himself. She was later assisted by a secretary, Dorothy Collins, who became the couple’s surrogate daughter, and went on to become the writer’s literary executrix, continuing to make his work available after his death.

This absent-minded, overgrown elf of a man, who laughed at his own jokes and amused children at birthday parties by catching buns in his mouth, this was the man who wrote a book called The Everlasting Man, which led a young atheist named C.S. Lewis to become a Christian.

Honestly, I didn’t know who Chesterton was until grad school. It was then that a classmate produced and directed a short film based on one of his works. The story was quirky and unusual. While I don’t remember the title, I do remember it was about a man who broke into his own house. Needless to say, it made an impression. Then, when I married Ted, he started to introduce me to quotes, ideas, and sayings from Chesterton. In fact, Ted was the one that recommended The Man Who Was Thursday to me.

To learn more about Chesterton’s life and other works, you can visit the American Chesteron Society’s website. They also have a blog which you can find here.


Second, I decided it would be helpful to offer an introduction to this month’s book. In the introduction to the version I have, Bruce F. Murphy states, “The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare is the most renowned and critically acclaimed novel” by Chesterton. He goes on to say, “Equal parts mystery, suspense story, allegory, and farce, it is considered a classic of the spy genre while at the same time almost constitutes a genre of its own.” Ahlquist provides an overview of the book here. In it he writes:

At first glance, The Man Who Was Thursday is a detective story filled with poetry and politics. But it is mystery that grows more mysterious, until it is nothing less than the mystery of creation itself.

This is Chesterton’s most famous novel. Never out of print since it was first published in 1908, critics immediately hailed it as “amazingly clever,” “a remarkable acrobatic performance”, and “a scurrying, door-slamming farce that ends like a chapter in the Apocalypse.” One reviewer described how he had read it in one sitting and put it down, “completely dazed.” Thirty years later, Orson Welles called it “shamelessly beautiful prose” and made a radio dramatization of it with his Mercury Radio Theater of the Air. (Unfortunately, he upstaged himself two weeks later with a production of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds.)

Having read this book once, I have to say I didn’t understand it completely after I finished it. In fact, it seemed to unravel and fall apart at the end. So I’m looking forward to discussing it with all of you and learning from your insights!

I’ll post some questions for the first several chapters soon. But, I’ll leave you with this conversation starter: Have any of your ever read Chesterton before? If so, which work? What’d you think?



1. Danielle - July 30, 2007

Ashleigh, I just reserved my copy at the local library and am so excited to read Chesterton. I’ve wanted to read him for sometime. I’ve read some excellent quotes by him, mostly via C.S. Lewis, and can’t wait to start this book!

2. Heather - July 30, 2007

Thanks for the great introduction, Ashleigh! I’m not sure how much computer access I’ll have over the next several weeks, as we’re traveling for business/vacation, but I’ll try to participate as much as I can! As for past readings of Chesterton, I’ve read a collection of short mysteries called “Seven Suspects” and some of his “Father Brown” stories, but that’s it. Like Danielle, I’ve seen his quotes in numerous places.

3. anne - July 30, 2007

Ashleigh! Thanks for the amazing background info. I am going to get my book this week too…I have not been participating lately, but I’m back! :O

4. Jennifer Napier - August 2, 2007

Ashleigh- I read this book last year and really enjoyed it. I hope I get the opportunity to read it this month!


5. Michelle - August 8, 2007

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried” is in my book of favorite quotes.

I’ve read Orthodoxy before. It was pretty heavy. I did a lot of underlining but not sure how much I really understood. I’m looking forward to reading this book though.

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