In A Nutshell
Martin Gardner's edition of G. K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday supplies anecdotal stories about Chesterton himself, comparisons to other works by Chesterton as well as other writers and thinkers, and descriptions of such places as Leicester Square, Bedford Park, Chiswick, and Battersea. This last element is particularly useful to the American reader who may be unfamiliar with these places.
Martin Gardner opens this book with an introductory essay on the meaning of The Man Who Was Thursday. Gardner sees the novel's central themes as two closely connected theological mysteries: the freedom of the will and the existence of evil. Gardner believes that the anarchism in Chesterton's novel is a symbol of man's free will, and that the mysterious Sunday is a symbol of God's revelation, first through pagan Nature, then by philosophical theism, and finally through the New Testament.
Lastly, The Annotated Thursday includes the less-often-published complete version of Chesterton's delightful dedicatory poem to his childhood friend, Edmund Clerihew Bently.
Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare opens with the meeting of two poets in Saffron Park. One, Lucian Gregory, advocates anarchy and the other, Gabriel Syme, defends order. The two enter into a poetical debate on the subject of order and chaos. In the end, Gregory takes Syme to a secret anarchist's meeting where Gregory expects to be nominated for the seat of "Thursday" in the Central Anarchist Council of which there are only seven members, each named for a day of the week; the president, naturally, being called Sunday. At the conclusion of this secret meeting, by a strange twist of fate, Syme becomes elected to the office of Thursday rather than Gregory. Syme now finds himself both a member of the Central Anarchist Council and a detective for a special army against anarchy called the New Dectective Corps.
As the story unfolds, Syme discovers that all the other members of the Central Anarchist Council are also undercover detectives, all having been appointed to the New Detective Corps by the same mysterious "chief" who sits in a dark room. The six men band together in pursuit of Sunday whom they believe is the only true anarchist. When they finally confront Sunday and ask him who or what he is, he responds, "You will understand the sea, and I shall be still be a riddle; you shall know what the stars are, and not know what I am. Since the beginning of the world all men have hunted me like a wolf: kings and sages, and poets and law-givers, all the churches, and all the philosophies. I will give them a good run for their money" (pg. 225). Then he adds, "There's one thing I'll tell you though about who I am. I am the man in the dark room, who made you all policemen."
Next, there follows an elaborate chase. Sunday escapes his pursuers by riding an elephant across town and hitching a ride in a hot air balloon. Then, an "ambassador" to Sunday approaches the six men and escorts them to a carriage. When the men arrive at their destination, they are asked to attend a fancy dress ball wearing robes that symbolize their particular day, Monday through Saturday, or days one through six as described in Genesis.
At the ball, Lucian Gregory makes an appearance. He stands before the men and accuses them of having no troubles and never having suffered in the manner an anarchist must suffer. Syme springs to feet and declares, "I see everything. Why does each thing on earth war against each other thing? So that each thing that obeys law may have the glory and isolation of the anarchist" (pg. 263). Then, as Syme declares that he and the others have suffered, the face of Sunday fills the sky and the words are heard, "Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of?"
Suddenly, as though it were all a vision, Syme finds himself again in Saffron Park walking with Gregory as though the two were old friends.
The title "allegory" is not entirely sufficient for this novel. The Man Who Was Thursday is a wild tale that can only be understood as a vision or dream sequence. Chesterton himself calls it "A Nightmare." The story is not in the least believable, nor are the characters, and the dialogue is heavily staged to draw out certain philosophical and theological ideas. Perhaps the best way to describe this unique work is to say that it is the daydream of a fanciful and liberally educated man, and a fantastic daydream at that.
The Man Who Was Thursday provokes much thought and reflection. Furthermore, in the manner of Chesterton, this novel provides many striking and memorable images that make difficult and evasive concepts somehow more tangible.
This particular edition has many informative footnotes and includes some photographs and illustrations as well. I recommend this book.
Note: this edition is no longer available. You can purchase the latest edition (with Gardner's annotations) here.