The Man Who Was Thursday

The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare is a novel by G. K. Chesterton, first published in 1908. The book is sometimes referred to as a metaphysical thriller.

The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare
First edition
AuthorG. K. Chesterton
CountryUnited Kingdom
Genrethriller, philosophical novel, adventure, fantasy
Set inLondon and France, 1900s
PublisherJ. W. Arrowsmith
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardcover)
Pagesviii, 330 pp
LC ClassPZ3.C4265Mn9
TextThe Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare at Wikisource

Plot summary

In Edwardian era London, Gabriel Syme is recruited at Scotland Yard to a secret anti-anarchist police corps. Lucian Gregory, an anarchistic poet, lives in the suburb of Saffron Park. Syme meets him at a party and they debate the meaning of poetry. Gregory argues that revolt is the basis of poetry. Syme demurs, insisting the essence of poetry is not revolution but law. He antagonises Gregory by asserting that the most poetical of human creations is the timetable for the London Underground. He suggests Gregory isn't really serious about anarchism, which so irritates Gregory that he takes Syme to an underground anarchist meeting place, revealing his public endorsement of anarchy is a ruse to make him seem harmless, when in fact he is an influential member of the local chapter of the European anarchist council.

The central council consists of seven men, each using the name of a day of the week as a cover; the position of Thursday is about to be elected by Gregory's local chapter. Gregory expects to win the election but just before, Syme reveals to Gregory after an oath of secrecy that he is a secret policeman. Fearful that Syme may use his speech in evidence of a prosecution, Gregory's weakened words fail to convince the local chapter that he is sufficiently dangerous for the job. Syme makes a rousing anarchist speech and wins the vote. He is sent immediately as the chapter's delegate to the central council.

In his efforts to thwart the council, Syme eventually discovers that the other five members are also undercover detectives; each was employed just as mysteriously and assigned to defeat the Council. They soon find out they were fighting each other and not real anarchists; such was the mastermind plan of their president, Sunday. In a surreal conclusion, Sunday is unmasked as only seeming to be terrible; in fact, he is a force of good like the detectives. Sunday is unable to give an answer to the question of why he caused so much trouble and pain for the detectives. Gregory, the only real anarchist, seems to challenge the good council. His accusation is that they, as rulers, have never suffered like Gregory and their other subjects and so their power is illegitimate. Syme refutes the accusation immediately, because of the terrors inflicted by Sunday on the rest of the council.

The dream ends when Sunday is asked if he has ever suffered. His last words, "can ye drink of the cup that I drink of?", is the question Jesus asks St. James and St. John in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 10, vs 38–39, to challenge their commitment in becoming his disciples.


The work is prefixed with a poem written to Edmund Clerihew Bentley, revisiting the pair's early history and the challenges presented to their early faith by the times.

Like most of Chesterton's fiction, the story includes some Christian allegory. Chesterton, a Protestant at this time (he joined the Roman Catholic Church about 15 years later), suffered from a brief bout of depression during his college days, and claimed afterwards he wrote this book as an unusual affirmation that goodness and right were at the heart of every aspect of the world. However, he insisted: "The book ... was not intended to describe the real world as it was, or as I thought it was, even when my thoughts were considerably less settled than they are now. It was intended to describe the world of wild doubt and despair which the pessimists were generally describing at that date; with just a gleam of hope in some double meaning of the doubt, which even the pessimists felt in some fitful fashion".[1]

The costumes the detectives don towards the end of the book represent what was created on their respective day. Sunday, "the sabbath" and "the peace of God," sits upon a throne in front of them. The name of the girl Syme likes, Rosamond, is derived from "Rosa Mundi," meaning "Rose of the World" in Latin, and a title given to Jesus. (Usually a title given to the Virgin Mary.)

The Man Who Was Thursday inspired the Irish Republican politician Michael Collins with the idea "if you didn't seem to be hiding nobody hunted you out".[2]


Martin Gardner edited The Annotated Thursday, which provides a great deal of biographical and contextual information in the form of footnotes, along with the text of the book, original reviews from the time of the book's first publication and comments made by Chesterton on the book.[3] A less thorough annotation was done for the edition of the novel published as part of The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton (D. J. Conlon, 1986–).


Mercury Theatre adaptation

On 5 September 1938 The Mercury Theatre on the Air presented an abridged radio-play adaptation, written by Orson Welles, who was a great admirer of Chesterton. This was almost two months before the infamous War of the Worlds broadcast.[4]

The adaptation omits some of the metaphysical and theological discussions and treats much of the whimsical and comedic asides more seriously. Almost all of Chapter 14: The Six Philosophers is left out, in which the greater part of the metaphysical speculation is found.

APJAC Productions musical adaptation

It was reported in January 1967 that Jerome Hellman and Arthur P. Jacobs' APJAC Productions were preparing movie projects including a musical adaptation of Chesterton's novel by Leslie Bricusse.[5] The film was not made.

BBC radio adaptations

There have been at least two adaptations broadcast by BBC radio over the years.

In 1986 the BBC broadcast a four-part series dramatised by Peter Buckman and directed by Glyn Dearman. It featured Michael Hadley as Thursday/Gabriel Syme, Natasha Pyne as Rosamond and Edward de Souza as Wednesday/The Marquis de St. Eustache. The episodes were titled:

  1. The Secret of Gabriel Syme
  2. The Man in Spectacles
  3. The Earth in Anarchy
  4. The Pursuit of the President

In 2005 the BBC broadcast the novel as read by Geoffrey Palmer, as thirteen half-hour parts. It has been re-broadcast several times since then, including in 2008 (one hundred years after first publication) and 2016. The episodes were titled:

  1. The Unusual Soirée
  2. The Anarchists' Council
  3. The Tale of a Detective
  4. The Feast of Fear
  5. The Exposure
  6. The Unaccountable Conduct of Professor de Worms
  7. The Man in Spectacles
  8. The Duel
  9. The Criminals Chase the Police
  10. The Earth in Anarchy
  11. The Pursuit of the President
  12. The Six Philosophers
  13. The Accuser

"The Man Who Was Thursday" Balázs Juszt Film Adaptation (2016)

Hungarian Balázs Juszt has written and directed a film adaptation, starring François Arnaud, Ana Ularu and Jordi Mollà, which was premiered on 21 June 2016 at the Edinburgh Film Festival.[6] Juszt's inspiration was his mentor, István Szabó.

Popular culture

The 2000 video game Deus Ex features several excerpts from the book and lists Gabriel Syme as a current resident of the 'Ton Hotel'.

In Neil Gaiman's The Sandman comics, the Library of Dream's castle contains every story ever written plus every story dreamed of but never written. Among the latter is The Man Who Was October by G. K. Chesterton, which is supposedly a sequel to his Thursday. Also, the metaphysical being known as "Fiddler's Green" manifests in a physical form resembling Chesterton.

In Kim Newman's Anno Dracula: 1895, the Council of Days, led by Sunday, exists and is plotting to overthrow Dracula during the tenth anniversary of his rule over Britain. The Council includes Gabriel Syme, Peter the Painter (Friday), and Newman's recurring character Kate Reed.


  1. ^ "Here is the text from the PENGUIN EDITION of The Man Who Was Thursday, 1972, PP. 185, 186" (TXT). Retrieved 2016-10-24.
  2. ^ Margery Forester, Michael Collins – The Lost Leader, p.35., Gill & MacMillan, 2006, ISBN 978-0717140145
  3. ^ Martin Gardner (ed.), The Annotated Thursday - G.K.Chesterton's Masterpiece "The Man Who Was Thursday", Ignatius Press, 1999, ISBN 978-0-89870-744-1
  4. ^ The Mercury Theatre on the Air: First Person Singular — "The Man Who Was Thursday" at the Paley Center for Media; retrieved 16 June 2012
  5. ^ "Jacobs, Hellman Merge Under APJAC Banner", BoxOffice (PDF), p. 17, 1967-01-16, archived from the original on 2016-08-16, retrieved 2017-05-28
  6. ^ "The Man Who Was Thursday | 2016 | Film Archive | Edinburgh International Film Festival 2016",, archived from the original on 2016-10-05, retrieved 2017-05-28

Further reading

External links

1908 in literature

This article presents lists of the literary events and publications in 1908.

1908 in the United Kingdom

Events from the year 1908 in the United Kingdom.

Bad Monkeys

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Ballantine Adult Fantasy series

The Ballantine Adult Fantasy series was an imprint of American publisher Ballantine Books. Launched in 1969 (presumably in response to the growing popularity of Tolkien's works), the series reissued a number of works of fantasy literature which were out of print or dispersed in back issues of pulp magazines (or otherwise not easily available in the United States), in cheap paperback form—including works by authors such as James Branch Cabell, Lord Dunsany, Ernest Bramah, Hope Mirrlees, and William Morris. The series lasted until 1974.

Envisioned by the husband-and-wife team of Ian and Betty Ballantine, and edited by Lin Carter, it featured cover art by illustrators such as Gervasio Gallardo, Robert LoGrippo, David McCall Johnston, and Bob Pepper. The agreement signed between the Ballantines and Carter on November 22, 1968 launched the project. In addition to the reprints comprising the bulk of the series, some new fantasy works were published as well as a number of original collections and anthologies put together by Carter, and Imaginary Worlds, his general history of the modern fantasy genre.The series was never considered a money-maker for Ballantine, although the re-issue of several of its titles both before and after the series' demise shows that a number of individual works were considered successful. The Ballantines supported the series as long as they remained the publishers of Ballantine Books, but with their sale of the company to Random House in 1973 support from the top was no longer forthcoming, and in 1974, with the end of the Ballantines' involvement in the company they had founded, the series was terminated.After the termination of the Adult Fantasy series, Ballantine continued to publish fantasy but concentrated primarily on new titles, with the older works it continued to issue being those with proven track records. In 1977, both its fantasy and science fiction lines were relaunched under the Del Rey Books imprint, under the editorship of Lester and Judy-Lynn del Rey. Carter continued his promotion of the fantasy genre in a new line of annual anthologies from DAW Books, The Year's Best Fantasy Stories, also beginning in 1975. Meanwhile, the series' lapsed mission of restoring classic works of fantasy to print had been taken up on a more limited basis by the Newcastle Forgotten Fantasy Library, launched in 1973.

Bedford Park, London

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Café chantant (French: lit. "singing café"), café-concert or caf’conc, is a type of musical establishment associated with the belle époque in France. Although there is much overlap of definition with cabaret, music hall, vaudeville, etc. the café chantant was originally an outdoor café where small groups of performers performed popular music for the public. The music was generally lighthearted, sometimes risqué, even bawdy but, as opposed to the cabaret tradition, not particularly political or confrontational.

François Arnaud (actor)

François Landriault-Barbeau (born July 5, 1985), known professionally as François Arnaud, is a Canadian film and television actor. He is best known for his work as Cesare Borgia on Showtime's period drama series The Borgias, Manfred Bernardo on NBC’s Midnight Texas, and Tommy Castelli on UnReal.

G. K. Chesterton

Gilbert Keith Chesterton, KC*SG (29 May 1874 – 14 June 1936), was an English writer, poet, philosopher, dramatist, journalist, orator, lay theologian, biographer, and literary and art critic. Chesterton is often referred to as the "prince of paradox". Time magazine has observed of his writing style: "Whenever possible Chesterton made his points with popular sayings, proverbs, allegories—first carefully turning them inside out."Chesterton is well known for his fictional priest-detective Father Brown, and for his reasoned apologetics. Even some of those who disagree with him have recognised the wide appeal of such works as Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man. Chesterton routinely referred to himself as an "orthodox" Christian, and came to identify this position more and more with Catholicism, eventually converting to Catholicism from High Church Anglicanism. George Bernard Shaw, his "friendly enemy", said of him, "He was a man of colossal genius." Biographers have identified him as a successor to such Victorian authors as Matthew Arnold, Thomas Carlyle, Cardinal John Henry Newman, and John Ruskin.

Geoffrey Palmer (actor)

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Jordi Mollà

Jordi Mollà i Perales (Catalan pronunciation: [ˈʒɔɾði muˈʎa]; born 1 July 1968) is a Spanish actor, director, filmmaker, writer, and artist.

Mollà's artwork is represented in the Carmen De la Guerra Gallery in Madrid, PicassoMio Gallery in Madrid and Coldcreation Gallery in Barcelona. In the summer of 2002, he exhibited in ARCO Madrid at the Carmen de la Guerra Gallery, along with a number of other artists.

As an actor, Mollà is most recognized in the United States for his role as Diego Delgado in Blow (Ted Demme, 2001), his debut Hollywood film. Mollà also has directed three films and written two books.

Bad Boys II co-star Gabrielle Union labeled Mollà as "The Tom Cruise of Spain," when praising his performance as Johnny Tapia.

List of fantasy novels (I–R)

This page lists notable fantasy novels (and novel series). The books appear in alphabetical order by title (beginning with I to R) (ignoring "A", "An", and "The"); series are alphabetical by author-designated name or, if there is no such, some reasonable designation. Science-fiction novels and short-story collections are not included here.

List of fictional anarchists

This is a list of fictional anarchists, including the source material in which they are found, their creator(s), the individual(s) who interpreted them as anarchists during development (if not originally created as such), and short descriptions of each.

An anarchist is a person who rejects any form of compulsory government (cf. "state") and supports its elimination. Anarchism is a political philosophy encompassing theories and attitudes which reject compulsory government (the state) and support its elimination, often due to a wider rejection of involuntary or permanent authority. Anarchism is defined by The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Politics as "the view that society can and should be organized without a coercive state."However, fictional anarchists are subject to the personal interpretations and opinions of Anarchism held by the creator, and as such may imbue negative anarchist stereotypes. Further, characters may be interpreted as anarchists by second parties involved in their development. The inclusion of these characters may be controversial, but is necessary for purposes of objectivity. This provides a means by which social attitudes regarding anarchism and anarchists may be studied and compared to those of other eras and cultures.

Characters who are popularly considered "anarchic", but who are not specifically identified as anarchists by their source material, are excluded.

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Sabbath was born in 1740. He was educated at Cambridge before being initiated into the Secret Service in 1762. He then defected from the service in 1780. The Doctor first encountered Sabbath in 1782.

In appearance, Sabbath was a large muscular man with a shaven head. He commanded intelligent ape creatures called Babewyns which also crewed his ship, the Jonah. Visually, the Doctor Who version is said to be based on Orson Welles.

Despite suggestions to the contrary, Sabbath is not based on the equally corpulent character Sunday from the novel The Man Who Was Thursday (1904) by G. K. Chesterton, though this is jokingly alluded to in the Doctor Who novel History 101 (2002).


Syme (also Symes, Simes) is a surname, and may refer to:

Colin Syme (1903–1986), an Australian medical administrator and innovator

David Syme (1827–1908), a Scottish-Australian newspaper proprietor of The Age

David Syme (pianist) (born 1949), an American pianist.

Don Syme, an Australian computer scientist and creator of the F# programming language

Ebenezer Syme (1826–1860), a Scottish-Australian journalist, proprietor and manager of The Age

Geoffrey Syme (1873-1942), son of David Syme, who succeeded his father as proprietor and owner of The Age

George Adlington Syme (1859–1929), an Australian surgeon.

Hugh Syme (GC) (1903-1965), a naval officer and bomb disposal operative, and employee of The Age.

Hugh Syme, a Canadian musician and a Juno Award-winning graphic artist

James Syme (1799–1870), a pioneering Scottish surgeon.

Jennifer Syme (1972–2001), an American actress and production assistant.

John Syme (1795–1861), a Scottish portrait-painter

John Thomas Irvine Boswell Syme (1822–1888), a British botanist

Ronald Syme (1903–1989), a New Zealand-born historian of ancient Rome and classicist.

William Smith Syme (1870-1928) Newfoundland-born laryngologistFictionSyme (1984), a minor character in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four

Gabriel Syme, a character in G.K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday

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The show made headlines with its "The War of the Worlds" broadcast on October 30, 1938 and is one of the most famous broadcasts in the history of radio due to the panic which it accidentally caused, after which the Campbell Soup Company signed on as sponsor. The Mercury Theatre on the Air made its last broadcast December 4, 1938, and The Campbell Playhouse began December 9, 1938.

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Thursday is the day of the week between Wednesday and Friday. According to the ISO 8601 international standard, it is the fourth day of the week.

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