“Do you understand,” said the other, “that this is a tragedy?”
“Perfectly,” replied Syme, “always be comic in a tragedy.”
– The Man Who Was Thursday, G.K. Chesterton
I have mentioned my theory of seduction by authors. Not only by the words placed just so – to get you, sweet reader to open the book, turn the page, bask in the prose, lose yourself between the covers…. but I sometimes also repeatedly come upon an author’s name, book title, a quote, or photo until, thoroughly tempted, I finally read them.
Invariably I love the books that come to me this way- they seem to know me and are unerring in supplicating me to talk to them: there seems to me a certain conversation that takes place between writer and reader something like a…scriptversation that I am partial to.
“It was one of those quite arbitrary emotions, like jumping off a cliff or falling in love.”
G.K. Chesterton was beckoning me, I mentioned this to John Crowley who suggested I read The Man Who Was Thursday. It is one of the funniest books I have read in a while. Chesterton’s dry humor sent me into regular palsies of laughter: a hazard when reading in public.
While sitting in the garden of a convalescent home, waiting for my step father whom I drive to physical therapy, my laughter stirred a dozing patient several times. Every time she came to she’d faintly announce “I was dreaming!”
“My God!” said the Colonel, “someone has shot at us.”
“It need not interrupt the conversation,” said the gloomy Ratcliff. “Pray resume your remarks, Colonel. You were talking, I think, about the plain people of a peaceable French town.”
Chesterton’s brilliance is cleverly sprinkled into this tale, which is something of a mystery story- not so much in the detective sense, as that “mystery” is solved to the reader fairly early on, but in the metaphysical sense-
“Bad is so bad, that we cannot but think good an accident; good is so good, that we feel certain that evil could be explained.”
His writing style is so easy, he effortlessly takes the farcical absurdity of everything and turns it on its head again and again. I was almost too busy laughing to notice that the entire story was leading up to, or rather back to, the original theme: a constant sneaking towards profound circularity. The mystery is disguised as a mystery.
“He had found the thing which the modern people call Impressionism, which is another name for that fine scepticism which can find no floor to the universe.”
All our dreams can be nightmares and all our nightmares, dreams; meanwhile everything is disguised and revealed simultaneously.
Where is the floor? We are our own worst enemy – it’s so true, it’s funny.
” I regret to inform you,” said Syme with restraint, ” that your remarks convey no impression to my mind…It may be my literary fancy, but somehow I feel that it ought to mean something.”
* All quotes taken from The Man Who Was Thursday – G.K. Chesterton