A Melodramatic Sort of Moonshine

K. C., Gilbert Keith Chesterton, great, greatly articulate Roman convert and liberal, has been dead now for two years. For a unique brand of common-sense enthusiasm, for a singular gift of paradox, for a deep reverence and a high wit, and, most of all, for a free and shamelessly beautiful English prose, he will never be forgotten.

So said Orson Welles on Monday, September 5, 1938, the evening when his radio play adaptation of Chesterton’s novel The Man Who Was Thursday aired for the first time.

Kevin Belmonte, Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G. K. Chesterton, from Chapter 13

Even today, few books come along with the creative verve of The Man Who Was Thursday.  Immensely popular, the book was a showcase for the imaginative intelligence and creativity of G.K. Chesterton.  His framework was fantasy, but his sights were targeted on the real, fallen world with, as Jonathan Lethem wrote: “Chesterton’s nutty agenda is really quite simple: to expose moral relativism and parlor nihilism for the devils he believes them to be.”

In Chapter 13 of Defiant Joy, Kevin Belmonte writes:

Though it could boast a radio drama pedigree and popular commendation from an auteur like Orson Welles, The Man Who Was Thursday has always seemed, as Welles pointed out, to rather deftly defy description. Novelist Jonathan Lethem, in his introduction to the Modern Library edition of the novel, offered one of the best brief summaries of the book to appear in print. He freely acknowledged its easy ability to elude description, but he stated that therein lay part of its special appeal. “How do you autopsy a somersault?” Lethem asked. “G. K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday is one of the great stunts ever performed in literary space, one still unfurling anytime you glance at it, as perfectly fresh and eloquent as a Buster Keaton pratfall.”4 Lethem then ventured some literary comparisons to help the modern reader place Chesterton’s novel in context. The Man Who Was Thursday, he wrote,

constructs its own absolute and preposterous terms in the manner found most often in certain children’s books, Alice in Wonderland, or Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth, or Russell Hoban’s The Mouse and His Child. Like those books, it offers the possibility of being about everything and nothing at once, and vanishes at the end with the air of a dream. Like them it begs to be reread.


Have you read A Man Who Was Thursday?

D I G  D E E P E R

Kevin Belmonte

Kevin Belmonte holds a BA in English from Gordon College, an MA in Church History from Gordon-Conwell Seminary, and a second master’s degree in American and New England Studies from the University of Southern Maine. He has twice been a finalist for the prestigious John Pollock Award for Christian Biography, and in 2003, his biography, “William Wilberforce,” won that award. On several occasions, he has served as a script consultant for the BBC, and also for the PBS documentary, “The Better Hour.” For six years, he was the lead script and historical consultant for the critically-acclaimed film, “Amazing Grace.” He has spoken in a wide array of noteworthy settings, from the Houses of Parliament in London, and gatherings of legislators in Washington, D.C., to the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. For several years, his biography of Wilberforce has been required reading for a course taught by David Gergen on leadership and character formation at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Sources & Resources

Kevin Belmonte, Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G. K. Chesterton (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011).

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Rick Wilcox

Editor in Chief | Literary Life