The story begins in Saffron Park with two poets, one (Lucian Gregory) who rather arrogantly spouts anarchy to a crowd of admirers, and Gabriel Syme, a self professed poet of law and order. Syme challenges Gregory that he is not a true anarchist, since otherwise he would be doing it, not waxing poetic about it. After the crowd disperses from the garden and Syme emerges from talking with Gregory’s attractive red-haired sister, Syme finds Gregory at a streetlight, waiting for him. Normally unmovable, Gregory has been annoyed by Syme, and says he will show Syme that he is not a poet of mere words. He asks that Syme promise to say nothing about what will happen to the police, and in return, Gregory will show him a most entertaining evening. Syme accepts, and they take a cab to a dismal pub.

It turns out that the pub, quite unexpectedly, has most a delicious lobster, and excellent champagne (it is an anarchist’s pub, and they are serious about everything, including the food). Partway through the meal the table begins to revolve, taking them to the floor below, illuminated by a red light.  They pass through a heavy door via a password, through passageways densely lined with weapons, and then into a circular room lined with bombs and grenades. The anarchists are not merely anti-goverment (“not mere Non-Conformists”) but seek to do away with the concept of morality, both the rights and the wrongs. Gregory had tried various disguises: being a bishop, being a capitalist, being a military man, but was nabbed every time because he would talk so correctly about religion, capital, etc. that everyone knew he could not possibly actually be one. He was then advised by the head of the anarchists, Sunday, to simply act as an anarchist: no one would ever believe that someone would do that.

Syme congratulates Gregory on fooling him with the disguise, then asks him if he is willing to promise not to tell Syme’s secret to the anarchists. Gregory does, and then Syme reveals that he is a policeman. At this point, the anarchists enter to begin the election to the vacancy of Thursday on the anarchists’ council, to which Gregory expects to be appointed by popular vote. Syme pretends to be a delegate from Sunday, and the meeting begins. A motion to elect Gregory is proposed and seconded, and Gregory gives a speech in which he soft-pedals the anarchist position to give Detective Syme the impression that the anarcharists were actually fairly mild. Syme opposes the election, and gives a rousing speech that he opposes Gregory’s mildness and will resolutely oppose the governments of Europe and oppose the religion and law and order. His speech carries the crowd, which was somewhat nonplussed by Gregory’s speech, and he is elected Thursday.

As Syme journeys on a steamboat to the anarchists’ council, we are given a flashback of how he became a detective. His father was an extreme experience-whatever-you-want kind of man, and his mother was an extreme Puritan preaching abstinence. As a result, he was man of extreme common-sense. He was present when an anarchist’s dynamite bomb went off, and the broken windows and bleeding faces ignited a view of anarchists as a deadly peril, against which the government was fairly defenseless. One night he meets a policeman, who is rather more of a philosopher than one would expect a policeman to be, and seeing Syme’s philosophical bent and hatred of anarchists, he invites Syme to join the philosophical arm of the police force. This department attends intellectual events to apprehend intellectual crime (like anarchists). There is a difference between the oppressed who occasionally blow things up in frustration with the real danger, a group of two rings of people. The outer ring is are the mass of true anarchists, the laity, who merely think that it is the rules that have created the crime (hence abolishing the rules/government would resolve the issues of crime in humanity). The inner ring, the clergy, as it were, sees humanity as the problem, and that to remove right and wrong we need to remove humanity itself. Syme is invited to see the head of the department, who sits with his back to the door in a pitch-black room, and is accepted on the spot.

At this point the steamboat arrives. He is met by a man (Monday) with a dull, pale face, and a brief nightmare smile that went up on the right side and down on the left. Neither had slept, but they were almost in time for the early breakfast. Sunday, reputed to be a genuinely evil man, insisted on secrecy of the obvious, talking about anarchy in the plain daylight every week at a cafe in Leicester. The staff thought that the finely dressed gentlemen were crazy. Sunday was grotesquely enormous, both in height and girth. Tuesday actually looked rather like an anarchist, and was berated by Sunday for his incompetence (which apparently was not limited to his dress). Wednesday was a French Marquis, who exuded a suffocating wealth. Friday was Professor de Worms, a man who was finely dressed like all the rest, but his ashen face and painfully slow movements suggested he would die any week, and moreover, that true anarchy had corrupted him. Saturday, Dr. Bull, was a smiling young man, but had really creepy black glasses that obscured his eyes, and thus the meaning of his facial expressions.

As they discussed who would be killed (the French President and the Czar, who were meeting) and with what weapon (a bomb) over the breakfast, Syme became aware that Sunday was constantly looking at him, and became scared for his life that Sunday knew that he was not an anarchist. Yet he had given his word not to go to the police, so he could not simply leap over the balcony, tip off the policeman wandering below, and be free of worry. And if he did, Sunday would have seen to it that he would not escape alive. Midway through the meal, Sunday instructs them to retire to a private room, and when they do so, he outs Tuesday as being a spy. Syme, convinced that he was discovered by Sunday and preparing to fight, is immensely relieved that he was entirely mistaken.

Tuesday’s accent and performance were briefly admired by Sunday, but he was left with the unmistakable insinuation that were he to talk to the police that he would die uncomfortably. Sunday refused to continue discussing plans, because he was not sure they were not overheard; Syme remains terrified that Sunday does not trust him. Syme leaves late, but discovers that the decript Professor was inexplicably following him. He rapidly leaves, first in a fast way, then running, then by cab, but in some infernal way the painfully slow Professor is always a minute behind him. At last, Syme collapses in a bar by the docks, only to find the Professor slowly entering and joining him at the table. The Professor asks if Syme is a policeman, because he looks like it. Syme evades the question, the Professor asks again in increasingly wild tones, to which Syme has that he is not a policeman. “That is a pity,” said the Professor, “because I am.”

After Syme recovers from his shock and talks the other out of being afraid of Sunday (one should confront ones’ fears simply because they are fears, he says), he discovers that the Professor is an actor, who impersonated the real Professor de Worms and was so successful, that everyone thought that he was the real thing and that the real Professor was the fake. As he left, he was met by a policeman on the charge of not being the Professor de Worms, brought to a man in a dark room, and invited to join the police force. As the Professor de Worms was a celebrated anarchist, he would naturally be of much use. The two lodge at a hotel, and the Professor teaches him how to talk silently with his fingers. This is required because they are going to meet the damnable, bespectabled Dr. Bull, to whom the plans were entrusted, the next day.

Saturday had an unmoving smile as the Professor slowly strung out his question to try to get him to say something to show his hand. The only hand who was shown was theirs, as Syme comes to the realization that he is a poet, and that he has intuited that Dr. Bull is not evil. He suddenly asks Dr. Bull to take off his glasses, which he does, revealing quite jolly eyes, at which point Syme, and then nervously the Professor reveal themselves to be policemen. Dr. Bull also turns out to be a policeman, who had always wanted to be an anti-anarchist, but he just looked too respectable to pose as an anarchist. Eventually he met a man in a dark room at Scotland Yard who suggested that black glasses would make his pleasant features like the smile of the devil.

The Marquis was sent ahead to France, so they sail across the Channel to catch up with him, and Syme, also a gentleman, purposely affronts the Marquis and forces a duel for honor, set for the next day. The Marquis needs to catch a train that day, so he proposes a field near a train station. They duel, with Syme’s purpose being simply to make the Marquis miss his train. He is successful in this, and the Marquis is successful in not being killed thanks to some quite unsporting leather padding under his clothes. When the train stops and he sees men in black starting after him, the Marquis stops the duel. As the others watch, astonished, he rapidly strips off his nose, face, hair, etc. in terror of being apprehended by Sunday’s men on the train. He reveals himself to be also a policeman, and as the men come close enough to be undeniably dangerous, the party escapes into the nearby woods.

After running some time, they discover that they are still being followed, so they hire a peasant to take them to the nearest house in his cart (it transpires that in order for peasants to value the work they have hired themselves out to do, they must have actually been bargained down). They reach the house of a friend of one of the Marquis’ seconds in the duel, Colonel Ducroix. Horses are acquired, but only barely in time (the book was written around 1900). They ride the horses to another friend of the Colonel’s, who hastily provides them with a motorcar. As they ride into town to the police station (the Marquis was not bound by any promises), they meet a mob who is opposing them. Syme is convinced that the common people are not anarchists, but their newly acquired friends Mr. Horses and Mr. Motorcar turn against them and they flee to the wharf. Here they are cornered by the people, along with the police, all headed by the Secretary of the Supreme Anarchist Council, the dreadful Monday. Just before being attacked by Monday, he gives a brief speech saying that the anarchists cannot win, that they can only destroy. As they begin to throw themselves into the attack, Monday pulls off his mask and arrests them in the name of the law, whereupon it becomes obvious that everyone on the Council was a policeman (and also that the mob, indeed, would not favor the true anarchists).

By this time, it is almost Sunday again, time for the meeting of the Council. Since it is six of them against Sunday, they go to the breakfast, and attempt to arrest Sunday, who flees. He is quite adept at taking flight using unusual means, all the while tossing cryptic notes back at them. He goes first by cab, then runs into what turns out to be the zoo, where he steals and elephant and runs to the Exhibition, where he flys away on a balloon. The balloon goes slowly enough that the men chase it, but since it does not follow the roads, they follow it on foot for five miles outside of London. It finally comes down in a field, and they are weary, cut up, and generally dilapidated in appearance and emotion. They confide that they are actually fond of Sunday, though for different reasons, and yet, afraid of him. They do not find Sunday, but they do find a servant, who leads them each to a carriage, and from there, to a sumptuous house where a they discover that they have been invited to a fine ball, and given clothes suited to the Creation story from Genesis, each according to the day after which they are named. Upon donning the garb of Thursday (golden sun and silver moons, as the sun and moon were created on Thursday, counting Monday as the first day), he found that it fitted his personality, “for these disguises did not disguise, but reveal.” Likewise, the others were atired suitably to their personalities.

The crowd cheers each of them as they sit in their seats of honor. Sunday joins them, but none of them say a word, and the party continues around them for a long time, eventually disperses. Then Sunday speaks, saying, essentially, that he sat in the darkness and called each of them into being. They understand that he has identified himself as Christ, but are upset that he was their father, yet their greatest enemy, confused, and hurt that they passed near to hell. After this, Gregory came. “‘Now there was a day,’” murmured Bull, ... “‘ when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them.’” Gregory accuses them of sitting in the safety of the government, claiming “the unpardonable sin of the supreme power is that it is supreme” and that they have not tasted suffering. Through this accusation, Syme realizes that their suffering was to demonstrate that each man who fights for order is just as brave as the one fighting for chaos, so that Satan cannot say “you have never suffered.” And in that moment, they also realized, that Sunday, himself, has suffered most of all.

Syme awoke from his vision, and found himself pleasantly walking with Gregory. And afterwards, he found himself walking on a road in Saffron Park, where Gregory’s red-haired sister was cutting lilacs in the morning.

It seems like there is not much to be said in analysis, for Chesterton has already pretty much explained it. Clearly the story is an allegory of the life of the Christian. At first he feels alone, and must confront various fears, beginning with facing the fear of fears, and ultimately the fear of death. But as each fear is faced, a new companion is discovered, and the darkness is overcome. And in the process, the accusation of the enemy in the book of Job is answered by each of us, that we do not love God for what he gives us, but we obviously persevere in love because of who he is.

One recurring minor theme is that few people are true anarchists. Poor may be frustrated with the government, and intellectual may feel that the mankind is fundamentally good and therefore crime exists only because we have defined a crime. But few people feel the need to oppose authority because of its nature, nor do they seek the destruction of mankind. Chesterton seems to suggest that no one is really a true anarchist, he is merely someone opposed to the current system, not someone opposed to all systems.

The party in heaven reminded me of scenes in C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, as well as a certain quality in the train of thought. Since Lewis was influenced by Chesterton, I wonder if some inspiration for themes in the early books, particularly The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was imparted through Chesterton’s writings.

The story itself, though, is aptly titled a nightmare. While the book is engaging reading, the grey and hopelessness of most of the book is a little wearisome. Also, I am not a huge fan of allegory that appears to be a normal story (another commonality with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which otherwise is a most fun book), and it becomes kind of obvious about halfway through, at least to the Christian reader. I guess I was kind of hoping for a normal detective story. I’ll grant that my escapist desires are not consistent wit the aims of high Literature, but I should warn likeminded readers that this is a grey, philosophical work, and thoughtful work, not a whodunnit thriller.
Review: 7
Well-written, good description, good humor, and good philosophy. The philosophical arguments are fairly short, so they are relatively easy to follow. This is definitely a lasting book, but I’ll admit that I just didn’t like the style, even though the ending scene at the table in heaven is quite good. I think I am more a fan of Lewis’ story-telling allegory rather than philosophical allegory. This story also feels more rooted in a particular time than Lewis, and or even Sherlock Holmes, who was solidly rooted in the 1870s. I think it is because the word “anarchist” just feels archaic. While they may have been an concern in the early 1900s, if they are mentioned it is only in connection with some fringe political party. One could substituted “terrorist” for “anarchist” but that does not really work. A terrorist really seems like a completely different thing; it is someone using senseless attacks as a means of attack because they lack the means for a frontal attack, and they do not try to remove the system, but to institute a different one. So in some sense the book deals with issues that are not relevant. Yet, at the some time, as American society continues to cast off moral restraint, the message is all the more relevant, even if this version may not be packaged palatably for the modern American.