Greene, Graham (Vol. 14)
Greene, Graham 1904–
A British novelist, short story writer, editor, children's author, essayist, and playwright, Greene is highly respected and widely read. His literary world is one of paradox and seediness where the sinner is often the saint, the idealist a destructive agent, and evil is everywhere while innocence is suspect. Greene's Catholicism figures prominently in his fiction, providing him with a system of concepts, situations, and symbols that he uses to dramatize human nature. (See also, Graham Greene Criticism and volumes 1, 3, 6, 9, 18 and 125.)
Of Mr. Graham Greene alone among contemporary writers one can say without affectation that his breaking silence with a new serious novel is a literary "event." It is eight years since the publication of "The Power and the Glory." During that time he has remained inconspicuous and his reputation has grown huge….
Mr. Greene has long shown an absorbing curiosity in the [existence of Hell]. In "Brighton Rock" he ingeniously gave life to a theological abstraction. We are often told: "The Church does not teach that any man is damned. We only know that Hell exists for those who deserve it. Perhaps it is now empty and will remain so for all eternity."… Mr. Greene challenged the soft modern mood by creating a completely damnable youth. Pinkie of "Brighton Rock" is the ideal examinee for entry to Hell. He gets a pure alpha on every paper. His story is a brilliant and appalling imaginative achievement but falls short of the real hell-fire sermon by its very completeness. We leave our seats edified but smug. However vile we are, we are better than Pinkie. The warning of the preacher was that one unrepented slip obliterated the accumulated merits of a lifetime's struggle to be good. "Brighton Rock" might be taken to mean that one has to be as wicked as Pinkie before one runs into serious danger.
Mr. Greene's latest book, "The Heart of the Matter," should be read as the complement of "Brighton Rock." It poses a vastly more...
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The framework of absolute Catholic theory employed by Greene … in his serious novels, really implies that sexuality is sinful and is not more than condoned by marriage. When Greene is writing about a real psychological situation he writes powerfully and movingly. Such a situation may well be one in which the particular actions of a character result from the reaction between a certain type of education and his concrete circumstances. This applies to the priest in The Power and the Glory. Compared with this the psychological situations of the policeman in The Heart of the Matter, and the novelist in The End of the Affair, seem factitious, even ad hoc.
To be artistically satisfying the situation must be objectively described. The author must not imply that, for esoteric reasons, he knows more about the answers to the problem than the characters do. You can write a human book about a Catholic if you do not at the same time write a book about Catholic theories of human nature.
The Power and the Glory is about the effect of Catholic belief and dogma on someone for whom that belief affords his whole raison d'être. We are allowed to concentrate our attention of the priest as a suffering human being. In The Heart of the Matter and The End of the Affair, which are about sexual and marital relations, the problems, while they are not less specialised and also peculiar to...
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After the revolution of sorts in fiction's faith in its own adequacy to describe the world wrought by Nabokov, Robbe-Grillet, Murdoch, and Pynchon, we can appreciate [The End of the Affair, Greene's] own most deliberate gamble with the limits of art as good taste. But when it appeared in 1951, it seemed in very bad, indeed scandalous, taste. Greene had already, with The Power and the Glory (1940) and The Heart of the Matter (1948), established his reputation, for better and worse, as the most complex and challenging religious novelist of his day. But even for many of his most sympathetic readers, he took things a bit too far in this story of a contemporary Magdalene, an adulteress named Sarah Miles who utters a prayer for her lover as he is trapped by a V-2 explosion outside their bedroom, finds herself drawn more and more to Catholic mysticism, finally dies, having caught a bad cold…. (pp. 35-6)
Scandalous, literally: one of the crucial New Testament meanings of skandalon is an event, divine or demonic, that upsets our notions of the way the world is supposed to work…. But the word can also mean fanatical, outrageous, silly. And not the least of Greene's accomplishments here is to have put these two meanings, scandalously, together. To tell a story that seriously insists a woman can love God enough to transform, physically, the world around her is to risk turning the novel into what Orwell...
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After more than 50 years before the reading public, Graham Greene has become an institution, the living proof that a contemporary novelist can tackle important subjects and still enjoy immense popularity. As a result, a new work by him is a major event in the international publishing season. (p. 338)
It is difficult to pin down unerringly the source of Greene's popularity. His appeal cuts across several classes of reader, and the link is probably his readability. For Greene, the novel still tells a story, and all his considerable craftsmanship is directed towards this end. He is uninterested in technical innovation, although he has been open to the influence of many different fashions from English historical romance and spy thriller to the French Catholic moralists—with glances at Conrad, Hemingway, and even Faulkner and the existentialists. Accents and passages can reflect these influences, but nothing deflects Greene from the main business of holding the reader's attention. To do this, he resorts to the tricks of the cinema—swift juxtaposition of scene, character, and tone—and is often, because of this, slick and ambiguous in his effects…. [What] makes Greene stand out is that from 1938, the year of Brighton Rock, he has used popular forms to explore his own very special obsessions, such as the operation of divine grace, man's moral responsibility to himself and other people, and the nature of love and disloyalty. The...
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