In Graham Greene’s The Honorary Consul a group of Paraguayan revolutionaries attempt to kidnap the American ambassador to Argentina. By mistake, however, they seize Charles Fortnum, the British Honorary Consul, who has accompanied the Ambassador on a visit to some ruins in the north. Much of the action of the novel deals with the consequences, for various individuals, of the bungled kidnaping.
The novel opens in a small river port in northern Argentina on the Tuesday evening of the kidnaping. Doctor Eduardo Plarr is anxious. Because of a complex of reasons, not the least of which is the hope of freeing his father from political imprisonment in Paraguay, Plarr has been induced to provide the revolutionaries with precise information about the Ambassador’s movements. The revolutionaries are led by Plarr’s old school friend, a former priest named Leon Rivas. When, after the kidnaping, Plarr is called to Rivas’ camp to provide medical assistance, he recognizes Fortnum and alerts Rivas to the mistake. Unfortunately, Fortnum also recognizes him.
Plarr argues for the Consul’s release on the grounds that he is not important enough to be useful to the revolutionaries’ cause. Fortnum is not an official member of the diplomatic corps because he is not a real consul. Plarr points out: “An Honorary Consul is not a proper Consul.” Rivas rejects Plarr’s appeal because kidnaping the wrong man is better than kidnaping no one; the revolutionary followers of El Tigre would be “discouraged if nothing happened.... Even the kidnapping of a Consul is something.”
Plarr’s desire for Fortnum’s release is not uncomplicated. Fortnum’s wife, Clara, is Plarr’s lover, and she is pregnant with his child. Plarr would prefer to leave...
(The entire section is 730 words.)