Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Critical opinions of Brighton Rock abound, with some reviewers citing it as the first of Greene’s mature novels, many claiming it to be his best, others citing The Power and the Glory (1940) as his finest, quite a few placing this work with two others in a type of unofficial trilogy: Brighton Rock, The Power and the Glory, and The Heart of the Matter (1948). What emerges clearly from a review of critics is their appreciation of Greene’s overwhelming power in depicting evil and the dramatic consequences of guilt, sin, and awareness of different types of beliefs.

The religious dimensions of this novel appeal variously, depending upon the sophistication and knowledge of the critic. Certainly, many sense their own mystification as they ponder the variations in the depiction of the victim, the sinner, and the possible saint. Some note that Greene has reworked the original paradox of the holy sinner at the cost of some strange inconsistencies. Readers may have difficulty moving from his vivid paintings of a totally fallen world to the concept of divine grace espoused by a wheezing priest hearing confession. Yet in continued tribute, critics note the power of Greene’s imagery, the film techniques, the brooding sense of theological dimension so that readers emerge from Brighton Rock uneasy, perhaps horrified by what awaits Rose, yet strangely enlightened by their glimpses of an ethical system which challenges them to examine their bland moral codes.