Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Along with The Quiet American (1955) and Our Man in Havana: An Entertainment (1958), The Comedians is part of a cycle of political novels which critics generally agree marks Greene’s second major period of creativity. Arguably Greene’s most political novel, it is the only one of his books which, according to the author, “began with the intention of expressing a point of view and in order to fight—to fight the horror of Papa Doc’s dictatorship.”

The Comedians is one of Greene’s best novels. A measure of its success is the vituperation heaped on Greene by Duvalier himself when the novel appeared. After attacking it furiously in an interview he gave to the morning paper he owned in Port-au-Prince, Duvalier issued an elaborately prepared brochure entitled “Graham Greene Demasque Finally Exposed” and distributed it to the European press through Haitian embassies. In this document, Greene is characterized as “A liar, a cretin, a stool-pigeon. . . unbalanced, sadistic, perverted . . . a perfect ignoramus . . . lying to his heart’s content . . . the shame of proud and noble England... a spy... a drug addict... a torturer.”

In the dedication to The Comedians, Greene says that he has not blackened Duvalier’s rule for dramatic effect. To do so, he suggests, would be impossible. Although it is set in Haiti, Greene’s masterful manipulation of detail translates that region of the world into a symbol of the monstrous degradation of contemporary life. Thinking about Martha’s German father hanged as a war criminal in his own country, Brown reflects that “Haiti was not an exception in a sane world: it was a small slice of everyday taken at random.”