The End of the Affair Critical Context
by Graham Greene

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Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Graham Greene’s is a bleak sort of Catholicism; Bendrix could be speaking for the author when he writes that “the sense of unhappiness is so much easier to convey than that of happiness. In misery we seem aware of our own existence, even though it may be in the form of a monstrous egotism.” A lifelong manic-depressive, Greene as a young man played Russian roulette as an antidote to a deadly ennui, and later he sought out all sorts of danger to combat it. Thus, though Greene says that The End of the Affair was not autobiographical and that he was happily in love at the time, there may be something of a self-portrait in Bendrix, his only protagonist who is, like himself, a novelist. After reading the novel, Pope Pius XII told Bishop Heenan, “I think this man is in trouble.” Yet in some ways, The End of the Affair is Greene’s most distinct statement of belief.

After reading Great Expectations (1860-1861), Greene was so fascinated by Charles Dickens’ use of the first person that he employed it in The End of the Affair. He found the first person difficult to sustain, however, particularly when trying to vary the tone. “I dreaded to see the whole book smoked dry like a fish with his hatred.... There were only two shades of the same color-obsessive love and obsessive hate.” Yet Greene managed to find variety through a complex series of flashbacks plus the use of Sarah’s journal and some letters.

In retrospect, Greene thought he hurried the book too much after Sarah’s death; “The coincidences should have continued over the years, battering the mind of Bendrix, forcing on him a reluctant doubt of his own atheism.” In a later edition, wanting every possible miracle to have a possibly natural explanation, Greene replaced Smythe’s strawberry birthmark with a skin disease that might have been purely psychosomatic.

Most of Greene’s novels are intellectual adventure stories with a fair amount of what he calls melodramatic violence. Here, there i no violence, and the adventure is purely psychological and emotional. Nevertheless, there is a mystery about the identity of Sarah’s unknown lover, who turns out to be God, and her pilgrimage to faith is as adventurous a journey as any of the more external ones made by other Greene protagonists.