Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The Green Man can be seen in one way as a late example of the “ghost story,” a subgenre brought to perfection, in many opinions, in the tales of M. R. James (1862-1936). Amis’ novel shows several resemblances to these, not least in its grasp of period detail and in its careful setting of one major scene within a college library. (James was provost of King’s College, Cambridge, and frequently used his immense knowledge of paleography in his fiction.) It is a great technical achievement to have added to this framework at least three elements quite alien to the “Jamesian” story, namely sexuality, individual characterization, and skepticism.

The point of doing this can, however, only be grasped in terms of Amis’ own development. In this context, The Green Man shows Amis’ increasing disenchantment with political themes, his alienation from the highly politicized scene of the late 1960’s, and his conviction that the truly serious concern of the novel ought to be one’s ability to develop and hold a personal philosophy in the face of organized disbelief and the erosion of all moral standards.

That is Allington’s success. He does win through to a kind of creed, even after his interview with the “young man”; he recovers his daughter, both physically and emotionally. The major achievement of The Green Man is to rescue conviction from the jaws of skepticism, fear, and nihilism. It may usefully be compared with several other novels by Amis on the themes of age, death, and deity, particularly The Anti-Death League (1966), Ending Up (1975), and The Alteration (1976).