(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

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.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Dr. Eduardo Plarr is a man incapable of making emotional commitments. He returns to the provincial town of Corrientes, Argentina, on the border between Argentina and Paraguay, after completing medical school in Buenos Aires, in order to be of use to the poor. He is also drawn back to the place by memories of his father, an Englishman, who sent his wife and young son to safety in Argentina many years before and who remained behind in Paraguay.

Plarr, clinging to the mistaken belief that his father is still alive, comes into contact with a band of Paraguayan guerrillas led by Plarr’s boyhood friend, Father León Rivas. Rivas, who intended to be a lawyer, is now a priest. His faith fails him, however, and, feeling he can no longer quote the Bible to the poor to comfort them in their poverty, he decides the time has come to take some action. He and the mysterious revolutionary figure El Tigre come up with their plan to kidnap an American ambassador who is to visit the Corrientes area, in order to exchange him for political prisoners in Paraguay.

Because Plarr, through his relationship with Clara Fortnum, wife of the English honorary consul, will be able to discover the plans for the visit and the routes the car will take, Rivas includes Plarr’s father on the list of prisoners to be released. Plarr does not know that the old man was shot during the escape of Aquino, another member of the band of kidnappers. In the hope that he might be able to save his father, Plarr agrees to help.

Rivas and the kidnappers, acting on the information Plarr provides them, are waiting at the designated point when Charley Fortnum, the honorary consul, unexpectedly passes them in his car. Fortnum is anxious to return home to his pregnant wife and leaves the ambassador early, thus disrupting the plans of the kidnappers. Expecting only the car of the American ambassador, the kidnappers abduct Fortnum and take him to a remote mud hut in the “barrio popular,” where they keep him sedated with drugs obtained from Plarr. When Fortnum’s life appears to be in danger because of the effect of the drugs on a system ravaged by alcoholism, the kidnappers send for Plarr, who is reluctantly drawn deeper into the affair.

Plarr, who recognizes Fortnum, informs the kidnappers of their mistake and of the unlikelihood that Fortnum will be worth anything as a bargaining tool, since he is only an “honorary” consul. He hopes to take Fortnum home and pass off the whole affair to him as a drunken hallucination, but Rivas and the others...

(The entire section is 1039 words.)