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Graham Greene

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#1 Andrew


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Posted 24 May 2006 - 05:18 PM

In doing a quick search, I notice that Greene's name has come up on a few occasions, but his work has never had a dedicated thread (ahem-preemption here: except the brief, curious one about his sex life). Well, having just finished The Power and the Glory, I thought I'd start such a thread.

TPatG impressed me immensely; considering that the story never bestows its main character with a name, I came away caring deeply about the 'whisky priest;' heck, I was near tears by book's end. The melding of an eyes-wide-open view of human nature with hope and even humor rivals that found in Dostoyevsky. Prior to this, I had most recently read his 'Quiet American,' and while I thought his observations about the well-intentioned yet ultimately blind and harmful effects of Western colonialism were dead-on, it didn't prepare me for the spiritual depths of TPatG.

Oh, and what incisive turns of phrase he uses; here are a few of my favorites from TPatG:

- "Man was so limited he hadn't even the ingenuity to invent a new vice: the animals knew as much. It was for this world that Christ had died; the more evil you saw and heard about you, the greater glory lay around the death. It was too easy to die for what was good or beautiful, for home or children or a civilization - it needed a God to die for the half-hearted and the corrupt."

- "When you visualized a man or woman carefully, you could always begin to feel pity - that was a quality God's image carried with it. When you saw the lines at the corners of the eyes, the shape of the mouth, how the hair grew, it was impossible to hate. Hate was just a failure of imagination."

- And lastly, a thought from the mind of his Mexican protagonist, meditating on the ways of his British hosts at one point: "Sweat cleaned you as effectively as water. But this was the race which had invented the proverb that cleanliness was next to godliness - cleanliness, not purity."

It wasn't surprising to learn that GG was a film critic when young - his landscape descriptions and action depictions have a cinematic quality.

So, who else shares the love of Greene-land? (For that matter, who doesn't?) And what are your favorite works?

#2 Doug C

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Posted 24 May 2006 - 05:29 PM

I've only read The Quiet American and some of Greene's film criticism, and enjoyed them both, particularly the former. (Note: Phillip Noyce's recent version is much truer to the novel than Mankiewicz's version).

A good friend of mine just finished TPatG, too, and compared it favorably to Bernanos' Diary of a Country Priest. I should point out that John Ford made an interesting screen version entitled The Fugitive.

Edit: I should also point out that Rialto's rerelease of Carol Reed's The Fallen Idol (1948) is making the rounds at the moment and it's well worth seeing.

Edited by Doug C, 24 May 2006 - 06:07 PM.

#3 SDG


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Posted 24 May 2006 - 05:45 PM

Not much time at the moment, but definitely sharing the love of The Power and the Glory.

Wrote about it in my reviews of Nazarin as well as The Quiet American and The End of the Affair (the latter of which I am proud to say holds the Guinness record for the longest leading run-on sentence in the history of film criticism).

What makes TPATG so powerful is that Greene's "whisky priest" has absolutely nothing going for him, absolutely nothing at all, except that every time his is confronted with a choice, he always makes the self-sacrificing, serving choice.

Yet it is only we, the readers, who see that he is doing so; he himself has no real hope or expectation of pleasing God, or even of helping his fellow human beings, who are uniformly ungrateful and unreceptive, depriving him of every consolation of having made any sort of positive difference, or benefitting anyone in any way.

He believes he is likely in mortal sin, partly because his theology is deficient, and partly because he is a genuinely weak human being who has made lots of mistakes in his life, even though he never makes a wrong turn during the course of the book.

His almost despairing self-sacrificial right choices contrast stunningly with the behavior of Greene's other disgraced cleric, who belives that he is so far gone into mortal sin that his actions no longer matter one way or the other, and who refuses the plea of Greene's protagonist to come and hear his confession.

The agonizing pathos of this subplot strikingly highlights how profoundly mistaken this kind of thinking is -- our choices always matter, no matter how far we think we are gone. No matter how far gone the second priest thinks he is, had he gone to hear the protagonist's confession, it would have made all the difference in the world -- to the protagonist.

Yet the protagonist is cruelly deprived of this consolation, because another man had already committed so many betrayals that, tragically, he felt one betrayal more or less would make no difference. How ironic, that the protagonist so consistently sacrifices himself for those who show no sign of receptivity or gratitude, while the other priest refuses to help the one person who would most deeply appreciate such an act.

Greene's six-toothed mulatto is absolutely one of the most disturbing characters I have ever encountered in fiction, whom I have mentioned in previous threads, where I described him as "a relentlessly venal and nauseatingly ingratiating character with a limitless capacity for treachery and self-interest."

Should mention that this novel was loosely adapted as one of John Ford's less available films, The Fugitive (1947). As you would expect, the film is more pious and less profound than the book, but gorgeously photographed (thanks to Mexican cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa as well as director Ford) in B&W and rich with Catholic imagery.

(Added: Ah, I see Doug C also felt he "should point out" the same film!)

#4 SDG


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Posted 24 May 2006 - 06:47 PM

Ken, I'm not surprised that the later Greene is the cause of struggling. He seems in some way to have degenerated in his later years.

Not that I am aware of a period in his life and thought that could be said to be free from contradiction and ambiguity. But it seems to me that in the "middle Greene" there is a moral and existential tension in his work that drains out as the years go on, leaving only the degenerate part that was perhaps never absent, but seems once to have an occasion of torment, but was not so in the end.

I have a half-formed theory that a similar pattern can be seen in works (and lives?) of Woody Allen, Ingmar Bergman, and other artists who seem God-haunted at a middle period in their lives but eventually wind up arguably complacent in their anti-God outlook and lifestyle.

In Greene you can see it comparing The End of the Affair with The Quiet American (not saying those are the best choices, but given my limited reading in Greene they work).

In Woody Allen you can see it comparing Crimes and Misdemeanors with Match Point.

A less amateurish and ignorant exploration of some of these issues can be found in Robert Royal on Graham Greene in First Things.

Edited by SDG, 24 May 2006 - 07:52 PM.

#5 Kyle


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Posted 24 May 2006 - 07:14 PM

I went through a Graham Greene kick about six years ago and read Brighton Rock, The Quiet American, and The End of the Affair in quick succession. Strangely I never read the Power and the Glory. I remember really enjoying the Quiet American. It gave me plenty to chew on. However, I don't remember what stood out! This makes me wish I had time to re-read some of his novels, because I remember very little about them other than major plot details. I'm begining to think I need to start writing my observations about a book, so I can remember them years later. It would give me more to say than, "yeah read Graham Greene. His books are good."

Edited by Kyle, 24 May 2006 - 07:16 PM.

#6 Buckeye Jones

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Posted 24 May 2006 - 07:28 PM

Don't have a lot of time right now, but wanted to toss in that another book you might like is Endo's "Silence". I read it right after TPaTG, and found them to be very interesting compliments of each other.

#7 Andy Whitman

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Posted 25 May 2006 - 07:49 AM

I'll certainly confess my love of almost all things by Graham Greene. My favorite novel of Greene's, and one I haven't seen mentioned yet, is The Heart of the Matter. As much as I love The Power and the Glory and The End of the Affair, I find the former book even more deeply satisfying. The themes are familiar ones for Greene -- political corruption, betrayal and guilt. It's a classical Greek tragedy (only set in fly-ridden Sierra Leone), and watching Greene pull the strings as the action moves to its inexorable conclusion is a marvel. It's also a deeply moral work. A superficially "good" man -- a faithful husband, a fair and impartial administrator -- agrees to a dubious political bargain to raise money to send his unhappy wife away from the pestilential colony he calls home. While she is gone, he begins an affair with a neighbor. The wife returns a few months later. A devout Catholic, she suggests that they attend Mass and take communion together as a way of renewing their relationship. But before he can take communion, he must confess his sins. Welcome to hell.

"He entered the territory of lies without a passport for return" (Graham Greene, The Heart of the Matter). Ah, I love this book. I should read it again.

#8 anglicanbeachparty



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Posted 25 May 2006 - 10:17 AM

I, too, am a big Graham Greene fan. I've read The Heart of the Matter (great!), The Power and the Glory, The End of the Affair, Stamboul Train, Brighton Rock, and a biography of him (I'm not sure which one). His non-writing exploits, such as having an affair with his goddaughter, seems to place his practice of the Christian faith somewhat behind his understanding of it (which shines through tremendously in some of his books).

It's been a while since I've read anything by Greene, however.

#9 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 25 May 2006 - 11:49 AM

Andrew wrote:
: In doing a quick search, I notice that Greene's name has come up on a few occasions, but his work has
: never had a dedicated thread (ahem-preemption here: except the brief, curious one about his sex life).

Links are good. smile.gif

FWIW, we also have two threads on film adaptations of Greene.

#10 SDG


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Posted 25 May 2006 - 12:26 PM

QUOTE(kenmorefield @ May 25 2006, 01:01 PM) View Post
In a quote that I didn't include, Greene sorta slams the Bloomsbury school, including E. M. Forster. That's ironic, for me, because Forster (in Howard's End) is one of the few other examples of a male author who created a believable female character. Sarah's diary is one of the few examples of a male writing convincingly in the voice of a female character. Narrative voices in different genders than the author always intrique me, though I seldom find them done to my satisfaction:
How interesting. That potentially makes two things that Graham Greene has in common with a much more pious, less-celebrated, still-alive Catholic author, Michael O'Brien.

The first point of contact has already been the cause of Greene and O'Brien being mentioned side-by-side in the other threads in which Greene's mulatto came up as one of the most profoundly evil characters I had ever encountered in fiction -- the other such character being O'Brien's Count Smokrev from Father Elijah. Eek. Very different from Greene's mulatto, but no less thoroughly depraved, albeit in different directions.

On the second point of contact, I have it on the authority of a number of women readers, including my wife Suz, my mother, and others, that O'Brien's characterization of the female protagonist of Strangers and Sojourners, and his insights into her character as a woman, are an extraordinary achievement coming from a male author. This indeed made such an impression on my mother that she reliably mentions it every time the book comes up.

FWIW, I find it impressive too, but of course there's something a bit not entirely satisfying or definitive about a male reader's opinion of the authenticity or persuasiveness of a male author's characterization of a female character qua female character; so it's interesting to me that O'Brien's characterization seems remarkable not only to me as a man but to women too.

QUOTE(kenmorefield @ May 25 2006, 01:01 PM) View Post
For some reason I've been thinking a lot recently about what sort of relationship one might have in the afterlife with people one dislikes in this life.
God in his mercy grant that we should all be so blessed as to see how his grace can resolve such difficulties. (Something called purgatory may be part of it, though not necessarily the whole.)

#11 Jeff Kolb

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Posted 25 May 2006 - 12:34 PM

Ken, it's truly a pleasure to have you posting again. I appreciate your writing.

And, where in the world is Ruthie?? I can't believe she hasn't posted yet.

#12 SDG


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Posted 25 May 2006 - 12:38 PM


And I pray at night . . . that a miracle should be done and that I should believe.
Let us hope that it did.

I feel that Purgatory may happen in this life, not in a future life.
As is so, so often the case, the positive half of this statement is perfectly orthodox, though not the negative half. ("Lord, send me now my purgatory," says a traditional prayer.)

In the summer of 1987, I dreamt that I was reading in the newspapers that the Pope was considering canonising Jesus Christ, and I found myself thinking that the man must be mad with pride to be thinking of giving an honour to Christ
When I first read this, I was skimming and missed that Greene was only dreaming about reading the newspaper, and while I wasn't surprised that such a report might make the Italian press and thereby find its way into other newspapers, I was briefly flabbergasted that a (however heterodox) Catholic journalist, of all people, could credit such a report!

I would hate to have a dream like that. I would hate what it would tell me about myself. Then again, if I were the kind of person at all likely to have a dream like that, perhaps I wouldn't hate what it would tell me about myself. (OTOH, I have had dreams that I hated what they told me about myself... though ones like this haven't been among them.)

#13 John



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Posted 25 May 2006 - 02:02 PM

QUOTE(Andrew @ May 24 2006, 05:18 PM) View Post

Oh, and what incisive turns of phrase he uses; here are a few of my favorites from TPatG:

- "When you visualized a man or woman carefully, you could always begin to feel pity - that was a quality God's image carried with it. When you saw the lines at the corners of the eyes, the shape of the mouth, how the hair grew, it was impossible to hate. Hate was just a failure of imagination."

So, who else shares the love of Greene-land? (For that matter, who doesn't?) And what are your favorite works?

I too am a fan of Greene's. I've read The Power and the Glory most recently, but also The Quiet American and The End of the Affair. The latter is probably my favorite at the moment, but PatG is wonderful. Of course, Greene also wrote the script for The Third Man, which is one of my favorite movies. I've got The Heart of the Matter on my shelf, waiting to be read.

Andrew, the quote you've cited above is the very one I have included in a little book of quotes I keep when something strikes me. Thanks for reminding me of it, and causing me to look back through my quote book, which is always an enlightening experience.

And Ken, thanks for all those quotes. I had heard Greene had some "interesting" views on things, but it's nice to have something to refer to. On the face of it, I'm not sure it changes how I feel about his novels that I've read (just as some of Bergman's quotes don't change the way I feel about, say, Winter Light). However, they do lend a complexity that I will keep in mind as I continue to read Greene.

#14 ruthie



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Posted 01 June 2006 - 07:47 PM

QUOTE(Jeff Kolb @ May 25 2006, 10:34 AM) View Post

And, where in the world is Ruthie?? I can't believe she hasn't posted yet.

I was on vacation... biggrin.gif A few days with no computer!

Since returning from my time away, I haven't posted because I just don't know where to start with Graham Greene.

My dad recommended that I read TPatG as I was looking for books to take along with me to live in Russia a few years ago. Literature is a special way in which my dad and I can relate. I have only learned this recently because I have spent much of my life being skeptical of his book recommendations. First of all, we have difficulty understanding each other in general, and I find books so personal that, upon first inspection, I think it unlikely that we would have similar tastes. Secondly, he usually gives me some peculiar or preposterous synopsis along with his recommendation that leaves me saying, "a book about what?" After getting over my qualms a couple of times and reading his favorites, I have learned to trust his literary discression. We seem to understand each other the best through other peoples' writings.

My dad bought me both TPatG and Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath that day to send me off, appalled that I hadn't read them already, and he told me that they were his all-time favorite books. These two novels affected me similarly during the strange months in a foreign country, and I have rarely found writing, characters, and stories that can compare with them for me. And it brings me joy that I can share that with my dad.

I have read other Greene works, but thus far, they haven't quite repeated TPatG...yet...I have a few more to check out.

There are ways in which Greene, Steinbeck, Stegner, and Buechner affect me similarly. I have rumours that others periodically describe their works as "tiring", but for me the ways in which they all grasp the messy essence of humanity are somehow enlivening.

This is my first try, I suppose I shall have to go home and pick up my Greene and try to come up with a more coherant rant...and maybe try again.

Edited by ruthie, 01 June 2006 - 07:49 PM.

#15 NBooth


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Posted 08 August 2011 - 10:29 AM

The 2-Aug-11 edition of the BBC podcast Great Lives focuses on Graham Greene, with clips from interviews Greene gave years ago and comments by the coordinator of the Graham Greene festival.

Also: The Third Man and Brighton Rock.

I can't believe I never posted in this thread; Greene is one of my favorite authors--The Power and the Glory, of course, is a classic, as is Brighton Rock. This is what I wrote when I finished Brighton Rock earlier this year:

I am deeply in love with the clarity of Greene’s prose; it’s like a window, like a song, like a razorblade to the cheek. Even mundane actions achieve a kind of beauty when he describes them. The story is a good one, and the characters—the sociopath Pinkie, the good-natured Ida, and the melancholy Rose—are all drawn with great vigor and life. The religious question is familiar from Greene (see The Power and the Glory), with the characters good and bad who are convinced that they have damned themselves, and the priest who muses "You cannot conceive, my child, nor can I or anyone the…appalling…strangeness of the mercy of God." The final twist is cruel (and characteristically Greene), and it makes one doubt, rather, the hope that is offered to Rose in the final pages. Pinkie is damned. But he is not damned because he married outside of Church blessing. Rather, he is damned because (unlike Ida) he hates life, he cannot love; he is evil. And Ida, the merry sinner that she is, is among the blessed because she loves life and never means harm. She knows “right” and “wrong” even if she cannot fathom good and evil. In all, this is a very dense, quick-moving thriller. (Incidentally, the “cruel” ending might well be another instance of the mercy of God).

That tension (and that between cruel mercy or merciful cruelty) seems to be characteristic of Greene's fiction, and that's part of what makes his fiction so readable.

#16 NBooth


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Posted 15 January 2012 - 10:06 AM

Has anyone heard of this book?

In The Man Within My Head, Pico Iyer sets out to unravel the mysterious closeness he has always felt with the English writer Graham Greene; he examines Greene’s obsessions, his elusiveness, his penchant for mystery. Iyer follows Greene’s trail from his first novel, The Man Within, to such later classics as The Quiet American and begins to unpack all he has in common with Greene: an English public school education, a lifelong restlessness and refusal to make a home anywhere, a fascination with the complications of faith. The deeper Iyer plunges into their haunted kinship, the more he begins to wonder whether the man within his head is not Greene but his own father, or perhaps some more shadowy aspect of himself.

Iyer talks to the Los Angeles Review of Books here. He picks his favorite Greene novels here.

To be honest, I've never heard of Iyer. Should I have?

#17 NBooth


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Posted 21 March 2012 - 11:35 AM

biblioklept has a post up on The Power and the Glory titled "The Priest is Us":

As the priest travels, he finds himself stripped not only of the vestments of his profession: his chalice, his incense, his robes, and his bible, but his own air of invincibility, privilege and comfort. Exposed, fearful, living in a state of mortal sin and unable to confess, this fallen man of God, like Christ himself, is destroyed. The priest is, by his own admission, a bad one. He drinks heavily and thinks too much of his own comfort. Led to his profession not so much by attention to the divine will but by a desire for status and privilege, during his exile he recalls fondly dinners lavish dinners with wealthy members of his assembly and the gifts they gave him. While he may have seen that the most of his flock made a meager living on small farms after taxes and fees paid to local bosses, he never stopped to consider the meaning of his own observations, busying himself instead with ambitions for his own greater glory. He is, for the first half of the book, greedy, proud, and self-concerned.

But, as he eludes the authorities and traverses the country, he becomes, in Greene’s capable hands, a symbol of redemption and an affirmation of a full but unrealized life.

#18 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 09 May 2012 - 10:30 AM

Has anyone heard of this book?

I'm starting to hear good things about it.

From The Telegraph -

... Iyer, on the contrary, is determined to write “a counterbiography”: not the life of Greene, “but what it touches off in the rest of us”. He speaks for many readers and writers when he explains his seductive project to his Japanese wife, Hiroko. “I’m interested in how one can feel so much closer to someone one’s never met than to those one’s known all one’s life… Why do I feel he understands me as nobody I’ve met in my life can do? Why do I feel that I understand him, as none of his other readers quite do?”

In his attempt to answer these questions, he has written the work that those who love Greene (as I do) have dreamt of writing and, in doing it so well, absolved us of the need ...

Edited by Persiflage, 09 May 2012 - 10:30 AM.

#19 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 09 August 2012 - 12:17 PM

Nice recent thoughts on The Heart of the Matter by Aimee Liu:

... The facts in Greene's fiction resonate not just historically, but also philosophically and theologically. Political exigencies within the narrative become prisms for personal choice. Layers of power and official status vibrate with the moral uncertainties that rank and title can't quite conceal. Information serves both a literal and a metaphoric purpose, as Greene's interpretation distills from his wartime experience the deeper truth of what he called "the human situation."

... To this point, in his 2012 meditation on Greene, The Man Within My Head (Knopf, 2012), Pico Iyer observes that in every one of Greene's books, "there is another text, written in invisible ink between the lines, that may be telling the real story, of what the words evade." It is this other text that gives Greene's work its true power and depth, its enduring meaning. Moral responsibility, conscience, and compassion are invariably central to this meaning ...