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Reviewed by:
  • Graham Greene's Childless Fathers
  • A. A. DeVitis
Daphna Erdinast-Vulcan. Graham Greene's Childless Fathers. New York: St. Martin's, 1988. 115 pp. $29.95.

Daphna Erdinast-Vulcan's study of seven of Graham Greene's major novels addresses Greene's notion of fatherhood as it applies to his religious views. She sees the father-to-child relationship as biological, metaphorical, and religious, arising from "a deeply, rooted need for a metaphysical framework serving as an ideal reflection of human relationships . . . the ultimate source of grace, pity and love . . . behind human realities. . . ." Erdinast-Vulcan's sensible and scholarly approach to Greene's fictional universe addresses the ethical and moral concerns that the works adumbrate, sometimes in mysterious and bewildering ways. She is fully aware of the fact that in the novels once called "entertainments" but now called "novels" by their author, the theme of parental responsibility glances at and indeed sometimes centers on the relationship of the protagonist to the God he refuses either to believe in or to dismiss, as is the case with Raven in A Gun for Sale. She has, however, chosen for specific analysis several representative novels of Greene's maturity that indicate both the constants in his thinking as well as the shifts of emphasis necessitated by the nature of the particular fable. Occasionally her approach leads her to startling conclusions, as in her analysis of Brighton Rock, where her emphasis diminishes the dramatic tensions of the novel occasioned by Greene's dialectical, allegorical exploration of good and evil. To Erdinast-Vulcan, Rose is at once a mother, representative in some ways of the Virgin, as well as "the prototype of Greene's father figures" in her willingness both to love and to suffer damnation with and for Pinkie.

The study, however, deals more persuasively with the presentation of the priest in The Power and the Glory, Major Scobie in The Heart of the Matter, the Fowler-Pyle relationship in The Quiet American, Querry's quest in A Burnt-Out Case, Brown's relationship to the Smiths and Papa Doc in The Comedians, Maurice Castle, a "priest without a church" in The Human Factor, and Eduardo Plarr, whose search [End Page 704] for a father crowds almost every page of The Honorary Consul. Erdinast-Vulcan examines these characters in the complex of human relationships yet never neglects the priest figures who also function as norms, usually ineptly, within the narratives. Her approach, needless to say, works best in those novels in which the three levels of responsibility are clearly evident, as in The Heart of the Matter and The Honorary Consul, but her insights into the nature of the childless parent in all the fictions that she deals with are always challenging. In discussing The Heart of the Matter she accepts the notion that the novel's framework is necessarily religious and then explores Scobie's relationship to his dead daughter Caroline, to the child-woman Helen he grows to love, to the wife for whose welfare he feels responsible, to the children he compassionately tends once the torpedoed ship places them in his orbit. Erdinast-Vulcan is correct when she points out that in the love affairs portrayed in The Heart of the Matter and in other Greene novels, there is seldom any joy, that sadness is the chief emotion. Perhaps this sadness is occasioned by the hint of incest that these relationships suggest, for the woman is almost inevitably younger than her lover (even in such a light-hearted entertainment as Loser Takes All), the major exceptions, of course, being The End of the Affair and The Human Factor. In The Heart of the Matter the father-child relationship emerges forcefully once the journey to the interior sequence has occurred and lends poignancy to the tale of adventure Scobie concocts for the shipwrecked boy about the exploits of Bishop among the Bantus. Scobie becomes to Erdinast-Vulcan a tragic hero when Christ becomes for him "a real suffering being"; the character becomes a father on earth without a father in heaven to support him: "Scobie is a twentieth-century hero in that he has lost his metaphysical reference—there is...


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pp. 704-705
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