restricted access Graham Greene: On the Frontier. Politics and Religion in the Novels, and: Greene and Kierkegaard: The Discourse of Belief, and: An Underground Fate: The Idiom of Romance in the Later Novels of Graham Greene (review)
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Reviewed by
Maria Couto. Graham Greene: On the Frontier. Politics and Religion in the Novels. New York: St. Martin's, 1988. 259 pp. $29.95.
Anne T. Salvatore. Greene and Kierkegaard: The Discourse of Belief. University: U of Alabama P, 1988. 138 pp. $18.95.
Brian Thomas. An Underground Fate: The Idiom of Romance in the Later Novels of Graham Greene. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1988. 252 pp. $28.00.

Of the three studies before us, Maria Couto's is the most provoking of both thought and irritation. She surveys Greene's major fiction in terms of his political and religious views in order to substantiate her claim that Greene is perhaps "the only English writer to have recognized a larger human reality" by which she means the hitherto unacknowledged cultures abroad in the so-called "third world." Like others before her, she points out the distinctive characteristics of this fiction: Greene's suspicion of authority and abstract systems, his use of Catholic themes [End Page 337] to explore and deepen experienced reality, his sympathy for the underdog and "human inadequacy," and so on. What distinguishes these analyses and indeed the entire argument is that Couto treats the novels primarily as political documents and judges them in accordance with what she considers to be the correct left-wing sympathies they appear to reveal. She is uneasy about the fact that Greene did not distance himself sufficiently from his English culture, as Auden and Kim Philby did, during the troubled Thirties, for she believes she detects an unacceptable tinge of paternalistic protectiveness of Africans in his writings. Greene does not defend the "Empire" outright but by implying (as she contends) it was, on a balance of considerations, more humane than what replaced it, he brands himself "a prisoner of received ideologies of culture." She is happy to forgive him this failing because it is virtually eclipsed by the strength, vigor, and clarity of his attacks on the U.S., which she endorses. Greene's religious faith is frequently referred to but never explored in any substantial or helpful way. Brighton Rock is made out to be essentially "an exposure of the capitalist system"; she prefers to regard the persecuting lieutenant and the whiskey priest in The Power and the Glory as equals in their radicalism; she maintains that in The End of the Affair it is Sarah's love for Bendrix, not her Newman-like belief in God, that furnishes the mainspring of the action. By consistently equating religious values with vaguely Marxist ideals, she gives the impression that faith means little more to her (and to Greene) than a sentimental belief in some future Marxist-inspired utopia. The only aspect of Catholicism that is validated is "liberation theology," Catholic social activism. Hence she concludes that Monsignor Quixote and his Sancho, the Communist Enrique Zancas, are not opponents but comrades in the service of the "fundamentals of humanism," innocents when measured against the corrupt civil and ecclesiastical authorities, benignly travelling, like Don Camillo and Peppone, to the same heavenly city on earth. In the end it is clear that Greene's artistry is valued because of its one-sided political slant.

Perhaps she reads the novels in light of her interview with Greene, which she includes as an appendix with some letters he has written to editors where his political stance is unambiguously expressed. Together these do confirm Greene's indiscriminate hatred of the U.S. and what it represents and an unwillingness to acknowledge, as John Gray recently put it, the disfigurements and cruelties inflicted upon cultures where Marxism "has acquired political hegemony." It is sad to discover that a novelist praised for his sense of the complexity of character and experience should think about contemporary realities in terms of simplistic absolutes. Despite his disdain for dogmatic positions, he is most completely in sympathy with Communism, and his opinions, if taken seriously, are very like a slap in the face of many writers who have suffered, as Greene has not, on the other side (Vaclav Havel, for example). Furthermore, if we accept Couto's view of Greene, then we must conclude that from the start he...


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