restricted access Graham Greene: A Revaluation (review)
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Reviewed by
Jeffrey Meyers, ed. Graham Greene: A Revaluation. New York: St. Martin's, 1990. 216 pp. $35.00.

Jeffrey Meyers has served Graham Greene criticism well in persuading eight American, British, and Canadian scholars to map the less frequently visited areas of "Greeneland." The scholars are quite well known for work on other authors and areas, thus holding out the promise of fresh perspectives and new insights. Unfortunately, the collection does not always fully earn its subtitle as it considers Greene's literary criticism (Eugene Goodheart), travel books (Jeffrey Meyers), plays (Roger Sharrock), short stories (John Bayley), wartime tales (Rowland Smith), espionage books (William M. Chace), thematic and structural uses of death (Alan Friedman), and (the expected) Catholic beliefs (Donald Greene). The essays by Sharrock, Bayley, and Friedman are excellent, incisive discussions; the others are rarely less than useful, even though they occasionally seem unaware of recent criticism. They may not effect a full "revaluation," but they definitely establish the significance of the margins of the Greene canon to its center.

Donald Greene's comparison of Greene and Waugh seems an odd introduction, both because it is avowedly "selective and impressionistic" and because whatever Greene's contribution to the twentieth century, the author thinks "Waugh has added more."

Limiting himself to the Collected Essays, Goodheart selectively weighs Greene's "clearly occasional" works and discerns in them a continuous religious perspective that leads Greene to admire an author's "power to imagine and realize evil." Goodheart calls attention to Greene's "endearing humility" but ultimately concludes that the essays lack the "sense of historical and political particularity."

Had Meyers' discussion of the travel books been more shaped by Gwen Boardman's Graham Greene: The Aesthetics of Exploration or Paul Fussell's Abroad, it could have laid claim to being the most perceptive essay in the collection, because Greene critics now realize the significance of the travel books in understanding Greene's ideas and techniques; they also are "far more revealing than [Greene's] rather reticent autobiographies." Meyers situates the books in the Conradian tradition of contrasting "the civilized and primitive" to illuminate the nature of modern man. "Greene seems determined," Meyers writes, "to discover in Africa a Freudian map of the terror he repressed in his past and of the lost innocence in his childhood," but these "preconceived notions and contradictions in logic weaken the argument of the book." The Audenesque metaphors of map, frontier, and geographical contexts dominate The Lawless Roads, but Meyers finds it "the most hate-filled travel book ever written."

Sharrock discusses Greene's eight plays with authority and sympathy, guided by the assumption that "when these plays are treated as a coherent group . . . they reveal most to us of Greene's guiding motives as a writer and of the special quality of what he was trying to do in the theatre." He finds the plays "highly competent" but marred surprisingly by Greene's "slickness" in exploiting "established forms." Carving a Statue strikes Sharrock as Greene's "highly personal turn to his portrait of the artist." Sharrock's essay is stylishly, gracefully written, thoroughly argued, an excellent addition to Greene criticism which says more about the plays than do most books on Greene. [End Page 620]

Bayley's discussion, on the other hand, is brief, oblique, and yet highly suggestive, as he maneuvers Greene's stories into a position between those of Kipling and Maugham. He sees that the stories "give the impression of being thrown off in the course of a busy writing life, with money as the main object," but this does not hamper him in finding true merit in "The Hint of an Explanation" and "May We Borrow Your Husband?" while seeing "something wearisomely predictable" in "A Visit to Morin." Preferring indirections, metaphors, and aperçus, Bayley discusses few stories but draws a most provocative boundary around the stories that "seem like candles lit in church in the course of a brief routine visit."

Of the remaining essays, Friedman's "'The Dangerous Edge': Beginning with Death" suggests numerous ways in which death as action, theme, and technical device informs Greene's novels. He considers the novels "a post-mortem fiction...


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