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Reviewed by:
  • Das kurzepische Werk Graham Greenes
  • Hans-Peter Breuer
Volker Schulz. Das kurzepische Werk Graham Greenes. Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag, 1987. 280 pp. No price given.

Volker Schulz's study is the first (an unpublished dissertation excepted) to concentrate exclusively on Greene's short fiction. In format it resembles the standard linguistic treatise, for Schulz is intent on making his analyses more empirical than is customary in conventional literary studies. In an Introduction he provides a generative model of short fiction constructed rigorously out of definitions garnered from Todorov, Culler, Ingarden, Barthes, and others (complete with a diagram of five levels of significance). In Chapter One he divides Greene's development as writer of short fiction into three stages interrupted by an "interludium," 1942 to 1953; a substantial portion of the chapter is devoted to fitting the stories into [End Page 621] various carefully discriminated categories of short narrative—the novella, the portrait, the sketch, and so on (Greene, it appears, favors the "Konstellation" novella, as another diagram makes clear); this is followed by a summary of the stories' formal characteristics—settings, type of characters, plot structures, motifs, point of view. The second chapter consists entirely of detailed analysis of one story representing each of the categories defined in Chapter One.

Schulz's organization is awkwardly mechanical. The Introduction stands disjunct from the two chapters, although it is useful as an accurate summary of recent narratological thinking (some of it belaboring the obvious). He demonstrates his categories by analyzing the stories, but because he analyzes some of them for different purposes, he inadvertantly becomes somewhat repetitive. There is also something fussily pedantic and unprofitable in his narrow concern with fitting Greene's short fiction into established lit. crit. pigeonholes: because he too singlemindedly concerns himself with formal aspects, he neglects to enlarge upon the often astute remarks he occasionally allows himself about the larger significance of the stories under his microscope. To make classification the main focus is, however, to practice literary morphology: for the task of literary criticism is reduced to discovering the appropriate taxonomic label with which to identify and "fix" the literary work as if it were a specimen in an historical exhibit. Furthermore, it is unfortunate on the one hand that he never once relates the short fiction to Greene's larger works, not even in the section dealing with Greene's development; or on the other, that he is reluctant, although referring in passing to the autobiographical writings, to investigate Greene's outlook. The romantic relationships found in several stories, the concern with the writer's relation to the real, the theme of youthful betrayal—all suggest parallels in the novels; and Schulz is unwilling to follow Greene when the stories hint at a dimension that "violates" what he understands to be the boundaries of "natural law." But a discussion of Greene's "Sense of Reality," the title of his second collection, would have been appropriate (in "Under the Garden" we read, "Absolute reality belongs to dreams and not to life"). In strait-jacketing himself, Schulz limits his study too severely and leaves the short fiction standing in a vaccum. Nonetheless, Schulz's study deserves the full attention of students of Greene: it is useful for inculcating in university students the habit of careful, sensitive reading. For despite Schulz's reliance on critical jargon, his analyses are essentially old-fashioned, but accurate, rigorously accurate, explications de texte. Although one may quarrel with some of his generalizations, he overlooks no pertinent detail in the stories he discusses at length: he devotes over eighteen pages to the short "Two Gentle People," dividing it into ten exhaustively explicated phases. What these Germanic analyses demonstrate clearly is Greene's subtlety and remarkable craftsmanship in the best of the stories, especially in the handling of complex points of view. Schulz, for example, alerts us to the several layers of perception in "May We Borrow Your Husband?" a superbly crafted tragicomic tale, which with "The Basement Room" deserves to be ranked among the classics of modern English short fiction. In fact, these explications may convince some that the short Greene may be the most attractive, if not necessarily the most profound...


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