Murray Roston so firmly resists the biographical approach to Graham Greene’s novels, in which the life and the fiction are viewed almost interchangeably, that he rejects “any naive acceptance of the author’s declarations concerning either his life or his beliefs” (4)—or, for that matter, any of Greene’s statements about his fiction, including his revisions of, and additions to, The Heart of the Matter and The End of the Affair. In some ways, Roston’s approach is consciously retro. He speaks approvingly of Joseph Wood Krutch, and he does cite Stanley Fish—but the Stanley Fish of 1980 before he developed the concept of interpretive communities. His major critical approach is derived from Hans Jauss’s quarter-century-old concept of “the relationship between reader and text as a two-directional discourse” in which “the author is not simply directing the reader’s response but struggling against it” in order “to wean the reader away from [horizons of expectation] towards new or modified values” (6).Putting this idea in [End Page 912] practice, Roston argues Greene was able “to create an entirely new kind of protagonist” (9) in order “to find some effective substitute for the traditional hero,” and “to overcome in the pre-dominantly non-religious climate of his day his readers’ potential antipathy towards fictional characters wrestling with the demands of their faith, especially when that faith was one generally disfavoured in England” (14). Roston insists that any major Greene novel must conform to this pattern. Thus he dismisses what Greene called “entertainments” as “pot-boilers” (12), and he does not consider Brighton Rock and The Quiet American “major” because the first contains no hero, not even, in his definition, an anti-hero, and the second is primarily “political journalism” (14).
Of course, the real test of Roston’s approach to Greene is the way that it can lead to greater understanding of the novels he does choose to discuss, especially in terms of events and responses that can be given a secular, psychological explanation. (Too often, perhaps, Roston is busy defending Greene against a host of critics and sounding more Catholic than the Catholics—at least until he perceives that Green might actually believe in divine intervention, eternal life, and other aspects of Christian doctrine that Roston finds inconvenient.) In my view, the chapter on The End of the Affair is by far the best and most original in the book; the discussion of The Power and the Glory should convince the theologically unsophisticated and others will accept Roston’s argument before he begins it; the chapter on The Heart of the Matter is so full of special pleading for Scobie and so little attendant to the psychological, as opposed to theological issues, raised in the novel that the argument is not only wrong but tedious. The chapters on A Burnt-Out Case, The Comedians, and The Honorary Consul seem reasonable but not startling, and the concluding discussion of Monsignor Quixote is, by comparison with the other chapters, perfunctory.
Roston’s reading of The End of the Affair is particularly appealing because it complements and strengthens my earlier contention that the book represents a generic struggle between Bendrix’s attempt to write a conventional realistic novel and the story’s insistence on turning into hagiography. (See “The Struggle with Genre in The End of the Affair,” Genre 18 (1985): 397–411.) Concentrating on the romantic motivation of the two main characters, Roston sees that their ambivalence about divine love “functions not only in the context of the human love-affair . . . [but] in the relationship of both characters to God,” so that initial rejection is “the surface expression of a co-existent, suppressed, and deep-rooted longing for belief,” and, therefore, Sarah and Bendrix’s “devotional progression is seen not only as paralleling their love affair but as its mainspring” (74). [End Page 913]
However, Roston finds the hagiographic events—the supposed miracles that, in Catholic practice, would justify Sarah’s canonization— “the one serious weakness of the novel...