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Reviewed by:
  • Graham Greene: The Dangerous Edge
  • David Leon Higdon
Judith Adamson . Graham Greene: The Dangerous Edge. New York: St. Martin's, 1990. 216 pp. $39.95.

Judith Adamson closes Graham Greene: The Dangerous Edge with the claim that Greene's writing "has probably made more Western readers sympathetic to the Left than that of any other novelist, while at the same time becoming legendary in the Soviet Union for defending individual rights." While this statement would more appropriately close a reader-response study, it is not inappropriate as a conclusion to this significant attempt to map and analyze Greene's politics during his sixty-year-long career. Adamson structures her discussion around basic questions: What is (are) Greene's political attitude(s) over the years? How have his politics changed in shading and quality? How are his political and religious opinions intertwined? What impact have these views had on his fiction? These important questions have too seldom been asked despite the obvious political nature and ideological bent of his novels, but Adamson immediately foregrounds them by focusing on "the commitments Greene has made as he roamed the world," on "the development of his political ideas," and especially on "how a novelist who set out in the thirties to record public issues dispassionately became in the process an important political conscience."

Adamson delineates three stages. The first, Greene's attempt to be "an acute observer" and detached reporter, lasted from the 1920s until the early 1950s. The second, firmly announced in The Quiet American, demanded involvement, commitment, and action and found much of interest in "the accomplishments of communist governments." The final stage, seen in his close relationship with Omar Torrijos, involved public commitment to social democracy while extolling doubt. Adamson convincingly traces how the collapse of liberalism in the 1920s seemed to Greene to leave the world in such a state of crisis that an individual could not hope to make sense of the condition and could only record the numerous wrongs. In this almost paralyzed confusion, Greene maintained that faith gave the individual dignity and status in the face of an organized, hostile society. His conservative religious viewpoint culminates in The Power and the Glory, offering the timeless Church against the timebound State and granting the former a tenuous triumph over the dictatorial ambitions that often usurp socialism. Adamson concludes that "his ability to expose injustice was not supported in his early fiction by a clear understanding of the political and social forces involved" and points to Greene's distancing himself from the Spanish Civil War at the very time his generation was becoming engaged in it. [End Page 793]

Detached observation transformed itself in The Third Man and The Quiet American after Greene had written himself into "an [sic] spiritual blind alley" with The Heart of the Matter; however, his public statements about the McCarren Act and defense of Charlie Chaplin, his observation of the State of Emergency in Malaya, and his reports on the Mau Mau (two significant world events that did not enter his fiction) seem to have been the fodder forcing the change. Adamson shows how Greene "kept clear of questions that required analysis rather than descriptive responses," but four visits to Vietnam, an audience with Ho Chi Minh, and a Vietnamese woman's blood spattered on his shoes turned his antipathies toward American foreign policy, capitalist materialism, and the Church during the mid-1950s. This phase ends with the complex consideration of engagement in The Comedians.

The text offers numerous perceptive observations, a sensible assessment of major political topics, and an informed evaluative discussion of ideological shifts. It is, though, oddly hybrid at times. The first two-thirds of the book approach the topic with an almost dogged chronological focus and discussion of all the novels, even when works have little to offer in the way of insight. The last third, however, adopts a topical and thematic approach, concentrating on Greene's travels, his quarrels with specific countries and leaders, his essays, and his letters to editors. Greene the public political conscience becomes more evident, but the discussion of the novels becomes less thorough, and odd omissions occur just at the point that...


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pp. 793-794
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