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Posts Tagged ‘Graham Greene’

In this novel of love and desperation in Colonial Africa Graham Greene gives the reader a few classic tidbits of the holy lowdown…

“Despair is the price one pays for setting oneself an impossible aim. It is,  one is told, the unforgivable sin, but it is a sin the corrupt or evil man never practises. He always has hope. He never reaches the freezing-point of knowing absolute failure. Only the man of goodwill carries always in his heart this capacity for damnation.”

Who but a Catholic writer, an eponym that infuriated Greene, could write so convincingly about the choices one makes in life?

“Outside the rest-house he stopped again. The lights inside would have given an extraordinary impression of peace if one hadn’t known, just as the stars on this clear night gave also an impression of remoteness, security, freedom. If one knew, he wondered, the facts, would one have to feel pity even for the planets? if one reached what they called the heart of the matter?”

Classic Greene…

“He thought sadly, as lust won the day, what a lot of trouble it was; the sadness of the after-taste fell upon his spirits beforehand.”

Now Greene is always sad or at least melancholy. Was that his lot? Yes his straw was long on observation and short on joy.

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This slim volume was wrenched from the agitated mind of Mr. Greene.  Or so it seems upon finishing it that Greene was deeply moved by the conditions in Mexico during the Revolution.  Greene’s depression, which is tantamount to implied and actual pain and agony, compounded by his deep channel of faith, spirituality and sense of religious duty combine to give us a haunted view of the last vestiges of religion in a mutating world. 

The whisky priest is  “…the only priest the children could remember: it was from him they would take their ideas of the faith.  But it was from him too they took God-in their mouths.  When he was gone it would be as if God in all this space between the sea and the mountains ceased to exist.  Wasn’t it his duty to stay, even if they despised him, even if they were murdered for his sake? even if they were corrupted by his example? He was shaken with the enormity of the problem.  He lay with his hands over his eyes: nowhere, in all the wide flat marshy land, was there a single person he could consult. He raised the brandy to his mouth.”  The priest is so conflicted by his duty and his self-preservation instinct that throughout the novel we are privy to his skewed thought patterns. But as one can see, in reading the novel, it is from his environment and being hunted that he forced to alter his trains of thought.  The Judas of the story “…had an immense self-importance; he was unablt to picture a world of which he was only a typical part – a world of treachery, violence, and lust in which his shame was altogether insignificant.  How often the priest had heard the same confession – Man was so limited he hadn’t even the ingenuity to invent a new vice: the animals knew as much.  It was for this world that Christ had died; the more evil you saw and heard about you, the greater glory lay around the death.  It was too easy to die for what was good or beautiful, for home or children or a civilization – it needed a God to die for the half-hearted and the corrupt. He said, ‘Why do you tell me all this?'”  From this passage we can see Greene’s deep well of faith rising like the tide to justify the existence of both men.  Damned and Saviour, the priest and the half-caste with the two yellow fangs populate a damnable world in Greene’s estimation.  Greene’s faith would seem to be the horse and his depression the cart puliing him along a world he so deeply hates. 

The idealistic, zealous, but in the end almost pathetic, lieutenant’s reflection on the little children in the plaze speaks volumes about Greene’s condition.   “…and the lieutenant became aware in his own heart of a sad and unsatisfiable love.” Which would bring up the question of authorship, meaning that can we see Greene experiencing these hardships in life? Does he empathize in order to convey the reality of pain and faith?  Or is he that good of an author that he is able to survey a situation and sketch a story just from his obervations? I will have to consult the 3-volume work by Norman Sherry to get a fuller understanding of Greene’s demeanor and psyche at the time of writing the novel.

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