A Catholic Novelist
Henry Graham Greene (1904-1991) is famous around the world as a prolific writer. During his career, extending over sixty years, he wrote more than twenty novels, a collection of short stories, several plays, screenplays as well as books of travel writing, essays and film criticisms. It’s not an easy matter to deal with such a milestone in English literature that came through so many different periods and matured so much over the time. One aspect of his personality may help us as a red-line in our investigation: Graham Greene was a Catholic writer, or as he said, “a writer that happens to be Catholic”. Indeed he is often compared to French Catholic novelists of the first half of the twentieth century such as Leon Bloy, François Mauriac and George Bernanos. According to Mark Bosco, Greene himself acknowledged that “there does exist a thread in my carpet constituted by Catholicism, but only one has to stand back in order to make it out” . Bosco explains that if Catholicism is not the really fabric of many of his texts, it is actually a thread that helps to bid his literary preoccupations into a recognizable pattern. We’ll come to the conclusion that for Greene there can be no Catholic novels, but that faith helps to give individuality to the characters. We will focus on some of his so-called catholic novels as Brighton Rock (1938), The Power and the Glory (1940). First, let us clarify in which soil did Greene’s faith grow and what’s his background?
Graham Greene stated on several occasions his belief that one’s personality is determined in the first sixteen years of life. He was born in a traditional Anglican family and had a peaceful early life. His father was headmaster at Berkhamsted School where Graham became a border at the age of thirteen, though his parents lived in the same building. This was a dramatic experience for a sensitive child, torn between a peaceful family atmosphere in the weekend and the ruthless relationships among the boys at school. It reached such an extent that the young Henry was eventually sent to London to undergo psychoanalysis; hence his constant preoccupations, found in most of his novels, of solitude, pursuit, crossing the border, betrayal and deception. One of his is most suitable genres was the thriller, since it enabled him to express his quite pessimistic vision of life and show the innermost struggles of his characters. Greene entered Catholic Church in 1926; he converted first in order to marry Vivien Dayrell-Browning, a convert as well. It’s only after he went to Mexico as free-lanced journalist in 1939 that, at the time of the religious prohibition, it became an emotional conversion, too: faith could be a matter of live or death, having thus practical implication on people’s behaviour.
After his conversion Greene starts writing a series of novels with a strongly defined religious sense, from “Brighton Rock” in 1938 to “A burn-Out Case” in 1961, the so-called “Catholic novels”. Greene states that with the death of Henry James the religious sense was lost to the English novel. He even compares Virginia Woolf’s and Edward M. Forster’s characters to cardboard symbols wandering through a world that was paper thin. The religious sense brings to a metaphysical understanding of good and evil, and, making the individuals more important, helps to put them on the page. In Brighton Rock, for instance, the plot doesn’t happen on a right vs. wrong level, but on a level that subsumes it. Characters are not simply running the risk of imprisonment, but of damnation as well. Ida is a healthy and well bred girl looking for justice, but her lack of religious sense makes her lacking of importance, even though she has a strong moral code. She’s an example of common human decency. Pinkie, even though coming from the underworld of Brighton and involved in crimes, is facing the problem of eternal damnation. It’s important for Greene to...
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