Graham Greene: Fictions, Faith and Authorship.
Twenty years after Graham Greene's death, there have been few plenary appraisals of his oeuvre. Michael Brennan seeks to remedy this deficiency by offering "a fresh reconsideration of Greene's entire literary career" with a particular focus on "a comprehensive reassessment of what Greene's Catholicism meant to him ... as a prolifically published writer who habitually used Catholic issues and beliefs as a source of creative inspiration and self-interrogation" (xi). Brennan largely succeeds in supplying this religiously-centered reading of Greene's work, making his monograph an effective synthetic introduction to the novelist's writings; methodological and interpretive miscues, though, hinder his critical scrutiny of those texts. Brennan's study is thus a helpful map to journeys in "Greeneland," but is not the last word on its creator's career.
Brennan's most valuable contribution is his correction of a common error in Greene criticism. Scholars often divide Greene's career into a "Catholic" phase lasting until the mid-1950s followed by a "political" period enduring for its remainder. Brennan, however, demonstrates dispositively that Greene's "preoccupation with Catholicism and the tragicomic nature of the human condition" is the connective tissue of his corpus (136). Brennan thoroughly documents how Roman Catholic theology, anthropology, ethics, and liturgy consistently shaped the plots, characters, rhetoric, and themes of nearly all Greene's writings, from his first published novel, The Man Within (1929), through his valedictory The Captain and the Enemy (1988). In the process, Brennan provides an intelligent basis for regarding Greene as a "Catholic writer." Although Greene eschewed that "detestable term" for its propagandistic connotations, Brennan recognizes that even as Greene did not confuse apologetics with aesthetics, he nonetheless did display an organic integration of his faith and his fiction: "the theology, iconography and psychological potency of Catholicism continually pervaded his creative imagination" (ix). Brennan's analysis therefore rightly reveals Greene as an author whose Catholicism persistently set the lines of excellence along which he exercised his vital powers.
Brennan substantiates his thesis through a chronological exposition of Greene's works. This approach yields some fertile close readings, especially of lesser-studied volumes like Stamboul Train, The Confidential Agent, and Dr. Fischer of Geneva or The Bomb Party. Brennan also presents some acute insights into discrete titles, as when he captures the ethos of The Power and the Glory perfectly in dubbing it "a devout work of anti-hagiography" (72), or when he elucidates the connection between John of the Cross's theology and The End of the Affair's imagery (95). Yet Brennan's linear method sometimes fosters adumbrations that preclude deep enough examination of the themes of a particular piece or of Greene's output as a whole.
For instance, in implying that Ida Arnold is a heroine of Brighton Rock "since she believes, unambiguously, in 'right and wrong"' (50), Brennan misunderstands what Greene called "the real point" of this book: "the contrast between the ethical mind (Ida's) and the religious (the Boy's and Rose's) in thriller terms." Throughout his life, Greene derided what he deemed the liberal belief in Right and Wrong (as personified by Ida), considering its emphasis on deontology, ethics, and the solely human an inadequate morality compared to a religious belief in Good and Evil (represented by the Catholics Pinkie ["the Boy"] and Rose), whose stress on teleology, theology, and the transcendent unveils the eternal nature and consequences of earthly actions and choices. This conflict between horizontal and vertical man is Brighton Rock's central thematic tension. But Brennan's truncated treatment of that novel elides its significance in the tale and he hence does not recognize its ongoing resonance in ensuing works, as when The Comedians asserted thirty years later that teleologies like Catholicism and communism are better suited to confront manifestations of evil than liberal "established societies" that are impotently indifferent to injustice, having on their hands not blood but "water like Pilate."
Brennan's own attempts at thematic analysis are also at times imprecise. For example, he discusses repeatedly Greene's engagement with dualistic theologies like Manicheanism and lansenism. Yet Brennan's ambiguous locution--"Greene's perspectives cannot be regarded as consistently Manichean" (3)--occludes the conclusion warranted by his own evidence: Greene's literary uses of these heresies constantly ended in an orthodox rejection of them in favor of sacramental "divine materialism." Lucidity on this point is crucial, especially in an introductory study, as Greene's religion has often been mischaracterized as Manichean and/or Jansenist, most notably by Anthony Burgess.
Similarly, Brennan leaves the mistaken impression that Greene was a wholehearted supporter of liberation theology. He concentrates on Greene's opinion of Father Camilo Torres, who fell in battle on behalf of Colombian guerrillas in 1966: "Torres provided Greene with tangible proof that the concept of a revolutionary socialist (and Marxist) Christian was a viable model for repressed Third World countries" (132). Although Brennan cites some praise Greene penned for Torres in 1969, he seems unaware of Greene's ultimate, more considered judgment on the cleric, uttered in 1988: "Things went too far when a priest, Camilo Torres, actually carried a rifle in Colombia, shooting and killing." Greene's position was thus finally closer to Pope Paul VI's orthodox stance in Populorum Progressio that "explicitly denounced violence" in promoting the Church's "preferential option for the poor" (132). Yet Greene's uneasiness with marrying the sword and the cross was already present in 1966, in a funeral oration from The Comedians that Brennan quotes only partially. Preaching on the words of the apostle Thomas, "Let us go up to Jerusalem and die with him" a priest declares that "in the days of fear, doubt and confusion, the simplicity and loyalty of one apostle advocated a political solution. He was wrong, but I would rather be wrong with St. Thomas than right with the cold and craven." Greene's avowed sympathy for liberation theology was hence highly qualified: He commended it as an imperfect charitable alternative to disregard of poverty and oppression while nevertheless maintaining that political caritas cannot replace religious agape in a properly Catholic heart.
As serious as these shortfalls are, they do not vitiate Michael Brennan's central achievement. In establishing conclusively the primacy of Roman Catholicism in Greene's intellectual and imaginative vision, Graham Greene: Fictions, Faith and Authorship provides clarity and direction for future critics. Brennan's tour d'horizon of six decades of texts is unfailingly stimulating and frequently discerning. Even his misreadings should spur subsequent scholars to craft more accurate critiques of the interplay between Greene's religion and his art. But Brennan's study will insure that such cartographers of Graham Greene's creative journey take his Catholicism as their lodestar. In this author's fictions, his faith is the heart of the matter.
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|Publication:||Christianity and Literature|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2012|
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