The dark night of the soul: suffering the cure in Graham Greene's a burnt-out case.
Echoing, but significantly reworking, Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Graham Greene sets A Burnt-Out Case (1960) in the Congo. "This Congo is a region of the mind," according to Greene (Epigraph "Letter to Docteur Michel Lechat" 5). He describes Querry's journey from aridity to laughter as he moves through the dark night of the soul. In St. John of the Cross's Dark Night of the Soul, which Greene knew, "aridities and other trials ... are part of the dark night" which, in the end, "purify" (17) an individual. (1) Underappreciated for his accomplishment in the novel, Greene writes a powerful and detailed study of a successful Catholic architect who suffers from debilitating ennui, someone who, like the battered steamer he rides into the leper colony, is in "need of renewal" (9). (2) "Success is," according to Dr. Colin, a humble man who counsels Querry, "a mutilation of the natural man" (197). Querry's spiritual emptiness, the result of his fame, is captured in the description of the leper colony which mirrors his nightmarish fragmentation and the dark night of Querry's soul. The lepers' grotesque disfigurements serve as symbolic reminders of Querry's immaturity and spiritual maiming: young boys who can no longer work and have only stumps for hands because of flesh worn away by deadened nerve endings; a woman who cannot close her eyes and has no choice but to see; an old man, suggesting Querry's bankrupt sexual past, who must carry the weight and deformity of his "huge swollen testicles with both hands" in order to hobble along (46). In Dark Night, memory brings "great pain" but in "the sudden and acute remembrance of these miseries ... the soul sees itself" (64). Ultimately, Greene focuses on specific individuals who mirror Querry's past to him. In Deo Gratias, he sees that he is maimed and longing to go "home"; in Rycker, he sees that his religion is a sham and that his womanizing is reprehensible; in Parkinson, he sees that a certain regard for the Truth is a necessity for professional and personal self-respect; and in Marie Rycker, he sees a vacant naivete so thorough in its childishness as to be astounding, absurd, and perhaps the natural source of what we call evil. Thus, Querry evolves to discover who he was as opposed to who he now chooses to be. Emphasizing this choice, Dr. Colin tells Querry, "Evolution today can produce Hitlers as well as St. John of the Cross" (124).
The novel consistently reinforces an intricate design structured upon the idea of the fragmented but simultaneously singular self; in the words of one of the few wise priests in the Congo, the Father Superior tells Querry: "When we are a child we think as a child" (76, emphases added). The deliberate juxtaposition of the single self (a child) and the shattered self (we) drives the novel. Depicting a multi-layered personality with insistence, Greene demonstrates the kind of nuanced cure available to a sick soul who slowly suffers the pangs of unburdening and reintegration. Greene's demonstration of what falls away in the process of spiritual reintegration resembles the stages of transformation described by St. John whose journey into the dark night yields the joy of discovering God. Midway through the novel, Querry himself says, "We have to [know ourselves] if we are to be cured" (111, emphasis added). The cure for the kind of aridity that Querry experiences, Greene believes, comes during a painful process during which he recognizes the imprisoning, the shallow values, and the immature personas that he had formerly embraced. St. John describes the "dark night" as a multi-layered and curiously passive "purgative contemplation" (3) of the past "habits of a child" (4). (3)
Addressing Greene's later work and his increasing emphasis on the importance of one's past. Robert Hoskins notes that
[w]hile it is true that in these later works Greene continues to create characters who are divided selves, the age and experience of his second-phase protagonists often throw more emphasis on the past than on the future, and a chronological division between past and present selves becomes more important than the psychic division between inner and outer or higher and lower selves. (Graham Greene: An Approach 109, emphasis added)
In A Burnt-Out Case, Greene suggests in his third epigraph to the novel that Querry has developed "a sort of disgust towards himself' because of his unexamined past and that he is not reconciled to his spiritual "deformities" (R. V. Wardekar in a pamphlet on leprosy 7). Greene implies that Querry's "subconscious mind," like the bodies of the lepers, bears "the mark of injury" which makes him "suspicious of society" (7). His self-hatred leads to paranoia and increasing aridity. (4) A famous architect in the West, Querry ostensibly comes to Africa to find isolation and anonymity; Greene makes it clear, however, that he has a subconscious desire for spiritual recovery, and that this recovery will only develop through human contact, the recovery of his voice, and the ability to reflect consciously on his past and confess it--not necessarily to a priest or confessor, but to himself.
Though he fights human involvement, Querry finds himself drawn into an odd, dreamlike community populated by individuals who live in the recesses of his mind and who mirror to him his former selves. In this "Zone of sleeping sickness" (9), the characters of Deo Gratias, Rycker, Parkinson, and Marie Rycker show Querry who he is. (5) Querry's level of repulsion toward these successive visions of himself decreases as his level of insight and willingness to change increase. Initially prompted to feel empathy for Deo Gratias, the maimed leper boy, Querry thereafter, from Rycker to Parkinson to Marie, witnesses progressively more forgivable embodiments of his previous transgressions. Stratford notes that Querry "sees his own image" in several characters, and thereby gains humility ("Greene's Hall of Mirrors" 529). These encounters slowly reveal to Querry important components of his inner being which require confessional moments of unburdening and expiation, and which ultimately differ dramatically from Conrad's dire view of what resides deep in man's heart.
Querry travels through the back roads of his fragmented past, "hunted by his conscience" (Markovic 273), a technique Greene also employed in The Ministry of Fear (1943). (6) Greene reinforces this idea by describing Querry's insistent need to go further into the Congo, or the mind, in spite of roads disappearing, and by providing Querry's analogy of the jeweler whose eggs contain layers upon layers of minute detail (155). Going deeper, Querry begins to articulate his faults to these mirrors. Greene, as always, argues that the pain involved in such a journey is a gift; pain is a door through which Querry may evolve to a better self. In Dark Night, "afflictive suffering" empties "all the affections and imperfect habits which [the soul] has contracted in its whole life"; the soul "suffer[s] great undoing and inward torment" (51-52) in order that it may experience exaltation in the end. Querry's awakening from "total vacancy" and an "inability to love" (Torre 75) suggests that suffering provides a gateway through which he matures.
As early as 1951, Greene's appreciation of pain as a gift began The End of the A ffair in which he cited an epigraph by Leon Bloy: "Man has places in his heart which do not yet exist, and into them enters suffering, in order that they may have existence" (1). In A Burnt-Out Case, Greene elicits the same sentiment from a wise priest, the Father Superior: "suffering is something which will always be provided when it is required" (16). Querry's nearly total numbness is clear in his initial entry into his diary: "I feel discomfort, therefore I am alive" (9). The atheist, Dr. Colin, becomes the voice of reason in this pestilential landscape, a "spiritual landscape [which] has but one tone: black," according to Torre (76). (7) Dr. Colin tells Querry that "mutiliation [is] the alternative to pain" (25), suggesting that the lepers would give anything to regenerate nerve endings, experience pain, and thereby prevent the wearing away of their fingers, toes, and self-sufficiency. Dr. Colin knows that "suffering [is] in some sort a protection against mutilation" (25). Greene suggests that pain is a warning that something must change.
Before Querry meets his doubles, and as if to simulate the spiritual struggle Querry must go through, Greene frames Querry's experience by describing the leper father (named Attention) taking the cure for his leprosy. The man is "afraid" and pleads with the doctor to "bind" his hands, saying that he is afraid of "killing [his] boy" (104, emphasis added)--a way for Greene to signal metaphorically Querry's inner vulnerability. Dr. Colin tells Attention, whose name suggests a kind of patient and vigilant consciousness: "Remember you just have to hold on. Can you read the time?" (104). Dr. Colin provides a clock and tells Attention how to get through the night:
The trouble will start at eight o'clock. At eleven o'clock you will feel worse. Don't struggle. If we tie your hands you will struggle. Just look at the clock. At one you will feel very bad, but then it will begin to pass. At three you will feel no worse than you do now, and after that less and less--the madness will go. Just look at the clock and remember what I say. Will you do that? (104)
Because the leper father worries about killing his child in his long, figurative night journey of the soul, Dr. Colin assures him that the sisters will watch over him. What is fragile within the man will survive the agony he must experience if he can trust others and remain wakeful. Dr. Colin has given Attention, in a paternal, guiding allegory, a figurative road map and time table for his cure, something which can be offered only by one who has himself experienced a painful transformation. The clock glows in the dark. Time is thereby linked to the figurative illumination of Attention's (and thereby Querry's) subconscious as a way of measuring the stages of suffering on the way to a cure. Greene emphasizes that taking the cure must be Attention's willing choice; his hands cannot be bound by others. However, the cure cannot take place without others; the presence of the doctor and sisters provides assurance that a cure will take place only as it is experienced against the backdrop of other human beings, even though Querry insists initially to Dr. Colin that "[h]uman beings are not my country" (51). Attention must accept the pain and voluntarily endure through the night. Only then will he learn that his suffering has a larger meaning. (8)
Querry initially vows that he will never voluntarily return to the corrupt West, the seat of his memory and pain: "I am afraid to return" (27). This statement indicates a dim awareness on Querry's part that his notoriety in the West contributed to his guilt and shame. (9) However, as he slowly opens up and begins to speak, he is able to admit to Dr. Colin that "[s]elf-expression is a hard and selfish thing. It eats everything, even the self' (46). (10) Following an apparently involuntary impulse to walk into the darkness of the jungle, Querry first meets himself in the character of Deo Gratias, the maimed young leper boy who becomes his servant. Querry is often impatient with the disfigured boy, but nonetheless follows him one night into the dark forest with a lamp, though he has "no reason to believe that [his] battery will see [him] home" (55). In this daring risk, Greene demonstrates Querry's essential humanity and the work of grace. St. John's journey into the dark night is described as "happy chance" (78) or "sheer grace" (Kavanaugh 141), depending on the translation, and in his exposition of the poem's line "I went forth without being observed," St. John writes, "It takes the metaphor from one who ... leaves his house by night and in the dark ... so that none may hinder him. For this soul had to go forth ... to become united with its Divine Beloved [God] who is not found save alone and ... in solitude" (79). Querry embraces a lost, injured boy and during the night realizes that his watch has stopped and that he cannot track time; this "night" represents a subconscious experience so deep that Time has no role. (11) Similar to Attention's concern for his boy, Querry's actions convey compassion for his boy. Greene makes it clear in Querry's gesture to save the boy and thereby save himself that his subconscious is fulminating. It is a "night," Greene says, "when things begin" (57).
As Querry embraces his innocence as a first step in his journey, he, like Deo Gratias, seems to be on a rocky path to Pendele or "home," a place where he was once happy (78). Dr. Colin had told Querry earlier that the lepers always want to go "home" to die (48). If "the" Querry is to die and experience renewal as a more authentic man, he, like Attention, must protect his essential innocence (so that he can rediscover it) while he painfully bears witness to his past moral and ethical trangressions. (12) This step is important in Greene's mapping because Querry must become humble in order to recognize by contrast Rycker's worst tendencies. Rycker's egotism and sycophantic interest in him allows Querry to recognize the character mutilation that can result from rampant narcissism. (13) Gaston suggests that Rycker reminds Querry "in part of his form of mutilation" (79) while Brearley believes that Rycker exhibits the idea that Querry is suffering from a "presumption of a sort of knowingness" as a result of "his earlier narcissism" (174). Witnessing Rycker's hunger for adulation, Querry sees reflected back to him his own misogyny, grandiosity, and false piety. In Rycker's misuse of his wife Marie, of his friendships, and of his religion, Greene provides insight into Querry's earlier behavior. Brearley suggests that "a feature of Querry's change is that he is able to recognize his own unconscious lies" (178, emphasis added).
SHORTLY after Querry asserts that he is not "sociable" (29), Rycker appears like a snake, "tall," "stooping," "overgrown," with a face that is "flat" and "endless" (33). Like a symbol of evil, he slinks into Querry's life, hungry for fame and exhibiting a "devouring curiosity" (35). Even Rycker's wife Marie, at one point, recognizes that Querry reminds her of her husband: "There was something in his expression which recalled her husband at certain moments ... the cafard still possessed him" (140). Like the empty shell of the nut which is crushed to bits in his boiler factory, Rycker appears to be hollow. Querry eventually comes to see Rycker, with his impenetrable veneer, "like a wall so plastered over with church announcements that you couldn't even see the brickwork behind" (144)--all of which is similar to Querry's reputation as a "Catholic" architect (though he never really believed). Rycker's eyes gleam "roguishly" as he asks, "You are the Querry, aren't you?" (34). Rycker uses people including his wife for his own self-aggrandizement: "He can't bear not being important," according to Parkinson (189). Rycker tells Querry that he can "trust" him "not to betray a guest" (34), though he is quick to betray Querry's anonymity in order to gain notoriety. With a dreamlike ominousness, Rycker tells Querry that he has no "chance" of leaving Rycker's infernal environment (35). Querry has crossed a nearly impassable river (like the Styx which bordered on the Underworld) in order to see Rycker and witness the boiler room hell of his life. Blasts of "hot air" and furnaces "billow[ing] into the waning light" (35) make Rycker's plot of ground in the Congo seem like an inferno. It's a "ramshackle" (35) environment, like Rycker's pathetic psychic landscape. But it is Rycker's treatment of Marie, his wife, which demonstrates his dangerous immaturity and which repels Querry the most. At one point, Querry says to Rycker: "I begin to think we are not so different, you and I. We don't know what love is. You pretend to love a god because you love no one else. But I won't pretend" (145).
Rycker trains his wife, Marie, as if she is a puppet: "You see I've trained her to know what a man needs" (36), he proudly announces to Querry. He underestimates Marie's intelligence and denigrates her, which reveals his attraction to those weaker than he is, those who are subject to manipulation--all of which mirrors Querry's treatment of Marie Morel who killed herself because of Querry years earlier. Because he is all veneer and concerned only with appearances, Rycker tells Marie how to dress and suggests that she's "hardly an intellectual companion" (39); yet, he believes he is a man who believes "very profoundly in love" (36). Rycker's stint in the seminary provides the same camouflage as Querry's profession has for him. "I'm a good Catholic," he tells Querry (39). As in a surreal dream, "a gecko on the wall leapt at the moth" (39); Querry senses that Rycker with his appetites and inner emptiness can and may devour him, just as Querry has used up others, particularly women--and, more particularly still, one named Marie.
Querry and Rycker both also exhibit disdain for the priests at the leproserie, Rycker saying that he finds "those fathers ... an unsatisfactory lot" (39). Querry, too. had not been able to bear their laughter upon his arrival and looked upon them with disgust. Further, Rycker wears his degree in moral theology as Querry no doubt wore his fame as a Catholic architect. It is easy to put on a veneer, Greene suggests, and to lose oneself. After his talk with Rycker, Querry is haunted by the vision of this man who is vain, dangerous, and full of unmerited confidence in his ability to love. Clearly bothered by Rycker's vanity, Querry engages Dr. Colin and "talks as a hungry man eats" (44). The mirrored vision of who he was and perhaps still is prompts introspection and confessional moments: "I don't deny my profession once meant a lot to me. So have women" (44), he tells the Doctor. Greene implies in this deeply psychological novel that, sometimes, every passing figure in a dream, especially a grotesque exaggeration, is oneself. Bergonzi suggests that the "earlier Greene would have done much more with these figures [Rycker, Parkinson, Marie Rycker], turning them into gross but entertaining caricatures.... In this novel they merely come and go" (A Study 154). Brennan points out that there is no psychological development of other characters besides Querry and that here "Greene satisfies himself with character-types and caricatures" (115), while Bosco remarks that Greene's novels between 1955-1969 "lacked the religious intensity of his earlier ones" (72). Perhaps these observations ring true because of Greene's primary emphasis on Querry's psyche and the way in which these one-dimensional types are mere reflections.
Querry continues to speak to Dr. Colin about his experience with Rycker, saying: "Sometimes I feel sickened by the word 'prayer.' Rycker uses it a great deal" (45). He also attempts to explain his motives and examine his inner life in writing to Dr. Colin, suggesting that "human beings are not my country"; the Doctor's response is "Who cares?" (51). Querry exhibits a need to articulate and confess, but he's rebuffed--as if the Doctor, his figurative guide, suspects this maneuver is insincere and premature. Shortly thereafter in a nightmare, feeling he is nearly "home again,"
Querry says to a preoccupied priest, "There is something I have to tell you" (51). But in his dream Querry misses his "appointment with hope" (52), and awakens in a panic. (14) Dr. Colin knows that the landscape of the mind is not so quickly traversed; taking the cure and penetrating the hard outer veneer is arduous and painful. The journey requires a wise paternal guide, as Dr. Colin was for Attention and is for Querry.
Encounters with various alter-egos in the text spring from no conscious design or choice on Querry's part. Greene seems to suggest that when one is ready and distractions from the modern world subside, the vision can clear: only then can others assist in telling us who we are. Greene emphasizes Querry's rather aimless drifting into the jungle in the opening of the text, and he includes a conversation about motive power (in the context of a discussion regarding leprophiles). The Father Superior's emphasis is on embracing what is practical and helpful, regardless of one's "motives." Querry's apparently random arrival at this appointment in his mind, may signal his revival regardless of intentionality. His cure depends simply on his ability to "hold on" with focused attention during the unfolding of slow time as he drifts before multiple visions of himself and "sees" himself more clearly with each visitation.
During the cure, both Deo Gratias and Rycker suggest to Querry traits about himself that he must think about: the maimed boy whose innocence and longing for "home" is clear and the superficial manipulator whose vocation to the priesthood is a facade. Querry begins to recognize with more clarity his own character flaws, but he has not yet felt the impact of this knowledge which is a different kind of recognition. Going deeper, Querry encounters Montagu Parkinson who further awakens his consciousness by exhibiting in surreal form the debilitating weight one carries as a result of decades of lies.
IF Rycker corresponds to the earlier evening phase of the soul's night journey, Parkinson marks the later evening. Though the childish Father Thomas tells Querry that he is available if Querry ever has the "need to confess" (92), Querry begins talking more in the presence of bombastic men like Parkinson, another mirror who is somewhat less repulsive and rather more comical than Rycker: "If [Querry] had to have a tormentor how gladly he would have chosen the cynical Parkinson" (144). Parkinson arrives in the Congo, lethargic, corpulent, and pompous; he is also hungry for fame, but he is more jovial and less sooty than Rycker, and he, unlike Rycker, exhibits no veneer. He is all slovenly pulp, a layer situated deeper. He is fevered though nearer a cure than he thinks--as Querry may be.
Parkinson arrives sweating with fevered inner turmoil (96); and when Dr. Colin opens the cabin door of the same steamer that brought Querry to the Congo, Querry looks at the same bed that he himself had slept in:
in the rumpled bed which Querry had somehow imagined would still bear ... his own impression lay the naked body of a very fat man. (97, emphases added)
Parkinson's nakedness reinforces his role as veneerless, a layer further into the recesses of Querry's psyche. We recall Greene's remark on the first page of the novel concerning peace being "found like a nut at the centre of the hard shell of discomfort" (9). Further, Parkinson and Querry speak the same language (97). The captain reassures Parkinson about his fever: "This is the worst day. Tomorrow it will be better" (97). Parkinson's "sleep" "marks the end" stage of a cure (97). Querry himself tells Parkinson, "You are over the worst" (99), as if he is talking to himself and echoing Dr. Colin's earlier words to Attention. But because Parkinson continues to fabricate in order to achieve acclaim, ignoring that he's not in West Africa even when facing what he believes is his death, Querry is filled with "dry dislike" and "antagonism" (98) for him. Parkinson is capable of ignoring the true map of the landscape, even when the maps tell him he is thoroughly mistaken. He is stubborn and lazy--but he keeps talking and establishes a meaningful reciprocity with Querry: "since you [Querry] came into the cabin and 1 could talk again, I've been feeling better" (99).
While trying to fathom such a specimen, Querry asks Parkinson, "Who are you?" (100). He helps carry the "weight" of the sick man, and he begins to "sweat" like Parkinson who is "still" asleep (100). Gaston says Querry "recognizefs] the devouring cynicism remaining within him when he looks at Parkinson" (80). He tries to avoid talking to Parkinson, but Parkinson reveals to Fr. Thomas that he "ha[s] come here specially to talk to Querry" (105), as if to imply that he, like Rycker, is a kind of "secret sharer," part of Querry's destiny. Sherry observes that Parkinson's lies "transform Querry's character": "A genuine intimacy develops between the two; each knowing he can speak straight to the other" (201). Parkinson ironically tells Querry that he knows he has come to the Congo "in expiation" (112). His fabrications are often oddly true. Parkinson causes Querry to think about his own professional lies; he says to Parkinson that the architect of Chartres "worked with love not vanity" (114). The repellent mirror of Parkinson's untruthfulness causes an even stronger longing for the truth in Querry. When Querry talks about his ability to manipulate women, Parkinson says, "What a cold-blooded bastard you are" (I 15). In the landscape of the mind, Parkinson is an inner voice revealing to Querry his true nature, a fact that Querry realizes when he says, "You are my looking glass. I can talk to a looking glass" (116). His breakthroughs continue as he faces the increasingly imbecilic embodiments of his past, Parkinson being more comical, absurd, and unthreatening than Rycker. The deeper Querry travels into the region of his mind, he intuitively begins to sense that evil resides in the ludicrous, in laziness, and in not knowing better.
The result of his conversations with Parkinson is that Querry reflects even more deeply. Parkinson tells Querry that he is a "man like me" (110), and Querry responds, even as he is repulsed by Parkinson, "We are two of a kind" (110): "You really have come to an end like me, haven't you, Parkinson ...? Two burnt-out cases" (111). Dr. Colin says, "Limelight is not very good for the mutilated" as he looks at the "fat man in the chair" (108). Swollen with self-assurance and a contempt for his public that echoes Querry's contempt for those who worshipped in his churches, Parkinson misquotes literary figures with abandon. Parkinson's insistent provocation that Querry came to the Congo in "expiation" forces Querry to be truthful and specific about his relationship with Marie Morel: "She was twenty-five and not eighteen. Nor did she kill herself for love of me. She wanted to escape me" (112). Facing his memories, Querry confesses that he "didn't love at all. I've never really loved. I'd only accepted love" (113). Querry says he has been "waiting" for someone like Parkinson whose opportunistic and predatory tendencies mirror Querry's seduction of Marie Morel. Thus, Querry is able to navigate further into the heart of the matter involving Marie Morel.
Alone with himself, Querry begins to remember specifics. He recalls that Marie was in love with a student named Hoghe, someone with whom she was "naturally joyful" (118). Querry faces the truth, that he had perceived this situation as an opportunistic challenge: to seduce a woman in love with a man other than himself--for the pure thrill of the hunt. He realizes that even "in those early days he had known how to alter the direction of a woman's need to love" (118). Querry concludes that he "really thought in those days that [he] acted from love" (118). He begins to see that his self-deception and manipulation was rooted in ignorance, in part because Parkinson has modeled such a ghastly version of these traits to him. He realizes that there "is a time in life when a man with a little acting ability is able to deceive even himself' (118).
At certain intervals in Querry's journey, as he moves away from the likes of Rycker and Parkinson, he speaks with Dr. Colin the atheist, whose concern for the maimed young boys in the leper colony shines as a selfless beacon of unconditional love. Someone whom Querry would like to move toward, the Doctor reinforces, for Querry, at important points during his "cure," the idea that he values suffering and sees its connection to the Christian myth: "[s]ometimes I think that the search for suffering and the remembrance of suffering are the only means we have to put ourselves in touch with the whole human condition. With suffering we become a part of the Christian myth" (122). We learn later that the Doctor's wife is buried nearby and that his own suffering has apparently made him the man he is. Dr. Colin's practical philosophy impresses Querry enough to make him fearless in the face of change. "I want to be on the side of change," the Doctor says (124); "Suppose love were to evolve as rapidly in our brains as technical skill has done. In isolated cases it may have done, in the saints ... in Christ, if the man really existed" (124). Dr. Colin emphasizes the need for "trial and error" and professes his belief in the power of love by suggesting that he does not believe "such a man exist[s]" who is "incapable of love" (124). In this way, the Doctor provides a template for Querry so that he can continue through the cure, as he did for Attention, the leper father.
Querry begins to be more protective of his life in the Congo and his anonymity. He knows he is changing and wants to protect that process. The combined impressions of Rycker and Parkinson make Querry crave the truth and disdain pretense. This change in perspective prompts him to choose voluntarily to help Marie Rycker in her attempt to be free of her husband and her pregnancy. Querry thinks Marie is "too young to be a great danger. It was only when [women] were fully grown you couldn't trust them with your pity" (149). Suggesting that Marie is another mirror for Querry, Greene writes that as Querry helps her he is "reminded of his long night's vigil with Deo Gratias" (150). Adjacent to Marie's room, Querry hears "an odd sound ... through the wall--it sounded to him as though she were crying" (150). During an earlier dark night Querry involuntarily, by the work of grace, followed Deo Gratias who howled "as a baby might howl" (57). Seeming to build on this gift of grace, Querry voluntarily responds to Marie (who is actually laughing), and he thinks naively that it "was absurd to consider anyone so immature ... a danger" (151).
FIGURING the pre-dawn early morning of the soul's night time is Marie Rycker. Marie, though she is described as a "girl" (36) and a "child" (37), inspires Querry to travel further into his past and talk about his decision to leave the West. (15) When Marie and Querry travel to Luc, she giggles like a girl (146) and probes into his state of mind, asking if he has any family or has left anyone behind. Querry comforts her when she is frightened at seeing an effigy as they travel together by putting his arm "round her shoulders to reassure her" in a manner similar to the way he treated Deo Gratias (147). Because Marie is unhappy and trying to run from her problems as Querry has, she is drawn to Querry and elicits his sympathy. But for the first time in his life he thinks consciously about the consequences of his involvement: "He knew very well what she expected him to say, but he refused to speak. You uttered a few words of sympathy--however false and conventional--and experience taught him what nearly always followed. Unhappiness is like a hungry animal waiting beside the track for any victim" (149). He senses that Marie's unhappiness may be as dangerous as his own was when he had seduced Marie Morel. Marie confides that she hates the Congo and wants to go "home" (148). Querry overrides his initial hesitation and considers her a "poor frightened beast ... too young to be any great danger" (149). We note the way Greene conflates a fearful beast with youth and inexperience, a powerful image.
As Querry talks to Marie in her hotel room, his parable reveals that his hero "doesn't like himself much, and that's why he's never spoken before --except in this way" (154). Though Marie seems half asleep during most of this confession. Querry benefits from hearing what he has to say about himself. He speaks about himself in a third person allegory with enough liquor to loosen further his inhibitions, which allows him to make deeper connections. With great trepidation, Querry approaches self-knowledge. At the heart of his third confessional moment to Marie Rycker, Querry reveals that Marie Morel killed herself because of his indefensible treatment of her. Querry goes deeper into the recesses of his memory and confronts the truth that, with news of Marie's suicide, he felt only "relief' (156); at the core of Querry's self-loathing is this powerful but involuntary, this natural but immature emotion. Marie's desperation did not evoke sympathy in him but irritation, her death only relief. To see his cold heart in this light and to own it by speaking this truth aloud (to a childlike woman named Marie) takes Querry to the deepest level of what contributes to his self-disgust.
When Marie Rycker lies about this dark night and her "affair" with Querry, she twists the truth in order to preserve an "image" of herself; she becomes another mirror of Querry's past when he lied to himself to preserve his image. Querry thinks, "God preserve us from all innocence. At least the guilty know what they are about" (185). but he also sees that "to lie is as natural at a certain age as to play with fire" (182). We see Greene's ironic emphasis on the notion that often severe and evil consequences devolve from the ignorantly innocent and naturally immature. That Marie's lies become a provocation for Rycker's violence demonstrates that innocence, or ignorance, is often at the root of what we call evil. This definition of "evil" is ultimately more forgivable than cunning might be and sets Querry further on the path to the expiation of his self-loathing. Marie, as Querry once had, believes that she acts from love. She insists, "They aren't all lies.... I do love you" (183). Querry says, "I'd call her a liar if I thought she even knew what a lie was" (195), and he realizes that "For the first time he was confronted by an egoism as absolute as his own" (184-85). Further, when Querry sees Marie Rycker as a bad and naive prospective parent willing to rid herself of her child, he can forgive himself for being a bad father. In his sermon on "Klistian" love, the Father Superior said, "when you make a baby you are in the baby" (81). Becoming a harmful father was Attention's greatest fear. It is when Querry faces this part of himself, the unknowing and lethal egotist reflected to him in Marie Rycker, that he can forgive himself and laugh at the bizarre irony that evil is often inadvertent. As Querry accepts Marie's transgressions and her obliviousness, he accepts his own.
Rycker's bizarre killing of Querry ends his life, but it may also bring Querry "home" spiritually, a kind of bizarre reward for his insight. Greene courts ambiguity as always by suggesting that Rycker may be evil or he may be an instrument of a higher good. (16) Querry dies in the same mud in which Deo Gratias experienced a new beginning that night in the forest. He has arrived at a kind of paradoxical spiritual fruition; he has arrived home, and he rests assured by Deo Gratias, the maimed innocent boy he once repudiated and then embraced: "I will go with you" (177).
Perhaps Querry's having acquired a certain "regard for the truth" (145) is synonymous with sainthood in the modern world. In the wise words of the Doctor, Greene reminds his readers that ambiguity prevails: "You try too hard to make a pattern, father" (198). Querry"s last words certainly point to ambiguity: "'Absurd,' Querry said, 'this is absurd or else ...', but what alternative, philosophical or psychological, he had in mind they never knew" (196, emphasis added). Greene implies that Querry is finally "home"; shortly before his death Querry thinks: "If there were a place called Pendele ... I would never bother to find my way back" (172).
In Greene's world taking the cure for self-loathing involves a kind of paradox: a lonely trek through one's past and at the same time a vigilant practical attention to others in one's life. Against the backdrop of other human beings we evolve and learn who we are. Greene asserted in an interview that he believed that grace came not only to the "elect," but to "everybody." (17) And his mouthpiece in the novel, Dr. Colin, believes that all men can evolve: "All the same through trial and error, the amoeba did become the ape" (124). Even as Querry sought anonymity in the remotest parts of the Congo (retreating into his own mind), the paths he followed took him to exactly where he needed to be, among others but essentially alone--in order to bear witness to his past and to learn to love. Querry learns that when he knows better, he does better. Greene escapes sentimentality because, as Sinyard points out, in the end the "tragedy teeters on farce" (71). In Dark Night, we learn that when "the soul ... journeys through this secret and dark night whereof we have spoken ... it is so completely voided of every possession and support that it fixes its eyes and its care upon naught but God, putting its mouth in the dust" (101). Greene, of course, leaves the ending open to interpretation and refrains entirely from mentioning God. The laughter apparent in Querry's arrival at his spiritual home must be preceded by taking a grueling cure in the dark recesses of the unconscious mind where appear moments filled with fragile, illuminated filaments, brief flashes of what one needs to see; it is in these dark and painful recesses that Querry meets, understands, and forgives himself. He is no longer shattered but whole.
The novel ends with emphasis on the practical work of Dr. Colin, the atheist, a good man who believes that no person is "incapable of love" (124). This belief would include not only Querry but also Rycker, Parkinson, and Marie Rycker. Greene's idea of hopeful possibility is far from Conrad's pessimism. DeVitis writes, "The resemblance to Heart of Darkness is apparent, but the mysteries are indeed different" (122). While Greene may have been "unconsciously emulating" Conrad (Watts 46), his final theory is certainly more optimistic. As Dr. Colin works, he tells the Father Superior that his God must be disappointed in such a world as he's created. The Father replies, "When you were a boy they can't have taught you theology very well. God cannot feel disappointment or pain." Dr. Colin replies, "Perhaps that's why I don't care to believe in him" (199). By ending his novel with this emphasis on the value of suffering. Greene suggests that the curative pain experienced by looking within is a gift which not only saves us from mutilation but which also prompts us to change, growth, and perhaps redemption.
At the opening of the novel. Dr. Colin reveals a rule in the leproserie: "[tjhe cured had to return to their villages" or home (17). Greene adds: "But even success could be saddening, for it showed the value of the material they had so often to discard" (17). Querry's departure from life perhaps paradoxically provides him with a spiritual home, what in Dark Night is described as a state prompted by "understanding, memory, and will" (101), a place, according to Peers (the translator of Dark Night), resembling "that state of innocence in which Adam was created" (109 n.). Querry's body is buried in the Congo, but his spirit will perhaps finally go to a better place, a place synonymous with self-forgiveness and contentment and self-knowledge, a place that Deo Gratias, during the "night when things [began]," called Pendele (57).
(1) Greene's familiarity with St. John's Dark Night, written in 1577 during his persecution and imprisonment, is revealed in various references; one appearing nine years before in The End of the Affair where he has his narrator state, "I suppose, we might use the terms of prayer, meditation, contemplation to explain the intensity of the love we feel for a woman. We too surrender memory, intellect, intelligence, and we too experience deprivation, the noche oscura, and sometimes experience too little peace.... What do I know of phrases like 'the dark night' or of prayer, who have only one prayer?" (55). Greene also opens Act 2 of his play The Living Room with a character reading Dark Night. See also Robert Hoskins, Graham Greene: An Approach to the Novels (145). Greene also refers to St. John of the Cross in his novel Monsignor Quixote (26), as well as in a letter to Catherine Walston (http://philosopedia.org/index.php/Graham_Greene).
(2) Norman Sherry recounts that Greene's novel was "the most difficult Greene had written" (257), and Michael Shelden believes that the novel "offers nothing that [Greene] had not done better before" (436). Likewise, A.A. DeVitis suggests that the novel is "not [Greene's] best, but it is a fine piece of writing" (124). However, the level of detail in Querry's journey from aridity to laughter demonstrates perhaps Greene's best exercise in mirroring one character in others.
(3) E. Allison Peers writes: "Noche obscura del alma (The Dark Night of the Soul), which first appeared at Barcelona in 1619, is probably the best-known work of St. John of the Cross," a "great work of Catholic mysticism ... an exposition, line by line, of the eight brief stanzas of the poem 'Dark Night of the Soul'" written during his own imprisonment ("Note," Dark Night vi).
(4) There is perhaps no word used more often in Dark Night of the Soul than "aridity," which describes a necessary emptiness, a prelude to change. Greene documents in "The Revolver in the Corner Cupboard" (The Lost Childhood) that, even at the age of seventeen, when he first tried Russian roulette, he experienced periods where "Boredom, aridity ... were the main emotions" (Stratford, Portable 9); Sherry documents Greene's struggle with aridity, particularly during the writing of this novel (261), and Brearley believes Greene "is" Querry "in his deadly aridity" (179).
(5) Conrad's novel was also dreamlike. Marlow says, "It seems to me I am trying to tell you a dream--making a vain attempt, because no relation of a dream can convey the dream sensation, that commingling of absurdity, surprise, and bewilderment in a tremor of struggling revolt, that notion of being captured by the incredible which is the very essence of dreams ...; "We live, as we dream--alone" (27). Guerard says, Conrad's "approach to the unconscious ... may require the token removal of civilized trappings" (330). "[T]he dream is true but the teller may have no idea why it is" (330). Greene's Congo, of course, is neither as nightmarish as Conrad's, nor as hopeless.
(6) See Melfi, "The Landscape of Grief," a discussion of Greene's mirroring technique in The Ministry of Fear wherein Greene describes his protagonist Arthur Rowe in the end as a "whole man" whose "brain held now everything it had ever held" (Ministry 219).
(7) Bergonzi writes that "the tone and attitude to religion in A Burnt-Out Case are wholly different, so much so that Evelyn Waugh assumed with some distress that it indicated a loss of faith on Greene's part, an assumption that Greene denied strongly" ("Graham Greene at Eighty" 777). See also James Devereux, "Catholic Matters."
(8) I give credit to a student of mine years ago, Amy Dilworth, for calling my attention to the importance of this scene with Attention.
(9) Philip Stratford notes, "In his private life [Greene] [was] an unhappy fugitive from celebrity" ("Unlocking" 130).
(10) Sherry writes that Greene's own depression yielded this novel: "In the very middle of a consuming desert, dry of inspiration and stimulation, he yet wrote two moving, dramatic and ultimately revealing pieces, 'Morin' and A Burnt-Out Case. He's crossed the shadow-line, after casting a savage skeptical look at his own face looking back from the mirror, over to a consuming vacancy reflected there, in an exhaustion as heavy as the sea" (261). Brearley concurs: "[Greene] is Querry [...] in his struggle to move on to acknowledge his sins without histrionics or pride (the sins also, to some extent, of Parkinson, Rycker, and Thomas)" (179). Greene himself wrote to the Benedictine Ralph Wright OSB in 1962: "I don't know why. but this book was the hardest I have found to write and left me in a state of exhaustion which still rather continues." (259) (Richard Greene, ed., Graham Greene: A Life in Letters).
(11) In this segment where Deo Gratias is lost, Greene seems to rewrite a moment from Conrad's Heart of Darkness in which Marlow wrestles in the dark with Kurtz, Marlow's figurative shadow, who is also lost. Marlow physically restrains Kurtz, an id-like figure. Greene reworks this idea to show that Querry's journey into the depth of the forest is ultimately not to restrain his id, but rather to embrace his mutilated, innocent (in the sense of unknowing) self--perhaps what is really at his core. Querry "took Deo Gratias's hand to reassure him" (57).
(12) Sinha writes that it is "not a novel about recovery of self: rather it is a novel about escape from self' (75). While this is true if the self that one is escaping is a narcissistic facade. Querry must, nevertheless, preserve his innocent core in order to be healed and reintegrated with his past.
(13) Greene felt that early fame corrupted, as he stated in an interview. See "Graham Greene" BBC.
(14) In an interview with John Cornwell in Antibes, Greene said, "Once in the midst of A Burnt-Out Case I was completely blocked and I didn't know how to go on, and on my way through Rome I had a dream which was not my own dream, it was the dream of my character; and the next day I put it into the manuscript and I became unblocked; the book went on" (Thomson 134).
(15) In "Greene and Wordsworth," Robert Hoskins writes about the Wordsworth connection in Greene. The poet himself equated children with evil in his Prelude, an uncharacteristic assertion for Wordsworth to be sure, but one which came to him during his experience in the French Revolution as he witnessed atrocities committed by the unknowing and immature in Book Ten. Marie's character evokes ideas articulated by Wordsworth during his breakdown in France where he suggests that misguided children can be equated with what we call evil.
(16) In The Ministry of Fear, Greene provides an obsequious Nazi, another oily and apparently evil agent, who paradoxically does Arthur Rowe some good in his quest for expiation and wholeness.
(17) See "Graham Greene" BBC.
Bergonzi, Bernard. A Study in Greene: Graham Greene and the Art of the Novel. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006.
--. "Graham Greene at Eighty." The Furrow 35.12 (Dec. 1984): 772-77.
Bosco, Mark S. J.. Graham Greene's Catholic Imagination. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005.
Brearley, Michael. "Graham Greene and A Burnt-Out Case: A Psychological Reading." Ed. Dermot Gilvary and Darren J.N. Middleton. Dangerous Edges of Graham Greene: Journeys with Saints and Sinners. NY: Continuum, 2011. 166-80.
Brennan, Michael G. Graham Greene's Fictions. Faith and Authorship. London: Continuum, 2010.
Conrad. Joseph. Heart of Darkness. 4th ed. NY: W.W. Norton, 2006.
Devereux, James A. "Catholic Matters in the Correspondence of Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene." Journal of Modern Literature 14.1 (Summer 1987): 111-26.
DeVitis, A.A. Graham Greene. NY: Twayne, 1964.
Gaston, Georg M.A. The Pursuit of Salvation: A Critical Guide to the Novels of Graham Greene. Troy, NY: Whitson, 1984.
"Graham Greene." BBC Study Tapes ECN 129. On-the-Green, Guilford, CT: Jeffrey Norton, n.d.
Greene, Graham. A Burnt-Out Case. NY: Penguin, 1977.
--. The End of the Affair. NY: Penguin, 1987.
--. The Living Room, A Play in Two Acts. Viking Press, 1954. http://www.archive.org/ details/livingroomplay005920mbp (2004) Universal Digital Library.
--. The Ministry of Fear. NY: Penguin, 1973.
--. Monsignor Quixote. NY: Penguin, 2008.
--. "Russian Roulette." From "The Revolver in the Corner Cupboard" in The Lost Childhood. The Portable Graham Greene. Ed. Philip Stratford. Garden City, NY: International Collectors Library/Viking, 1973. 8-10.
Greene, Richard, Ed. Graham Greene: A Life in Letters. Canada: Knopf, 2007.
Guerard, Albert J. "The Journey Within." Heart of Darkness. 4th ed. NY: W.W. Norton, 2006. 326-36.
Hoskins, Robert. Graham Greene: An Approach to the Novels. Florence, KY: Routledge, 1999.
--. "Greene and Wordsworth: The Ministry of Fear." South Atlantic Review 48.4 (Nov. 1983): 32-42.
St. John of the Cross. Dark Night of the Soul. Trans. E. Allison Peers. From The Critical Edition of P. Silverio de Santa Teresa, C.D. Mineola, NY: Dover, 2003.
Kavanaugh, Kieran. John of the Cross: Doctor of Light and Love. NY: Crossroad, 1999.
Markovic, Vida E. "Graham Greene in Search of God." Texas Studies in Literature and Language 5.2 (Summer 1963): 271-82.
Melfi, Mary Ann. "The Landscape of Grief: Graham Greene's The Ministry of Fear." South Atlantic Review 69.2 (Convention Issue 2004): 54-73.
Peers, E. Allison. "Note." St. John of the Cross. Dark Night of the Soul. Trans. E. Allison Peers. Mineola, NY: Dover, 2003. 109.
Shelden, Michael. Graham Greene: The Man Within. London: Heinemann, 1994.
Sherry, Norman. The Life of Graham Greene: Volume Three: 1955-1991. NY: Viking Penguin, 2004.
Sinha, Sanita. Graham Greene: A Study of His Major Novels. New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers, 2007.
Sinyard, Neil. Graham Greene: A Literary Life. NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. Stratford, Philip. "Greene's Hall of Mirrors." The Kenyon Review 23.3 (Summer 1961): 527-31.
--. "Unlocking the Potting Shed." The Kenyon Review 24.1 (Winter 1962): 129-43.
Stratford. Philip, ed. The Portable Graham Greene. Garden City, NY: International Collectors Library/Viking. 1973.
Thomson, Ian, ed. Articles of Faith: The Collected Tablet Journalism of Graham Greene. Oxford: Signal Books, 2006.
Torre. Michael D. "Greene's Saints: The Whiskey Priest, Scobie. and Sarah." Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture 7.1 (Winter 2004): 63-77.
Watts, Cedric. '"Ghosts on the Rooftops': How Joseph Conrad Haunted Graham Greene." Dangerous Edges of Graham Greene: Journeys with Saints and Sinners. Ed. Dermot Gilvary and Darren J.N. Middleton. London: Continuum, 2011. 38-52.
Wordsworth, William. The Prelude. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Major Authors. 7th ed. Ed. Abrams, Greenblatt, et. al. NY: Norton, 2001. 1497-1554.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Author:||Melfi, Mary Ann|
|Publication:||Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2015|
|Previous Article:||Forgiveness and the limits of language in the shrine at Altamira.|
|Next Article:||The glory of grace: mystery in the works of C. S. Lewis and Flannery O'Connor.|