Writing style and themes

“The literary style of Graham Greene was described by Evelyn Waugh in Commonweal as “not a specifically literary style at all. The words are functional, devoid of sensuous attraction, of ancestry, and of independent life”. Commenting on this lean, realistic prose and its readability, Richard Jones wrote in the Virginia Quarterly Review that “nothing deflects Greene from the main business of holding the reader’s attention.” His cinematic visual sense led to most of his novels being made into films,  such as Brighton Rock in 1947, The End of the Affair in 1955 and 1999, and The Quiet American in 1958 and 2002. He also wrote several original screenplays. In 1949, after writing the novella as “raw material”, he wrote the screenplay for the now-classic film noir, The Third Man, featuring Orson Welles. In 1983 Greene’s novel, The Honorary Consul, published ten years earlier, was made into a famous Hollywood movie, entitled Beyond the Limit in the U.S., featuring Michael Caine and Richard Gere. Michael Korda, the famous author and Hollywood script-writer, contributed the foreword and introduction to this novel in a commemorative edition. Greene concentrated on portraying the characters’ internal lives – their mental, emotional, and spiritual depths. His stories often occurred in poor, hot, and dusty tropical backwaters, in countries such as Mexico, West Africa, Vietnam, Cuba, Haiti, and Argentina, which led to the coining of the expression “Greeneland” to describe such settings.

His novels often have religious themes at the centre. In his literary criticism he attacked the modernist writers Virginia Woolf and E. M. Forster, for having lost the religious sense, which, he argued, resulted in dull, superficial characters, who “wandered about like cardboard symbols through a world that is paper-thin”. Only in recovering the religious element, the awareness of the drama of the struggle in the soul carrying the infinite consequences of salvation and damnation, and of the ultimate metaphysical realities of good and evil, sin and grace, could the novel recover its dramatic power. Suffering and unhappiness are omnipresent in the world Greene depicts; and Catholicism is presented against a background of unvarying human evil, sin, and doubt. V. S. Pritchett praised Greene as the first English novelist since Henry James to present, and grapple with, the reality of evil.

The novels often powerfully portray the Christian drama of the struggles within the individual soul from the Catholic perspective. Greene was criticised for certain tendencies in an unorthodox direction — in the world, sin is omnipresent to the degree that the vigilant struggle to avoid sinful conduct is doomed to failure, hence not central to holiness. Friend and fellow Catholic Evelyn Waugh attacked that as a revival of the Quietist heresy. This aspect of his work also was criticised by the theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, as giving sin a mystique.

Greene responded that constructing a vision of pure faith and goodness in the novel was beyond his talents. Praise of Greene from an orthodox Catholic point of view by Edward Short is in Crisis Magazine, and a mainstream Catholic critique is presented by Joseph Pearce.

Catholicism’s prominence decreased in the later writings. The supernatural realities that haunted the earlier work declined and were replaced by a humanistic perspective, a change reflected in his public criticism of orthodox Catholic teaching. Left-wing political critiques assumed greater importance in his novels: for example, years before the Vietnam War, in The Quiet American he prophetically attacked the naive and counterproductive attitudes that were to characterize American policy in Vietnam. The tormented believers he portrayed were more likely to have faith in Communism than in Catholicism.

In his later years Greene was a strong critic of American imperialism, and supported the Cuban leader Fidel Castro, whom he had met. For Greene and politics, see also Anthony Burgess’ Politics in the Novels of Graham Greene. In Ways of Escape, reflecting on his Mexican trip, he complained that Mexico’s government was insufficiently left-wing compared with Cuba’s. In Greene’s opinion, “Conservatism and Catholicism should be …. impossible bedfellows”.
“     In human relationships, kindness and lies are worth a thousand truths.     ”

—Graham Greene

Despite his seriousness, Graham Greene greatly enjoyed parody, even of himself. In 1949, when the New Statesman held a contest for parodies of Greene’s writing style, he submitted an entry under the nom de plume “N. Wilkinson” and won second prize. First prize was awarded to his younger brother, Hugh. Graham Greene’s entry comprised the first two paragraphs of a novel, apparently set in Italy, The Stranger’s Hand: An Entertainment. Greene’s friend, Mario Soldati, a Piedmontese novelist and film director, believed that it had the makings of a suspense film about Yugoslav spies in postwar Venice. Upon Soldati’s prompting, Greene continued writing the story as the basis for a film script. Apparently, however, he lost interest in the project, leaving it as a substantial fragment that was published posthumously in The Graham Greene Film Reader (1993) and No Man’s Land (2005). The script for The Stranger’s Hand was penned by veteran screenwriter Guy Elmes on the basis of Greene’s unfinished story, and cinematically rendered by Soldati. In 1965 Greene again entered a similar New Statesman competition pseudonymously, and won an honourable mention.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graham_Greene#Writing_style_and_themes

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