On Writing

A Gun for Sale

Brighton Rock

The Confidential Agent

The Power and the Glory

The Heart of the Matter

The Third Man

The End of the Affair

The Quiet American

Our Man in Havana

A Burnt-Out Case

The Comedians

Travels With My Aunt

The Honorary Consul

The Human Factor



Graham Greene on The Heart of the Matter:

My experiences in Sierra Leone were rich enough, but I have never been satisfied with what I made of them. My critics have complained, perhaps with justice, that "I laid it on too thick," but the material was thick.* The real fault, as I have written, lay in the rustiness of my long inaction. What I was engaged in through those war years was not genuine action – it was an escape from reality and responsibility.

I had found myself so out of practice and out of confidence that I couldn't for months get the character Wilson off the balcony in the hotel from which he was watching Scobie, the Commissioner of Police, pass down the unpaved street. To get him off the balcony meant making a decision. Two very different novels began on the same balcony with the same character, and I had to choose which one to write.

*Greene may have thought that he "laid it on too thick", but George Orwell, who spent five years in the Indian Imperial Police, thought the opposite. "Except that one of the characters is a Syrian trader, the whole thing might as well be happening in a London suburb. One was the novel I wrote; the other was to have been an "entertainment." I had long been haunted by the possibility of a crime story which the criminal was known to the reader, but the detective was carefully hidden, disguised by false clues which would lead the reader astray until the climax.
The story was to be told from the point of view of the criminal, and the detective would necessarily be some kind of undercover agent. M.I.5 was the obvious organization to use, and the character Wilson is the unsatisfactory relic of the entertainment, for when I left Wilson on the balcony and joined Scobie I plumped for the novel.
It was to prove a book more popular with the public, even with the critics, than with the author. The scales to me seem too heavily weighted, the plot overloaded, the religious scruples of Scobie too extreme. I had meant the story of Scobie to enlarge a theme which I touched on in The Ministry of Fear, the disastrous effect In 1941, Greene was recruited into M.I.6 by his sister Elisabeth. He had three months' training in Lagos, where he hunted cockroaches in his bathroom like Wilson did in the novel. He was then posted to Freetown, Sierra Leone, where his job was to decode telegrams and occasionally search ships for contraband. His next post was back in England, where he was supervised by Kim Philby.
on human beings of pity as distinct from compassion. I had written in The Ministry of Fear: "Pity is cruel. Pity destroys. Love isn't safe when pity's prowling round." The character of Scobie was intended to show that pity can be the expression of almost monstrous pride. But I found the effect on the readers was quite different. To them Scobie was exonerated, Scobie was "a good man," he was hunted to his doom by the harshness of his wife.Here was a technical fault rather than a psychological one. Louise Scobie is mainly seen through the eyes of Scobie, and we have no chance of revising our opinion of her. Helen, the girl whom Scobie loves, gains an unfair advantage. In the original draft of the novel a scene was played between Mrs. Scobie and Wilson, the M.I.5 agent who is in love with her, on their evening walk along the abandoned railway track below Hill Station. This put Mrs. Scobie's character in a more favourable light, for the scene had to be represented through the eyes of Wilson, but this scene – so I thought when I was preparing the novel for publication – broke Scobie's point of view prematurely; the drive of the narrative appeared to slacken. By eliminating it I thought I gained intensity and impetus, but I had sacrificed tone. In later editions I reinserted the passage.
Evelyn Waugh on the novel: "To me the idea of willing my own damnation for the love of God is either a very loose poetical expression or a mad blasphemy, for the God who accepted that sacrifice could be neither just nor lovable." Maybe I am too harsh to the book wearied as I have been by reiterated arguments in Catholic journals on Scobie's salvation or damnation. I was not so stupid as to believe that this could ever be an issue in a novel.
Besides I have small belief in the doctrine of eternal punishment (it was Scobie's belief not mine). Suicide was Scobie's inevitable end; the particular motive of his suicide, to save even God from himself, was the final twist of the screw of his inordinate pride. Perhaps Scobie should have been a subject for a cruel comedy rather than for tragedy…

from Ways of Escape, pp.99-102

Melody Yiu
Email me: greeneland -at- gmail . com

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