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The Conradian Legacy in the Novels of Graham Greene

©1999 Magisterarbeit 233 Seiten


Joseph Conrad – a Pole by birth – is a writer who has exercised a very potent influence on his generation, but his impact has expanded well beyond. He has inspired English, American, African and Polish novelists and poets. One of his staunch admirers was the young English novelist, Graham Greene (1904-1991). However if Conrad’s integrity as a writer with a strong moral sense won the attention of both the reading public and many reviewers, the positive response that welcomed Greene’s first published novel The Man Within (1929) almost died out with the novels that came next, The Name of Action (1930) and Rumour at Nightfall (1931). Greene himself attributed the failure of these novels to Conrad’s ‘too great and too disastrous influence.’ Although Greene recaptured some of that praise by the remarkable craftsmanship of Stamboul Train (1932), many critics contested any claim to Greene being a leading writer of his generation, hence excluded him from the literary arena for many years. Critics were reluctant to recognize Greene’s literary worth first because they believed that he was not exactly an original writer; second, because the inclusion of religious themes in his works, while it arrested the attention of some Catholic writers, disconcerted many others.
In this comparative study of Conrad’s The Secret Agent and Greene’s It’s A Battlefield, and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Greene’s A Burnt-Out-Case, I shall attempt to investigate and elucidate what in Conrad exercised such power and fascination on Greene. The focus of interest is to try and find answers to these questions: has Greene’s vow ‘never again’ to read a novel by Conrad ‘which he kept for more than a quarter of a century’ been successful? Has Greene succeeded in writing off the ghost of Conrad? If not, do the borrowings from Conrad undermine Greene’s writings in any way?
Such study should take into account what qualities have been absorbed, what have been transmuted, what rejected. Such analysis is necessary for an understanding and evaluation of Greene’s art, not only within the English literary tradition, but also within today’s world literature.
Key Words: Joseph Conrad, Graham Greene, Realism, Modernism, Civilisation, Legacy,
Influence, Intertextuality, Human Nature





Part One. The Socio-Historical Context
Chapter One. The Formative Years
1.1. The Lost Childhood
1.2. Temperament and Personality
1.3. The World Arena
13.1. The ‘Fin de Siècle’: An Age of Dissolution
1.3.2. The First World War
The Changing Experience of Women
1.3.3. The 1920s : An Era of Revolt
Labour Unrest
1.3.4. The Thirties: The Devil’s Decade
1.3.5. The Second World War: ‘Apocalypse Now’
Chapter Two. The Literary Scene
2.1. Realism and Modernism: The Transition
2.2. The Literature of the 1930s

Part II. A World in Shambles: The Secret Agent / It’s A Battlefield
Chapter Three. Politics and Betrayal
3.1. ‘The Injustice of Men’s Justice’
3.2. Martyrs or Scapegoats?
3.3. Female Offenders
Chapter Four. The Illuminating Quality
4.1. Narrative Structure
4.2. Irony
4.3. Repetition
4.4. Imagery

Part III: ‘The Hollow Men’ : Heart of Darkness/A Burnt-Out-Case
Chapter Five. Paradise Lost
5.1. The Wasteland
5.1.1. Heart of Darkness as pretext
5.1.2. The Anatomy of Allusions
Heart of Darkness and A Burnt-Out-Case as Faustian Narratives
Albert Camus’s Absurd Man and Life
The Voice of T.S. Eliot
5.2. In Search of Truth
5.3. The Doppelganger
Chapter Six.‘Technique as Discovery’
6.1. Free Indirect Speech (FIS)
6.2. Appositions and Substitutions
6.3. ‘Stream-of-Consciousness’ versus Dreams
6.4. Metaphors
6.5. Similes




To live, the poets [or the writers] must misinterpret the father,

by the crucial act of misprision which is the re- writing of the

father…Strong poets [and writers] become strong by meeting

the anxiety of influence, not by ignoring it. Poets [and writers]

adept at forgetting their ancestry, write very forgettable [works].

Harold Bloom, A Map of Misreading, 1975, 19, 199.

Joseph Conrad1 – a Pole by birth – is a writer who has exercised a very potent influence on his generation, but his impact has expanded well beyond. He achieved international recognition and fame during his lifetime and the appreciation of his books is still evident by the number of critical works that are devoted to his writings. Conrad was a prolific writer. Despite his struggle with English, a new language for him, he produced thirteen novels, two volumes of memoirs and twenty- eight short stories. His books have been translated into several languages. He has inspired English, American, African and Polish novelists and poets. His literary genius has enlarged his readers’ ethical consciousness and inspired many a writer. One of his staunch admirers was the young English novelist, Graham Greene (1904-1991).

Conrad was indeed one of the three modern writers whom Greene revered. By the time Greene started writing fiction in the late 1920s, he had been acquainted with Conrad’s main works and Conrad’s The Arrow of Gold (1919) impressed him much. If Conrad’s integrity as a writer with a strong moral sense won the attention of both the reading public and many reviewers, the positive response that welcomed Greene’s first published novel The Man Within (1929) almost died out with the novels that came next, The Name of Action (1930) and Rumour at Nightfall (1931). Greene himself attributed the failure of these novels to Conrad’s ‘too great and too disastrous influence.’2 He also acknowledged that in these novels ‘... there was nothing of myself in [himself….] All that was left in the heavy pages of the second [novel] was the distorted ghost of Conrad.’3

Although Greene recaptured some of that praise by the remarkable craftsmanship of Stamboul Train (1932), many critics contested any claim to Greene being a leading writer of his generation, hence excluded him from the literary arena for many years. But the unwillingness to recognize Greene’s stature as a world novelist was not restricted to editors and reviewers. In academic circles, critics too, seemed sceptical and were reluctant to recognize Greene’s literary worth. First, because they believed that he was not exactly an original writer. Second, because the inclusion of religious themes in his works, while it arrested the attention of some Catholic writers, disconcerted many others.

Apart from those critics who concerned themselves with the theological dimension of Greene’s works, there are others who were attracted by the intricate web of morals, politics and psychology to be found in them.

Fascinating parallels have been drawn between Conrad and Greene. Comparing Conrad’s The Secret Agent (1907) and Greene’s It’s a Battlefield (1934), John Atkins remarks that: ‘The same sordidness, the same bitterness and dark intensity run through both of them []’5 And while Kennett Allot and Miriam Farris draw attention to the use of irony as ‘a technique of presentation,’6 Ivo Davin, for his part, acknowledges that ‘Conradian motifs and external features of his technique can be found in Greene’s fiction,’7 and adds that It’s A Battlefield is a pastiche of The Secret Agent. He likewise notes the resemblance in atmosphere between Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899) and Greene’s A Burnt-Out-Case (1960).

Similarly John Spurling observes that

No European writer since Conrad has put the hot, poor and foully governed places of the earth on paper as vividly as Greene [...] like Conrad’s, they [his descriptions] are moral landscapes, characterizations of what is there and of whom it is experienced by.8

Among the critics dealing with the period is David Leon Higdon who contributed a study on ‘Joseph Conrad and Graham Greene,’ in a magazine, L’époque conradienne (May 1979). Higdon suggests that Greene

... deliberately calls attention to the [similarities] [...] as when he creates his own Assistant Commissioner and gives him a background remarkably close to Conrad’s Assistant Commissioner.9

He also notes that It’s A Battlefield is an attempt by Greene to free himself from Conrad.

In Graham Greene’s Conradian Masterplot (1996), Robert Pendleton for his part, suggests that the knocking down of Conrad Drover, the protagonist of It’s A Battlefield, metaphorically stands for the running out of Joseph Conrad’s influence and that it is a ‘metatextual form of exorcism.’10

However the resemblances between Conrad and Greene are not confined to the novels cited above. Many other critics have noted that The Man Within for instance, has definite Conradian shades. In the ‘Author’s Note’ to this novel, Greene himself confessed that the story ‘remained just as embarrassingly romantic, the style as derivative’ (p.i). Similarities have also been found between Greene’s The Man Within and Conrad’s Under Western Eyes, especially in the treatment of the themes of betrayal, guilt and confession.11 Comparisons have been made between Conrad’s The Secret Agent and Greene’s A Gun for Sale (1936) and The Human Factor (1978); between Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Greene’s Journey Without Maps (1932) and A Burnt-Out-Case (1960). Here Greene, like Conrad, uses his travel experience to Africa as material for his fiction. Other critics have pointed to the survival of Conradian protagonists in Greene’s later novels.12

However interesting and valuable this criticism, a thorough examination of the critical studies mentioned above reveals that it remains for the most part occasional and superficial. Furthermore, a score of studies on Conrad’s literary bequest to American, 13 African and Caribbean writers have been produced but nothing as yet – to my mind – has been written on The Conradian Legacy in the Novels of Graham Greene, a topic I have therefore elected to explore.

Indeed the fact that Greene has been held into disrepute for so long a time and that comparisons have been attempted between a ‘high-brow’ writer, namely Conrad, and a ‘low-brow’ author, Graham Greene, is the first incentive for my choice. It makes it an interesting field of research and I wished to bring my modest contribution to it by studying individual works such as Conrad’s The Secret Agent and Greene’s It’s A Battlefield, both regarded as political novels, then Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Greene’s A Burnt-Out-Case, to find an answer to these questions : has Greene’s vow ‘never again’ to read a novel by Conrad ‘which he kept for more than a quarter of a century’14 been successful ? Has Greene succeeded in writing off the ghost of Conrad? If not, do the borrowings from Conrad undermine Greene’s writings in any way?

The second motive behind my choice is that Conrad’s and Greene’s writings correspond to the specific condition of our times. Both writers explore human nature. Both grapple with the problem of modern civilisation. The sombre images that they project are the images of a world in which we are all implicated, a world in which

[Man] has become the passive prey of a democratic parody, the helpless victim of scoundrels and cut-throats, [his] institutions a mockery, [his] laws a farce [...] and man has sunk so low 15

In this comparative study, I shall therefore attempt to investigate and elucidate what in Conrad exercised such power and fascination on Greene. Such study should take into account what qualities have been absorbed, what have been transmuted, what rejected. The focus of interest should be what Greene does with what he takes from Conrad, what effect it has upon his finished literary work. Such analysis is necessary for an understanding and evaluation of Greene’s art, not only within the English literary tradition, but also within today’s world literature.

In the first instance, it might be useful to define legacy in literature. ‘Legacy,’ in my view, implies influence. And ‘influence,’ in Harold Bloom’s definition, is not ‘the passing-on of images or ideas from earlier to later [writers]. Influence means that ‘there are no texts, but only relationships between texts. These relationships depend upon a critical act, a misreading or misprision that one [writer] performs upon another’ (A Map of Misreading, 3). It is this very sense that I give here to Conrad’s influence on Graham Greene; not the traditional sense of source study.

As the concept of influence has been subject to much controversy, it needs also to be clarified. Interest with ‘influence’ started in relation to the mid-eighteenth century concern with originality and talent, originality being the distinguishing feature of a work of literature and the only mark of a writer’s genius.16 Hence the term ‘influence’ grew suspect and it was quite legitimate therefore for critics bent on evaluation to regard influences as lessening a writer’s claim to genius.

In the 1960s however, the notion of influence began to be laid on the periphery of concerns mainly because of its insistence on the centrality of the author. In de-authoring texts and emphasizing the importance of the reader’s freedom of interpretation and response, criticism encouraged the practice of intertextuality of late. It was Julia Kristeva who gave a name to that caconym17 and settled the dispute over the concept of influence. Intertextuality, in the late 1960s and 1970s, became a weapon to be used in the contemporary struggle over meaning. The critics generally referred to with regard to the notions of textuality/intertextuality are Julia Kristeva, Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, Michael Bakhtin, Michel Foucault, Michael Riffaterre and Gerard Genette. However Harold Bloom’s contribution to intertextual studies is not to be underestimated. The notion of ‘conflict’ between the text and the intertext is also central in his work. His emphasis on misinterpretation or ‘misreading’ distinguishes him from Kristeva and Riffaterre in that he insists that poets [and writers] are engaged in an oedipal struggle with fathers.

For Kristeva,

The term inter-textuality denotes this transposition of one (or several) sign system(s) into another, but since this term has often been misunderstood in the banal sense of ‘study of sources’, we prefer the term transposition [….] 18

Drawing on Bakhtin, Kristeva argues that ‘Every text builds itself as a mosaic of quotations. Every text is absorption and transformation of another text [] Many passages taken from other texts intersect and neutralize each other.19 A book is indeed not an ex-nihilo production. Since Aristotle, criticism has acknowledged the presence of texts within other texts. In French literature, for instance, Rabelais’s Gargantua and Pantagruel 20 borrowed names and themes from stories about giants and Stendhal sometimes duplicated whole chapters and published them as if they were his own. Lautreamont’s Les Chants de Maldoror reproduced verbatim several pages taken from scientific treaties. Every word, every statement in a given text, reflects indeed repetition and incorporation of numerous types, stereotypes and previous examples. Jacques Derrida labels such practice ‘l’écriture d’une écriture’ ie. Every script is a script of another text. But such view does not claim the author as ‘persona.’ In the words of Kristeva, intertextuality casts out subjectivity.21

Furthermore in essays published in the late 1960s and the 1970s, particularly his provocative title, ‘Death of the Author,’ in S/Z, Roland Barthes put forward a theory of intertextuality which depended on the reader as the main centre of interpretation:

A text is made of multiple writings, drawn from many cultures, and entering in mutual relations of dialogue, parody, contestation, but there is one place where this multiplicity is focused and that place is the reader, not as was hitherto said, the author

Roland Barthes

It is the notion of reader-response which is the watershed between intertextuality and theories of influence. An intertextual reading therefore entails a focus on the reader’s performances rather than acquired knowledge. Central as Barthes’s theory of intertextuality is for literature, it does not provide the critic with a particularly effective tool for analysing literary texts: ‘...the intertext is subject to no law but the infinitude…,’ says Barthes.22 This infinite shaping of codes renders the task of the reader very difficult.

The theory is nonetheless valuable for changing received ideas about the author, the work and the presentation of reality.

Another step in using intertextuality for better interpretation has been taken by Michael Riffaterre. For him as for Barthes, ‘not only the text, but also its reader and all the reader’s possible reactions to the text,’23 are important. There is only one correct reading and the intertextual method will undoubtedly direct the reader to ‘the proper interpretation.’ In Riffaterre’s theory, a conclusive interpretation arises from the two-fold process of reading that a literary work requires. The first is a naive, ‘mimetic’ reading. Such reading yields the ‘meaning’ of a work, the straightforward decoding of the message assuming that language is referential ie.that words directly relate to things. However in the reading process, one encounters difficulties, obscurities, figurative language, or what Riffaterre calls ‘ungrammaticalities,’ which urge the reader to look elsewhere for the ‘significance’ of the work. This is then the task to be undertaken in the second, ‘retroactive’ or intertextual reading.

The next step – that of putting intertextuality at the service of a political and historical project – is taken by Michel Foucault.The main difference between Foucault’s theory and Riffaterre’s is that the latter’s excluded the issues of race, class and gender. Foucault’s notion of intertextuality stresses the role of institutions, professions, and disciplines. Unlike Barthes, with his view of textuality, Foucault concentrates on the forces that may impinge on the free circulation of a text. In ‘Discourse on language,’ Foucault points out that in the past: ‘one looked…for the mark of individual originality and the infinite wealth of hidden meaning’ (230). This traditional procedure includes the kind of operations associated with influence criticism. Foucault’s work introduces the notions of

‘chance,’ ‘discontinuity’ and ‘materiality’ (231). This has opened the way for historicist inquiries such as Frederick Jameson’s enquiry into ‘The Political Unconscious.’24

Furthermore by using metaphors of ‘mosaic,’ ‘network’ and ‘social text,’ as Kristeva and Barthes do, theorists of intertextuality encourage us to view a text as part of, and being overrun by, a larger ‘social context.’ Social history exists within the text. Says Michael Bakhtin says that

The internal social dialogism of novelistic discourse requires the concrete social context of discourse to be exposed, to be revealed as the force that determines its entire structure [...] from within.25

Because intertextuality pervades the text from within, the concept invites historical interpretation. For Bakhtin moreover, the novel is the genre that best illustrates intertextuality. ‘Novelization’ is the name he gives to a work when it becomes intertextual. This process includes the merging of different languages, of words taken not only from other texts, but from other areas of discourse. Bakhtin describes the novelistic text as a heteroglossia of social voices exercising influence upon the form of the novel.26 The intertextual nature of the novel he adds, emanates from its

… special relationship with extra literary genres, with the genres of everyday life and with ideological genres [.…] In later stages of its development, the novel makes wide and substantial use of letters, diaries, confessions, the forms and methods of rhetoric associated with recently established courts and so forth.28

Greene carries precisely this in It’s a Battlefield and in A Burnt-Out-Case though to a higher pitch in the latter. Rich as Greene’s sources are, many striking features of his novels are nonetheless drawn from life. The reader hears a multitude of voices in his texts: from advertising, popular idiom to literature. Greene’s texts are convenient examples of what Kristeva calls a ‘mosaic’ of quotations.

If Greene was anxious about the influence Joseph Conrad exerted on him, is his defensiveness sufficient to justify speculation along lines suggested by Harold Bloom’s ‘Anxiety of Influence’? Can we say that Greene’s fiction was shaped by an uneasy relation with Conrad? Can we speak of Greene’s aforementioned novels as instances of ‘Kenosis’ or ‘Apophrades’? The former is, according to Bloom, ‘a breaking-device similar to the defence mechanisms our psyches use against repetition compulsions. […] towards discontinuity with the precursor,’28 while the latter means ‘the return of the dead,’ or internalization of the precursor which may help a writer free himself from superego anxieties. If so, should we also think of Greene as struggling with Conrad’s precursor: the Dickens who wrote Bleak House, or with one of that author’s important predecessors, Dostoevsky and Shakespeare? Once the chain of influence extends beyond one link, should we not start to talk of intertextuality rather than influence?

The novels selected for study will be studied in terms of thematics and stylistics. The approaches that seem appropriate for this analysis are intertextuality, psychoanalytic criticism and socio-criticism. Unlike traditional criticism which focuses on the idea of ‘chef d’oeuvre, literary miracle, genius, appreciating a text without its deep immersion in history,’29 socio-criticism avers that:

Ce qui est en oeuvre dans le texte, soit un rapport au monde. C’est [...] la dimension valeur des textes que la socio-critique s’efforce de lire, cette presence des oeuvres au monde qu’elle appelle leur socialité. 30

Socio-criticism aims then at an immanent reading of a text while restituting to it its social value. The aim of socio-criticism is to show that any artistic creation is a social practice and an ideological production. To carry out a socio-critical reading in Claude Duchet’s view is somehow:

Ouvrir l’oeuvre du dedans, reconnaître ou produire un espace conflictuel où le projet createur se heurte à des resistances d’un déjà là [] La socio-critique interroge l’implicite, les présupposés, le non-dit, les silences.31

In a much divided civilisation where the claims of technology are increasingly insistent, a ‘real literary interest’ is, as F.R. Leavis puts it, ‘an interest in man, society and civilization.’ Hence a socio-critical reading of Conrad’s and Greene’s works will show that these two writers were aware of the devastating violence of the modern age, and that their characters are used as prototypes of social roles and social attitudes : a Kurtz, a Querry, a Conrad Drover are involved as ‘short-hand’ descriptions of social classes and instances of social interaction.

Furthermore the great changes in social life resulting from the scientific and technological progress and the First World War – an important development at the beginning of the century – gave rise to new ideas in the field of psychology and psychoanalysis; ideas which had a great impact on the development of all arts including literature. And Freud – the pioneer and leader of the first groups of psychologists – has been very influential in their development.

Psychoanalysis ‘apart from its function as a therapeutic instrument is in essence a science of biography.’32 Thus ‘to ignore its potential contribution to an understanding of the life of the artist, says Dr Meyer, a psychoanalyst and the author of a biography of Conrad, is to deprive such study of a psychological instrument of particular sharpness and precision.’33 To use a psychoanalytic approach then will give us a picture of the men behind the books. Yet, it is not every artist whose unseen presence offers so beguiling a temptation for a fuller disclosure of their personalities as Conrad and Greene do. And despite the varying quality of their writings, to read Conrad and Greene at their best or at their worst, provides a stimulus for knowing their history. One would certainly discover the roots of those reiterated themes of betrayal, sin, guilt which so manifestly obsessed them and the sources of those recurring images of women which may indicate sexual maladjustment. I shall use Freudian criticism. According to Freud, a writer alleviates his psychic discomfort through artistic expression. Such psychoanalytic insight would lead us to a better understanding of their works. It would enable us to trace a dialogic relationship between them, and by the same token prove that condition of co-presence and ‘dialogue’ between Conrad’s and Greene’s works, what is referred to as intertextuality. And it is mainly to Julia Kristeva that I turn again for Greene’s works illustrate the idea of a text as a ‘palimpseste’ (Gerard Genette) ie. a mosaic of other texts; of a text as a ‘transposition’ of another text. An intertextual reading is necessary for decoding and fully appreciating their works.

However the intertextual reader is less interested in noting how Greene uses Conrad and others to establish the novel’s coherence than in explaining why Conrad would seem so apt for his purposes. Once we start to historicize this reference, we see it as generated by the social and political discourses of the 1930s; it is not hard to see Greene’s ‘allusion’ as a link to the ‘end of ideology’ intertext. The examination of Greene’s It’s A Battlefield and A Burnt-Out-Case will reveal the extent of Greene’s intertextual debt to Conrad: there are many images, themes which are drawn consciously or not, from Conrad’s fiction. Yet they are modified, twisted – at times questioned and transposed by Greene’s fiction – allowing the writer to establish his own ethics and aesthetics – thus demarcating himself from Conrad.

I have structured this work along two main axes: a general background to the study (Part I) and the study proper of the novels selected in the corpus (Part II and Part III).

Part I: The Socio-Historical Context

As no art can be divorced from the social and historical reality in which it appeared, a socio-historical background of the novels is of paramount importance. As F.R. Leavis has it: ‘quite a lot of general background of the world about us is needed to interpret the simplest sentence in a novel.’35 Conrad and Greene themselves pointed out that the creative writer perceives his world once and for all in childhood. It is therefore necessary to consider the various influences that shaped their personalities particularly during their early lives. An insight into the major events that occurred during Conrad’s and Greene’s lives is also required to determine how Conrad and Greene thought and acted in response to the issues of their day. Such facts are a precondition for an understanding of their fiction. Chapter one focuses on the writers’ formative years. Furthermore in life as in art (including literature), tremendous changes have occured. Conrad and Greene were not immune to the historical process. For this reason, the second chapter, The Literary Scene, places Conrad and Greene in their literary context(s), taking up such matters as their relationships both to the multifarious literary currents of the late nineteenth century (Conrad), and to what is called the modern movement in literature (Conrad and Greene).

The revolution that occured in literature – not only the displacement of Realism by Modernism, but also the rejection of Modernism by contemporary realists – does have a recognizable and important character for the essential part it plays in any complete picture of the literary scene from the late Victorian Age to the 1930s. The study of the literary scene will help us understand Conrad’s and Greene’s works especially as Heart of Darkness is a modernist novel while The Secret Agent and Greene’s selected novels belong to the traditional mode of writing. Some questions are raised: has Greene learned by the modernists, or did he challenge the modernist version of reality? Do Conrad and Greene – both as writers of modern fiction – share the same mode of writing?

Although Greene’s novels have been written much later than Conrad’s, they must be read in the context and framework of the other texts ie. The Secret Agent and Heart of Darkness. This is the task undertaken in the parts that follow.

Part II. A World in Shambles: The Secret Agent / It’s A Battlefield

Conrad and Greene’s search for justice and truth gives an unflattering picture of the world. They enrich the reader’s awareness of the reality of the violence engendered by the clash of existing forces. In making the reader see the void that lies at the heart of human life, Greene, like Conrad, makes him/her see the process of the world’s descent into degradation and anarchy. The signs of total destruction are made even more prominent when the scene is London, ‘the heart of civilisation.’ In Chapter Three. Politics and Betrayal, the first segment is devoted to a consideration of the theme of the arbitrariness of justice which is found haunting in both The Secret Agent and It’s a Battlefield. Furthermore by allowing us an insight into human nature, Greene like Conrad, prolonged his investigation into the disease that affects society. The chain of fatality is most clearly evident in the handling of characterization. Therefore, the prominence given to such figures as Stevie, and Conrad Drover in section two, Martyrs or Scapegoats?, will reveal Conrad’s and Greene’s complete distrust of political change, the manipulation of man by man for purely egoistic ends. In this section, I shall compare Conrad’s Stevie and Winnie with Greene’s Conrad in order to demonstrate the flaws of humanity. In so doing, I shall demonstrate how the myopia engendered by egoism leads to the death of these innocent people. It would seem that It’s A Battlefield has the same worldview as Conrad’s statements about the ‘knitting machine’ to his friend Graham Cunninghame. 3 While the similarities are obvious, they also provide an interesting divergence.

Failure occurs, once more, through man’s defeat by passion. The corruption of the will by passion is illustrated in section three, Female Offenders. Both Conrad’s and Greene’s novels dwell upon the failure rather than the success of positive values. Their criminals owe much to crimiminologist Césare Lombroso’s pathological studies. The examination of the common themes will allow us to demonstrate that Greene like Conrad was a social critic. Their acute sense of observation and their search for authenticity make them reporters par excellence.

For Greene, as for his predecessor, telling the truth is their first duty as artists. The stylistic techniques he adopts have an illuminating quality. They are pertinent to his presentation of themes and contribute to make his fiction have its peculiar flavour. In Chapter Four. The Illuminating Quality, we shall see what array of stylistic devices Greene uses in the wake of Conrad. Such stylistic investigation will show how the various devices used by both writers help in the presentation of theme and character. The structure of the novels, the imagery as well as the use of irony and repetition serve for furthering the writers’ artistic purpose.

Part III: ‘The Hollow Men’: Heart of Darkness/A Burnt-Out-Case

This part is devoted to a study of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Greene’s A Burnt - Out – Case. Setting in both novels is not only a geographical but also a sociological and psychological buttress. It substantiates the themes of the novels. Africa – the dark and mysterious land – has been an ideal ‘objective correlative’ for the writers’ depiction of the wasteland that modern civilisation has become. The reader is indeed sucked in the world of Yeats, where ‘things fall apart, [and where] the centre cannot hold.’ This is the purport of the first section one of Chapter Five. Paradise Lost. We shall focus our attention on Greene’s use of Conrad’s novella as main reference text or pretext. But we shall demonstrate that there are other intertextual references.

However the final goal is not the heart of Africa, but the heart of man there, to see the cancer at the core. For Conrad’s Marlow as for Greene’s Querry, Africa turns out to be a place where they discover some truth about themselves. Like psychoanalysts, Conrad and Greene probe the unconscious through a figure with more than a hint of everyman.

Greene however gives Conrad’s novella a twist by having Querry have a sharper insight into his self. But Querry’s self-awareness does not make him any wiser. The final revelation of Marlow’s and Querry’s inner transformation is our purpose in Section Two. In Search of Truth

A motif also worth exploring and which reveals a connection between Heart of Darkness and A Burnt-Out-Case is that of the double. Greene, like his mentor, handles the problem of division and loss of will through characters. In Africa both Marlow and Querry find their ghastly doubles (Doppelgangers) in the many characters that crowd the novels. Why such fragmentation of the personality? What is the function of doubling? This is the purport of Section Three. The Doppelganger

Finally in Chapter Six. ‘Technique as Discovery,’ I shall identify some essential aspects of the writers’ narrative methods showing how productive the various narrative devices are in relation to the thematics developed. Greene’s view of life’s enigmatic qualities, its absurdity and insignificance is strongly supported by his style. Though Greene’s style recalls Conrad’s at many points, he nonetheless uses his own idiosyncratic techniques. The consideration of the thematic similarities between Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Greene’s A Burnt-Out-Case will help us to demonstrate that Greene, like Conrad, not only transmutes his personal experience into an artistic one, but that he also uses the fictional world to portray basic truths about life as it exists in our world.

The argument of this study is therefore twofold : first, to discover to what extent Conrad’s ‘disastrous’ influence, of which Greene speaks, appears in his novels. Second, to attempt some sort of revisionist criticism, i.e.a re-assessing and re-interpreting of Greene’s canon so as to contribute to its ‘individuation.’


1. Originally, the writer’s name was Konrad Korzenowski. The name of Konrad was chosen mainly for its patriotic literary associations. In Mickiewicz’s (a Polish writer who had a great impact on Conrad and his father) Konrad Wallenrod (1828), a poem of historic legend, the hero is the leader of the Teutonic crusaders. The poem expresses an idea which would later preoccupy Joseph Conrad : the paradox that loyalty often leads to betrayal. In the aforementioned poem, loyalty to one’s nation is viewed by Wallenrod as justifying treachery to one’s followers. Worthy of mention in this respect is the fact that Konrad Wallenrod foreshadows Conrad’s Under Western Eyes and Greene’s The Man Within.
2. Graham Greene, In Search of a Character: Two African Journals (London: The Bodley Head, 1961), p.31.
3.A Sort of Life (London: The Bodley Head, 1971), p.206.
4. Cf. Bibliography.
5. John Atkins, Graham Greene (London: Calder and Boyars, 1957), p.42.
6. Kennett Allot and Miriam Farris, The Art of Graham Greene. (New York: Russel and Russel, 1963), p.78.
7. Cf. Wolodymyr T. Zyla and Wendell M. Aycok, Joseph Conrad: Theory and Fiction (Lubbock, Texas : The Texas Tech Press, 1974), p.181.
8. John Spurling, Graham Greene ( London and New York: Methuen and Co., LTD, 1983), p.74.
9. David Leon Higdon, ‘Joseph Conrad and Graham Greene’, L’Epoque conradienne, May 1979, p.37.
10. Cf. Robert Pendleton, Graham Greene’s Conradian Masterplot (London: Macmillan Press LTD, 1996), 66.
11. Cf. Graham Greene’s Conradian Masterplot.
12. Ibidem.
13. Cf. Robert Secor and Debra Moddelmog, Joseph Conrad and American Writers: A Bibliographical Study of Affinities, Influences and Relations, 1985.
14. A Sort of Life, p.212.
15. Joseph Conrad, Nostromo (London: Penguin Books [1904], 1976 edn.), p.171.
16. Cf. Edward Young’s Conjectures on Original Composition (1759) and William Stuff’s An Essay on Original Genius (1767).
17. The word ‘caconyms’ was coined by John Hollander from the Greek to denote things improperly named. Although the term ‘intertextuality dates from the 1960s, the phenomenon is not new. It is as old as recorded human society.
18. Julia Kristeva, Sémiotiké : Recherches pour une sémanalyse, ed. Leon S. Roudiez, (Paris : Seuil, 1969) trans. as Desire in Language : A Semiotic Approach to Literature by Thomas Gora, Alice Jardine and Leon S. Roudiez, pp.59-60.
19. Ibid., p.146.
20. Gerard Gennette, Palimpsestes : La Littérature au second degré (Paris : Editions du Seuil, 1982), p.220.
21. ‘L’intertextualité evince l’intersubjectivité, Sémiotiké, p.146.
22. Roland Barthes, S/Z (London: Jonathan Cape, 1975), p.211.
23. Michael Riffaterre, La Production du texte, English Text Production, trans. by Thérése Lyons (New York : Columbia University Press, 1983), p.3.
24. Frederick Jameson, The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (London : Methuen, 1981).
25. Michail Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination, ed. Michael Holquist. Trans. by Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994), p.300.
26. Ibid., Cf. ‘Discourse on the Novel’, p.301.
27. Ibid., p.33.
28. Cf. Introductory part to Harold Bloom’s The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry (New York : Oxford Univ. Press, 1973).
29. Christiane Achour and Simone Rezzoug, Convergences Critiques: Introduction à la Lecture du Littéraire. (Alger : OPU, 1990), p.261.
30. Claude Duchet, Sociocritique (Nathan Université : Paris, 1979), pp.3-4. Italics mine. C’est ‘interroger la socialité de l’œuvre dans sa textualité.’
31. Ibid., p.4.
32. Dr. Beres, ‘The Contribution of Psycho-Analysis to the Biography of the Artist’, In International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, XI (1959), p.26.3 T. quoted by Dr. Meyer. Joseph Conrad : ‘A Psychoanalytic Biography (Princeton Univ. Press, 1967). pp.26-35.
33. Ibidem.
34. David Daiches, ‘Criticism as Analysis of the Author,’ in Critical Approaches to Literature (2nd edition, London & New York: Longmans, 1982), p.334.
35. Cf. F.R. Leavis, The Great Tradition ( Harmondsworth: Chatto and Windus, 1962).Italics mine.

Part I. Socio-Historical Context

Chapter 1. The formative years

Everything one was to become must have been there in [childhood], for better or worse. One’s future might have been prophesied from the shape of the houses as from the lines of a hand [... ] Here was the first mould of which the shape was to be endlessly reproduced. 1

Graham Greene, A Sort of Life.

That which in their grown up years may appear to the world about them as the most enigmatic side of their natures, and must perhaps remain forever obscure even to themselves, will be their unconscious response to the still voice of that inexorable past from which their works of fiction and their personalities are remotely derived. 2

Joseph Conrad, A Personal Record

1.1. The Lost Childhood

Most of Conrad’s and Greene’s writings are dramatizations of their own experiences and conflicts. Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) had such a variegated experience of life. His childhood was clouded up by the appalling tyranny to which Poland – his native country – was subjected under Czarist Russia after the Rebellion of 1863. Conrad’s father, Apollo Korzeniowski, was one of the rebel leaders who fought Russian imperialism. In October 1861, he was imprisoned by the Russian authorities and deported from Warsaw to Vologda, a province in the Ukraine. The four-year old Joseph followed his parents into exile. The climate of the Russian province affected his health as well as his mother’s – Evelina – who died of tuberculosis on April 18th 1865; Joseph was only seven years of age. Deprived of maternal love, the young boy no longer felt any motivation for school and lost all interest in life. Apollo’s moroseness after the loss of his beloved wife and the failure of the insurrection of 1863 added to Joseph’s melancholy and when his father died in 1869, the young boy felt completely shattered. Conrad observes: ‘I had an awful sensation of the inevitable. I had moments of revolt, which stripped off me some of my simple trust in the government of the universe.’3 In these words, one senses a nascent distrust of God. Orphaned at the age of eleven, Conrad was taken care of by his maternal uncle, Thaddeus Bobrowski. Sadness, loneliness and the sorrow of bereavement darkened his life. Thus at the age of fifteen Conrad resolved to become a seaman, despite the indignation of his relatives and the remonstrances of his tutor, Adam Pullman, who called him ‘an incorrigible’ and hopeless Don Quixote. And so for twenty years, he lived out his vehement passion for the sea.4 Though Conrad was quite aware that his sailor’s career was irreconcilable with his ideals of Polish patriotism, he left his native land not to return to it for sixteen years.5 Conrad’s obsession with the issues of moral failure, of desertion and betrayal for a large part stem from his abandonment of Poland and his feeling of guilt. As the writer himself acknowledged in his essay ‘Poland Revisited,’ his departure from Poland had for him the character of a betrayal and Lord Jim (1900) dramatises that sense of desertion of Poland at a crucial time.6 Jim’s jumping from ‘The Patna’ corresponds to Conrad’s departure from Poland. Lord Jim and Under Western Eyes (1911) explore the consequences of betrayal.

Death and the struggle against boredom were also driving forces behind Conrad’s writing. In 1878, in a fit of despair, Conrad attempted suicide by shooting himself in the chest after having gambled away his money in Monte Carlo.7 From then on morbidity became his dominant frame of mind. The thought of suicide recurs time and again throughout his work. Frustration, despair and disillusion bring his characters to the brink of self-destruction.

Writing in a foreign language also helped to increase his sense of frustration and solitude. However in the span of only a few years Conrad mastered the nuances of the English language.8 Financial difficulties added to his state of anxiety. Conrad wrote his novels to earn a livelihood. Undoubtedly, his early life contributed greatly to his scepticism. There was not a thing or an idea about which he did not have doubts. ‘Scepticism is the tonic of minds, the tonic of life, the agent of truth, the way of art and salvation,’ he wrote to Galsworthy on November 11th 1901(Life and Letters, Vol.2, 301). Therefore the calamity of his boyhood may have tinged his view of life for ever. And this applies to Graham Greene as well.

Though Greene tells us in A Sort of Life that his childhood was happy, there is more than a hint of unhappiness in his novels. What better evidence of this than Raven in A Gun for Sale (1936) or Pinkie in Brighton Rock (1938)? And John Spurling confirms that ‘... happiness is a memory or dream of something for ever out of reach in [Greene’s] past.’9 The pressure put on Greene during his childhood had a strong influence on his development. Life also stripped him of parental care and family life, though in different ways than Conrad. The separation from his parents, the puritanical restrictions endured at Berkhamstead School,10 where his father was headmaster, became unbearable to the sensitive boy. Like Conrad, Greene constantly referred to that ‘country of childhood’ in his fictional and non-fictional works. The move to St. John’s School later, where Greene was a boarder, was in many ways disquieting for the young Graham. It was there that he began to be aware of the real world: a world of deception, treachery and betrayal. He was filled with terror and fear. What was there at St. John’s that tormented him so much? There was first the immense solitude he felt there. There was the struggle of conflicting loyalties. He was a headmaster’s son and as such a suspect in his classmates’ eyes. He also felt he had been betrayed by his parents and abandoned by them. There was the remoteness of his mother11 of whom he captures memories in The Ministry of Fear but there was also the severity of his father. Most important still was the mental agony he suffered at the hands of Carter – a classmate of his – who persecuted him. The name Carter appears in many of Greene’s novels. In A Sort of Life Greene writes: ‘Though children can be abominably cruel, no physical tortures were inflicted on me.’ 12 Carter indeed: ‘... perfected…a system of mental torture based on [Graham’s] difficult situation.’13 This tormentor undermined Greene’s self-confidence. This may well account for Greene’s focus on the theme of good and evil and the conflict between them, and similarly between the hunter and the hunted. Greene’s pain was added to by the desertion by his friend – Wheeler – to Carter, increasing Greene’s isolation. No wonder Greene was on the verge of breakdown. He makes many references to a ‘cracked bell’ in his writings.

This traumatic experience in that ‘savage country of strange customs and inexplicable cruelty’ that was St. John’s had a formative influence on his literary career. He referred to it in England Made Me (1935), Brighton Rock (1938), The Confidential Agent (1939), The Ministry of Fear (1943); his travel book The Lawless Roads (1939); in his essays, The Lost Childhood (1951) and in his autobiography A Sort of Life (1971). The Third Man (1950) also reverberates with Greene’s unhappy childhood; and suicide became for Greene an escape from the grip of despair. He recollects diverse suicide attempts he made in his youth in his essay ‘The Revolver in the Cupboard.’ It is pertinent to observe that, with the exception of Loser Takes All (1955), all of Greene’s novels and entertainments involve death. From his point of view, his adventures with Russian roulette and later, his travels to dangerous places, stem from his desire not simply to test himself, but also to escape from a depressed condition. Greene’s need for ‘escape’ is part of his psychological make-up, as it was of Conrad’s. What the two writers cherished was escape from boredom, escape from oneself. Hence dreams became a vivid element in their lives. The dreams of Conrad’s Jim are his, and the genesis of It's A Battlefield, Greene says, was a dream. The Honorary Consul (1973) also began with a dream.14

It is noteworthy that both Conrad and Greene suffered from bouts of nervous breakdown resulting from the many pressures exerted on them. Both were brought to manic depression.15 However whereas Conrad remained a manic depressive to the last, Greene was, by the end of his life, less manic and not so depressive. There also seems to be an hereditary element in Greene’s condition: his paternal grandfather was a manic depressive and his mother’s father was an Anglican clergyman who suffered from an exaggerated sense of guilt.16 Furthermore at the age of twenty-one, Conrad sailed aboard a ship called ‘The Duke of Sutherland.’ The immense fatigue of the voyage provoked a breakdown and a sense of overwhelming gloom. Greene too underwent psychoanalysis at the age of sixteen – a therapy suggested by his brother Raymond – after Graham had run away from home. Greene uses his experience of psychoanalysis with Raven, the hero of A Gun for Sale (1936).


1. Graham Greene, A Sort of Life (London: The Bodley Head, 1971) pp 12-13
2. Joseph Conrad, A Personal Record (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, page,1925), p.XXi.
3. Quoted in M.R. Mélisson – Dubreil, La Personalité de Joseph Conrad. Phd. Diss. (Paris : Maurice Lavergne, 1943), p.32.
4. Conrad analyses the nature of his infatuation in The Mirror of the Sea, (Author’s note); ‘…I lived like a hermit with my passion beyond the line of the sea horizon, the world for me did not exist …’ (vii)
5. Though many of Conrad’s sea stories are a tribute to his life at sea it is erroneous to view him as a writer of sea stories only, an attitude he resented greatly. He states this point clearly in a letter to Richard Curle July 14th 1923, in Selected Letters from Conrad, edited by Richard Curle (Garden City, New York, 1928), p.147.
... after all, I may have been a seaman, but I am a writer of prose. Indeed, the nature of my writing runs the risk of being obscured by the nature of my material.
6. To Gustave Morf, Lord Jim is a confession of treason by Conrad. He also views the name of the ship in the novel, The Patna, to be a misspelling of the Polish name for Poland ie. Polska.
7. Evidence of that event is provided by a long-lost letter from Thaddeus Bobrowski to a friend of Conrad’s father - Stephan. Cf. Nadjer Zdzislaw who has written many articles on Conrad. However, some critics believe that Conrad attempted to put an end to his life because of his unhappy love affair with DÕna Rita. Conrad’s preoccupation with failure in his books is therefore not surprising for he had a large experience of it. His letters offer valuable testimony of plans that failed, of unsuccesseful financial ventures that did not succeed. It is important to note that Greene also used to gamble at Monte Carlo. Cf. John Spurling, Graham Greene, (London and New York. Methuen and Co., LTD, 1983), p.12.
8. Yet, it is quite striking that Greene’s works (English being his native language) lack that richness of vocabulary found in Conrad’s fiction.
9. John Spurling, Graham Greene, p.17.
10. Norman sherry, The Life of Graham Greene, Vol. I : 1904-1939 (London : Jonathan Cape, 1989), p.40.
11. In A Sort of Life, Greene says that his father was even more distant than his aloof mother (p.21).
12. Ibid., p.55.
13. Cf. The Life of Graham Greene, p.75.
14. Graham Greene, Ways of Escape (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1980), p.32.
15. Thomas Harris in I’m O.K -You’re not O.K (Pan, London, 1977), explains the symptom of a manic - depressive character: ‘A manic depressive person periodically undergoes severe and unexplainable shifts in mood. In the manic, or high phase, he feels euphoric, on top of the world and full of energy ... then for no apparent reason of which he is aware he sinks into a period of extreme depression.’ Quoted by Dr Bernard Meyer in Joseph Conrad: A Psychonalalitic Biography (New Jersey : Princeton Univ. Press, 1967), p.230.
16. Michael Shelden, The Enemy Within (New York: Random House, 1994), p.62.

1.2. Temperament and Personality

The formative years of Conrad’s and Greene’s early life were certainly the cornerstone of their personalities. Like Conrad, Greene had a nomadic disposition. Such desire for new locales reveals a love for freedom, an insatiable character, an acute intellectual curiosity. In many ways, Greene had a Polish temperament, particularly in his love of nomadic life, which is a feature of the Polish character. From times immemorial the Slavs have been errant souls, often uprooted.1 It is therefore not surprising that Conrad found in England a way of affirming his inner tendencies.

Greene’s sensitivity, like Conrad’s, flinched from any imposed discipline. That spirit of rebellion gave birth to a spirit of adventure. Both became fascinated with geography and the desire to visit unexplored regions filled their heads. Like his predecessor, Greene visited the blank, unexplored space which has ‘the shape of the human heart’ (J.W.M, 37). As it had been for Conrad, this voyage to Africa was a voyage of self-discovery. But while Conrad returned from this continent with a heart full of hatred for life itself, Greene discovered there ‘a love for life’ (Greene). The health of both men was impaired by their African expeditions. Both returned physically and morally shattered. If Africa left a deep imprint on them so did the women they loved.

Both Conrad and Greene were influenced by women: Conrad by Dõna Rita, an immoral woman he met at a reception, and Greene by Vivien Dayrell-Browning. Louis Guillet’s description of the influence of Dõna Rita applies well to Graham Greene:

[...] elle monte à la tête comme un verre de vin tourne la cervelle à un jeune homme ... Il emporte imprimée dans son coeur cette inoubliable apparition feminine. 2

The impact Vivien had on Greene was so great that for her sake, he converted to Roman Catholicism in 1926. Vivien was a Catholic and refused to be engaged to an atheist. While Greene’s fascination with Vivien grew more and more acute, her attitude to him remained ambiguous. They shared some traits such as independence of mind but Vivien was not a rebel like Greene. She accepted to live with the constraints of the conventions of the time. And though Vivien kept at a distance from Greene, this did not discourage him; on the contrary, he became more infatuated still.

From their experience of love, Conrad and Greene drew some strength. Though Conrad showed more reserve with Dõna Rita, one evening he summoned his courage and declared:

I will go as if you did not exist - yet only because you do exist, you exist in me. I don’t know where I end and you begin. You have got into my heart and into my veins and into my brain. 3

We find this, echoed in Greene’s letters: ‘[...] I’m ashamed of myself. I didn’t think I’d ever need anyone so badly. How dare I bring this thing into the light [...].’ 4 One can compare Conrad's and Greene's attitude to that of the characters in Polish fiction “sagging” with sentimentalism. 5

Never before did Conrad and Greene feel so shackled by love. However, Conrad made the sea his second love whereas Greene clung to Vivien until he married her…and then the flame extinguished. He dropped her ‘like a hot potato,’ as Conrad would say. Conrad entered the British Merchant Service while Greene became a journalist. The discipline of Conrad's sea life shaped his temperament as a writer as his journalistic experience did for Greene. The period from 1906 to 1914 reveals a change in Conrad's personality. Some English critics found something ‘incomprehensible, unattainable’ in him. ‘C'était la marque de sa race,’6 commented Jean Aubry. It is this ‘incomprehensible, unattainable’ element which Greene’s novels lack.

Furthermore the predominence of feeling over reason, an anguished temperament, an acute sensitivity, the sense of responsibility are certainly the idiosyncrasies of a Polish temperament, but they are also traits of Greene’s character. As an English lecturer confirms in La Pologne littéraire (15 October 1928) : ‘there are a great many things in which the Poles and the English are almost exactly alike, in their idea of a gentleman, for instance, and I might add, in their idea of a joke…’7 In The Polish Heritage, Gustav Morf notes that the common traits of Polish and English peoples are their spirit of bravery, stubbornness, their individualism.8 We find in Conrad and Greene a blending of the tempers of both peoples – English and Polish – but the right of the individual remains the most cherished principle of these writers. Once the freedom of man is curtailed, what happens? There is a staunch defence of the human personality. Dispersed by the divisions inherent in the country and by emigration, the Poles found refuge in a love of personal freedom, of a moral order quite comparable to the English love for liberty.

Furthermore Conrad’s attachment to England rests on this sentiment of a discipline he recognises as necessary in life. That this discipline was a heavy burden is quite obvious in his hesitations, in the difficulties he met in his writing career. Another feature of Conrad’s Polishness was his sense of loyalty. This virtue took a particular slant. The crime of all crimes for Conrad was the failure to be loyal, which in its extreme form was an act of betrayal. And betrayal is a deadly sin to Conrad just as fidelity is the virtue of virtues. Conrad’s novels are peopled with traitors of two kinds: those who look for redemption such as Karain, Lord Jim, Razumov, Nostromo, Lingard and others, and those who have no remorse such as Almayer and Willems. An Outcast of the Islands and The Sisters (given up in 1896) contain this motif too.

Greene, on the contrary, subscribed to the virtue of disloyalty, and was indeed disloyal to the core. At Berkhamstead School, his father expected him to be not only a brilliant student, but also a loyal spy. Torn between his desire to live up to his father’s expectations on the one hand, and his allegiance to his schoolmates on the other, the only solution for Greene was to play one side against the other, pretending to serve both father and fellows. Moreover the influence exerted on him by his uncle, Sir Graham Greene – a member of the Secret Service – should not be underestimated:

Be disloyal! It is your duty for the survival of mankind. Loyal beings die first, from anxiety, or a bullet or overwork. If you have to earn a living and if the price is your loyalty, be a double agent. 9

Loyalty, says Greene:

[…] confines us to accepted opinions: Loyalty forbids us to comprehend sympathetically our dissident fellows, but disloyalty encourages us to roam experimentally through any dimension of sympathy. 10

Thus if loyalty was one of Conrad’s and Greene’s obsessions, it had a different import on each of them. For Conrad it was the best virtue, while for Greene it was a vice, an infection one must fight off. Thus the warning culled from Joseph Conrad in the epigraph to Greene’s The Human Factor (1978): ‘I only know that he who forms a tie is lost, the germ of corruption has entered his soul.’ This accounts for what Greene calls the ‘divided loyalties’.

The world presented by Greene is thus constantly on the verge of destruction, threatened by characters whose sense of disloyalty is so strong that they cannot help subverting everything. Even in the field of politics, Greene was always eager to create some confusion about his political views. In a letter to The Times (1967), he announced that if he were given to choose between living in the Soviet Union or the US, he would go for the former. Asked about the seriousness of this statement by Mervyn James, a writer, Greene declared, ‘God forbid that I’d ever have to live in either’.11 A year after the publication of the letter to The Times, Greene gave an important speech on ‘The Virtue of Disloyalty.’ His open enthusiasm for disloyalty and his espousal of the virtue of treachery became one of his characters’ fixations. There is a powerful urge to kill in Brighton Rock; jealousy and hatred pervade The End of the Affair (1957); and the desire for self-destruction fills The Heart of the Matter (1948). In these novels the ‘grit’ of disloyalty brings about the characters’ downfall. We find Greene’s obsession with treachery and betrayal in the ‘Judas Complex’ which Greene has identified in the works of Henry James and which is also an issue in Conrad’s fiction epitomised – as pointed out earlier – in Under Western Eyes.

Furthermore Greene’s first published novel – The Man Within (1929) – set in eighteenth and nineteenth century England – focuses on the predicament of the hero, Andrews, who had just betrayed a gang of wreckers led by his father nicknamed Carlyon. By this act of betrayal Andrews sought not only to appease the anger of ‘the man within him,’ but also to assert his manhood and prove his worth, as Conrad Drover - the protagonist of It’s a Battlefield (1934) did. However it is in A Gun for Sale (1936) that Greene calls attention to the theme of disloyalty and betrayal most emphatically. From then on Greene developed an acute devotion to spying and his literary work shows a sharp understanding of the spy world. Greene’s genuine experiences as spy started in the early 1940s.12 He became a member of Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) in 1941 and was known as Officer 59200, a code he uses for the character of Wormold’s immediate superior in Our Man in Havana (1958). One of Greene’s most important missions was to spy on the Catholic Pax organisation in Poland, which was Soviet-backed. The goal of the Pax was to create cleavages in the Polish church. Greene visited Poland in November 1955, reporting to the SIS, keeping contact through the embassy in Warsaw, and gathering ‘the views of as many individuals as he [could] obtain.’13 Such information would help reveal the extent of Soviet control over the religious life in Poland.

Reading the lives of Conrad and Greene, one finds that their work has a disturbing underside to it, a side that reflects their personalities. One also discovers that Greene, like Conrad, was a personage with a heart full of darkness. Their early experience was further deepened by the social and political instabilities of their times.


1. Cf. Mr Mélisson - Dubreil. Phd. Diss. La Personalité de Joseph Conrad (Paris, 1943).
2. Letter of 25 ocrtober 1919.
3. The same words are used in Conrad’s The Arrow of Gold, Part IV, Chap. IV.
4. Letter to Vivien, June 5th 1925.
5. Sienkiewicz, Sans Dogme, quoted by M.R. Mélisson-Dubreil. Phd. Diss. La Personalité de Joseph Conrad (1943), pp.385-86. Compare this passage from Sienkeiwicz's - A Polish writer - Sans Dogme:
L'influence qu'elle exerce sur moi me paraît parfois extraordinaire, surnaturelle [...] J'agis comme un homme qui aime, jusqu'à tout immoler à son amour. Je m'oubliais moi-même, pour ne plus penser qu'à elle. Je foulais a mes pieds mes sens, mes desirs et mon égoïsme. Elle est pour moi plus que la femme: elle est l'incarnation de toutes les beautés, de toutes les séductions, de toutes les voluptés.
6. Quoted in La Personalité de Joseph Conrad, p.30.
7. Ibid, p.236.
8. Gustav Morf, The Polish Heritage of Joseph Conrad (London, 1930), p.124.
9. In 42nd edition of Arena, a documentary on the life of Graham Greene by Marie Dominique Nanterre, broadcast on FR3, Jan. 21st, 1996.
10. Graham Greene, Why Do I Write? (London: Percival Marshall, 1948), pp.47-48.
11. The Enemy Within, p. 34. It is worth pointing out that Greene was a practical joker. He liked playing tricks on people.
12. Though Greene resigned in May 1944, he continued to serve the S.I.S informally until the 1980s and helped the organisation, most notably in Vietnam, Poland, China and Russia. Greene’s visit to Prague
13. in 1948 is a good epitome of the sort of spying he did for the SIS. As a novelist of growing inter- national fame, his ramblings did not raise much suspicion. He could claim to be a harmless writer, not a spy and wander here and there. Cf. The Enemy Within for further details.
14. Quoted The Enemy Within, p.31.

1.3. The World Arena

In the twilit end of the nineteenth century there seemed no answer to a bleak materialism. … Socialism emphasised the invincible inequalities of modern life; and physical science disproved divinity. Some doubters found salvation in the Fabian Society, others in the Catholic Church; but a minority remained, that, despairing of truth outside itself, looked inward to the only verities that had not seemed to crumble; the cultivation of the self, the consolation of art.

A.J.A.Symons, An Anthology of ‘Nineties’ Verse.

1.3.1. The ‘Fin de Siècle’: An Age of Dissolution

The age-old problems that faced Britain in the nineteenth century raged with a new ferocity at its close. The 1870s marked a turning point in Britain’s fortunes and were a prelude to the twentieth century when it had to face a new world disturbed by new forces, all threatening its previous position. Political agitation as well as pressure for the improvement of working class conditions troubled the country. Trade unions manifested their discontent by means of strikes and sabotage – the only weapons at hand – to coerce the ruling class into recognising their rights. But the depression of 1879 shattered the unions’ hopes; and unemployment soared.

To some observers, that era was the heyday of British imperialism; to others, with the upsurge of ‘capital’ and ‘labour,’ on the one hand, and ‘socialism’ on the other, it was the dawning hour of the proletariat; and yet to others it was a turbulent period. But the most significant feature of this fin de siècle was the sceptical outlook which had taken over all absolute truths and values. The conclusions of Darwin’s investigations helped to undermine traditional mythologies. Doubt and pessimism loomed large on the horizon. The notion of man’s ‘descent’ from monkey was inconsistent with prevalent religious ideas of creation, of man’s place in the world. Darwin’s treatment of man as ‘nothing more than brute beast’ shrouded the late Victorian period, as did Nietzsche’s ‘disappearance of God’. There was not even a consensus as regards the image of man. G. H. Bantock observes:

To Freud, man was a biological phenomenon,[…] he was, therefore, in the Darwinian tradition, simply a part of nature. To Marx, he was the outcome of economic and social forces, the alienated product of an evolutionary necessity as rigid as any the nineteenth century found in the natural world […] [And] Bertrand Russell, a pessimistic scientific humanist saw […] [him] as but the outcome of chance collocations of atoms.1

At the close of the nineteenth century, things worsened. The agricultural depression, which started in the 1870s, intensified in the 1880s and with the steady enfranchisement of the male working class population, between 1867 and 1884, the presence of unemployed workers posed the threat of a socialist revolution. In this connection, Matthew Arnold feared the ascendance to power of the uneducated ‘numbers’ which would create anarchy in society; and Thomas Carlyle’s view of the future was one of ‘practical chaos with dirt, disorder, nomadism, disobedience, folly and confusion.’ 2

If the social reformers of the 1880s were unsuccessful in their mission, so were the efforts of the feminists and the Irish. The politicians remaining deaf to the cause of women’s emancipation, their cause was taken up in several novels of the decade.3 The London of the 1880s moreover saw a number of dynamite explosions connected with the rising Irish troubles. Much disorder at that time was also caused by international anarchism and the destruction of public institutions in the hope of creating something new. In 1881, international revolutionaries gathered in London and a number of political leaders were assassinated in Europe, Britain and the USA. Henceforward London became a challenge to its writers who captured the turbulent mood of the time in poetry and fiction. This gave inspiration to Henry James who wrote his most political novel, The Princess Casamassima (1886), a novel about the ‘great grey Babylon’ of London and the revolutionary and anarchist forces that were growing there.

Anarchism exerted a strong appeal on intellectual figures such as William Morris and Bernard Shaw who praised its cleansing goals. Violence became more acute and the anarchist press grew, especially after the break between Marx and Bakunin. London became the biggest agglomeration of human life. A number of émigrés found asylum in Britain. Both the British police and the European governments took an interest in these revolutionary refugees. The British police planted some informers, while the reactionary European governments used agents provocateurs with the aim of creating such a muddle that the British government would stop granting rights of asylum. In 1894, a particularly strange terrorist event known as the Greenwich Observatory explosion took place. An anarchist called Marcel Bourdin was blown to bits by the bomb he was carrying towards the Observatory. This was much discussed in anarchist circles and British observers noted that Bourdin’s brother-in-law, working as agent provocateur, was held responsible for the explosion. This event constituted valuable material for fiction and Joseph Conrad was quick to seize the opportunity. The explosion was to be the material for The Secret Agent (1907), a deeply ironic tale about the plotting of anarchists and revolutionaries in London.

The 1880s saw also the intensification of the race for colonies, the main attraction being Africa. Between 1870 and 1914, the whole of Africa was carved up among the European powers. The Far East had been opened up to the West and the Pacific islands became naval outposts for the new imperialists. In the last decade of the century Britain’s conduct of the Boer War aroused a great deal of hostility abroad, weakened the British Empire and so proved to be humiliating for Britain.

Conrad’s Almayer’s Folly (1895), An Outcast of the Islands (1896), The Nigger of the Narcissus (1898) and Lord Jim (1900) are novels dealing with the British Empire and the crises at its outposts. But Rudyard Kipling, more than anyone else, wrote of the ‘white man’s burden.’ The Empire he described was the greatest adventure of all. For him, the English were a chosen people whose role was to govern ‘the lesser breeds without the law.’ But Conrad dismantled the fictional fortress of imperialism erected by Kipling. He refuted his belligerent superiority over ‘the lesser breeds’ and exposed the combination of social Darwinism and imperialism through characterisation.4 Conrad was primarily concerned with the colonisers, the purport of his fiction being to show the moral disaster caused to European civilisation by imperialism. It revealed their failings, their empty vanity, and mostly the hypocrisy of the Europeans. In this sense, Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899) epitomises the strife that was going on at that time. It is a literary transposition of the writer’s voyage to Africa from which he returned completely disillusioned and outraged by the human deprivation he had seen. Conrad’s response to the crisis of morals was unprecedented. The highly dispiriting picture he provides in his work, represents his view of man’s situation in the world and his disillusionment with the world’s moral order.

Harrowing events on the world stage shouldered aside the fin de siècle and contributed to a further disintegration of society.

1.3.2. The First World War

The long, unendurable nightmare had begun [….] One human brain cannot hold, one memory retain, one pen portray the limitless Cant, Delusion and Delirium let loose on the world during those fours years [….] 5

Richard Aldington, Death of a Hero.

In the early decades of the twentieth century, public events became more pressing. After the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, anxious times started. The Great War impaired Britain’s national self-confidence and generated doubt, uncertainty and disorder. Not only did the war disrupt the world’s financial balance, it left an indelible mark on English culture and economy as well. More importantly, England paid the highest price ‘in a debasement of values and a sense of moral bankruptcy,’6 as historian David Thomson has it. Devoting so much energy to killing other men and to destruction for the sake of victory was bound to debase moral standards. Yet it was a war fought in the name of democracy, ‘a war to end all wars’.

Joseph Conrad’s reaction to the First World War is voiced in some of his non-fictional writings. The war affected the writer’s inner life decisively. In a letter to Wedgewood –an acquaintance of his – he expresses his consternation: ‘The thoughts of war sit on one’s chest like a nightmare. I am painfully aware of being crippled; of being idle; of being useless with a sort of absurd anxiety.7 The idleness and uselessness to which Conrad referred stemmed from his age. He was fifty-seven when the war broke out. However Conrad remained optimistic about the future. In a letter to H.G.Wells, he wrote

The future is our own making and (for me) the most striking characteristic of the century is just that development, that maturing of our consciousness which should open our eyes to that truth or that illusion.8

This reveals Conrad’s preoccupation with the meaning of the universe and man’s hopes and destiny, 9 a preoccupation shared by his literary heir, Graham Greene.

Greene was born nearly five decades after Conrad into a generation which had started to assimilate the Freudian view of human nature. When the Great War began, Greene was only eleven years old. Thus, while Conrad regretted being too old to participate in the great event, Greene was to regret being too young. It is worth mentioning that the first year of the war coincided with Greene’s first year at Berkhamstead School. It was a testing time for the young Graham who lived in an atmosphere very much affected by the war. ‘Loyalty to one’s country’ was the motto of all those Old Boys at Berkhamstead School, where military issues took precedence over school matters. In all spheres of life, the Great War marked the turning of a tide. For women it was a new dawn, accelerating their emancipation.

The Changing Experience of Women With the advent of the Great War, women broke the stranglehold of social conventions. Society needed them to replace the men that had gone to the front-line. The war contributed to the liberation of women though, one must admit, this emancipation was ephemeral . Women indeed constituted a ‘reservoir of labour’ to be tapped in times of economic boom and labour shortage and then thrown out when the men returned from the front. But the experience of work gained in the war sharpened women’s awareness. Henceforth their abilities could not be underestimated. The assumptions about women’s limitations outside the home began to wane as the enfranchisement of women over thirty was achieved in 1918; and its extension to equality with men in 1928 altered the shape and texture of British society. In this sense, it is worth examining Conrad’s and Greene’s attitude to women.

Before 1910, Conrad’s fiction had been centred mainly on men: The Nigger of the Narcissus, Youth, Heart of Darkness, The End of the Tether and The Secret Sharer; or on both sexes, as in Almayer’s Folly, An Outcast of the Islands, Lord Jim, Falk, Amy Foster, Nostromo, The Secret Agent and Under Western Eyes. But with A Smile of Fortune,’ written in mid 1910, fortune indeed smiled on women. It is the woman who reigns in Conrad’s fiction. Conrad’s attitude towards feminism is expressed in Chance completed in 1912 and published at the time of bitter public resentment at the women’s franchise issue. Even the title reverberates with meaning. For the first time, Conrad puts women on the same footing as men, both striving to assert their power. Conrad’s female characters then, use their submissive and often seemingly impotent partners temporarily as convenient props. Women indeed emerge triumphant while their male partners are deprived of their manliness and then destroyed. A good instance, which illustrates this trend, is provided in Conrad’s ‘Freya of the Seven Seas.’10 Moreover in Chance, like Jasper, in ‘Freya,’ Captain Anthony is merely a pawn at a woman’s whim and fancy . 11 Such behaviour ascribed to women in Conrad’s fiction reveals his own thoughts about the new status of women. His insistence upon their power is a way of re-elevating women, whom he had tried to denigrate in earlier fiction.12

However Greene’s position vis-à-vis women is quite ambivalent. The woman is seen as distinctly ‘other.’ As such, she is sometimes idealised, most often denigrated, but never looked upon as an individual. She is most often the object of attraction, yet most often of contempt. For Greene more than for Conrad, the sexual and reproductive aspect of women predominates. Male characters in Greene’s works appear as terrified by women.13 Pinkie in Brighton Rock is a good case in point.

Such an attitude towards women is understandable for Conrad’s and Greene’s novels bristle with the shock they felt when their protective mothers could no longer defend them from the brutal world. It is therefore not surprising that the boys, in this situation, felt the need to repudiate women and all their feminine attributes. The hatred and loathing of women, of all things female, which we can find in their fiction, may well have its roots in this repudiation.

Furthermore Greene’s post-war works reflect the changes in conventions that were stirring up after the Great War:

The change in social manners and morals was much commented upon. The emancipation of women took a multitude of forms from lighter clothing to shorter hair and shirts to a more open indulgence in drink, tobacco and cosmetics.14

Kate, in Greene’s England Made Me (1935), represents the ‘new woman.’ She reproaches her twin brother, Anthony, with being ‘… out of date…’15 because he ‘was full of conventions of a generation older than himself.’16 And Krogh – the protagonist – fully aware that under the British legal system, a wife cannot testify against her husband, decides to marry Kate, so that she will not betray him by unveiling his fiscal machinations. Like Rose with Pinkie, Kate becomes a tool in Krogh’s hands.

In Greene’s later works, female characters occupy a central position. Louise and Helen Rolt in The Heart of the Matter (1948), Marie Rycker in A Burnt-Out-Case (1960) contribute to man’s destruction while in The Power and the Glory (1940) ‘the heroine is a weak link in the creative chain,’17 observes Kenneth Allot, adding that ‘the lack of any need for a central woman enables Greene to side-step what is for him a major difficulty.’18 Greene’s novels offer an obvious representation of the opposition between the whore and the idealised woman. It’s A Battlefield offers a good representation. Thus Greene’s fiction reveals a deterioration of moral standards, and this would be taken up by other writers of the twenties.

1.3.3. The 1920s : An Era of Revolt

In the 1920s, the British people were slowly recovering from the shock of the Great War hoping desperately for the return of the halcyon days. After the war, politics were strongly affected by the Bolshevik Revolution. Marxism became a driving force in politics. The Marxist government in the Soviet Union exerted strong pressure on Socialists all over the world. Such compulsion increased when the Independent Communist Party of Great Britain was born in 1920 - 21. Its desire to be affiliated to the Labour Party was strongly disapproved of, and rejected in 1924. It was in 1925 that Greene joined the Communist Party (for four weeks only). Greene was not really moved by Communist ideals. It offered him a pretext to go to Paris to seek of adventure and escape his conventional milieu. This is made clear in a letter written after his visit to Paris.19 However the reasons for instability in Britain were more economic and social than political.

Labour Unrest

The British Government was indeed caught in a web of social upheavals. Demobilisation and the end of high wartime production increased the malaise and led to violent strikes. During 1919 – 20, inflation rose and wages went back down to pre-war levels, leading the Trade Unions to bargain for higher wages. Discontent was widespread among the working class. ‘Not a penny off the pay, not a minute on the day’ was their slogan. With job scarcity, employers could exploit the workers even more, forcing wages

down and hours up. The Unions, instead of fighting to improve conditions, had to struggle to limit the cuts in pay and increases in hours. The industrial resentment led to the proposal of a General Strike which broke out on May 3rd 1926, and had serious industrial and economic repercussions and widened the gulf between classes. The strike shocked the ‘respectable’ classes. Graham Greene, in A Sort of Life, recalls that ‘there was the exciting sense of living on a frontier, close to violence…’20 The old aristocracy was being degraded by men of wealth and economic power. Krogh (England Made Me) illustrates this situation well. But the underdogs’ awakened consciousness and revolt against social injustice is more conspicuous in It’s A Battlefield (1934). Conrad Drover belongs to the working class but he is an intellectual too. He rails against social injustice.

The Strike moreover had been a terrible blow to the poor who felt bitterness and a sense of overwhelming defeat and betrayal. Man became homo economicus and human relations a matter of the cash nexus. Self-interest presided over human feelings and money was the god man worshipped. This is again mirrored in Greene’s England Made Me and later in Brighton Rock and It’s A Battlefield. There is indeed social criticism, hatred of poverty and injustice in Greene’s novels and the injustice depicted ‘is always part of a wider experience of the injustice of [the world] as a whole.’21

The decade of the 1920s, which saw the death of Joseph Conrad in 1924, was also a seminal period for Greene. 1922 was to be a landmark in his career as a journalist and as a novelist. Greene went to Oxford and started to write a collection of poems. He was elected president of the Modern Poetry and Drama Society at the end of his freshman year. Among the acquaintances he made in the literary circles was Vivien Dayrell-Browning who took an interest in his writings and advised him. The nexus of events that followed – his falling in love with Vivien, his search for a job, his studies – all ended up in his conversion to Catholicism in 1926 22 in Nottingham where he worked as a sub-editor on The Nottingham Journal.23 Greene went to London in 1926. In the late 1920s, Greene published his first novel, The Man Within (1929). This book was acclaimed in literary circles and brought fame to Greene who took the gamble and left The Times, where he worked as a sub-editor, to devote himself completely to writing. Some years later, Greene started using the catholic theme in novels such as Brighton Rock (1938), The Power and the Glory (1940), The Heart of the Matter (1948) and The End of the Affair (1951).

In addition to writing novels, short stories and book reviews, Greene took interest in the cinema.24 As film critic for The Spectator from 1935 to 1940, his reviews were incisive. He soon realized the popularity of film and started writing for the screen. Despite all the pressures put on him, his financial difficulties as well as the rejection of three novels, Greene’s tenacity was admirable. He turned to thrillers, or ‘entertainments,’ and produced a best seller, Stamboul Train (1932), a novel of the turbulent thirties.

1.3.4. The Thirties : The Devil’s Decade

In 1930, it was impossible […] not to find public causes of much more pressing interest than philosophy [.…] Young men […] were forced to be aware of what was happening in Russia; in Germany; in Italy; in Spain. They could not go on discussing aesthetic emotions and personal relations … they had to read politicians. They read Marx. They became Communists; they became anti-fascists.25

Virginia Woolf, ‘The Leaning Tower’

In the 1930s, all of Europe was in a state of agony. It was the period of the ‘Hunger Marches.’ The economic blizzard which was endemic before 1914 became even more acute. Unemployment and strikes, prevalent in the 1920s, and the world crisis increased the malaise in the 1930s, revealing as much fragmentation and antagonism within English society as within the rest of European society as a whole.

Long term unemployment moreover brought psychological and social problems as serious as that of economic loss. What struck the eye was the huge paradox of ‘poverty amidst plenty’. And the Civil War in Spain which followed General Franco’s Right Wing rebellion against the Republican government in 1936 had drastic effects on British public opinion. The Spanish Civil War aroused warm feelings in the hearts of young men striving for some sort of action. The Left became war-minded while the Right remained pacifist. In a sense, the Civil War in Spain was ‘the test of manhood’, of ‘maturity’, that the thirties generation had missed during the Great War.26 It is to be noted that Greene moved by socialist ideals in the 1930s, joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP) while Conrad was a staunch anti-socialist in his life-time. But Greene –unstable by temperament – could not say there for long. He resigned.27

From the 1930s onwards, Greene like Conrad in his time, became an obsessive traveller, roving the globe like a hunted man to escape, like his mentor, his chief enemy, boredom.28 Faced with a sense of the loss of a stable world, and with the realities of the thirties, ‘the years between 1933 and 1937, Greene observed, were a time when ‘private lives disintegrated as the enormous battlefield was prepared.’29 While the 1920s writers sought to escape from ‘the nightmare of history (James Joyce); the 1930s writers went ‘into politics’ (George Orwell).

As the thirties drew on, a new myth, ‘the myth of the next war,’ an apocalyptic vision of impending disaster loomed large on the horizon.

1.3.5. The Second World War: ‘Apocalypse Now’

The Coming of the Unknown […], the beast that prowls at every door and barks […]

Louis Mc Neice, Autumn Journal

By the end of the 1930s, war appeared as ‘the Apocalypse’ that would put an end to English culture, to Western civilisation, with tragic consequences on all human values. The threat posed in Germany by the Nazis, especially after the invasion of Belgium, was seen as a visible manifestation of the atrocities in store with the coming of a new war. The ‘Apocalypse’ appeared in all kinds of writing of the time, not only in the form of vivid accounts of war events, but also in diaries, autobiographies and other later reports among which we count Greene’s ‘Journal of the Blitz’ (Ways of Escape,1980). It should be noted that during the Second World War, the Foreign office sent Graham Greene to West Africa first to Lagos, Nigeria, then to Freetown, Liberia.

The hiatus generated later by le Cold War intensified public anxieties. The conflict between the Soviet Block and the Western Powers spread to many countries affecting Vietnam in particular. Greene was to spend four years in Vietnam reporting on the French war waged against the Communist forces of Ho-Chi-Minh. This gave Greene his subject matter for The Quiet American (1955).


The ‘Fin de Siécle’

1. G.H. Bantock, ‘The Social and Intellectual background’, in The New Pelican Guide to English Literature, Vol. VII., (London: Penguin Books, 1983), p.24.
2. Quoted by Donald David Stone, Novelists in a Changing World and The Transformation of English Fiction in the 1880’s (Cambridge. Harvard University Press, 1972), p.30.
3. In Diana of the Crossways (1885) Meredith upholds the rights of women and the Irish simultaneously in the character of his Irish heroine. Gissing and Hardy too were aware of the frustration of the ‘new man. And Henry James, though parodying the feminists’ claim to freedom in The Bostonians (1886), elsewhere respects his heroine’s efforts towards liberation.
4. Quoted Jonah Raskin, The Mythology of Imperialism (New York : Dell Publishing Co., Inc., 1973) T.S.Eliot, in his 1919 essay ‘Kipling Redivivus’, observes that Conrad was : ‘ … the antithesis of Kipling […], the antithesis of Empire […] His characters are the denial of Empire, of Nation, of Race almost (30).

The First World War

5. Richard Aldington, Death of a Hero (London: Hogarth Press, 1929; rpt 1984), p.221-3.
6. David Thomson, England in the Twentieth Century: 1914-79 (London: Penguin, 1965), p.59.
7. Gérard Jean Aubry, Joseph Conrad: Life and Letters (2 vols., New York, 1927), p.162.
8. Ibid., p.323.
9. Conrad’s vision of man facing a hostile universe is not of his own-making. It continues an ancient tradition philosophically based on such virtues as loyalty, honour and mutual responsibility and socially related with the nobility and the military. In literature, it is the tradition of The Ilias, La Chanson de Roland, Corneille’s Le Cid, and Alfred De Vigny’s s ervitudes et grandeurs militaires. This was also a literature of violent conflicts, of defeats from which man’s dignity had to be saved. The foundations of the moral code in that tradition were secular and anti-pragmatic.
10. Joseph Conrad, ‘Freya of the Seven Isles’, in Twixt Land and Sea, the story is about the daughter of a retired sea captain who postponed her marriage to Jasper Allen until her twenty-first birthday. She has all the attributes of a standard post-1910 heroine; she plays the piano but the description of her performance is more suggestive of an explosion : during rainstorms she ‘would play fierce Wagner music … with thunderbolts falling all around, enough to make your hair stand on end and Jasper would remain stock still on the verandah …’(pp.149-50). Moreover, Jasper observes: ‘If I had been a man, I would have carried her off, but she made me a child […] I discovered that I had no power over her.’ (p.236).
11. Joseph Conrad, Chance (London: Longmans Green and Co., 1913). In this novel, Conrad assigns to Flora - the heroine - an omnipotent role. On board her husband’s ship she faces the hostility of the crew because of her demoralising effect on their captain. The latter, preoccupied with Flora, has become absent minded, forgetting to issue orders, resulting in a near collision at sea between his ship ‘The Ferndale’ and another. It is Flora herself who saves the ship. Thus, having been the cause of the near catastrophe, the all-powerful Flora becomes the saviour. The narrator confirms her impressive power. Speaking of Anthony’s behaviour towards her, he says: ‘… man has captured electricity […] it lights him on his way; it warms his home; it will even cook his dinner for him - very much like a woman ‘(p.327).
12. Such power ascribed to women is also found in ‘The Inn of two Witches’ (1912) and in ‘The Planter of Malata’ (1913) in which women are destroyers of men. In both stories, women are a dangerous force. The same phenomenon occurs in Victory (1914), ‘The Shadow Line’ (1915), The Rescue - started in 1898 and finished in 1919 - The Rover (1922) and Suspense - an unfinished novel.
13. Cf. Andrea Freud Loewenstein, Loathsome Jews and Engulfing Women : Metaphors of Protection in the Works of Wyndham Lewis, Charles William and Graham Greene, (London and New York : N. York Univ. Press, 1993).
14. D. Thomson, England in the Twentieth Century, pp.86-87.
15. Graham Greene, England Made Me (London: Heinemann, 1935), p.11.
16. Ibid., p.25.
17. Kenneth Allot and Miriam Farris, The Art of Graham Greene (New York: Russell and Russell, 1963), p.39.
18. Ibid., p.77.

The 1920s: An Era of Revolt

19. cf. The Life of Graham Greene, Vol. I, p.162 in which Norman Sherry quotes Graham Greene : ‘going to Southampton, the train had to go through floods halfway the wheels, feeling its way along invisible rails. An exciting prelude to Paris communism.’
20. A Sort of Life, p.127.
21. Kenneth Allot, The Art of Graham Greene, p.18.
22. Greene insists that he converted because of the great void in his life at Nottingham. But he also felt a sense of duty towards Vivien, the woman he loved. In A Sort of Life, (p.118) as well as in letters to Vivien, we are given his response to his conversion. Cf. also Marie Françoise Allain, The Other Man: Conversations with Graham Greene (London : Penguin Books, 1984), pp.153-4.
23. He used his experience of Nottingham as a basis for A Gun for Sale and in Journey Without Maps (1932) written simultaneously. In the first novel he records that : ‘There was no dawn that day in Norwich. Fog lay over the city like a night sky with no stars […] the lit carriages drew slowly in past the cemetery […] a smell of bad fish came in from the glue factory’ (40). And in the second he depicts the fog as ‘heavy and black between the sun … (101) Norman Sherry in The Life, says : ‘Whenever he [Greene] needed to describe a disreputable house, he returned to Ivy House’, and Greene told V.S. Pritchelt, in an interview in The Times, July 1978, ‘I cannot invent’ (p.29).
24. Greene speaks of the influence of the cinema in a letter to Vivien. (January 14th 1926) and in an interview quoted in Man of Paradox Greene was asked if he had been influenced more by cinema or theatre, he replied : ‘Film certainly. The Victorian novelists were influenced by painting, their descriptive scenes were static because they were thinking in terms of pictures. I belong to the age of the cinema. I have tried to mark my descriptions with a moving, hand held camera.’ See also The Other Man conversations with Marie Françoise Allain, p.132.
The 1930s: ‘The Devil’s Decade’ (H.G. Wells)
25. Virginia Wollf, ‘The Leaning Tower’ (1940), rpt. In Collected Essays (London: Hogarth Press, 1966), Vol.II., p.170.
26. Cf. Samuel Hynes, The Auden Generation: Literature and Politics in the 1930s (London: Faber and Faber, 1976), p.196.
27. Greene’s urge to travel and his interest in world affairs, especially in socialism with a human face never seems to have diminished with age. Between 1986 and 1989, he visited the then U.S.S.R three times and in his speech before Michail Gorbachev in 1987 at the Kremlin, he disclosed his dream for cooperation between Roman Catholics and Communists. Cf. Shelden, The Enemy Within, for further details.
28. In an interview with Roy Perrot ‘A brief encounter’, quoted in Man of Paradox, Greene admits that ‘Boredom has always been [his] problem. That’s probably what has made me travel so much.’
29. Ways of Escape, p.34.

Chapter 2. The Literary Scene

The 1920s saw a reaction against Victorian paradigms. The revolution occasioned by Modernism and its rejection, in the 1930s, by the ‘New Realists’ are fundamentals of the literary scene from the late Victorian period to the 1930s. This chapter throws light on the changes that occured in the literary area and situates Conrad and Greene in their literary context to see how they responded to the issues of their days.

2.1. Realism and Modernism: The Transition

From time to time, there occurs some revolution, or s udden mutation of form and content in literature. Then some way of writing which has been practised for a generation or more, is found by a few people to be o ut of date, and no longer to respond to contemporary modes of thought, feeling and speech. A new kind of writing appears, to be greeted at first with disdain and derision; we hear that the tradition has been flouted, and that chaos has come, after a time, it appears that the new way of writing is not destructive but re-creative. It is not that we have repudiated the past …but we have enlarged our conception of the past; and in the light of what is new we see the past in a new pattern.1

T.S. Eliot

The transition between realism and modernism started with the last years of Victorianism when Joseph Conrad began to write and went on to cover the first two decades of the twentieth century, a period of violent literary controversy and experiment. In the nineteenth century literature held a special place in the moral life of the Middle-Class individual and the nation at large. And the realist novel was the most important literary form used to change mental attitudes, to arouse consciousness. By the end of the century however, the realist novel began to fall into disrepute for various reasons. First, it seemed quite probable that the decline of realism was in some way closely related to the collapse of self-confidence among the Middle-Class at the end of the nineteenth century. It is worth noting that scarcely one among all the writers who made their reputation during the Age of Realism came from the working class. But the alleged cause for the break-up of old patterns may be the ‘Death of God,’ or Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, the discovery of the Unconscious or the advent of mass consumption society. There is however unanimity of opinion as to the fact that this modern experience was quite different from anything that preceded it. Rimbaud’s ‘ il faut être moderne;’ Pound’s ‘make it new’ or his memorable demand for ‘a new civilization;’ T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland; F.R. Leavis’s New Bearings, in English poetry, all express the same imperative and marked an analogous revolution in literature.



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conradian legacy novels graham greene

Titel: The Conradian Legacy in the Novels of Graham Greene