5 W. J. IGOE I
The vision of a poetic theologian who is a man of his time
READING The Third Man* was like prying over Graham Greene's shoulder at the first draft of a new novel.
Despite the pleasure given by Carol Reed's film, I regretted the deeper exploration of the Harry Lime, theme the novelist might have made. The principal character in the photo-play was Vienna; in the book it is Lime, something new in the writer's work, a rough note for a portrait that might have been a major creation.
Harry Lime is evil; The Third Man could symbolise a universal
unholy spirit. If baptism, like vaccination, sometimes, did not " take," he might be a consequence.
Hitherto all Mr. Greene's heroes have been villains in the romantic tradition. What, for example, would Mr. Trollope have made of the unnamed priest in The Power and the Glory? Imagine Pinkie seen by Dickens, or Raven by Mr. Priestley?
All our author's sinners are potential saints; had he chosen stained glass as medium, the market would be limited.
Technically he owes much to James, more to Conrad. and something to Mr. Eliot. But he is distinguished as an artist, by the vision of a poetic theologian who is a man of his times. Romantic conceptions of good and evil are absent from his art ; the face on the other side of the book, so to speak, bears, in its dimness, compassion, and lack of sentimentality, an affinity with the face on the other side of the grill in a confessional. He knows, has pity, and is uncomprontising.
UNTIL The Heart of the Matter, the chief weakness in Mr. Greene's novels is that the theologian tended to constrict the poet. The writer seemed to use a " view-finder " constructed from principles set out in seminary textbooks; he " fixed " the picture in the way of an artist-craftsman. A similar point has been made by Mr. Neville Braybrooke. The Power and the Glory is unique because the central character, being a priest, would know as much theology as his creator.
Brighton Rock is the most important of the earlier tales. In contrasting the portrait of Pinkie with the note of Harry Lime, one gets an inkling of the difficttlties Mr. Greene now faces.
Pinkie simply is a marred saint, like the devil himself. a perverted soul. The Father of Darkness was the Son of the Morning and like Lucifer. whose pride exiled him from God, Pinkie has the essence of a great tragic hero. He appreciates (here is where the theologian takes ascendancy over the novelist) with incredible--at his age, with his education-understanding what is good; he resents evil yet embraces it. Pride is his motive; he must wield power and creates his own world to do so. (Pinkie is the absolute democrat.)
Pride consumes him, for, like the Nietzshean hero, " liberated " from God he cannot create is barren. His only choice, like Nietzsche, is death and damnation or insanity.
Pinkie dies. He has made life. for himself, hell; for he hates the circumstance of the evil he has cleaved to.
WHEN, for example, he goes to the wedding he knows to be a fiction we are shown his distaste with almost suspect clarity. He broods sickly upon its consumelion, and "obscene scramble." Halting with Dallow before a newsagent's shop, gazing at the loathsome details that make a picture of the showwindow: " His eyes flinched as if he were watching some horror. Ile said in a low voice: ' When I was a kid, I swore Id be a priest.'
"' A priest? You a priest? That's good, Dallow said. Ile laughed without conviction, uneasily shifted his foot so that it trod in a dog's ordure.
"' What's wrong with being a priest ?' the Boy asked. ' They know what's what. They keep away
' his whole mouth and jaw loosened; he might have been going to weep; he beat out tvildly with his hands towards the window, Woman, found drowned. Married Passion, the horror, ' from this.'
"' What's wrong with a bit of fun ? ' Dallow took hint up, scraping his foot against the pavement edge. The word fun shook the Boy like malaria .. ."
This passage shows the theologian is his most artistically concentrated vein--Dallow's uneasiness before the mystery of the priesthood, his lack of conviction that he is right in accepting the values savagely symbolised in the "dog's ordure " and
the cleansing ment edge.
instrument, a pave
Pinkie, the Catholic sinner, attains
the stature of a fallen angel. He knows. Heaven casts regretful echoes into his heart. Like Marlowe's Mephistophelis the melancholy observation, " Why this is Hell, nor am 1 out of it," might fall from his lips.
Harry Lime recalls Hamlet's rhetoric when the Ghost had accused Claudius:
"0 villain, villain, smiling damned villain!
My tables, meet it is I set it down That one may smile and smile and be a villain."
mR. Orson Welles' performance as Harry Lime in the film was brilliant, and weighing it against Mr. Greene's script, one Sees it was wrong. Pure evil must seem innocent. Mr. Welles was sophisticated, shiney. The famous line of dialogue about the Swiss, peace and cuckoo clockscraftily deflating and amusing as it is-we are not surprised to learn was written into the script by the actor. It makes a disintegrating gesture to " theatre." For Harry Lime needs no historical or ideological justification; he is bad, the absolute humanitarian and unreflective.
Pinkie's hell comes from hatred of his own creation, the absence of God. It is insubstantial. Like Lucifer, he fell, and was cast out.
Harry Lime has nothing in common with the exiles from God. He might have been spawned in Hell after the Fall, one of Satan's cherubs, He has never known good, except as an abstraction. That seems logical enough. God to him is an abstraction and he mocks him. This world, God's world, is Harry's oyster, and as such is solely real.
" Don't picture Harry Lime as a smooth scoundrel. He wasn't that. The picture I have of him on my files is an excellent one; lie is caught by a street photographer with his stocky legs apart, big shoulders a little hunched, a belly that has known too much good food for too long, on his face a look of cheerful rascality, a geniality. a recognition that his happiness will make the ivorld's day."
The world was made for Harry Lime; all things minister to him; all is nothing divorced from his interest. Pinkie made his own world. his hell, hating, resenting and needing God. With sublime innocence Harry Lime exploits creation and sneers at God.
"' She's a good little thing,' Harry said, ' I'm very fond of her'," of the the girl who loves him and whom he is prepared to sell to the Russians.
"' You used to he a catholic!
"' 011, I still believe old man. In Gml and mercy and all that. I ant not hurting anyones' soul by what I do. The dead are happier dead. They don't miss enuch here, poor devils.'" IN this sketch Mr. Greene, I
believe, has touched upon the deeper evil, the masked despair, sublimated into synicism, veneered by frivolity, that is the rot in the Christian and unshriven West.
I wish he had written a novel instead of what he accurately terms a " treatment," and his publisher describes. most misleadingly, when one recalls the novelist's own classification of his works, as an " entertainment."
The second " entertainment " here published is entitled The Fallen Idol.* It is The Basement Room and was included, in 1947, in the collection 19 Stories. It remains Mr. Greene's best short story.
'The Third Man and The Fallen Idol, by Graham Greene (Heinemann, 6s.) Two of a set of 12 Holy Year commemorative plates each bearing on the back the facimlle signature of the Archbishop of Boston, which are being made by the Barla-stmg firrn of Joshiah Wedgwood and Sons.
Soon the first part of an initial order for 250,000 will have been delivered to the U.S.A. Each plate is 10 ins. in diameter and illustrates in sepia a famous scene in Rome, each being chosen from etchings of Battista Piranese The plates are being distributed by Archbishop Cushing and a substantial part of the proceeds
are for charity.
The engravings will be presented to the Vatican for safe keeping. A few " seconds" will be on sale in England and Major Wedgwood has kindly offered to give a royalty on these plates to the Catholic Council for Polish