Mr. Greene's Testimony
SIR, Miss Farjeon's reflections after a visit to Mr. Graham Greene's new play The Living Room raised issues which may perhaps be more usefully and charitably discussed when more is understood by the general public about this able novelist and his attitude to the faith: that is, when he and most of us have gone to our judgments. But in the meantime there are the very young, the simple, the confused and the weak, many of whom have a notion (never promoted by the author) thatMr. Greene is a Catholic apologist. I feel that I do Mr. Greene no disservice, and those others perhaps a charity, in asking you to consider the implications of the quotations that follow. They are from Why Do I Write. an exchange of letters by Elisabeth Bowen, V. S. Pritchett and Mr. Greene, published by Percival Marshall in 1948, the year of The Heart of the Matter.
GRAHAM GREENE TO ELIZABETH BOWEN
"Perhaps the greatest pressure on the writer comes from the society within society: his political or his religious group, even it may be his university or his employers. It does seem to me that one privilege he can claim, in common perhaps with his fellow human beings, but possibly with greater safety, is that of disloyalty. Disloyalty is our privilege. , "If I may be personal, I belong to a group, the Catholic Church, which would present me with grave problems as a writer if I were not saved by my disloyalty. If my conscience were as acute as M. Mauriac's showed itself to be in his essay God and Mammon, I could not write a line.
"Literature has nothing to do with edification. I am not arguing that literature is amoral, but that it presents a personal moral, and the personal morality of an individual is seldom identical with the morality of the group to which he belongs. . .
GRAHAM GREENE TO V. S. PRITCHETT
"Here in parenthesis I would cmphasise once again the importance and the virtue of disloyalty. If only writers could maintain that one virtue-so much more important to them thau purity-unspotted from the world. Honours, State patronage, success, the praise of their fellows all tend to sap their disloyalty. If they don't become loyal to a Church or a country, they are too apt to become loyal to some invented ideology of their own, until they are praised for consistency, for a unified view."
I am open to the reproach that I have taken these quotations out of their context, as indeed I have. The people I have in mind would understand very little of the matters debated there by the writers. But anybody can accept a plain personal statement of a personal position, which I take these words to intend. In view of Mr. Greene's increasing reputation, I do think that the more Catholics are able to quote them the better for all of us.
40 Redcliffe Square, S.W.10.
The Critic's Job
Sta,-Writing of Mr. Greene's The Living Room, Miss Eleanor Farjeon says "it is dangerous to segregrate the dramatist from the Catholic." If I agreed with your correspondent's definition of the scope of a drama critic's reference, I should, Sir, hesitate to enter a theatre, or I might ask your permission to sign my articles "Torquemada." Apart from any delicacy I may feel about the latter course, my parish priest would not, I suspect, like it.
It is not the business of drama critics to extend their criticism to questions of the success or failure of other men, even artists, as Catholics. We make our own Confessions; we. ourselves, are not always successful as Catholics. We must, and the limitation is one that makes the life of a critic not only endurable but good, leave judgment of our fellows to God and those ordained to judge. Come what may, the successful Catholics have their say. We, others. do not speak for "most Catholics." Like Mr. Greene, Who for 25 years has written books indelibly stamped with the marks of an adult and serious contemporary Christiah mind, we speak for our mere selves. We are, I believe, in good company.
W. J. Igoe.
60 Frith Street, London, W. 1.
A Moral Problem Sia,-I thought your critic's remark that Grahame Greene's ambivalence traps one into meditation most apt, but it is surely perverse of him to rap the play for its "morbid and abnormal" Catholic setting. The setting is symbolic and is not meant to represent a normal Catholic exterior. This priest (a cripple, do we not sec the force of this?) and his two sisters, the simpleton who has not and will not experience evil, and the other "the moralising machine" as Mr. Igoe calls her (never having been tempted she can present a fine front to the Devil), do we not recognise the attitudes they embody? When the sinner comes upon the Church, is it not these three he most often meets, the crippled priest, and the two pious sisters?
It is said that Mr. Greene spoils his play by allowing his heroine to commit suicide. Mr. Igoe insists that Miss Rose in real life would rise in the morning and live. The daily newspaper contradicts him. But is there not a dramatic reason why Mr. Greene ends with this suicide? Had Rose in the play made her decision one way or the other, the dramatic force of the conflict she efldures would have been lost; we should have been able all the way to sec what she was going to do. The play, in fact, would have had to have been built around the character of Rose, instead of as Mr. Greene intended, around the moral problem she is called upon to solve.
John Bate. 8 East Rise,