Thursday, March 09, 2006

What may have started it

In the event anyone's reading this, it's probably because I got involved in a discussion between two infinitely better bloggers (this one and this one) on Anthony Burgess and Graham Greene. It's going on here and here. You may therefore be interested to read the bit of criticism Burgess says gave Greene a grudge against him. This seems to be "The Greene and the Red: Politics in the Novels of Graham Greene", reprinted in his 1968 journalism round-up Urgent Copy. Here's the relevant quote:

Of the English Catholic novelists, Graham Greene is by far the most interesting, since he is probably the least orthodox. The implied doctrines of his novels approach Jansenism, which has been repeatedly condemned by Rome. Cornelius Jansen, founder of the theological school whose most famous and brilliant adherent was Pascal, came too near to Calvinism to be orthodox: he found too much semi-Pelagianism in the 'laxist' Jesuits; he affirmed and re-affirmed the more 'rigorist' doctrines of St Augustine. In Jansen, original sin was not mere 'imputation': it expressed itself in the depravity of nature (whose order was, contrary to official teaching, distinct from the supernatural order), in appetite and in concupiscence. The horror of the natural world is one of the most fascinating aspects of Greene's fiction. Sin is not cool and intellectual matter for theological dissertations; sin is expressed in the joyless sex of Brighton Rock, with its broken toenails in the bed; the carious landscape of The Power and the Glory; the hell of Haiti in The Comedians.

Burgess goes on to suggest that this gives Greene some sympathy with communism on the grounds that it is more open about its materialist depravity.

"A place that seems to breathe sin is, paradoxically, spiritually healthier than an ascetic garden city," he says Greene thinks. Communism has the merit that "since in an evil community good can be brought about only by revolution... its techniques are apter for killing evil than are those of an affluent and settled democracy". I have omitted much subtlety and hedging.

I'm not up to assessing all this as lit-crit or theology. But I can see it's a sort of lecture on orthodoxy, and from someone who begins by declaring himself "of an old though not particularly distinguished Lancashire Catholic family, one that held to the faith through the Reformation and had its quota of undistinguished martyrs". That might smart.

(Incidentally, the reasons I'm coming up with so much Burgess and so little Greene are that Burgess is much apter to turn up in second-hand bookshops, and that Greene didn't reprint great gusts of fugitive work. Both factors speak well of Greene.)

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