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Graham Greene on The End of the Affair:

Many a time I regretted pursuing "I" along his dismal road and contemplated beginning The End of the Affair all over again with Bendrix, my leading character, seen from outside in the third person. I had never previously had to struggle so hard to lend the narrative interest. For example how could I vary the all-important "tone" when it was one character who was always commenting? The tone had been set on the first page by Bendrix — "This is a record of hate far more than of love" — and I dreaded to see the whole book smoked dry like a fish with his hatred. Dickens had somehow miraculously varied his tone [in Great Expectations], but when I tried to analyze his success, I felt like a colourblind man trying intellectually to distinguish one colour from another. For my book there were two shades of the same colour — obsessive love and obsessive hate; Mr. Parkis, the private detective, and his boy were my attempt to introduce two more tones, the humorous and the pathetic.

Time magazine featured the novel in a 1951 story, with Greene on the cover and the caption "Adultery can lead to sainthood". …The story…which now began to itch at my mind — of a man who was to be driven and overwhelmed by the accumulation of natural coincidences, until he broke and began to accept the incredible —
the possibility of a God. Alas! It was an intention I betrayed.There is much that I like in the book — it seems to me more simply and clearly written than its predecessors and ingeniously constructed to avoid the tedium of the time sequence (I had learned something from my continual rereading of that remarkable novel The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford), but until I reached the final part I did not realize the formidable problem I had set myself.
Sarah, the chief character, was dead, the book should have continued at least as long after her death as before, and yet, like her lover, Bendrix, I found I had no great appetite to continue Greene took little pains to disguise the fact that the novel was based on his own affair with Lady Catherine Walston, who also did not appear disturbed by the book. The British edition of the novel is dedicated to "C" while the American version is made out to "Catherine."
now she was gone beyond recall and only a philosophic theme was left behind. I begin to hurry to the end, and although, in the last part, there are scenes, especially those which express the growth of tenderness between Bendrix and Sarah's husband, which seem to me successful enough, I realized too late how I had been cheating the reader…The incident of the atheist Smythe's strawberry mark (apparently cured by Sarah after her death) should have had no place in the book; every so-called miracle, like the curing of Parkis's boy, ought to have had a completely natural explanation. The coincidences should have continued over the years, battering the mind of Bendrix, forcing on him a reluctant doubt of his own atheism. The last pages would have remained much as they were written (indeed I very much like the last pages), but I had spurred myself too quickly to the end.

So it was that in a later edition I tried to return nearer to my original intention. Smythe's strawberry mark gave place to a disease of the skin which might have had a nervous origin and be susceptible to faith healing.

The End of the Affair was a greater success with readers than with critics. I felt such doubt of it that I sent the typescript to my friend Edward Sackville-West and asked his advice. Should I put the book in a drawer and forget it? He answered me frankly that he didn't care for the novel but nonetheless I should publish — we ought to have the vitality of the Victorians who never hesitated to publish the bad as well as the good. So publish I did. I was much comforted by words of praise from William Faulkner, and I was later grateful for the two years' practice I had had in the use of the first person or I might have been afraid to use it in The Quiet American, a novel which imperatively demanded it, and which is, technically at least, perhaps a more successful book.

from Ways of Escape, pp.114-115


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

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