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Graham Greene on The Power and the Glory:

Now, of course, when I reread The Lawless Roads, I can easily detect many of the characters in The Power and the Glory. The old Scotsman, Dr. Roberto Fitzpatrick, whom I met in Villahermosa, with his cherished scorpion in a little glass bottle, was the kind of treasure trove that falls to the lucky traveller. In recounting the story of his own life he told me of the kindly disreputable Padre Rey of Panama with his wife and daughter and the mice – not a scorpion – which he kept in a glass lamp. So it was that the doctor put me on the track of Father Jose in my novel… "I asked about the priest in Chiapas who had fled. ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘he was just what we call a whisky priest.’ He had taken one of his sons to be baptized, but the priest was drunk and would insist on naming the child Brigitta. ‘He was little loss, poor man.’"

But long before the drunken priest another character had come on board my awful boat in Frontera,where my story was to open – the dentist I called Mr. Tench, who made his living with gold fillings even in that abandoned little port…His character needed no "touching up."

The novel draws parallels with T.S. Elliot's poem "The Hollow Men". The hollow men wander in a barren landscape, trying to remember the line after "For Thine is the Kingdom" in the Lord's Prayer. The phrase happens to be "the Power and the Glory". He was as complete in The Lawless Roads as he was in The Power and the Glory, and as I read on I encounter more and more characters whom I have forgotten, who beckon to me from the pages and say ironically, "And did you really believe you had invented me?"
Here is the amiable corrupt Chief of Police in Villahermosa,and in the village of Yajalon I encountered "a mestizo with curly sideburns and two yellow fangs at either end of his mouth. He had an awful hilarity and an inane laugh which showed the empty gums. He wore a white tennis shirt open at the front and he scratched himself underneath it." After a week of his company I would find it impossible to abandon him forever, and so he became the Judas of my story. And the Lehrs – the kindly Lutheran couple – they didn’t belong to my imagination, for here they are giving shelter to a tired traveller in the same fashion as they did to the whisky priest. Of invented characters how very few seem to remain apart from the two protagonists, the priest and the Lieutenant of Police; when I came to write I was handing out alternative destinies to real people whom I had encountered on my journey.
The Power and the Glory was published in 1940 and won the Hawthornden Prize. The Vatican did not condemn it until 1953, leading Evelyn Waugh to advise Greene that "they have taken fourteen years to write their first letter. You should take fourteen years to answer it." Greene did not directly refuse the Church's demands for revisions but rather replied that the copyright was in his publishers' hands. The matter was dropped. I think The Power and the Glory is the only novel I have written to a these: in The Heart of the Matter Wilson sat on a balcony in Freetown watching Scobie pass by in the street long before I was aware of Scobie’s problem – his corruption by pity. But I had always, even when I was a schoolboy, listened with impatience to the scandalous stories of tourists concerning the priests they had
encountered in remote Latin villages (this priest had a mistress, another was constantly drunk), for I had been adequately taught in my Protestant history books what Catholics believed; I could distinguish even then between the man and his office.Now, many years later, as a Catholic in Mexico, I read and listened to stories of corruption which were said to have justified the persecution of the Church under Calles and under his successor and rival Cardenas, but I had also observed for myself how courage and the sense of responsibility had revived with persecution – I had seen the devotion of peasants praying in the priestless churches and I had attended Masses in upper rooms where the sanctus bell could not sound for fear of the police. I had not found the idealism or integrity of the lieutenant of The Power and the Glory among the police and pisteleros I had actually encountered – I had to invent him as a counter to the failed priest: the idealistic police officer who stifled life from the best possible motives: the drunken priest who continued to pass life on.

from Ways of Escape, pp.65-68


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

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