A Review of of Schnitzler’s “Dream Story”

In Literature on 02/12/2014 at 01:09


“Fridolin opened his eyes as wide as he could, put his hand to his cheek and brow, and felt his pulse. Scarcely above normal. Everything was fine. He was scarcely awake.”

Dream Story” is a novella about the consequences of allowing a partial amount of honesty into lives that are otherwise founded on dishonesty. It is described as “exploring the dark tangled roots of human sexuality”. And it indeed does so, though its interpreters don’t take the book a step further into realizing the basic message of the book: we can’t do without equivocation. It is woven into the basic fabric of our lives. When the main character gives of his assigned role as a bourgeois doctor, he nearly loses his life. This was the pessimistic gist of the life work of Schnitzler’s contemporary, Freud,that we have to achieve an uncomfortable equilibrium between our longing and the strictures of social life, in “Civilization and its Discontents”.

The translation of “Dream Story” by J.M.Q. Davies lives up to the solid standard set by the pale green Penguin editions that are so much the mainstay of an intellectual diet in the English speaking world now. The only unfortunate aspect of the translation was the decision to keep what are, presumably, the names of the characters in the original German. “Fridolin”, the principle character, sounds like a brand of potato chip. And his wife, with the even worse moniker “Albertine”, suffers from the affect English readers get when they see the feminine form of a name they are only used to seeing the masculine version of. This makes her seem like a cookie, or a butch aunt. None of which is, again presumably, intended by the story. Keeping the names of the setting in Vienna makes sense, but why not finish the radical move of translation and just call them “Jack” and “Sarah” and save the reader a resonance not contained in the original. In any case, the story still works once the funny names are gotten over.

The inciting incident begins immediately in the story when a husband and wife decide to be perfectly honest with each other about their sexual proclivities. There is something cinematic in the flashback quality of their recollections. It can be seen why this novella lent itself well to the sensibilities of Ophul & Kubrick. For Albertine the scene of betrayal happens on a trip the couple took to Scandinavia, where, true to the cliché, she had found it impossible to resist being emotionally overcome by the allure of a man in uniform. While for Fridolin, the emotional infidelity of his confession involved an episode with a barely nubile girl walking by the sea. Again these erotic details are all very beautifully chosen by Schnitzler. Also accurate is the immediate corrosive effect they have on the marriage of Albertine and Fridolin. They can no longer countenance one another. Not so much perhaps for having the cravings which at some level they must have recognized, but for admitting to those longings and thereby damaging the veneer of fantasy so necessary to making their marriage endurable. The aftermath of this catastrophe forms the main action of the story.

Driven out of his marital nest, now disrupted severely, Fridolin returns to the home of a dying patient. The man at last passes away and the first of series of erotic encounters befalls Fridolin. These border on the absurd for their frequency and that yet that violation of realism doesn’t disrupt the story. The pace moves fast enough and remains dreamlike enough for the suspension of disbelief to be kept up. So the granddaughter, the girl in mourning had thrown herself at Fridolin, shamelessly confessing love for him. This advance he rebuffs. Travelling back out into the streets for an encounter with a prostitute, he similarly refuses her. He takes little pride in these tests to his marital fidelity. He remains restless and wanders around the city, into a café for a fateful encounter that takes the story into a truly interesting underworld.

Something about this episode reminds the reader of a grimmer version of the theater “For Madmen Only” in Steppenwolf. The difference is that the entire episode doesn’t end with any mysticism of the self, a Jungian ideological promise of a superman to be had after the travails of self-realization.

“Curious how, seduced by words, again and again one labels and condemns people, destinies and streets through sheer idle force of habit.”

The world that Fridolin and Albertine inhabit isn’t the real world. It is more like the dream world of Kafka of the magical realistic world of Marquez. And when Fridolin delves too deeply into a part of it that is better left alone, when he starts to overturn too many rocks not meant for him, a series of threats become pronounced.

At a café Fidolin meets an old pal from school. There is a nice aside that gives the background of this misfit, one who has very ironically found his way into a domestic existence after years as a philanderer, bacchant, and Ne’er-do-well by the standards of Viennese conservatism. In any case, this friend lets Fridolin in on a secret: there is a party to be held that night for which his friend will be furnishing the piano accompaniment. All that Fridolin needs to enter this midnight realm of adventure and revelation is the password “Denmark” and a costume. (n.b. This is the country where his wife’s infidelity took place.) The episode in which Fridolin goes to secure a costume in the middle of the night, along with the digression concerning his friend’s past, are two brilliant strokes that show Schnitzler’s mastery of weaving in variations on his main thematic concern, ones that offer elements that both contrast and fit with the story. They don’t need to be there but they do so extremely well, thereby adding to the aesthetic achievement of the whole. Anyone who has tried writing knows how hard the relevant digression can be: digress enough to be interesting without spinning off into triviality and the episodic.

The main of interest of the story takes place when Fridolin enters the forbidden world of his desires. Appropriately enough he is dressed in a mask and the cowl of a monk. It is a kind of monk that he has been, in addition to a kind of monk that he must continue to be. What he finds there is everything he could ever hope for. Within the house that he has entered as an interloper he finds a sort of orgy going on, though Schnitzler’s description of it is much tamer than the one that Tom Cruise’s character encounters in “Eyes Wide Shut.” Everyone is in masks. The affair seems not only sexually arousing but tasteful enough for Fridolin to set aside his class snobbery. Here is this upperclass, clandestine affair he can indulge in a way he could not with a lower class prostitute. Of course, he is found out when he cannot give the correct second password.

Now an extremely important dynamic plays out between the master of the orgiastic ceremonies and the doctor. Fridolin, whose thoughts the narration makes us privy to, constantly thinks he can appeal to the revelers as a gentleman. Using some sort of code of honor he can demand to be admitted to the group or at least be allowed to peacefully leave. Of course, this is impossible since what Fridolin has entered is the world of the unconscious where none of the normal rules apply. In a sense, this is what he wanted to be free from the confines of. And yet as soon as it becomes too terrify for him, he flails out for safety nets like “honor” and “satisfaction” and other expectations that come with being a man of his rank in Viennese society. These are all refused. What does redeem Fridolin, however, is an act that is in itself as equally irrational as the proceedings and the punishment that is going to be meted out on his transgression. This allows the narration to enter into an important denoument.

“Am I sure? Only as sure as I am that the reality of one night, let alone that of a whole lifetime, can ever be the whole truth.”

An enigmatic woman comes forward in the den of iniquity into which Fridolin has not so inadvertently found his way. There is something of the gnostic myth in the way that even in this dark place redemption is to be found by the care of a woman. The “Helen” of this story goes unnamed. Urging Fridolin to leave, she finally offers herself to be punished in his place just at the point when he is about to be unmasked. To be unmasked in this place means doom. Then, once her word is given, a word which the master says is “always final in this place” she is led away to endure a fate left to our imagination. This is a good choice on the part of Schnitzler, a ploy that the Greek dramatists understood well. Violence left to the imagination is more brutal than anything conjured up in Texan chainsaw massacres or committed by the evil dead.

Dream Story” at this point has achieved the height of its dramatic interest. And for this reason “Eyes Wide Shut”, wanting to preserve the intensity of climactic moment at the party, of Fridolin’s near unmasking and redemption from damnation, ends not to long after. And yet both movie and novel include the important dream sequence of Albertine, a sequence that Schnitzler incorporates into the books much longer tying up. The dream sequence of Albertine is in a sense an inversion of what happened to Fridolin at the party. Instead of being redeemed by a noble woman, in the dream Fridolin stalwartly refuses redemption in the name of fidelity to his wife. After going through a fairy tale, or Arabian Nights type of sequence in which the couple is brought together in Romantic scenario – the two are suddenly left naked. In the face of honesty or reality their marriage crumbles and Albertine dreams take the form of her unconscious desires made palpable in a way which turns the chivalric ideals of Fridolin into a joke. Even as he is at last crucified in the dream, for her sake, she cannot suppress her laughter. The ideals of her husband are absurd to her once she has been slept up into her unconscious desires. This dream sequence is quite excellently written and true to the logic of real dreams. In “The Interpretation of Dreams” Freud wrote that a writer once wrote a dream that was almost a perfect version of an authentic one, even though it was entirely a fabrication of fiction. Freud could easily have been talking about this dream of Albertine. In any case, the real life Fridolin is devastated by the dream, perhaps disturbed by its parallels with his real life experience at the party.

Fridolin goes against warnings to the contrary and tries to investigate who the mysterious woman at the party was. Of course he visits the house where it took place only to be given yet another warning, written this time, that staying this course of enquiry would be devastating. It turns out “they” know his name even. Moreover, Fridolin learns that his friend, the betrayer of the password, has been abducted by persons unknown. And he also does track down a recently deceased woman, a beautiful wealthy aristocrat, who he imagines might have been the woman who saved him. Using his connections as a doctor to the coroner’s office, there is a strange nearly necrophiliac scene at the morgue. As Fridolin looks at the corpse there is something reminiscent of Gottfried Benn’s poem about the flower found in the body of the young girl. Really now, the novel has come full circle and dealt with every element aspect of life: marriage, social class, death, sex and now this final state of cold annihilation. In spite of these grave themes, the book does end as a comedy in the classical sense. Against all odds, Fridolin and Albertine do manage to become reconciled. This happens when he decides to be perfectly honest with her once again. A better result is achieved this time, perhaps because of the dark road they’ve travelled down to reach this point. The sight of their daughter represents the hope for a more truthful life.


A Reading of David Lindsay’s “The Haunted Woman”

In Literature on 01/08/2014 at 08:27


“”The question is do you know me,” Isbel fingered the lace of her corsage.”

The story of Isbel Loment comprises this strange novella that fleshes out the otherwise inconsiderable offerings of novelist David Lindsay. The number his writings were inconsiderable but none of them where insignificant. It would seem impossible to write anything to match the exquisite strangeness, alien grandeur and surreal epic of “A Voyage to Arcturus”. Indeed, many writers live in a sense cursed by the brilliance of their great novel so that that single performance comes to be a singular performance. Think of Ralph Ellison or Joseph Heller. Lindsay, however, lived without any conscious awareness of just how monumental an achievement “A Voyage to Arcturus” was. Hence he kept trying to achieve greatness with “The Haunted Women”, a book that should not be overlooked on account of the splendor of its predecessor.

Like its predecessor it has as its theme Plato’s allegory of the cave. What if the life we live, it asks, isn’t an authentic life? What if there is another more fulfilling, more intense existence within our capacity to realize? Both books asks what it is that stands in our way from escaping a life beholden to the shadows on the cave wall. And like “A Voyage to Arcturus” the book has a very difficult task for itself. Lindsay needs to reproduce in the story something convincing about what what the cave dweller sees when they turn their eyes to the sun and the real world beyond the cave. In order to do this he relies on a subverted world of fantasy fiction.

In terms of form, not only fantastical content, the book the “Haunted Woman” enters into this theme of the subversion of reality in a very oblique, sidling way. From the beginning of the book, Lindsay uses the technique of revealing his material by seemingly misdirecting us from it. His narrative style is like the magical house itself, Runehill Court, concealing its mystical stairways, dimensional nodes and passages to another world. Thus the story introduces Isbel Loment through the doings of her betrothed Marshall Stokes. (Note again the continuation from “A Voyage to Arcturus” of the device of allusive naming.) Marshall has returned to America and meets with Isbel. She is a privileged and leisured young woman. The central problem that the story find her in is this: she is about the enter into a marriage she isn’t sure she believes in, doing this in order to escape her peripatetic existence with her unmarried aunt, the formidable Mrs. Moor: “Her face, which resembled yellow marble, bore a consistently stern and dauntless expression…”. (Note also the name “Moor” reflects the quotidian existence Isbel is moored to.) Since they are what the period would call “independently wealthy” they can travel at will around Europe, from resort spa to expensive hotel. Lindsay doesn’t emphasize the point that Isbel is living an empty existence. She feels some how deeper than her milieu of socialites and “bright young things”.

So the theme of the novel is that there is a falsity about Isbel’s life that even expresses itself even in her relationship with her aunt: “The two women were excessively fond of each other, though neither cared to show it.” There is a tension between the two that gives rise to an argument between them early on in the novel. It is at this point that “ancestral traits” gets mentioned. This is a motif that will come up again in the book, one that should be attended to in order to read into what this puzzling story of Lindsay’s is all about.

“But history has been written by men, and men aren’t the most enlightened critics where women are concerned. All that will have to be re-written by qualified feminine experts some day.”

And the story is continued rather classically with the device of a character returning from a journey. What Marshal brings back with him promises to change the status quo of aunt and daughter. Or at least it should. As Mrs. Moor is intending on settling in the Sussex region of England where the characters find themselves at the opening of the story, Marshall gives her a tip about a property that may be of interest to her. While returning from America by ship, Marshall had encountered a Mr. Judge, a gentleman who wanted to divest himself of “an Elizabethan manor” on account of the recent death of his wife. The complication here is that there is a secret Mr. Judge has sworn Marshall to, a secret about the manor that itself dates back to the Anglo-Saxon period, of course much earlier than the Elizabethan. This complicating secret carries forward the theme of falsity and therefore honesty that will develop throughout the book. Marshall as sworn to Mr. Judge not to reveal a certain peculiar feature of Runehill Court’s provenance. The allusion to this secret, binding Marshall to a gentleman’s honor, disturbs Isbel and calls into question the nature of their relationship as husband and wife meant to be faithful in all things. Again this is a discussion, the relations between the sexes, that will come up again and again in the novel, especially in the dialogs the characters have in the numerous dinner scenes.

This first sign of real conflict between the central characters of the story indicates a prime concern of Lindsay, especially as a Nietzschean skeptical of modern life. On the one hand we have the obligations and strictures that bind together social life, on the other hand is a deep inner imperative that can only be fulfilled by behaving passionately. Should Marshall keep an oath, or obey his desire to share all things with his fiancee?. He chooses the later course and tells here the weird story of Mr. Judge’s house. The place contains a haunted room, one weird in some staid Victorian way of table tipping and seances. Supposedly a “flight of stairs” leading to a blank wall used to appear in the room. Judge wants Marshall to investigate the room for him. Apparently, Judge has a hunch about Marshall, a hunch that turns out to be partially right because it is Isbel that can see the stairs and not Marshall. This revelation, as well as being symbolically important in the way it develops the idea of a hidden truth, serves functionally as a page turning detail leading the reader’s curiosity further into the story.

With this section of the book we are also brought to another key element of “The Haunted Woman”. It is an element that evokes something of Nietzsche. According to it there are special or chosen people who are able to overcome the conventions of their society. Thereby they are able to realize that deeper imperative to live out a more fulfilling existence than is possible for the average person. Only the course towards this realization is not easy, and as the story reveals full of dangers.

Marshall, Mrs. Moor and Miss Loment travel by car to Runhill Court. Along with encountering the wife of the caretaker, Mrs. Priday, and the eclectic style of the sprawling house itself, the story introduces the American painter Mr. Sherrup. Before he is met, before he can give hints about the houses role as a catalyst for inner change of  certain type of elect person, he is heard to be playing music. Throughout the book, as in “A Voyage to Arcturus” distance music is a key motif. There is a distant music that leads characters to another world. In the story it is another world which stands for a new way of concieving life outside of the codes of morality and propriety that now govern social life. This character Sherrup plays no greater role in the story beyond the piece he plays on the piano. What he does mention is that his wife’s ancestors used to live at Runehill Court generations ago. It is also suggested that he has seen the magical stairway and visited the rooms beyond it, though what this means for him beyond using music to “figure something out” is never explained.” His familiar connection to the house and ability to commune with its mystical force again furthers the genetic theme of the book, that a vital manna gets passed down through people. Isabel alluded to this in the scene just before they met Sherrup when she says to Marshall, “You are a Saxon and I am a Celt.”

Sherrup, Mr. Judge and a character who comes in later in the book and serves as an antagonist, the Dickensian named Mrs. Richborough are all elect members able to encounter Runehill Court in its true nature, unlike the rest of the characters in the book. So a Lamarckian notion of racial memory, the view of a dialectical conflict between a life affirming vitalism and stultifying herd morality and finally magic, make up the central themes of this book. Of course, if this book is interpreted politically the outcome is fascism. And indeed there is a place in the book where a racist epithet does come into one of the character’s mouths rather brutally and surprisingly. This potential interpretation doesn’t need to define “The Haunted Woman”. As a work of art there are other possible ways of reading it. One of them is purely as a work of fantasy. And as such it continues to work as it moves deeper into an account of Isbel’s encounter with the strangeness of the house.

Isbel is develops a headache and is left alone in one of the parlors or living rooms, it is hard to say how exactly to designate these inner expanses of a house from such an early period, unless someone clearly eats or sleeps there. In any case, she sees a staircase where there had not been one before. This occurrence is a somewhat surprising one on account of the initial story that the magic staircase was only to be found in the special room, a place where Isbel was not at that moment. She ascends the staircase and finds a series of rooms. During this first experience she finds a mirror that reveals the truth about herself to herself. More such encounters will happen in these rooms throughout the story. Isbel will even chance to meet the Mr. Judge in these rooms. Just as when she first saw the image of herself and had a revelatory experience, her and Mr. Judge are able to understand one another more clearly than ever possible outside in the real world. (Though the hint by now is that the magic rooms in the house are what is real whereas our mundane world is a shadow.) The complicating factor here is that the can never remember what happened in the rooms, never remember the insights they hand, nor even remember the existence of the rooms themselves. On one such visit Isbel gives Mr. Judge a token of their newly found love, a pink scarf. Naturally, later on in the book no one can say how the scarf got into Mr. Judge’s possession.

The idea of hidden rooms or even worlds within rooms is a pleasing device that has been used by numerous stories. It is responsible for a great deal of the satisfaction the young reader takes in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” (one the contemporary reader gets his mind around the way a wardrobe is a closet). This device is also present in something as far flung as “Twin Peaks” in which the characters enter an imaginary world of room after room inhabited by malevolent spirits. The idea of extra-dimensional spaces being added to what we normally encounter as present in all actuality is something that appeals to us profoundly. It could be that it alludes to hope, hope that we have it in us to transcend the limiting circumstances we might find ourselves in. Or it could suggest something more dramatic, and this is probably the idea in “The Haunted Woman” that there is a whole vivid dimension within us – one that promises our freedom from social bounds while at the same time being very dangerous to tamper with.

With Mrs. Richborough pressing the Judge on one side, and Marshall and the social set pressing Isbel on the other, the novel at last reaches a crisis point. Led by what turns out the be the ghost of Mrs. Richborough, Isbel goes to Runhill Court to encounter the Judge for the last time. Prior to this encounter they learned that one of the hidden rooms at the top of the stairway had a window opening to the outside world. Except this outside world was not their world but rather the world the way it might have looked in the Anglo-Saxon times. Without ever seeing his face they saw a musician playing a weird instrument. In the final scenes of the book, Isbel meets Mr. Judge who it turns out has entered the otherworld by crawling through the window. He simultaneously inhabits both worlds. His world is sunny and clear, Isabel’s is overcast and cloudy. Briefly insights that return her love for Mr. Judge and her self-understanding come over her, only to rapidly be occluded again. It is a truly an odd part of the book. Finally the Judge leaves here to encounter the musician again. It is an encounter he doesn’t survive.

Who is this musician? He plays a tune that summons the characters through the magic rooms of the house. In the chapter called, “The Music of Spring” he is first seen by Isbel and the Judge:

“He was sitting on the slope of the hill, directly opposite their window and not a stone’s throw from them, but half hidden by the crest of the small hollow which he had selected for his perch, which explained why they had not previously noticed him. He sat motionless, facing the valley, with his back to the house; what he was doing there they could not imagine. It was his extraordinary attire which had evoked Isbel’s exclamation. Only his head, the upper half of his back, and one out-stretched leg were visible; but the leg was encased in a sage-green trouser, tightly cross-gartered with yellow straps, the garment on his back resembled, as far as could be seen, a purple smock, and the hair of his hatless head fell in a thick, bright yellow mane as far as his shoulders.”

And yet if his visage is seen, as it was by Mr. Judge and Mrs. Richborough, the consequences are fatal. There is a dualism at work in this story. Influenced by Lindsay’s interest in Gnosticism, the characters are in a predicament that affords no easy way out for the members of Victorian or Edwardian England. They are on the one side bound to their society, to the earth as it were, even as they are bound by an attachment to their true nature in the other world beyond Ulf’s Tower in Runehill Court. Apparently there is no way to reconcile this conflict. Also, by the end of the book there is no evidence to shown that Isbel has learned anything by her contact with the other world and the death of the Judge. This book is a tragedy.

A Review of Graham Greene’s “The Power and the Glory”

In Literature on 12/18/2013 at 05:24

power and glory

“(The lieutenant) would eliminate from their childhood everything which had made him miserable, all that was poor, superstitious and corrupt. They deserved nothing less than the truth – a vacant universe and a cooling world, the right to be happy in any way they chose. He was quite prepared to make a massacre for their sakes – first the church and then the foreigner and then the politician – even his own chief would one day have to go. He wanted to begin the world again with them, in a desert.”

The theme of escape is big in the novels of Graham Greene and preoccupied him to such an extent that he called one of his autobiographies “Ways of Escape”. The novel “The Power and the Glory” is primarily preoccupied with taking this theme from yet another different angle and perspective. The fugitive is an unnamed priest. Few of the characters and just about none of the important ones have names in this book. The nameless Father is described as “too human for heroism, too humble for martyrdom”. His path of escape takes him through the remnants of his life before and after he went on the run as well as through the complex social strata that made up Mexican society at the turn of the century. The background of the novel is partly a colony, and partly an independent country inflicting self-destructive policies on itself in an attempt to forge an identity.

The way the story unfolds is unique to Greene’s style of story-telling. In this case the form is an especially suitable vessel for the subject matter. The narration introduces a character. Many characters are introduced in this fairly short book and this crowded atmosphere is possibly of the books faults. Mr. Tench is at the opening of the book waiting for his tanks of ether to arrive to supply him with the tools he needs to survive another dreary period plying his trade in a purgatorial existence in some nameless provincial backwater. This dismal scene is how life can end up. It is spiritually vapid and the most life that can be said to be had is in the vultures are waiting, literally, for you to drop dead.

Interest breaks the tedious equilibrium of this sweltering, ugly, dusty town in the form of a fugitive. Someone needs help and this is Mr. Tench’s, an excellent name for a dentist if ever there was one, opportunity to redeem himself out of his existence as a spiritual non-entity. Now the pattern is set up that Greene will follow throughout the novel. In each succeeding chapter the reader is introduced to a new character, some of them are Mexican peasants, others are ex-patriot planters, police or missionaries. The story introduces these people for no apparent reason until the fugitive priest turns up, looking for a place to hide and a meal and of course some booze. The presence of the priest is the thread that weaves together what would otherwise be disparate sections of the novel. One time in the book Greene even plays a trick on the reader by introducing a character into the story who is in fact the priest in disguise. It isn’t revealed for some time who the gentleman actually is. There are clues that make us speculate, for example he is trying to buy liquor from a corrupt official, including the wine that is essential for transubstantiation in the mass, but it isn’t clear until well into the episode.

The priest loves to drink and is dubbed “The Whiskey Priest” at least one time in the book and usually so named in the commentaries on the book. The inner conflict with drinking is not one that the book explicitly deals with. There is certainly no exploration of a man’s consciousness haunted and made phantasmagoric by liquor as is offered in Malcolm Lowery’s slightly overwritten classic “Under the Volcano”, another novel about dipsomania in Mexico. Then again it isn’t Greene’s style to narrate too much of the internal experience of his subjects. “The Power and the Glory” along with his other novels are stories of action not of reflective meditation or an account of the stream of consciousness. So if booze, mostly in the form of brandy, figures heavily in this book, it is as a symbol.

In “The Power and the Glory” booze symbolizes the earthly tie that keeps the whiskey priest from fully consummating his spiritual marriage to Christ. Of course there is something pathetic in the way that the priest goes from place to place caging drinks from those he meets. And what is more, there is certainly the feeling of betrayal in the way, near the end of the novel, the priest uses the considerable funds he collects from administering the sacrament of baptism in order to buy a case of brandy. And yet that isn’t what makes him a bad priest. It isn’t as though he is getting drunk and behaving obnoxiously in some fashion. Rather, his drinking highlights his failure. It is a failure that would have persisted even if the government hadn’t proscribed the church.

What makes this priest a bad priest is his “bad faith” in the existentialist sense. He is unable to commit fully to his calling because, paradoxically, he lives attached to its conventions and prerogatives. What he needs to do is behave, paradoxically, like the wounded American bank robber at the end of the book. His act of rebellion was complete precisely because it was uncompromising and individualistic. He dies without any regret for what he has done and refuses to feel hypocritical remorse. This is what the priest has been unable to do all of these years he has been on the run. And it is only after he sees “the Yankee” bank robber take this absolute step, out of hypocrisy and mediocrity, that he is able to himself face his executioners squarely. When the priest learns this lesson from the Yankee bank robber and thug, the priest learns to face his execution in the spirit of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane.

Of course old habits are hard to break. Unlike Jesus in the gospels, the whiskey priest spends the night quaffing a bottle of brandy provided to him by the Lieutenant. Indeed this act of charity reveals a complexity in the supposed villain of the novel. There is an analogy here with Captain Segura in “Our Man in Havana”. Both characters turn out not to be dimensionless devils incarnate. Instead they have a complexity that Greene is able to believably render. The Lieutenant is a zealot of the revolution which has up ended Mexico. Although in the novel we see that the authorities in Mexico are corrupt and implicated in the same putatively degenerate practices that they are meant to be eradicating, this isn’t the case with the lieutenant. Like the Chinese communist in “The Quiet American” and the Doctor in “The Comedians”, the lieutenant is a leftist radical. Unlike the other police characters, he has taken power and in doing so exercises power as brutally as any of the imperialistic regimes or gangsters that are usually the status quo in Greene’s novels. In a sense, the lieutenant’s devotion to an absolute ideal, his willingness to perform any act of violence to achieve that idea, and his completely selfless adherence to a secular morality, makes him more frightening than any of the merely venal or angry villains who crop up in Greene’s novels.

“The priest came cautiously forward: he wasn’t yet used to the idea that the animal couldn’t spring – one associates a dog with action, but this creature, like any crippled human being, could only think. You could see the thoughts – hunger, hope, and hatred – stuck on the eyeball.”

It is telling that twice in the book the Lieutenant meets the priest without recognizing him. This would seem to be apropos of the inherent virtue of the Lieutenant who is by nature unable to indict an innocent man, which the Whiskey Priest is, the unjust law against his clerical office notwithstanding. And so it takes the Judas figure in the novel, aptly depicted seemingly bearing fangs on account of missing all his front teeth apart from his incisors. The Priest gives him to slip near the beginning of the book. Then they meet in jail where the Judas allows him to leave. And finally they go through the pageantry of betrayal that is necessary for the ritualistic demands of the book to be fulfilled. Judas lies to Priest in order to get him to cross back over into the border within the Lieutenant’s jurisdiction. The Priest knows this and agrees to it because he is beginning to act authentically. He can foresee his execution and moves towards it almost unflinchingly.

Indeed Greene’s novels are themselves notable for being in some respects prescient. For example, “The Quiet American” seems to allude to what is going to become a costly and bloody American investment in Vietnam. In the case of “The Power and the Glory”, the hideous utopian excesses of the Khmer Rouge and the Shining Path seem to be prefigured by Greene’s presentation of “The Red Shirts” and the soulless Lieutenant. This Delphic quality adds further evidence to a case that is pretty well already proven from a close reading of Greene’s language, style and the structural development of his novels: Greene’s books are essential to understanding the 20th century both its politics and the evolution of the human conscious in late modernity.