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The End of the Affair ()


Library Journal: Top 150 of the Century (145)

One of the things that makes Graham Greene such an interesting novelist is that, especially in his most autobiographical books, it's often hard to tell if you are reading the book he meant to write, or whether he revealed more of himself than he really intended.  Thus, you'll find these exegeses where Greene, years later, would try to explain how the public had misinterpreted this or that novel.  But it seems equally likely that the fault lies with him.  So when we approach one of his novels it is best to be aware that there is an overt message which Greene is trying to convey, but there may also be a more subtle message that we pick up on, one the author may not even have realized he was writing into the story.

The End of the Affair is a perfect case in point.  Based on Greene's own extramarital relationship
with Lady Catherine Walston, and dedicated to her, it tells the story of the novelist Maurice Bendrix, our narrator, and his affair with Sarah Miles, who is trapped in a sterile marriage to up-and-coming civil servant Henry Miles. The central conceit of the story is that Maurice meets Henry several years after Sarah breaks off the affair.  Henry has become suspicious of Sarah's current behavior and not realizing that he was previously cuckolded by Maurice, asks if he should have her investigated.  Maurice, on his own initiative and motivated by his own jealousy and bitterness, hires a private detective to follow her, the obvious irony being that he's not technically the one being cheated on here.  But Sarah, it turns out, is indeed spending a fair amount of time with another man, Richard Smythe, an atheist given to public harangues against God.

Through Maurice's flashbacks and Sarah's stolen diary it is gradually revealed that the lovers were nearly killed during a German rocket attack during the Blitz.  Sarah, in fact, believed Maurice to be dead and prayed to God to restore him to life; as she recounts it:

    I knelt and put my head on the bed and wished I could believe.  I can't believe.  Make me.  I said,
    I'm a bitch and a fake and I hate myself.  I can't do anything of myself.  Make me believe.  I shut
    my eyes tight, and I pressed my nails into the palms of my hand until I could feel nothing but the
    pain, and I said, I will believe.  Let him be alive, and I will believe.  Give him a chance.  Let him
    have his happiness.  Do this, and I'll believe.  But that wasn't enough.  It doesn't hurt to believe.  So
    I said, I love him and I'll do anything if You'll make him alive.  I said very slowly, I'll give him up
    forever, only let him be alive with a chance, and I pressed and pressed and I could feel the skin
    break, and I said, people can love without seeing each other, can't they, they love You all their lives
    without seeing You, and then he came in at the door, and he was alive, and I thought now the agony
    of being without him starts, and I wished he was safely back dead again under the door.

So, having made her vow to God, she gave Maurice up, but never explained her reasons to him.

Maurice who had assumed that she had simply returned to Henry had grown to hate them both.  He starts his narrative with this statement:

    So this is a record of hate far more than of love, and if I come to say anything in favor of Henry
    and Sarah, I can be trusted.  I am writing against the bias because it is my professional pride to
    prefer the near-truth even to the expression of my near-hate.

Sarah he hates for the obvious reason, that she dumped him, and he hates Henry for the qualities he imagines must have won Sarah back:

    Didn't he possess in the end the winning cards--the cards of gentleness, humility, and trust?

But once the detective gets Sarah's journal for him, Maurice realizes that his jealousy is misdirected; he should really be jealous of God.  Sarah herself is struggling mightily with her ambivalence towards God and the promise she made Him in a moment of desparation:

    A vow's not all that important--a vow to somebody I've never known, to somebody I don't really
    believe in.  Nobody will know that I've broken a vow, except me and him--and he doesn't exist,
    does he?  He can't exist.  You can't have a merciful God and this despair.

So Maurice is tempted to shift his anger towards God, but at the same time he does not want to believe in God and:  "I mustn't hate, for if I were really to hate I would believe, and if I were to believe what a triumph for you and her."  He begins to flail around.  He can't hate God because that implies belief in God.  He understands Sarah's actions now, so he can't hate her anymore.  He realizes that Henry
didn't win her back after all, so there's no point hating him.  Maurice ends up with all this pent up emotion and no where to direct it.

Finally Sarah agrees to meet with him again.  But, already stricken with a cough, returning home from their luncheon in the rain she becomes quite ill, sickens and dies.  And as if it were not enough to have lost her to God, Maurice learns that she was planning on converting to Catholicism and may receive a Christian burial.  He finds this intolerable but, in the Catholic priest who conveys her wishes, finally finds someone to hate.

    There had been a time when I hated Henry.  My hatred now seemed petty.  Henry was a victim as
    much as I was a victim, and the victor was this grim man in the silly collar.

The priest tries to excuse Maurice's behavior and harsh language, but Maurice refuses the proffered excuses:

    You're wrong, Father.  This isn't anything subtle like pain.  I'm not in pain, I'm in hate.  I hate
    Sarah because she was a whore, I hate Henry because she stuck to him, and I hate you and your
    imaginary God because you took her away from all of us.

But even this is not enough and in the end, inevitably, he comes to accept God--driven into his arms by the need to hate him: "I hate You, God, I hate You as though You existed."  And this enables him to  release his hatred of Sarah:

    When I began to write our story down I thought I was writing a record of hate, but somehow the
    hate has got mislaid, and all I know is that in spite of her mistakes and her unreliability she was
    better than most.  It's just as well that one of us should believe in her; she never did in herself.

It is said of this book that Sarah is the slut who becomes a saint.  This is true both in the manner that she suffers and dies rather than break her oath to God and in the way that the example of her faith brings Maurice to God.  But he understands that it is the qualitative difference in their respective faiths that makes her saintly:

    The saints one would suppose, in a sense create themselves.  They come alive.  They are capable of
    the surprising act or word.  They stand outside the plot, unconditioned by it.  But we have to be
    pushed around.  We have the obstinacy of nonexistence.  We are inextricably bound to the plot,
    and wearily God forces us, here and there, according to his intention, characters without poetry,
    without free will , whose only importance is that somewhere at some time, we help to furnish the
    scene in which a living character moves and speaks, providing perhaps the saints with the
    opportunities for their free will.

It is, of course, Sarah who acts in a surprising way and demonstrates this free will, Maurice is simply carried along in her wake.

This is just one of several books where Greene's central character or Greene as the author is a
more cynical and detached observer, bearing witness to the actions and beliefs of the more committed.  In Heart of the Matter, Scobey is a similarly religious philanderer; he too ends up dead.  In The Quiet American the commitment is not to God but to American idealism and Manifest Destiny.  Even in The Third Man, Harry Lime is at least committed to enriching himself, while Rollo Martins (Joseph Cotten in the film) doesn't even write under his own name and is asked to give a book speech only because he's been mistaken for someone else.  In each of these cases, diverse as the beliefs are, Greene seems to envy those who simply believe in something, anything, so long as they are passionate in their beliefs.

Sure, there is a sort of half-hearted attempt here to defend the lovers and minimize their sin, as when Maurice contemplates hiring the detective:

    It isn't, when you come to think of it, a quite respectable trade, the detection of the innocent, for
    aren't lovers nearly always innocent?  They have committed no crime, they are certain in their own
    minds that they have done no wrong, "so long as no one but myself is hurt,"  the old tag is ready on
    their lips, and love, of course, excuses everything--as they believe, as so I used to believe in the
    days when I loved.

But we don't really believe that's how Greene feels.  After all, the heroic figure is not Maurice, who wants to continue sinning, but Sarah, who stops even though it kills her.  In his fine piece in First Things on Greene's muddled philosophy, Robert Royal notes that during the affair with Catherine Walston, Greene would plead with priests to condone his view that it was somehow permissible to confess even knowing he would run right out and commit the same sin all over again.  He also recalls that the epigraph to Heart of the Matter is the quote from Charles Péguy:

    The sinner is at the very heart of Christianity. . . . No one is as competent as the sinner in Christian
    affairs. No one, except the saint.

This sentiment though is ultimately unconvincing, even, it seems, to the author himself.    His books instead demonstrate the nobility of the struggle with sin and the moral heroism of those who can conquer it.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (B+)

  

Websites:

Graham Greene Links:
    -(Henry) Graham Greene (1904-1991)(kirjasto)
    -ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA: your search: "Graham Greene"
    -ESSAY:   'The Third Man' as a Story and a Film (GRAHAM GREENE, NY Times, March 19, 1950)
    -Graham Greene: THE CHESTERTONS   (NY Review of Books, Jul 21, 1983)
    -Graham Greene: THE FBI AND PEARL HARBOR   (NY Review of Books, Aug 12, 1982)
    -Graham Greene: YOU'RE WELCOME  (NY Review of Books, Nov 8, 1979)
    -Graham Greene: INFORMATION WANTED (NY Review of Books, Sep 27, 1979)
    -Graham Greene: The Great Spectacular    (NY Review of Books, Jan 26, 1978)
    -Graham Greene: The Country with Five Frontiers   (NY Review of Books, Feb 17, 1977 )
    -Graham Greene Birthplace Trust, Home Page GGBT
    -Anne Sherry Graham Greene Page
    -Graham Greene  (Biography, His Works, Other Web Resources)
    -Graham Greene
    -Greeneland: The World of Graham Greene
    -(Henry) Graham Greene (short bio, John D. Hamilton)
    -OBIT: Graham Greene, 86, Dies; Novelist of the Soul
    -Featured Author: Graham Greene With News and Reviews From the Archives of The New York Times (NY Times Book Review)
    -CATHERINE WALSTON/GRAHAM GREENE PAPERS (Georgetown.edu)
    -ESSAY: Graham Greene's Vietnam (Tom Curry, Literary Traveler)
    -ESSAY: The (Mis)Guided Dream of Graham Greene (Robert Royal, First Things)
    -ESSAY: Why Greene fades on film (Quentin Curtis, UK Telegraph)
    -ESSAY: ëHe knew himself as no one else didí Novelist Shirley Hazzard talks about her times with Greene on Capri (Desmond OíGrady, UK Telegraph)
    -ESSAY: An Edwardian on the Concorde: Graham Greene as I Knew Him  (Paul Theroux, NY Times Book Review)
    -EXCERPTS: from May we Borrow Your Husband?
    -REVIEW: The Lives of Graham Greene (David Lodge, NY Review of Books)
     -J.M. Cameron: On Graham Greene  (NY Review of Books)
    -Book club discussion questions: End of the Affair (Warren Pages)
    -REVIEW: of The End of the Affair   Mr. Greene's Intense Art (GEORGE MAYBERRY, NY Times, October 28, 1951)
    -REVIEW: of Heart of the Matter  (July 11, 1948, WILLIAM DU BOIS, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Quiet American (March 11, 1956, ROBERT GORHAM DAVIS, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Quiet American by Graham Greene (C. P. Farley, Powell's)
    -REVIEW: John Bayley: God's Greene, NY Review of Books
           The Captain and the Enemy by Graham Greene
           Graham Greene by Neil McEwan
           A Reader's Guide to Graham Greene by Paul O'Prey
    -Michael Shelden: GREENE & ANTI-SEMITISM (NY Review of Books, Sep 21, 1995)
    -Richard West: Graham Greene and 'The Quiet American' (NY Review of Books, May 16, 1991)
    -J.M. Cameron: On Graham Greene (NY Review of Books, May 30, 1991)
    -REVIEW:  John Bayley: God's Greene  (NY Review of Books)
        The Captain and the Enemy by Graham Greene
        Graham Greene by Neil McEwan
        A Reader's Guide to Graham Greene by Paul O'Prey
    -REVIEW:   Joan Didion: Discovery  (NY Review of Books)
        Finding the Center: Two Narratives by V.S. Naipaul
        Getting to Know the General: The Story of an Involvement by Graham Greene
    -REVIEW:  Jonathan Raban: Innocents Abroad   (NY Review of Books)
        J'Accuse: The Dark Side of Nice by Graham Greene
        Monsignor Quixote by Graham Greene
    -REVIEW:  Robert Towers: Cautionary Tale  (NY Review of Books)
        Doctor Fischer of Geneva or the Bomb Party by Graham Greene
    -REVIEW:  Conor Cruise O'Brien: Greene's Castle  (NY Review of Books)
        The Human Factor by Graham Greene
    -REVIEW:   V.S. Pritchett: Rogue Poet  (NY Review of Books)
        Lord Rochester's Monkey by Graham Greene
    -REVIEW:  Conor Cruise O'Brien: A Funny Sort of God   (NY Review of Books)
        The Honorary Consul by Graham Greene
        Collected Stories by Graham Greene
    -REVIEW: Karl Miller: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost   (NY Review of Books)
        Midnight Oil by V.S. Pritchett
        A Sort of Life by Graham Greene
    -RESPONSE:   Graham Greene: GREENE'S MEANING   (NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW:  Denis Donoghue: The Uncompleted Dossier   (NY Review of Books)
        Travels with My Aunt by Graham Greene
        Blind Love, and Other Stories by V.S. Pritchett
    -REVIEW:  V.S. Pritchett: A Polished Dissenter  (NY Review of Books)
        Collected Essays including The Lost Childhood by Graham Greene
    -REVIEW: Sybille Bedford: Tragic Comedians   (NY Review of Books)
        The Comedians by Graham Greene
    -REVIEW: David Lodge: The Lives of Graham Greene   (NY Review of Books)
        Graham Greene: The Man Within by Michael Shelden
        Graham Greene: The Enemy Within by Michael Shelden
        The Life of Graham Greene Volume II, 1939-1955 by Norman Sherry
        Graham Greene: Three Lives by Anthony Mockler
        Graham Greene: Friend and Brother by Leopoldo Duran and translated by Euan Cameron
        The Graham Greene Film Reader: Reviews, Essays, Interviews & Film Stories
    -REVIEW: of Green on Capri by Shirley Hazzard (DORIS BETTS, NANDO)
    -REVIEW: of The Life of Graham Greene; Volume III: 1955-1991 by Norman Sherr (FRANKLIN FREEMAN, Touchstone)

Book-related and General Links:
    -(Henry) Graham Greene (1904-1991)(kirjasto)
    -ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA: your search: "Graham Greene"
    -ESSAY:   'The Third Man' as a Story and a Film (GRAHAM GREENE, NY Times, March 19, 1950)
    -Graham Greene: THE CHESTERTONS   (NY Review of Books, Jul 21, 1983)
    -Graham Greene: THE FBI AND PEARL HARBOR   (NY Review of Books, Aug 12, 1982)
    -Graham Greene: YOU'RE WELCOME  (NY Review of Books, Nov 8, 1979)
    -Graham Greene: INFORMATION WANTED (NY Review of Books, Sep 27, 1979)
    -Graham Greene: The Great Spectacular    (NY Review of Books, Jan 26, 1978)
    -Graham Greene: The Country with Five Frontiers   (NY Review of Books, Feb 17, 1977 )
    -Graham Greene Birthplace Trust, Home Page GGBT
    -Anne Sherry Graham Greene Page
    -Graham Greene  (Biography, His Works, Other Web Resources)
    -Graham Greene
    -Greeneland: The World of Graham Greene
    -(Henry) Graham Greene (short bio, John D. Hamilton)
    -OBIT: Graham Greene, 86, Dies; Novelist of the Soul
    -Featured Author: Graham Greene With News and Reviews From the Archives of The New York Times (NY Times Book Review)
    -CATHERINE WALSTON/GRAHAM GREENE PAPERS (Georgetown.edu)
    -ESSAY: Graham Greene's Vietnam (Tom Curry, Literary Traveler)
    -ESSAY: The (Mis)Guided Dream of Graham Greene (Robert Royal, First Things)
    -ESSAY: Why Greene fades on film (Quentin Curtis, UK Telegraph)
    -ESSAY: ëHe knew himself as no one else didí Novelist Shirley Hazzard talks about her times with Greene on Capri (Desmond OíGrady, UK Telegraph)
    -ESSAY: An Edwardian on the Concorde: Graham Greene as I Knew Him  (Paul Theroux, NY Times Book Review)
    -EXCERPTS: from May we Borrow Your Husband?
    -REVIEW: The Lives of Graham Greene (David Lodge, NY Review of Books)
     -J.M. Cameron: On Graham Greene  (NY Review of Books)
    -Book club discussion questions: End of the Affair (Warren Pages)
    -REVIEW: of The End of the Affair   Mr. Greene's Intense Art (GEORGE MAYBERRY, NY Times, October 28, 1951)
    -REVIEW: of Heart of the Matter  (July 11, 1948, WILLIAM DU BOIS, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Quiet American (March 11, 1956, ROBERT GORHAM DAVIS, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: John Bayley: God's Greene, NY Review of Books
           The Captain and the Enemy by Graham Greene
           Graham Greene by Neil McEwan
           A Reader's Guide to Graham Greene by Paul O'Prey
    -Michael Shelden: GREENE & ANTI-SEMITISM (NY Review of Books, Sep 21, 1995)
    -Richard West: Graham Greene and 'The Quiet American' (NY Review of Books, May 16, 1991)
    -J.M. Cameron: On Graham Greene (NY Review of Books, May 30, 1991)
    -REVIEW:  John Bayley: God's Greene  (NY Review of Books)
        The Captain and the Enemy by Graham Greene
        Graham Greene by Neil McEwan
        A Reader's Guide to Graham Greene by Paul O'Prey
    -REVIEW:   Joan Didion: Discovery  (NY Review of Books)
        Finding the Center: Two Narratives by V.S. Naipaul
        Getting to Know the General: The Story of an Involvement by Graham Greene
    -REVIEW:  Jonathan Raban: Innocents Abroad   (NY Review of Books)
        J'Accuse: The Dark Side of Nice by Graham Greene
        Monsignor Quixote by Graham Greene
    -REVIEW:  Robert Towers: Cautionary Tale  (NY Review of Books)
        Doctor Fischer of Geneva or the Bomb Party by Graham Greene
    -REVIEW:  Conor Cruise O'Brien: Greene's Castle  (NY Review of Books)
        The Human Factor by Graham Greene
    -REVIEW:   V.S. Pritchett: Rogue Poet  (NY Review of Books)
        Lord Rochester's Monkey by Graham Greene
    -REVIEW:  Conor Cruise O'Brien: A Funny Sort of God   (NY Review of Books)
        The Honorary Consul by Graham Greene
        Collected Stories by Graham Greene
    -REVIEW: Karl Miller: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost   (NY Review of Books)
        Midnight Oil by V.S. Pritchett
        A Sort of Life by Graham Greene
    -RESPONSE:   Graham Greene: GREENE'S MEANING   (NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW:  Denis Donoghue: The Uncompleted Dossier   (NY Review of Books)
        Travels with My Aunt by Graham Greene
        Blind Love, and Other Stories by V.S. Pritchett
    -REVIEW:  V.S. Pritchett: A Polished Dissenter  (NY Review of Books)
        Collected Essays including The Lost Childhood by Graham Greene
    -REVIEW: Sybille Bedford: Tragic Comedians   (NY Review of Books)
        The Comedians by Graham Greene
    -REVIEW: David Lodge: The Lives of Graham Greene   (NY Review of Books)
        Graham Greene: The Man Within by Michael Shelden
        Graham Greene: The Enemy Within by Michael Shelden
        The Life of Graham Greene Volume II, 1939-1955 by Norman Sherry
        Graham Greene: Three Lives by Anthony Mockler
        Graham Greene: Friend and Brother by Leopoldo Duran and translated by Euan Cameron
        The Graham Greene Film Reader: Reviews, Essays, Interviews & Film Stories
    -REVIEW: of Green on Capri by Shirley Hazzard (DORIS BETTS, NANDO)
 

FILM:
    -Official Movie site (Sony Pictures)
    -REVIEW: (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)
    -REVIEW: End of the Affair: Julianne Moore triumphs in Neil Jordan's latest crying game (Michael Sragow, Salon)
    -REVIEW: (Paul Tatara, CNN)
    -REVIEW: (Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly)
    -REVIEW: The End of the Affair  (j.serpico, PopMatters Film Critic)
    -REVIEW: (Peter Keogh, Boston Phoenix)

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