Graham Greene and Adultery – 11/29/2020

José Emilio Pacheco spoke of a kind of catalepsy in the circulation of the authors’ books after they themselves have died. Pacheco said, talking with him, that in some cases, when someone remembered them and reissued them, those authors reappeared much better. Gardel’s law, which sings better every day, that law applies to Graham Greene (1904-1991), which is now resurrected thanks to Asteroid Books. I confess that I took it with fear that the memory of my pleasant, very gratifying readings of Graham Greene in times when the twentieth century did not even think about ending will crumble.

And no. The end of the affair It is, continues to be, a magnificent novel and those who recognized it when it appeared in 1951 were not mistaken. For example, a certain William Faulkner he said it is “one of the most authentic and moving novels of my time.” Y John Updike he recognized it as “a novel as deep, intense and disturbing as a penetrating gaze.”

I usually repeat that in the novels of the nineteenth century one always finds one of these three things: adultery, gambling or fainting ladies. So what is new is a 20th century writer daring one of the super themes of the previous century. All the more reason to reaffirm that the best storytellers of the 20th are those who seem from the 19th century, like Maugham, like Buzzati, like Canetti, like García Márquez, and more. Now, true to his century, to the twentieth, what Greene does is approach adultery as Tolstoy did, or Fontane, or Flaubert. Or rather: using the narrative techniques of the nineteenth century, Greene writes a novel with a theme of the same century but with a focus on his own time, World War II; in fact, Sarah and Maurice make love under the German bombings of London.

A hate story

The narrator of the novel, who is Sarah’s lover, has features of Greene himself: he is a novelist who acts as a novelist while telling the story, giving the writing a kind of self-awareness, of immanence: “I doubt that I would have taken the it would be annoying to meet him (he refers to Henry, the cuckold husband) or Sarah if in 1939 I had not started writing a novel that had a high-ranking official as the protagonist (…). Henry James said that a girl with enough talent just needed to walk past the Royal Guard regiment window and peek into the dining room to write a novel about the entire brigade, but I’m afraid at some point in that process the girl would find it necessary to sleep with one of the guards to get the details right. Not that I got to sleep with Henry, but I did do the closest thing to it, and the first night I took Sarah out to dinner I had the deliberate, cold-blooded purpose of studying the mind of Henry’s wife. a high official ”.

The first sentence of the novel alludes to the job of telling: “a story has neither beginning nor end: one arbitrarily chooses a moment of experience from which to look forward or backward. I have said ‘one chooses’, with the vague pride of the professional writer who, on the few occasions when he has been taken seriously, has been praised for his technical expertise ”.

And that trade is approached — revealingly and in the first place — from its most gray routine; It says like this in a paragraph recommended for writing exercises and workshops: “For twenty years I have produced five hundred words a day, five days a week. I can write a novel a year, and that leaves me time for revision and corrections (…). I’ve always been very methodical, and when I meet my work quota, I interrupt it even though I’m in the middle of a scene. “

Also, self-reflective, he reveals the metamorphosis of the emotions that dominate him while recounting his affair with Sara. At first, very emphatically, he defines his narration like this: “this is a story of hate much more than love” and admits that “what he most wanted in the world was to hurt Sarah (…). It was as if I knew that the only way to hurt him was to hurt myself. ” In the third part of the story, he reveals his doubts: “When I started writing I said that this was a hate story, but now I’m not entirely sure.” And in the end she admits that “when I started to write our story, I thought I had started to write a hate story, but somehow the hate has dissipated and all I know is that she, despite her failures and despite her inconstancy, he was much better than most men ”.

The existence of god

The edition that I comment has a strawberry for the cake, a note by way of an epilogue by Mario Vargas Llosa about this novel. He begins by placing El final del affaire among the three novels “in which he got closer to the masterpiece he never wrote.” The other two are The Power and the Glory and The Reverse of the Plot. He emphasizes that all three “revolve around religion, the problem of faith and, more specifically, the drama that being Catholic means in the modern world.”

For Vargas Llosa, “in truth, the profound theme of El final del affaire, which Bendrix’s tortured relationship with Sarah serves to illustrate, is whether God exists and whether his existence, as conceived by Catholic theology, is compatible with a life that does not demand heroism, holiness from believers, that congenial with the ups and downs of normality ”. The Peruvian immediately adds that “the answer that the novel offers to this inquiry is enigmatic, or, rather, left to the reader (…). It is not surprising that the novel raised the hair of a prince of the Catholic Church, Cardinal Griffin, who, according to Greene in A sort of life, called him to Westminster Cathedral to tell him, outright, that the book should be excommunicated. for the Holy Office ”.

One interpretation of the causes of Sarah’s breakup with Maurice Bendrix is ​​that she feels sinful for this adultery, presumably the faith she has just regained. Thus, without irony, frankly, he tells his lover: “I believe that there is a God, I believe in the whole string of lies, there is none that does not believe me, and even if they divided the Trinity into twelve parts, I would I would still believe it. If a document were discovered that proved that Jesus was an invention of Pilate, that he needed a promotion and got it thanks to that deception, I would still believe in Jesus. My faith has rubbed off on me like a disease. I have fallen in faith just as I fell in love before. I have never loved anyone as I love you, and I have never believed in anything as I do now. “

It is after the breakup that Maurice, full of hatred for her and himself, by some not very decent means comes to read Sarah’s diary. And he confesses: “I discovered, when I opened the newspaper, that nothing was as I expected (…). It is very rare to discover that they love you ”, yes, he realizes, despite his doubts, that she loves him. She writes it like this in her diary: “He is jealous of the past, the present and the future. His love is like a medieval chastity belt: only when he is with me, inside me, does he feel safe ”.

Apart from Sarah, who for Vargas Llosa is “the best female character in all his work”, it is worth highlighting the particular relationship that is being created between Maurice and Henry, which Vargas Llosa calls “unexpected and endearing complicity”, and that from before also It caught the attention of Evelyn Waugh: “the relationship between the lover and the husband is especially moving and beautiful, with a peculiar mixture of pity, hatred, camaraderie, jealousy and contempt that is superbly described.”

THE END OF AFFAIRE, by Graham Greene. Asteroid Books, 2019. Barcelona, ​​320 pages. Translated by Eduardo Jordá.