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Thread: January '15 Reading: The Power and The Glory by Graham Greene

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    Pièce de Résistance Scheherazade's Avatar
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    January '15 Reading: The Power and The Glory by Graham Greene

    In January, we will be reading The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene.

    Please share your thoughts and questions in this thread.
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  2. #2
    Registered User mona amon's Avatar
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    Oh, good! I'm off to download my copy right now.
    Exit, pursued by a bear.

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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    I just read the first chapter of "The Power and the Glory". In the back corner of my mind, I remembered Paul Fussell's critique of Greene's writing. Here's the very first paragraph of "The Power and the Glory".

    Mr Tench went out to look for his ether cylinder, into the blazing Mexican sun and the bleaching dust. A few vultures looked down from the roof with shabby indifference: he wasn't carrion yet. A faint feeling of rebellion stirred in Mr. Tench's heart, and he wrenched up a piece of the road with splintering fingernails and tossed it feebly towards them. One rose and flapped across the town: over the tiny plaza, over the bust of an ex-president, ex-general, ex-human being, over the the two stalls which sold mineral water; towards the river and the sea. It wouldn't find anything there: the sharks looked after the carrion on that side. Mr. Tench went on across the Plaza.

    After this post, I don't intend to harp on Greene's lousy writing in our discussion of the book. Elegant and correct prose is a minor virtue in a novel; other virtues are far more important. Nonetheless, Greene's writing is awkward, difficult to read, and almost incompetent. He phrases his sentences awkwardly. Surely the normal way to write the first sentence is, "Mr. Tench went out into the blazing Mexican sun and the bleaching dust to look for his ether cylinder". Does Greene's rephrasing add anything to the sentence, or does it simply make it more difficult to read. Same with "with shabby indifference" in the second sentence. Wouldn't it be more natural to write, "Two shabbily indifferent vultures...."? The pronoun "them" in the third sentence refers to the vultures, and the reader needs to check back to determine that fact, since it is separated from any mention of vultures by several other pronouns and nouns. The same is true of "he" in: "He wasn't carrion yet." The sharks "looked after carrion on that side" is almost silly. Why "looked after"? What does "that side" refer to? No "this side" has been previously mentioned.

    Based on the first chapter, Fussell's critique seems accurate. Now onto the novel itself!
    Last edited by Ecurb; 01-12-2015 at 01:52 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ecurb View Post
    Based on the first chapter, Fussell's critique seems accurate. Now onto the novel itself!
    Seventy-third greatest novel in the English language according to Time Magazine, Ecurb (and The Heart of the Matter was forty-first). And it was very highly regarded by Evelyn Waugh, John Updike, and William Golding (among others). It seems to me that Greene wrote exactly as he wished (in the manner and cadence of his day, as we've discussed before), and didn't much care who fussed over it. You should do your self a favor (in my opinion) and try to enjoy it. But suit yourself. You're certainly entitled to your views.

    Anyway, this is the third time I'll be reading The Power and the Glory. The first was when I was a teenager, and the second was about five or six years ago. I don't want to talk much about the plot yet, since people are only just beginning to read it, but I can share some of my general impressions. I'll try to keep spoilers out of it.

    I picked the book up the first time because I had already read and enjoyed The Third Man and The Ministry of Fear (and maybe Brighton Rock by then), and The a Power and the Glory had a reputation for being Greene's masterpiece at the time. I'm not sure it still does, although that probably depends on who you ask. It's a humanist work that tries to be Catholic (the Church eventually condemned the book in a Pastoral letter, though it was not done publicly, as I wrongly implied on another thread); and the intellectual and religious spheres have both changed quite a lot since its publication in 1940. In some ways, The Power and the Glory reminds me of the movies Ingmar Bergman used to make in the early '60s--and later repudiated--about religious humanists clinging to God despite His silence. But Greene's ending is more faithful than Bergman's were. Ironically, I suspect that it was the ending--which we won't talk about yet--that pissed the Church off in the first place.

    In any case, I was surprised how much I liked The Power and the Glory when I first read it. When you're a kid, the last thing you usually want to hear about is religion, but I remember that it made me consider for the first time that a person could be enormously flawed--even "bad at religion"--and still be devout and even--if not heroic (and the whiskey priest is not hero), then at least an anti-hero. And even if the religion in the novel means nothing to you at all, the whiskey priest is one of Greene's great anti-heroes; and Greene was the greatest maker of anti-heroes in the 20th century.

    The second time I read The Power and the Glory (at around 50), I was struck by how much of it I could not accept religiously. I was not a Catholic when I read it as a boy, and I am even less of one now. But rather than bore you with my theological views (there are other threads for that), I'll just say that I recognized two anti-Protestant critiques on the second reading, which of course had sailed over my head as a teenager. One had to do with the kindly Lutheran brother and sister who keep the whiskey priest safe for a time. At face value, they are more likable characters than he is. They live in nice surroundings, free of the horror and madness of the persecution. And Greene clearly made them brother and sister rather than husband and wife in order to keep the woman available for the whiskey priest, should he decide to put the nightmare behind him and simply be a husband. It is clear to me now that Greene's implication is that Protestant's like these people may be good hearted and live nice lives, but they are helping themselves far more than they are helping others (as Greene would have it, by administering the Sacraments to them). They are not in Tabasco suffering under the persecution, as the Catholic priests are, and they are not standing with the common people of Mexico, as the whiskey priest himself does. In the end, the nice dream that he might have had with the sister is as much of a temptation as marriage and family with Mary Mandolin were to Jesus in Nikos Kazantakis' The Last Temptation of Christ. But I am probably going too far in calling that an "anti-Protestant critique." I think Greene sees such comfortable (bourgeois?) Christians as failing to take up their cross and following Christ, as they are called to. That in any case is what the whiskey priest does in response to them--which drives the rest of the plot.

    The second is much harsher, though, and should probably be called a polemic rather than a critique. It involves the most interesting character in the novel (in my opinion), the lieutenant who pursues the whiskey priest and is shown to be spearheading the persecution. This character was based on the anti-Catholic Mexican revolutionary Tomas Garrido Canabal, who governed Tabasco as a kind of loose canon at various times in the '20s and '30s, and administered a similar persecution before being (eventually) exiled. Canabal was a militant socialist, although later on the other socialists liked to call him a fascist.

    Admittedly that doesn't provide much fodder for anti-Protestant polemics. But I think that is exactly what Greene does with the lieutenant. He is not just a villain. He is a principled man. He wants to make life better for Mexicans. He tries to be a role model for children. And he is so devoted to the common people that he murders them for not following his rigid view of right and wrong. And of course he makes booze illegal. The lieutenant, in my opinion, represents Puritan ideology. If the brother and sister were Lutheran moderates, the lieutenant is a Calvinist radical--a kind of Oliver Cromwell in Tabasco. In fact, I am not sure Greene's assault on him is entirely Catholic (not that the Catholics were especially fond of Canabal). In more than a little of The Power and the Glory, I thought I smelled a crypto-High Church vapor floating about. Perhaps it goes to what Emil said (also on another thread), that the convert may bring more baggage along with him than he or she knows. Then of course, it both the lieutenant and the whiskey priest are typical of the writer. For Greene, the prigs and Puritans are dangerous; and the all-too-human are our only recourse.

    Okay, I don't want to say more because not many of us have read it yet. I'm looking forward to reading it for the third time. It's not my favorite Graham Greene by far, but it's not a perspective that I get on many books. Good reading, everyone!
    Last edited by Pompey Bum; 01-12-2015 at 04:53 PM.

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    Registered User easy75's Avatar
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    I am disappointed to say that the "copy" I downloaded is actually a study guide, and there doesn't seem to be a kindle version of the book available (please illuminate me if I'm wrong). I stopped at the local library this weekend and they don't have it either. Actually a pretty limited selection of Greene overall there. So it looks like I won't be discussing this month, so don't wait up for me!

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    That completely sucks, EZ. Kindle drives me insane when they do that. I don't know if this helps, but I found an audiobook version (unabridged) at Amazon, which seems to be "free" with a 30-day trial of something called "Audible." I'm not sure how it works or if it would help. Personally I refuse to use audiobooks (what's the point of a book if you're not sharing the narrative voice with the author?), but I offer it for what it's worth.

    http://www.amazon.com/The-Quiet-Amer...+graham+greene

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    Maybe YesNo's Avatar
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    I prefer audio books, but they take longer to "read" and cost more.

    I might re-read The Power and the Glory. I do remember liking the book decades ago, but my memory of it is too depressing. My only question is do Catholics really need to perform all those rituals so precisely? I did like the martyrdom theme and the final ending.

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    Quote Originally Posted by YesNo View Post
    I prefer audio books, but they take longer to "read" and cost more.
    Well, to each his own on that. But I'm amazed that there are so many books for which Amazon doesn't have kindle versions available. It's a real downside of ebook revolution.

    Quote Originally Posted by YesNo View Post
    I might re-read The Power and the Glory. I do remember liking the book decades ago, but my memory of it is too depressing. My only question is do Catholics really need to perform all those rituals
    I promised not to get into one of my theological raptures (and I won't), but that was my biggest problem with Greene's apparent viewpoint, on my second reading. For all his faults, the whiskey priest is the only person left to help the commoners--by giving them the Sacraments. You could say he was giving them hope, I suppose, but my memory is that Greene's idea was, no, he was keeping them saved by giving them Communion. And that ministry is contrasted to the lieutenant, who is also trying to save the people (from the Church), but who is failing to help any of them, and is even murdering some. My thoughts were, gee, didn't those people need more than just ritual observance? Was the whiskey priest (who they didn't even respect, and who was getting some of them killed) really helping them? Somehow, though, I think that Greene was trying to stir up those very concerns. It's just that for him (as a Catholic?) the answer was, yes, that is what actually what they needed. I'm not at all so sure.
    Last edited by Pompey Bum; 01-13-2015 at 04:49 PM.

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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    I might get round to re-reading it (in hard copy) this month. It is not a matter of rituals. It is what the rituals convey. Protestants come up with the misleading idea that you can do without embodied, communal actions to make sense of life.

    I remember some critique of Greene saying for him, Hell was like a very sophisticated night club which protestants were too naive to appreciate.
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

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    Quote Originally Posted by JonathanB View Post
    I might get round to re-reading it (in hard copy) this month. It is not a matter of rituals. It is what the rituals convey. Protestants come up with the misleading idea that you can do without embodied, communal actions to make sense of life.
    Well, that sure isn't true of any Protestant denomination I ever knew. Transmutation is another matter (if that's what you meant by embodiment), but the idea religious community is pretty central to all Protestant churches and Protestatism in general.

    But as I said, I think Greene was making a similar critique with the Lutheran brother and sister: good people with nice lives, but were they actually helping anyone? It's a fair question to ask, but so is: was the whiskey priest (especially when people were being executed for taking Communion from him)?
    Last edited by Pompey Bum; 01-13-2015 at 06:11 PM.

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    Registered User mona amon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by easy75 View Post
    I am disappointed to say that the "copy" I downloaded is actually a study guide, and there doesn't seem to be a kindle version of the book available (please illuminate me if I'm wrong). I stopped at the local library this weekend and they don't have it either. Actually a pretty limited selection of Greene overall there. So it looks like I won't be discussing this month, so don't wait up for me!
    Easy, I bought it for Kindle without any problem. Try this link http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss...nd%2Caps%2C449. Of course I didn't use this link but bought it directly from my kindle. Hope you succeed in getting it.

    I've read the first three Chapters. I liked chapter 1 - the way he introduces his characters and makes us intrigued about them. It seemed to promise good things. The next two chapters were more commonplace. Quite good, but these days that is not good enough for me. I want to be startled and surprised. I'm looking for that special spark that will make the whole thing come alive, and I hope it will happen as I read more.

    I've read only one other Graham Greene so far, but I can't remember the name, or anything of what it was about.
    Exit, pursued by a bear.

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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    I'm halfway through the novel -- I'll be done by tomorrow, probably. I don't want to start discussing it (and offering spoilers) until others have finished, but I will say that it's very compelling. Greene continues to write awkwardly and use pronouns to refer to a noun two or three sentences prior -- but it hasn't bothered me at all (except to wonder why he didn't have a decent editor). He's managed to set a dramatic mood, raise some interesting questions, and leave the reader eager to discover what happens next. I"m intentionally quitting for the night to prolong the suspense.

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    Registered User mona amon's Avatar
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    I too am about 40% in, and will probably be done by tomorrow. I'm a slow reader, but after my last book Morte D'Arthur I'm just sailing through this one!
    Exit, pursued by a bear.

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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    What constitutes the perfect world? Eden? Certain virtues are clearly impossible without pain, suffering and death. Yet some atheists argue that pain and suffering are incompatible with a benevolent and omnipotent God. At least one temporal Virtue of the Catholic Church -- fortitude (courage) -- is clearly impossible without pain and suffering.

    The Whiskey Priest knows that the pleasures of eating and drinking are contingent on hunger and thirst. The pleasure of sex is impossible without the desire of lust. The virtue of courage is impossible without pain and suffering. Pride and humility can be opposites, or the same.

    The Whiskey Priest further contemplates: "...venial sins -- impatience, an unimportant lie, pride, a neglected opportunity -- cut you off from grace more completely than the worst sins of all." We are forced to think about our worst sins -- our minor sins go unrepented.

    The Priest's musings on suffering and grace remind me of the story of Artemis and Orion. Artemis fell in love with Orion, the giant hunter, who, among other talents could run so fast he could race across the top of the sea. Apollo thought it was inappropriate for his sister to be in love with a mortal. So one day, while sitting with Artemis on the seashore, Apollo challenged her to an archery contest. "Do you see that white speck, moving across the sea?" He asked. "See if you can hit that."

    The next day Artemis found Orion's dead body, dressed in white, washed up on the shore, pierced through with Artemis' own arrows. She wept, and her tears fell on each of the arrow wounds, which turned into stars, and lifted Orion up into the sky.

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    Pièce de Résistance Scheherazade's Avatar
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    Gosh, you guys are fast!

    I am yet to get a hold of a copy...
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    "It is not that I am mad; it is only that my head is different from yours.”
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