Julian Symons contends that Graham Greene “has often been praised for the quality of his observation, but this lies in the creation of an atmosphere appropriate to period, place and character rather than in what things actually look like”. Symons’s incisive comment certainly applies to Greene’s recurrent use of exotic landscapes in his novels. Landscape - a term signifying not simply a natural or man-made background, but “the interplay between human perceptions, ideological structures, and external terrain” - provides an incisive means to interpret two of Greene’s mid-career novels. Linked by their use of exotic locales, Greene deftly configures the represented landscapes of The Quiet American (1955), and A Burnt-Out Case (1960) across a spectrum of geographical, bodily, emotional, textual, and ideological terrains.
He chose the Oriental to do it in, the dreary smoky little night club that stands behind a sham Eastern façade.
Sara Suleri says that E.M. Forster’s A
Passage To India “transforms the locality of an historic space into a vast
introspective question mark”.
This is germane to Greene’s novel, which subtly interrogates
This is perhaps typified best by the
figure of the “Annamite woman” (12). Phuong initially seems to appeal to
internalised gendered norms of the domestic angel. Fowler casts her as, “the
hiss of steam, the clink of a cup, […] a certain hour of the night and the
promise of rest” (12). (The fact that Fowler has “shut [his] eyes” in order to
conjure this scene emphasises the fact that this woman resonates more as an
idealised mental image than as a physical entity.) But Phuong is, of course,
doubly Other - both female and Oriental. Her body is as much a site for the
localisation of racial discourses as it is for gendered norms (conversely,
geographers have a predilection for discussing topographies in gendered -
specifically feminine - terms). The representation of Phuong evidences an
intertwining of landscape and racial imagery, embodying the notional existence
of the exotic which lies at the heart of Orientalist discourse. Phuong is
lightly sketched as an allegorical representation of what the West has done
(and is doing) to her country, within the political context of colonialism, and
the wider discursive context of Orientalism. She is sexualised and rapacious,
to be possessed and passed around between the declining colonial power of
Europe (which the decrepit Fowler represents), and the nascent imperialist,
The fact that the linguistic ground
on which Phuong and Fowler communicate is French is apt, for she is constructed
(as is the architecture of
“But she loves you, doesn’t she?”
“Not like that. It isn’t in their nature. You’ll find that out. It’s a cliché to call them children - but there’s one thing which is childish. They love you in return for kindness, security […]. They don’t know what it’s like - walking into a room and loving a stranger. For an aging man, Pyle, it’s very secure - she won’t run away from home so long as the home is happy.” (104; my emphasis)
Here Fowler speaks with the authority and experience of an inherited, colonialist mental make-up, befitting the fact that he is the representing subject who writes (and is thus superior to) the represented Other. Whilst recognising and affirming gendered difference, Fowler’s speech elides national difference by making Phuong inseparable from other national peoples whom the Occident brands as Oriental. Phuong’s difference is flattened by the word “they” - a collective third-person catch-all that erases the geo-cultural specificity of her origin, and makes her inextricable from a generic Other. Fowler at least seems partly cognisant of the problems of representation, when he says, “I knew I was inventing a character…” (133). Nevertheless, because “[o]ne never knows another human being” (133-134), representation is his only recourse. Fowler says that, “[t]o take an Annamite woman to bed with you is like taking a bird: they twitter and sing on your pillow” (12). The Oriental woman is reductively portrayed as offering “a libertine, less guilt-ridden sex outside a social and moral formation”; this no doubt augments her (and the Orient’s) appeal. However, though Phuong is sexually available to him, she also prepares the drug that nullifies desire. As such, Phuong enables Fowler to transcend sex, while simultaneously eschewing her objectification as a sex object; indeed, “by the time [he] ha[s] drawn the opium in, her presence or absence matter[s] very little” (14). Fowler’s opium addiction betrays his desire to retreat into a solipsistic bower (a similarly insular impulse conditions BC, to be discussed). Thus his longing for the otherworldly, psychotropic terrain of the mind overrides any sexual desire for the corporeal space(s) of the Other.
In his seminal philosophical tract, The
Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard expounds the “titanic importance of
setting”. Setting, he postulates, “is often the armature around which the work
revolves”; moreover, “its rightful place [is] alongside character and plot”.
For Greene, setting is not merely an inert spatial backdrop to the temporal
workings of plot, but is inextricable from the overarching semiotic structure
by which the reader receives his text(s). The spaces within the novel do not
necessarily represent essential attributes of this or that location; rather,
they are shifting attributes, dependent on the perspective or frame of mind of
Fowler, who directs and is the locus of the narrative focalisation. The
exterior world that Fowler represents in the first-person is inevitably
coloured “by [his] view of life projected onto it”,
and thereby constitutes a psychic topography, one which reflects the vicissitudes
of his mind. In the calm of the watchtower by the road, for example, Fowler
finds that the “starlight is alive and never still [,] as though someone in
those vast spaces is trying to communicate a message of good will” (98). After
the relative calm is shattered by the violent intrusion of the Vietminh, Fowler
looks up at that same nightscape to “see only […] a foreign cipher which I
couldn’t read”, concluding that, “these were not the stars of home” (112).
Broadly-speaking, the beleaguered
However, it is difficult to isolate
Fowler’s personalised spatiality as a mark of his individuation, for it
co-mingles with - and is subsumed by - Western constructions of the Orient. His
personal context, in other words, is part of a wider cultural one. Edward Said
demonstrates that part of the appeal of the Orient is that it represents - or
is represented to be - “an unchanging” human and physical geography.Such
a feature of the Orient pervades Greene’s novel. Fowler opines that, “[i]n five
hundred years there may be no New York or London, but they’ll be growing paddy
in these fields, they’ll be carrying their produce to the market on the long
poles wearing their pointed hats” (95).
Greene picks up the atheistic strand
left over from The End Of The Affair (1951); the
The Greeneian geography of
descriptions of the wider African topography are spare, sketching an
indeterminate region, negatively defined by its perceived “emptiness” (119),
and by the capital, Luc - expressly an invented locality (see Greene’s
prefatory note). Meanwhile, the leproserie is introduced as an “ugly red-brick
university” (13), replete with a provincialist social geography better suited
to Nottwich than to equatorial
The original goal of his journey, he
later tells Colin, was “to be in an empty place” (46), but he is unable to
identify for the captain his reasons for deciding on
‘Of course,’ the captain said, ‘I know where you are going,
but you have never told me why.’
‘The road was closed by floods. This was the only route.’
‘That wasn’t what I meant.’ (12)
Space and place are not necessarily
interchangeable terms: a staple of spatial theory is the tension between an
overarching concept of space, and the subjective quality of place. David Ley
provides an incisive cultural reading of space, which “[l]ike other
commodities, […] is engaged not only as a brute fact, but also as a product
with symbolic meaning”.
But only where the brute fact of space and the subjective self meet does space
become place. Querry, however, resists such subjective investment in the
spaces he interacts with. His room is “the only one in the [leproserie]
completely bare of symbols, bare indeed of almost everything. No photographs of
a community or a parent” (74). In other words, there is nothing imparting a
trace of memory, such as a photograph which “construct[s]”, in a new and
foreign habitat, a vestige of “the familiar” (25); there is nothing signifying
either his investment in this space, or that from which he has come. Wishing
to drop off the cultural map altogether, Querry seeks pure, “empty space”, much
the same as the “blank, white paper” beyond those parameters drawn by “a map”
in The Power And The Glory - the “abandoned” lacunae (which betoken
“loneliness”) into which the Priest is pursued.
Querry’s mental make-up is deliberately, intimately bound with the landscape of the leproserie, as the bodily decay it contains complements Querry’s emotional atrophy. Colin’s “aesthetic” regard for his “Atlas Of Leprosy” (20) illustrates that Greene’s detailed mapping of the human body and its ailments is of as much symbolic import - in relation to Querry’s psychic regions - as geographic landscape(s). The material decay specific to Deo Gratias’ form of leprosy - that is, Hansen’s disease, which atrophies the nerves - is pertinent to Querry’s emotional lack, in that he now no longer feels anything. Bodily and mental geographies hereby interpermeate. Similar thus to - and occupying the same territory as - a leper, Querry is the psychologically burnt-out case of the title. Fallen not through sin, but through a loss of faith, the fact that Querry is “a spiritually-empty hero” is symbolised by the churches he designs - the religious function of which he has no longer has an investment in: “I wasn’t concerned with the people who occupied my space - only with the space” (44).
Querry believes that “perhaps [in the
leproserie] there would be enough pain and […] fear to distract” (111) him from
the encumbrance of a public persona that no longer corresponds with his own
estimate of himself. The leproserie, then, represents an absolute space (a
recurring topos in Greene’s fiction),
sought in order to enact the transcendence of an old, unwanted prior social
identity. The leproserie offers a particular type of sociality, separating from
the wider social body the somatic space of the socially-stigmatised leper. As a
site shunned and feared by the wider world, the leproserie resonates with
Querry’s desire to eschew the public realm from which he has absconded.
Moreover, the condition of leprosy itself - the shedding of cutaneous and
somatic matter - fits in with the desire to slough off old imposed identities
and find out what is essential about the self. Similarly, Querry’s past
intuition that “it wasn’t any good taking clothes” (147), not only applies to
his initially having “no idea” (147) of where he was going, but is also attuned
to the idea of slipping off an old identity - the second skin which clothing
represents - and suggests the metaphoric recovery of our original nakedness,
and thus innocence. The forest is harmonised with Querry’s purpose, rejecting
familiar First-World mythologies, such as those located in “the woods of
However, BC also refers to a space wherein Querry might maintain some sort of functional social existence (aside from his work at the leproserie). Having come, with QA, to associate Fowler’s drug-induced insularity with physical death and spiritual solipsism, Greene recasts the idea of a secular personal peace, with regard to Querry’s inward, psychic retreat: Pendélé. Greene, as Baldridge notes, “leaves it ambiguous […] as to whether it is a real place or merely a product of Deo Gratias’s fancy”. Pendélé resides somewhere between the purely imaginary, unobtainable personal Eden of Scobie’s reveries, and that which is attainable (if transitory), such as the space shared by Jones with Anna-Luise (Doctor Fischer of Geneva (1980)). Pendélé is also cast as somewhere to be shared with others. When Querry inquires “what happened” there, Deo Gratias’s reply is tellingly pluralised: “Nous étions heureux” (78). Querry enters the narrative with an anti-social mental topography. Indeed, “human beings are not [his] country” (51). But, as his continual interrogation of Deo Gratias testifies, Querry gradually evolves into one who adopts the sharable, social quality of Pendélé as somewhere - both geographical and spiritual - that he himself is trying to locate: “[i]f there was a place called Pendélé, he thought, I would never bother to find my way back” (172). Unfortunately, Deo Gratias’s reply is also couched in the preterite. Pendélé is situated in imaginative space, at the nexus of memory and fabrication; but, lost in “the dim nostalgia [of] the past”, Querry’s “middle age” (172) makes the pastness of his idyll more painfully acute.
Greene, Graham. The Third
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by Maria Jolas.
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Greene’s Fictions: The Virtues of Extremity
Diephouse, Dan, “The Allusiveness of Space in Graham Greene’s Novels,”
of Religious Faith in the Work of Graham Greene, ed. by Wm. Thomas Hill.
Friedman, Alan Warren, “‘The Dangerous Edge’: Beginning With Death,” Graham
A Revaluation, ed. Jeffery Meyers.
Gidley, Mick, “Introduction,” Modern American Landscapes, eds. Gidley, Mick and
Ley, David, “Behavioural Geography and the Philosophies of Meaning,” Kevin R. Cox
Reginald G. Golledge eds., Behavioural Problems in Geography Revisited.
Pisano, Frank, “Greene’s A Burnt-Out Case,” The Explicator; Spring 1991; 49(3):177-
Puthak, Zakia, Sengupta, Saswaki and Purkayastha, Sharmila, “The Prisonhouse of
Orientalism,” Textual Practice, Spring 1991; 5(1):195-218.
Said, Edward W., Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient. Harmondsworth:
---. Culture And
Simon, John K., “Off The Voie Royal: The Failure Of Greene’s A Burnt-Out Case,”
Symposium: A Quarterly Journal In Modern Foreign Literatures, 1964; 18:163-169.
Random House, 1994.
Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty, “Can the Subaltern Speak?”, Colonial Discourse and
Theory: A Reader, eds. William, Patrick
and Laura Chrisman.
Spurling, John, Graham Greene, eds. Bradbury, Malcolm and Christopher Bigsby.
Sulari, Sara, “The Geography
of A Passage to
A Passage to India: Modern Critical Interpretations.
Symons, Julian, “The Strength Of Uncertainty: Graham Greene,” Literary Half-Yearly,
Taylor, Gordon O., “American
Personal Narrative of the War in
Literature, 1980-1981; 52.
Whitfield, Stephen J., “Limited Engagement: The Quiet American as History,” Journal of
American Studies, 30;1 (Cambridge: CUP, 1996): 65-86.
 Julian Symons, “The Strength Of Uncertainty: Graham Greene,” Literary Half-Yearly, 1983; 24(1):11-12 [italics added for emphasis].
 Mick Gidley, “Introduction” to Modern American Landscapes, eds. Mick Gidley and Robert Lawson-Peebles (Amsterdam: V.U. University Press, 1995), p.1
Quiet American (
 The Third Man (London: Bodley Head, 1976), p.82
 See Norman Sherry’s The Life Of Graham Greene: Volume Two: 1939-1955 (London: Random House, 1994), esp. pp.368-372
 (London: Bodley Head, 1980), p. 76
 Graham Greene, eds. Malcolm Bradbury and Christopher Bigsby (London: Methuen, 1983), p.74
 See Stephen J. Whitfield, “Limited Engagement: The Quiet American as History”, in Journal of American Studies, 30 (1996), I: 65-86
 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1991), p.63
 In “The Geography of A Passage to India”, in Harold Bloom, ed., E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India: Modern Critical Interpretations (London: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987), p.107
 Said, p.21
 Sherry, p.364
 Said, pp.6-7
 Ibid, p.6
 Zakia Puthak, Saswaki Sengupta and Sharmila Purkayastha, “The Prisonhouse of Orientalism”, in Textual Practice, Spring 1991; 5(1):201
 (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1994), p.x
 Spurling, p.62
 Said, p.96
 ““The Dangerous Edge”: Beginning With Death”, in Graham Greene: A Revaluation, ed. by Jeffery Meyers (London: Macmillan, 1990), p.132. I am indebted to Freidman’s discussion of a familiar characteristic of Greene’s fiction - what he calls, “a post-mortem fiction” (p.131).
Graham Greene’s Fictions: The Virtues Of Extremity (
 Said, p.22
“American Personal Narrative of the War in
 Culture And Imperialism (New York: Vintage, 1993), p.28
 For an allegorical reading of names in BC, see Frank Pisano, “Greene’s A Burnt-Out Case”, in The Explicator; Spring 1991; 49(3):177-181
A Preface To Greene (Essex: Pearson Education Limited, 1997), p.157
 “Behavioural Geography and the Philosophies of Meaning”, in Kevin R. Cox and Reginald G. Golledge eds., Behavioural Problems in Geography Revisited (London: Methuen, 1989), pp.209-230
 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1980) pp.210-212
 John K. Simon, “Off The Voie Royal: The Failure Of Greene’s A Burnt-Out Case”, in Symposium: A Quarterly Journal In Modern Foreign Literatures, 1964; 18:165
 See Symons, p.2. Greene’s concern with absolute spaces dates back to the troubled emotive landscape “of the Berkhamsted of his childhood”.
 Baldridge, p.124
The essay explores the spatial metaphors in Graham Greene’s work with maturity, both stylistic and analytic. It shows how the symbolic systems involved in exoticism, and the relation between space and subjectivity, work in literary texts. It draws from fully assimilated major theoretical works such as Said’s and Baudrillard’s, and invests them in a rhetorical analysis of Greene’s work. This essay thus show a good balance between the theory of cultural space, and the reading practice that may follow and inform theory.