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KIRKUS REVIEW

It was owned by a fat homosexual known as the Giant Pander, 'But the customers weren't queer. Very tough looking, razor scars and all that, but quiet. Very quiet. I asked if the milk was laced with brandy or anything, but they said no. Straight milk. Made it much more sinister I thought.

Just possibly, too, it was in one of these clubs that Greene overheard the rare word 'buer' loose woman , recorded as Northern dialect or tramp's slang by the Oxford English Dictionary, which, in Brighton Rock, Pinkie's gang substitute for more familiar and in unprintable obscenities. But Brighton Rock is not of course, just a gangster novel.

It is, among other things, a contemptuous indictment of England in the s. The features Greene scorns - popular newspapers, advertisements, inane, fun-loving crowds, American-style crooners, wireless - had incensed many intellectuals between the wars, provoking, for example, F R Leavis's diatribe Mass Civilization and Minority Culture Greene's opening scene shows Brighton inundated by these vulgarities. An aeroplane scrawls a patent medicine advertisement across the sky; 50, trippers cram into the town; packed trains unload, at five-minute intervals, their unappetising cargoes of clerks, hairdressers and fat, spotty girls; and Hale, alias Kolly Kibber of the Daily Messenger based on the real-life Lobby Lud of the News Chronicle is caught up in a squalid newspaper stunt that propels him inexorably to his death.

The Dangerous Edge - 1

Greene's diagnosis of modern ills was not, of course, free from class feeling. The Greenes were a professional upper-middle class family. His father Charles was headmaster of Berkhamsted, a public school in Hertfordshire where Graham and his brothers had been educated.


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An uncle, Edward, owned the biggest house in Berkhamsted, with 23 servants and a chauffeur. Greene made a show of breaking away from this traditionalist background. He became a card-carrying Communist - as a lark, while an undergraduate at Balliol College, Oxford. In , more seriously, he joined the Independent Labour Party, because his modest earnings in the early years of his marriage made him fancy he shared the lot of the poor. He took to using 'bourgeois' as a term of abuse a practice which in England, as George Orwell remarked, is restricted exclusively to the bourgeois.

But despite these gestures of rebellion he remained, at heart, true to his class and its watchwords - fair play, sympathy for the underdog, a stiff upper lip, dislike of cads, bounders and the nouveau riche. Despite his left-wing opinions he signed on as a special constable during the General Strike of , and relished clashing with strikers.

The atmosphere was, he said, 'that of a rugger match played against a team from a rather rough council school'. His letters to his future wife, from the same period, express dismay at the ill- bred types he has to mix with. In Nottingham, working on a local paper, he reports that 'One sees absolutely no one here of one's own class. It destroys democratic feelings at birth'. On a traineeship with the British American Tobacco Company, he finds his fellow trainees socially distasteful. I want to kick him'. These social prejudices are observable in Brighton Rock. The narrative encourages us to respond with quick, class-oriented reactions to the clothes people wear or the cars they drive.

A scarlet racing model suggests 'totsies' and 'furtive encounters in by-lanes off the Great North Road'.

Graham Greene Dangerous Edge Where by Adamson Judith

The men in camel-hair coats, who order their beer in tankards at the Peacehaven hotel, seem 'upper-class' to Pinkie, but we are meant to realise they are not, just as when Ida calls Hale 'a real gentleman' it exposes how little she understands about families whose blood goes back to the Norman Conquest. The masses do not, in Greene's depiction, lack breeding: they are soulless. T S Eliot's The Waste Land, an earlier lament over the decline of spirituality, is part of the novel's cultural background.

Brighton's Metropole Hotel actually features in The Waste Land, seemingly as a venue for degenerate sexual encounters, and Eliot's Madame Sosostris with her tarot pack prefigures Ida and her ouija board, both exemplifying religion's decay. This theme is emphasised by the inhuman parody of religion met with at the registry office where Rose and Pinkie marry likened to a clinic and a public lavatory and at Fred Hale's cremation.


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  • The 'cold, secular chapel' and the vapid nondenominational address in this scene are modelled on Greene's mother-in-law's cremation at Golders Green in He was disgusted by its 'air of irreligion posing as undogmatic Christianity' as well as by the 'emaciated vulture' who took the service. Greene's reading of T S Eliot may have suggested, too, Brighton Rock's distaste for machines and its association of them with modern soullessness. This anti-mechanical animus had been a widespread feature of English Utopian and neo-pastoral thought in the Victorian period, traceable, for example, in Ruskin, William Morris, the Arts and Crafts movement and Fabianism.

    But it was Eliot's 'human engine' waiting 'like a taxi' in The Waste Land, and the typist putting a record on the gramophone 'with automatic hand' in the same poem, that epitomised the deadness of machine-culture for Greene's generation.

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    The typists Prewitt lusts after 'I could embrace their little portable machines' are distant cousins of Eliot's. Brewer's wife coughing 'like a machine trying to start', and the appalling car-park attendant, like something from a painting by Otto Dix, who moves his leg 'with a mechanism worked from his pocket', both suggest the erosion of human nature by machinery. Cubitt's slot-machines, dispensing their fatuous love-letters and character-appraisals, demonstrate the capacity of machines to distort, debase and eradicate human feelings as, more hideously, does the gramophone record Rose is left with at the novel's end.

    The major recipient of the narrative's acrimony, however, is Ida. It took Greene's belligerent genius to turn it into something outrageous - something that challenges all our notions of justice and common sense. For what he proposes in Brighton Rock is that Pinkie, a murderer and sadist, is spiritually superior to Ida, who is brave and law-abiding, and saves Rose's life as well as seeing justice done. More outrageous still, the novel would have us believe that Pinkie is not just superior: by comparison, Ida does not exist.

    She inhabits the shadowland of Right and Wrong. But Pinkie, as a Catholic, lives in the real world of Good and Evil. It was in T S Eliot's essay on Baudelaire that Greene came upon the germ of this contrast - though Eliot could never have given it flesh and blood, as Greene does.

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    Puritan Right and Wrong. It is better, in a paradoxical way, to do evil than to do nothing: at least we exist. These propositions would strike many readers as ridiculous, or worse. The notion of Eliot performing a dignified, non-boring sexual act is hard to entertain seriously, and the suggestion that it is better to do evil than to do nothing seems worthy of a monster, or a madman. But the glaring irrationality of the idea was exactly what Greene wanted to make his novel inescapably challenging.

    Pinkie says of Ida 'She's just nothing. And Greene, as narrator, agrees: 'She was as far from either of them as she was from Hell - or Heaven. When Cubitt denies he was a friend of Pinkie's a 'vague memory of the Bible' actually Matthew stirs in Ida's brain - 'a courtyard, a sewing wench beside the fire, the cock crowing'. As a devout Anglican Eliot had not, of course, meant to imply that to exist it was neccessary to be a Roman Catholic.

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    That addition was Greene's, and it reflected his own conversion to Catholicism, which had taken place 10 years before he started writing Brighton Rock. While at Balliol he fell in love with a young woman assistant at Blackwell's bookshop, Vivien Dayrell-Browning, who was a Catholic convert, and would consider marrying him as she did in only if he became a Catholic too.

    Previously he had been a convinced atheist - a position he found it difficult to relinquish. Like Pinkie, though, he found Hell believable, even attractive - 'It gives something hard, non-sentimental and exciting'. He was also attracted to the spiritual class-distinction which, as he saw it, Catholicism bestowed. Rose Macaulay recalls him holding forth at a dinner party about how 'only RCs were capable of real sin because the rest of us were invincibly ignorant'.

    Seen in this light, Catholicism distinguished its adherents from the gross, fun-loving masses almost as effectively as blood that goes back to the Norman conquest. Since Greene identified the contrast between Ida and Pinkie as the real point of the novel, their characterization became crucial. He was worried in retrospect about Ida, feeling she had 'obstinately refused to come alive'. Any shortcomings of this kind would be Greene's fault, of course.

    Much of the time he seems intent not on portraying Ida but insulting her. When he adverts to her 'cow-like' eyes, 'vulgar summer dress', 'big breasts', 'magnificent breasts', 'great open friendly breasts' etc which are nevertheless 'breasts which had never suckled a child of her own' - marking her as a typically sterile inhabitant of The Waste Land , the effect is of name-calling. He also makes Ida the receptacle for his intellectual aversions: she reads Warwick Deeping and J B Priestley because they are best- selling authors he detests Priestley had threatened to sue Greene for libel over the satirical portrait of him as Mr Savory in Stamboul Train.

    But Ida is one of a long line of characters in the history of fiction who survive despite, or because of, their creator's antagonism.