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Collected Essays by Graham Greene
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Collected Essays (1969)

by Graham Greene

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Have read his essay on his childhood reading, esp. Haggard and others.

Viking LC 79-75644, 463 pp. ( )
  Georges_T._Dodds | Mar 30, 2013 |
Greene’s approach to criticism is moral. Of Henry James he writes that his works are “of one moral piece,” involving evil as “charming, cultured, sensitive,” a presence of complete egotism, complete immoral anarchy, and betrayal of the innocent by someone close to them. Of Maugham he concludes that his agnosticism prevents his characters from making real moral choices: “He cannot believe in a God who punishes and he cannot therefore believe in the importance of human actions.”
He has appreciations of John Buchan, Edgar Wallace, and others who wrote what he would elsewhere call “entertainments.” Of Saki, Greene says that like Dickens and Kipling, he never got over an unhappy childhood: “the best stories of Munro are all of childhood, its humour and its anarchy as well as its cruelty and unhappiness.” I had already concluded something very like this after rereading the Clovis stories and before reading this piece: “A strain of offhand cruelty runs through the stories. . . . We are apt to forget, looking back at the stories, that Clovis is still in his teens at their beginning. But the themes of the stories are often those of adolescent fantasy and wish-fulfillment. My mother is about to leave me with Lady Bastable for a week, but what if I could prevent it? What if the pets around me could talk or assume enough fierceness to punish my aunt-tormentor? What if I could control the Baroness that everyone finds so formidable? What if all the venal politicians could be turned into animals and replaced by beings who intended nothing but good? Isn't there an odd resemblance between people and their pets? Suppose it extended to behavior?”
Greene pities Simone Weil, who refused to enter the Catholic Church because she felt she did not yet deserve it, but he finds pride here, while for me there is just evidence of a tortured soul who would never think herself good enough for God’s grace. ( )
  michaelm42071 | Sep 4, 2009 |
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Mr. Greene's fictive method fails only when his sympathy fails. There is one dud (Samuel Butler, to the beauty and funniness of whose thought he's unsusceptible) in what amounts to a gallery of literary portraits on the lines of John Aubrey (for whom and writers roughly like him Mr. Greene keeps a learned and appreciative corner) or of Theophrastus with the theorizing left out.Mr. Greene knows by ear what it needs the genius of a Freud to reach by ratiocination: art is that lost childhood pursued and never quite regained. "Perhaps," he says in the first sentence of this volume, "it is only in childhood that books have any deep influence on our lives." I'm not the person to contradict him. His prose rained on, his moral honesty seeped into, the lost afternoons of my own childhood.
added by John_Vaughan | editNY Times, Brigid Brophy (Jul 12, 1969)
 
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