Sunday, March 15, 2009

Graham Greene, Homosexuality and "The End of the Affair"

Rather surprisingly my LGBT book group has assigned for this evening Graham Greene's "Catholic" novel, The End of the Affair (1951). I had read this many years ago, and was surprised to see it on the syllabus of a gay discussion group. To me the Catholic aspects of his novels were always the most prominent.

There does, however, seem to be a rationale for an LGBT group discussing the novel. The story concerns a triangle involving the narrator, the woman he carries on an vigourously sexual affair with Sarah, and Sarah's husband Henry. Concentration the Catholic perspective in the past had led me to see the story as a kind of less aristocratic version of Brideshead Revisited, that is about the workings of grace.

Remarkably it could be argued that the most striking relationship is between the narrator and Henry. The novel begins and ends with them, and after Sarah's death they move in together. The narrator is resolutely heterosexual, but it turns out that the reason for Sarah's affairs was that Henry had not been able to bring her to sexual climax. After she dies, Henry notes "I am not the marrying kind."

I think this is the subtext we will be exploring tonight.

Here are some other pertinent views.

Paul Theroux, Damned Old Graham Greene NYT 2004

My own feeling is that there is something ambiguously homoerotic in a man's conducting a lengthy affair with a married woman who remains at home and continues to sleep with her husband. This was a habit of Greene's. And there is the twisted logic of Greene's proclaiming his fidelity to his mistress while cheating on his wife, and also of course seeing hookers, for whom he had a hopeless penchant.

Michael Thornton, The decadent world of Graham Greene - the high priest of darkness Mail on Sunday 2008

Once he had achieved his object and his wife was pregnant, he broke his marriage vows and became a serial adulterer with at least 47 prostitutes whose identities are known and with dozens more who remain unknown.

An alcoholic, he abandoned his wife and two children for affairs with a series of married mistresses.

And though he vehemently denied rumours of bisexuality, his closest male friend was a homosexual who daily preyed on young boys, while there is clear evidence that Greene regularly seduced under-age teenage lads on the Italian island of Capri.

In Thompson, Graham Greene, uneasy Catholic TLS 2006

Although Greene claimed to dislike the label “Catholic novelist”, he retained his faith, if not his belief, in Catholicism all his life. To his dying day he kept a photograph in his wallet of the Italian stigmatic Padre Pio, whose hands and feet were said to display the wounds of Christ. Whether these lesions were of neurotic origin – psychological rather than supernatural – Greene did not care to know: he wanted there to be a mystery at the heart of life. It may seem incredible that an intelligent man could be awed by the irrationality of stigmatism. But as Greene told the Tablet in 1989: “There is a mystery. There is something inexplicable in human life”.

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