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Fall 2008 Newsletter

Graham Greene's Revisions in The Power and the Glory

By François Gallix

Book cover. Click to enlarge.

Cover of Graham Greene's
The Power and the Glory.

Manuscript. Click to enlarge.

Page from Graham Greene's
manuscript of The Power and the
Glory
. © Copyright Verdant SA.

Program. Click to enlarge.

Page from Graham Greene's
manuscript of The Power and the
Glory
. © Copyright Verdant SA.

Typescript. Click to enlarge.

Page from Graham Greene's
manuscript of The Power and the
Glory
. © Copyright Verdant SA.

A close study of the manuscript of Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory at the Harry Ransom Center clearly shows the evolution of one of Greene's most famous novels. Written in long hand in black ink on green lined pages from a log book, the very fine writing that will become almost illegible in later years is fortunately not too difficult to decipher, even if the use of a magnifying glass is often needed. Greene finished writing The Power and the Glory on September 13, 1939, and the book was published on March 4, 1940.

Many of the revisions to the manuscript were made by Greene to alleviate the text, to suggest less in order to let the reader find his own way to the implied meaning of the story. The following examples demonstrate what we could call Greene's "skimming technique" or his "purified minimalist style."

Greene had first included two epigraphs on the front page of the manuscript. Following two lines from a John Dryden poem, there were two lines from a poem by Wordsworth:

"The best of what we do and are,
Just God, forgive"

They come from the last lines of Wordsworth's poem "Thoughts suggested the day following, on the Banks of Ninth, near the Poet's Residence" from Memorials of a Tour in Scotland (1803). Written by Wordsworth after leaving the churchyard where Robert Burns was buried, these last lines would have added a new paradox to Greene's title by replacing "and forgive us our trespasses" in the Lord's Prayer with "forgive the best of what we do and are"—a new apocryphal version, linking this second epigraph to the title of his novel. Keeping in mind that, in all of Greene's novels, epigraphs are always very meaningful as they encapsulate a book's whole atmosphere, one could assume that Greene most probably decided not to include this second epigraph because it announced too early and too plainly his belief that the sinner was the same as the Saint—as the poet Charles Peguy wrote, "No one is more competent than a sinner in matters of Christianity. No one, unless it be a saint. And, in principle, it is the self-same man."

The note at the bottom of the title page also adds a new point to Greene's keen interest in naming his characters. At the last moment—so it seems— he decided to turn Carol into Coral, a probable reference to Coral Musker in his novel, Stamboul Train.

Comparing the Vintage edition to the manuscript shows that after the line "it was for this [the lieutenant] was fighting," Greene had first written, then crossed out: "He was determined that life for them was going to be better (have a certainty, a security)," thus exposing too openly the lieutenant's idealism and unexpected humanitarianism.

Conversely, at the end of the same chapter, when the lieutenant is looking at the newspaper photograph of the priest on the wall, his interior commentary: "[he] thought : you won't laugh much [longer], (he shall have something to laugh at)" was not kept in the published edition, probably because it revealed too clearly the sarcastic cruelty of the hunter towards his prey.

Near the end of the manuscript, Greene crossed out three lines in the elaborated scene of the execution of the "whisky priest." The episode is told by the only witness—a secondary character—who sees the execution from the window. He had first met the priest by pure chance at the beginning of the novel, thus bringing the novel full circle. This pattern is further enhanced by the inclusion of the buzzards already present on the first page (changed into vultures in the later editions).

The published text runs as follows:

"Then there was a single shot, and opening [his eyes] again he [Mr. Tench] saw the officer stuffing his gun back into his holster and the little man was a routine heap beside the wall—something unimportant that had to be cleared away. [added on the manuscript and published: Two knock-kneed men approached quickly]."

After "cleared away," Greene crossed out the following lines that were not included in the published version:

"But looking down Mr. Tench caught a look on the officer's face—an uneasy look, the look of a disappointed man and it suddenly sunk to him, as the buzzards flipped down again after the explosion's shot, as though the blood had been cleared away from a whole region of the world."

The erasure of this passage seems to underline Greene's intention to allow his readers a greater freedom of interpretation. Those suppressed lines, with the look of disappointment read on the lieutenant's face after the execution of the priest made the priest appear to be too much of a Christic figure, a martyr, possibly on the way to Sainthood at the moment when, following the explosion, "the blood had been cleared away from a whole region of the world."

The desire not to say too much and to leave space for mystery seems to account for the erasures Greene made to the manuscript. I believe Greene intended to make the reader a partner in the elaboration of the text—an indication that Greene's novels are far from the mere entertainments to which they have often too hastily been reduced.  

François Gallix is professor of contemporary literature in English at the Sorbonne in Paris. His research was funded by a Mellon Fellowship.

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