Our Quarterly Magazine
A Sort of Newsletter: A Quarterly Magazine
The Trust publishes a quarterly magazine, each February, May, August and November, titled A Sort of Newsletter (ASON). Friends of the Trust receive free print copies as part of their membership. Each issue contains a rich mix of articles, reviews, correspondence and news. ASON is not intended to be an academic journal; there is something for everyone with an interest in the writer.
Rarely does a month go by without Graham Greene featuring in the news in some form or other. A Sort of Newsletter will keep you bang up to date with information about the latest Greene-related books, films, reviews and associated news from around the world.
The annual Graham Greene International Festival, held in September each year in Berkhamsted is the principal event in the Birthplace Trust’s calendar. Naturally, it features prominently in the pages of the newsletter with information about forthcoming festival appearing in the May and August issues followed by retrospectives on each event in the November issue.
So, if you are interested in Graham Greene, his life and his books and you are not currently a Friend of the Graham Greene Birthplace Trust, then you are urged to turn to the Members’ page on this website which gives all the details about joining and receiving A Sort of Newsletter.
To give you a flavour of what to expect to find within the pages of the magazine, we are publishing some sample features from recent issues:
Issue 87 July 2021
Earlier in the year I asked ASON readers what Greene-related things they had been getting up to during Covid lockdown. Here we have a full account from Ramón Rami-Porta, well known to Festivalites and ASON readers. Ramón is a thoracic surgeon from Barcelona. (Mike Hill)
Reading Graham Greene in the Year of the Covid-19 Pandemic
The 34 books I read in 2020 are still piled on my desk. Thirteen of them are directly or indirectly related to Greene.
It all started with Monsignor Quixote. I read it for the nth time in preparation for the tour that Tamás Molnár and I had planned to follow in late April 2020 and that the pandemic frustrated. We would have travelled from El Toboso, in Toledo province, south of Madrid, to the Oseira Monastery, in Ourense province, in Galicia, the region where Father Leopoldo Durán had been born. In 2003, I travelled the route to do some research for the Graham Greene Centennial Conference – Following in the Footsteps of Monsignor Quixote. The itinerant conference took place in May 2004 and only covered half of it, from El Toboso to Salamanca.
Reading Monsignor Quixote prompted me to read three books by Miguel de Unamuno. He is mentioned in the book, and his influence is evident in what Mayor Sancho says about his university years in Salamanca, where Unamuno had taught and had been University Rector. The first one, De Fuerteventura a Paris (From Fuerteventura to Paris), published in Paris in 1925, is a book of poems written in Fuerteventura, a bleak island in the Canary Archipelago on to which the dictator of the time, General Primo de Rivera, forced him into exile because of Unamuno’s opposition to his regime. Cancionero (Song Book), an anthology of poems written from 1 March 1928 to 28 December 1936, just three days before his death, followed. The last poems are very sad and show his disappointment and his paradoxes, so common in his writings. He wrote them after the famous episode that took place in the Great Hall of the University of Salamanca, where he was asked to represent General Franco in the commemoration of the Spanishness Day (Día de la Hispanidad, as it was then called) – 12 October 1936. There, he had to defend reason and intelligence against the attacks of General Millán Astray who praised brutal force and death. Some soldiers wanted to shoot him, but Franco’s wife saved his life by walking him to their car. Unamuno died at home on 31 December 1936. If there are timely deaths, this was one of them. Unamuno was spared the atrocities of the Civil War. He had said that a civil war was necessary in Spain, but he had used the term ‘civil’ in the sense of ‘civilised’ and nobody understood him. Finally, I read El Caballero de la triste figura (The Knight of the Sad Countenance), a study of Don Quixote based on the descriptions found in Cervantes’ book. In The Annotated Library of Graham Greene – A catalogue, compiled by Jean McNeil and Nicholas Dennys, there is only one book by Unamuno: The Tragic Sense of Life. I read somewhere that Greene had read La Vida de Don Quixote (The Life of Don Quixote), also by Unamuno. It is possible that he had also read The Knight of the Sad Countenance. If a reader of this article can shed light on this, it would be much appreciated.
Viajes con mi cura. Las andanzas de Graham Greene por España y Portugal (Travels with My Priest. Graham Greene’s Adventures in Spain and Portugal), by our good friend Professor Carlos Villar Flor, is a tremendously informative and well researched book that all Greene readers and scholars should read. The main part of the book is devoted to a detailed account of the 15 trips Greene and Father Durán made in Spain and Portugal from 1976 to 1989. For each trip, Professor Villar Flor includes the preliminaries, the itinerary, the anecdotes, the conversations, and the conclusions. (Pictured left: Ramon in Japan in 2019 and in full Covid gear on duty in hospital in 2020)
The main source of information was the collection of the handwritten diaries that Father Durán wrote during the trips, but Professor Villar Flor went to great efforts to double check everything using other sources, like the available letters that the two travellers exchanged and those of others; and to fill the gaps and correct the errors that appeared in Graham Greene – Friend and Brother, by Father Durán, another source of (sometimes misleading) information. Honestly speaking, I do not think that either Greene or Durán could have written such a well-documented book on their trips in the Iberian Peninsula.
I forgot what it was, but reading the book by Professor Villar Flor prompted me to reread British Dramatists, a book I found some two decades ago in a second-hand bookshop in Charing Cross at a ridiculously low price. It even angered me to see how cheap this rare book was. To tell you the truth, most of the names mentioned in the text are unfamiliar to me, but I have always admired how and when Greene wrote it: on board of the ship that took him and his cousin Barbara from Liverpool to Freetown in 1941, without the resources of a nearby library or his own collection of books.
Our Man Down in Havana, by Christopher Hull, and Our Woman in Havana, by Sarah Rainsford, followed. I got both books during the latest Greene Festival in 2019 and both are kindly inscribed by their authors. Both books mention Greene’s visits to Cuba: the first being a detailed research on every trip, the second often referring to him. As I wrote in ASON (issue 83, August 2020, page 15), reading these two books led me to reread Greene’s articles on Cuba. They are included in Reflections, edited by Judith Adamson, the book that I would take to an island if I had to choose one. Judith read my text and offered a complimentary copy of her book Graham Greene: The Dangerous Edge. Where Art and Politics Meet that I had not read. I accepted the offer with delight.
While waiting for the book to arrive, I read two peculiar books: El mundo pecador de Graham Greene (The World of Sin of Graham Greene), by José Miguel Ibáñez Langlois, and Miguel de Palacios – Un gran teólogo desconocido (Miguel de Palacios – A Great Unknown Theologian) by Father Leopoldo Durán. Father Ibáñez Langlois is a prominent member of the Opus Dei (remember, ‘that club of intellectual Catholic activists whom he could not fault and yet whom he could not trust’, Father Quixote reflects) who at over 80 years of age still has pastoral responsibilities in the Universidad de los Andes in Santiago de Chile. He has two doctorate degrees, one in philosophy, from Madrid, and one in theology, from Rome. He also is a prolific writer and a respected poet. In 1968, Father Ibáñez Langlois sent a copy of his book to the Chilean Embassy in London requesting to forward it to Greene. The book has a kind dedication to Greene in which the author expressed his admiration for him and at the same time requested a reply. The Cultural Attaché of the Chilean Embassy sent the book to Greene on 25 March 1968, and Greene replied through his secretary thanking him for sending the book and clarifying that he did not read Spanish. Well, Greene must have given the book to Father Durán, because the book was on his bookshelf, but my impression is that it remained unread by both. I got it thanks to the generosity of Father Durán’s sister, Erundina, who gave it to me. Not being part of Father Duran’s Greene Archive, I took it with no remorse. The book is well-structured and elaborates on the theology found in Brighton Rock, The Power and The Glory, A Burnt-Out Case, The Heart of the Mater and The End of the Affair. Although it requires some knowledge of Catholic doctrine to fully understand it, the book is very readable. One of the key points that Father Ibáñez Langlois mentions is that for Greene grace seems the last resource for salvation, instead of a continuum to reach salvation. We are made to think that Greene’s sinners can be saved at the very last minute thanks to God’s grace, which, according to Father Ibáñez Langlois, is to underestimate grace as a process to salvation. In any case, the author exonerates Greene by saying that he was not a theologian, but a writer who had a certain religious romanticism. Once I read the book, I googled Father Ibáñez Langlois and found his email address. I got in touch with him and told him how his book had ricocheted from Santiago de Chile to London and then to Vigo and Barcelona. He replied immediately saying that my email had brought nice memories of his beginnings as an author.
Father Durán’s book is a different story. Miguel de Palacios was a theologian born in Granada in the 16th century who belonged to the Salamanca theological school. Father Durán’s book is based on his research for his doctoral degree from the Angelicum International University in Rome. It is a systematic work that describes Miguel de Palacios’ thoughts on God, the creation, the angels, the first man, the virtues, the sins, the grace, the incarnation, the sacraments, and the souls in Purgatory praying for us. Perhaps I was not in the best mood to read this book at the time I read it. It was hard to finish it. I found the language arcane and the appendix with all quotations from Miguel de Palacios in Latin did not help me much. It is an erudite piece of work. Father Durán had read more than 3000 pages of theological comments by Miguel de Palacios and his other books to compose his thesis. His final verdict is clear: ‘now we know that this theologian from Granada is one of our national glories’, but, most likely, I am afraid, he will remain unknown except to the specialists in 16th century theology.
I was relieved when Judith Adamson’s book arrived. The pandemic delayed the delivery of mail and it took longer than expected to reach me. For those who have read the most important books by Greene, Graham Greene: The Dangerous Edge. Where Art and Politics Meet will show a new dimension to what they read. The book provides the reader with the political and historical context of the countries where the stories take place – Mexico, Sierra Leone, Austria, Vietnam, Cuba, Haiti, Spain, Panama among others – masterfully intertwined with Greene’s life and thoughts, both religious and political. It is one of those books that I now consider indispensable if one wants to go deeper into the understanding of what Greene wrote and did around the world. I highly recommend it. If you don’t find it in your regular bookshop or library, look for it on the internet. You will not regret buying it.
On the day I finished reading Judith Adamson’s book, Russian Roulette: The Life and Times of Graham Greene, by Richard Greene, arrived. Did I plunge to read it? No, I didn’t. I try to be disciplined with my books. I had another one in the waiting list and, although it was hard, I refrained from starting Richard Greene’s and I read El verdadero tercer hombre (The True Third Man) by Nuria Verde, instead. Nuria is Aurelio Verde’s daughter. Aurelio Verde was one of Greene’s and Durán’s third men, who drove them across Spain and Portugal. The book is partly autobiographical and combines episodes of Nuria Verde’s life with the anecdotes his father told his family about the trips with Greene and Durán. Aurelio Verde suffered from Parkinson’s disease and was bipolar, so her relation with her father was not always easy. The trips of the three men were not easy, either. Greene and Verde engaged in frivolous conversations that could not be shared with Father Durán, Poldo, as they called him, because they were about women, left-wing politics, love affairs and the like. She says that Father Durán sometimes felt excluded and that he must have had a very bad time trying not to disturb Greene, whose humour was changeable. She also adds that Father Durán never knew when Greene was talking seriously or jokingly, something that distressed him very much. There are a few biographical inaccuracies regarding Greene and Father Durán, and some of the described facts are wrong, but the book is entertaining and gives some flavour to the trips that cannot be found in Graham Greene – Friend and Brother.
The culmination of this series of books is the latest Greene biography. I won’t say much because Neil Sinyard reviewed it for a recent issue of ASON (issue 84, November 2020) and I am not a professional book reviewer. Suffice to say that I found Richard Greene’s book was extraordinary in its concise completeness. Even after reading all previous biographies, I still found new details of Greene’s life set in the proper historical context. It is an enjoyable must-read for all Greene enthusiasts.
Issue 86 May 2021
A Cheap Shot
Duplicity was an essential part in both the writing and the life of Graham Greene and nowhere is this more evident than in his first really successful book, Stamboul Train. The duplicity is played out in many ways, through names, social class, race and religion and ultimately through the actions of the characters of the book. Greene creates a world in which nothing or no-one is what or who they seem, as this was the way that he saw humanity. There is no black or white, just an ever changing shade of grey. But the writer is fair to his readers and announces this duplicity early in the story through the voice of one of the characters, Coral Musker: ‘I don’t trouble to remember what a boy calls himself. It’s not the name the post office knows him by.’ Musker, a chorus girl, is a less fully shaded individual and becomes a victim. The simpler characters in Greene stories are always the most vulnerable.
Greene takes the duplicity a stage further in Stamboul Train and uses it to comment on people he knew in the real world, to whom he had taken a dislike. He would have undoubtedly read Cakes and Ale, published in 1930, in which Somerset Maugham had parodied Hugh Walpole as Alroy Kear, and perhaps decided that he would try something similar. He inserted a character, Quin Savory into Stamboul Train who is easily recognisable as J.B. Priestley, an author like Greene, published by Heinemann. Priestley threatened to sue and Greene was forced to change some of his descriptions of the character, yet the published story still shows Quin Savory as extremely unsavoury. Greene paints him vituperatively, as an affected social climber, with an eye for the ladies, and a keen interest in photographing children. He may have been jealous of Priestley’s success and as has been suggested (in Anthony Mockler’s Graham Greene – Three Lives), also taken a dislike to him because of his affair with Peggy Ashcroft, Greene’s friend Rupert Hart-Davis’ wife. Greene’s continuing duplicity is well illustrated by his denial in his 1971 autobiography A Sort of Life, that Priestley was a model for Savory, suggesting instead two unlikely and long dead politicians.
The late W.J. West suggested (in The Quest for Graham Greene) that there were two portraits of leading literary figures, considerably disguised, within Stamboul Train, and identifies Clemence Dane as being a partial inspiration for the lesbian journalist, Mabel Warren. There appears to be little in common between the two apart from that Ms Dane may also have been gay. She was also a strong supporter of Greene and his work so I feel this identification is doubtful and perhaps the reason why West used the words ‘considerably disguised’ as this could certainly not apply to J.B. Priestley – Quin Savory.
Yet West was correct in his assertion that there is a second portrait of a literary figure in the book; he just chose the wrong person. The final chapter, ‘Constantinople’, introduces in a ‘bit part,’ one well drawn new character, that of the hotel clerk, Mr Kalebdjian. This is how Greene describes him: ‘The small lively Armenian, with a flower in his button-hole, answered, in an English as trim and well cut as his morning coat; and on the next page, he was so sweet and pretty they wanted to do something for him’. Later in the chapter he returns to Mr Kalebdjian at the reception counter: ‘with his hands between his knees doing nothing, and another comment emphasizing the limited horizons of the character’s world, trotting down corridors, listening at bathroom doors, back again with nothing to do but turn over in his mind a little sheaf of information, that was Mr Kalebdjian’s life.’
I feel sure that Greene was parodying another famous Heinemann author of the time, Michael Arlen. Arlen’s birth name was Dikran Kouyoumdjian and he was the son of an Armenian merchant family which had fled the persecution of the Ottomans, first to Bulgaria and then to England. He had become a writer and had been advised to change his name, choosing Michael Arlen. He achieved large sales in 1924 with the publication of the book The Green Hat and his fame had become so widespread that by 1927 he featured on the cover of Time magazine, one of the few British authors to do so, a feat Greene himself would replicate in 1951 after the publication of The End of the Affair. Stamboul Train was also not the first book in which Arlen had been used as the model for a fictional character. D.H. Lawrence had imagined him as Michaelis in Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
The hotel clerk Kalebdjian is too similar in name and description for this not to be a pen picture of Arlen. This could be read as Greene at his most unpleasant, putting the ‘foreigner’ who is not really an ‘Englishman’ back into Turkey, the country where he would have been persecuted, as a hotel servant. An alternative explanation might be that Greene disliked Arlen because his ‘public front’ was as an Englishman not his ‘Armenian’ identity which would mirror Greene’s later behaviour in his expressed dislike for Terence Rattigan who hid his homosexual identity. In other words he could be fair to homosexuals and to foreigners who admitted their true identities, but those who hid behind another veneer were fair game. Yet he is also sneering at the fact that Arlen’s best writing days were gone, that he had nothing to do. Greene would also have realised that Arlen was an easy target. The last thing the ethnic Armenian would have wanted to do was draw attention to the cameo and he was far less likely to sue than Priestley. It makes the parody the more cruel and a very cheap shot.
In a postscript to the story, a few years later in 1937, Wills Cigarettes produced a series of cards featuring ‘Great British Authors.’ The set featured both J.B. Priestley and Michael Arlen, together with another that Greene would pillory, Beverley Nichols. Graham Greene was noticeably absent. How he must have seethed!
© Edward Stringer 2021
Issue 85 February 2021
David Hawksworth lives in Germany and has recently become a Friend of the Birthplace Trust. He has a seriously good collection of Greene books, including a large number of first editions. Here he tells us about one of them.
Ways of Escape
I bought the first edition with dust cover of Ways of Escape for £20 in Chipping Campden at Draycott Books on Thursday 21 December 2006. I had flown to Birmingham from Munich and had travelled down to Chipping Campden with my sister. I collect Graham Greene’s books and wanted to see where he lived or at least the small market town when he wrote Stamboul Train. While I was in the bookshop I had a conversation with the owner about my interest in Graham Greene and he very kindly gave me a copy of Hamptons International sale notice for ‘Little Orchard’ together with a newspaper cutting from The Journal dated April 18, 1991 about the then current occupant. I did note with interest that the address was given as Hoo Lane, Chipping Campden, whereas in The Life of Graham Greene, Volume 1 1904-1939, in the chapter ‘Down and Out at Chipping Campden’, Norman Sherry states ‘Little Orchard was up a short street called Mud Lane, at the end of the High Street’. We set off to find the house and I had my photo taken at the garden gate holding my recent purchase.
To complete a memorable morning we had a drink at ‘The Kings’ which was previously ‘The Kings Arm’ and may have been the hotel where Greene went for a drink during his time in Chipping Campden.
Still on first editions of Greene’s books, here is an exchange between Cedric Watts and Jon Wise:
A Problem for Collectors of First Editions of Greene’s Works
The Christmas 2020 catalogue issued by Peter Harrington, the London bookselling firm, raises a tricky problem for individuals who hope to collect first editions of Graham Greene’s works. The catalogue offers a UK first edition of A Burnt-Out Case, inscribed by the author and in the original dust jacket, for £2,500. The description includes the following observations:
In common with other Greene titles of this period, the Swedish, Norwegian, and French translations of A Burnt-Out Case were all published prior to the English edition, in 1960. The Swedish edition Utbränd was translated directly from Greene’s manuscript and is accepted as being the true first edition. The present UK edition was published in January 1961; the first US edition followed in February 1961.
The excellent bibliography by Jon Wise and Mike Hill indeed specifies the Swedish version as the first edition. A collector might well ask, however, ‘Can a foreign translation of an English work really count as its “true first edition”? This novel was written in English by a British author, so surely it is the first UK publication that counts?’ Hundreds – perhaps thousands – of pounds might depend on the answers to these two questions. Arguably the Swedish version is the first edition only of the work in translation. (The problem would have been even more difficult if Greene had been the translator.) Incidentally, Mike Hill reports to me the theory that Greene was denied the Nobel Prize because his style did not translate well into Swedish.
Postscript: Amazon currently offers for sale several copies of Graham Greene’s The Shipwrecked, 1968: an unfamiliar title. But this turns out to be an American reprint of England Made Me, 1935.
Graham Greene’s non-UK First Editions
Cedric Watts raises an interesting point. For the absolute purist, the first edition, identified by date of publication, is the true ‘first’. It gets more complicated than that, of course, and I would refer readers to www.biblio.com/book-collecting/basics/how-to-identify-first-editions/ for further bibliographical information on the subject.
Therefore, specialist collectors, simply of first editions, might choose to disregard the fact that the Swedish version of A Burnt-Out Case, Utbränd, the Danish Udbraendt and the Norwegian Utbrent, are works in translation and use as evidence the fact that they were all three published on 10 November 1960 ahead of the UK first publication of A Burnt-Out Case on 16 January 1961. No doubt the fact that the translators worked directly from manuscript copies of the novel adds a measure of integrity to the argument.
Interestingly, Utbränd was not the first Greene work to be published in Sweden by P.A Norstedt & Söner in advance of the English first edition. A precedent was set in 1952 when Greene wrote to Ragnar Svanström, literary advisor to Norstedts, stating that he hoped that a Swedish production of his first play The Living Room might take place one day. This hope was unexpectedly realised when the English West End premiere was unexpectedly postponed until the following year allowing the first performance of I Sista Rumet (The Last Room) to take place in Stockholm on 31 October 1952. The Swedish playscript, together with the Norwegian one, issued to coincide with this world premiere are, therefore, true first editions.
The same thing happened in 1955 when Norstedts published Den Stillsame Amerikanen (The Quiet American) in November, a month ahead of the UK, employing the same Swedish translator, Jane Lundblad. Greene sought permission of A.S. Frere for Norstedts to publish both Den Stillsame Amerikanen and Utbränd in advance of the English editions. Apparently, Heinemann’s chairman did not mind the Swedish editions preceding the UK one. In the case of A Burnt-Out Case, Frere thought that as very few English people could read Swedish, no-one would notice.
Norman Sherry, in the last volume of The Life of Graham Greene, argues that the early Swedish publication of Utbränd was all about Greene’s candidacy for the Nobel Prize for Literature. He states that Frere was opposed to Norstedts pressing to publish early and that it was solely motivated by the publicity it would engender in Sweden to advance the author’s case for being awarded the prize. However, this contradicts what Greene wrote to Svanström in March 1960, that Frere’s intention to publish in January 1961 was ‘an experiment’. Quite what was meant by that is unclear and it is quite possible that Greene was being duplicitous in the matter. On the other hand, precedents had been set already with Den Stillsame Amerikanen and I Sista Rumet.
There are other examples of non-UK first editions. The Canadian editions of Ways of Escape (1980) and The Captain and the Enemy (1987) were first published by the Toronto-based company Lester & Orpen Dennys. This was in recognition of the help provided by Louise Dennys, his niece. According to Richard Greene‘s Graham Greene: A Life in Letters, Louise had assisted her uncle with the compilation of his second volume of autobiography and clearly the preferential treatment her company was afforded was by way of thanks. Greene wrote warmly to her in June 1980, describing her as a ‘wonderful publisher’ in whom he had ‘absolute trust’.
Finally, the US edition of The Potting Shed (1957) appeared in print a year ahead of the UK, but for a very different reason. The US production of the play was performed in Broadway in 1957 whereas the UK West End version took place in 1958. Again, the publication of the script in America would have coincided with the first performance date.
Curiously, there appears to be a market for these true first editions of A Burnt-Out Case. An internet search will reveal that both Utbränd and Udbraendt (but curiously not Utbrent) command unusually high prices in comparison with the other non-UK first edition titles mentioned above. Why is this? Perhaps the subject matter of this novel appeals more to the mind-set of Swedish and Danish Graham Greene aficionados than other of his works or maybe there are a greater number of true first edition ‘purists’ around than one might imagine.
Issue 84 November 2020
The Problematic Chronology of Greene’s ‘The Basement Room’
In the essay entitled ‘The Fallen Idol: From Story to Screen’ in Studies in Victorian and Modern Literature: A Tribute to John Sutherland, ed. William Baker (London: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press and Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2015), pp. 275-81, Professor David Lodge claims that there is a radical flaw in the chronology of the story ‘The Basement Room’ (which evolved into the excellent film, The Fallen Idol). In the story, the young protagonist is called Philip. David Lodge says:
In describing Philip on his deathbed, sixty years after the main action, the narrator is not prophesying, but reporting. Because the story was first published in 1936, the character cannot have died at a later date; therefore, the main action, when Philip was seven years old, must be taking place no later than 1869. In fact, it is represented as taking place well into the twentieth century – there are references to motor-cars and airplanes [sic], and to the Artillery Memorial at Hyde Part Corner (erected in 1925) – and in the absence of any contrary indication one assumes that it is set in the mid-1930s. I am not aware that this anomaly has ever been commented on before… [p. 278,]
Lodge says that the story was first published in 1936. Certainly ‘1936’ is the date appended to the tale in Graham Greene’s Complete Short Stories: see p. 131 of the volume published by Penguin in 2005. In fact, the tale was first published in ‘The Basement Room’ and Other Stories (London: Cresset Press) in 1935, a year earlier; and this is the text I quote below. Certainly, the London described seems to be the London of 1935. There are references not only to the cars, aeroplanes and the Memorial mentioned by Lodge, but also to fish-and-chip shops, celluloid collars, the Daily Mail for a penny, and a cinema with a commissionaire; and the presence of a policewoman at the police station is regarded as normal. Philip knows Emil and the Detectives, which was first published in 1929. The butler, Baines, refers to a time when, at the Coast in Africa, he commanded forty indigenous men. This is probably a memory of service in the Great War in the British Gold Coast (subsequently Ghana). Baines now seems to be about 45, his wife about 50, and Philip is certainly said to be seven years old.
There are several references to Philip’s death sixty years later. On learning from Philip that Mr Baines is spending the night with a young woman, Mrs Baines tells Philip that if he promises not to reveal her knowledge, she will give him a Meccano set. The narrator comments:
He was only anxious to forget. He had already received a larger dose of life than he had bargained for, and he was scared. ‘A 2A Meccano set, Master Philip.’ He never opened his Meccano set again, never built anything, never created anything, died, the old dilettante, sixty years later with nothing to show rather than preserve the memory of Mrs. Baines’ malicious voice saying good-night, her soft determined footfalls on the stairs to the basement, going down, going down. [p. 23]
Mrs Baines goes downstairs to intercept her husband and his partner; Philip shouts a warning; Baines and his wife tussle on the stairs; and Mrs Baines falls to her death in the hallway. Philip hurries outside. In the garden, he reflects:
Let grown-up people keep to their world and he would keep to his, safe in the small garden between the plane trees. ‘In the lost childhood of Judas Christ was betrayed’: you could almost see the small unformed face hardening into the deep dilettante selfishness of age. [p. 38]
(The passage of poetry by George William Russell, from ‘Germinal’, is correctly ‘In the lost boyhood of Judas / Christ was betray’d’: i.e., a marred childhood mars the man.) As a result of remarks by Philip, Baines’s attempt to depict the death as an accident is foiled, and later Baines will presumably be hanged for murder or given a long prison-sentence for manslaughter. When Philip is on his deathbed, the only watcher is his secretary (p. 52). We realise that Philip was so traumatised by his early encounter with adulterous passion, jealousy and the resultant death that his subsequent life has been characterised by retreat from the world of passion, of commitments. That recurrent word ‘dilettante’ suggests that he has been a mere dabbler in life. There is no wife, lover or offspring at his bedside as he dies.
That death takes place in 1995, sixty years after the main action described. And why not? David Lodge says of Philip that ‘the character cannot have died at a later date’ than the date of publication of the tale. To which I reply, ‘There is no such rule!’ No rule forbids, in a fictional work, the description of an event which takes place after the time of publication of that work. In a science-fiction novel, Wells’s The Time Machine, the setting is more-or-less the time of publication, 1895; the hero travels to times in the distant future; and on a second attempted journey, he apparently dies. In the last paragraph of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, we are told of Scrooge, ‘He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived on the Total-Abstinence-Principle ever afterwards’. As the main action of the Christmas Carol is set in approximately the time of publication (1843), that glimpse of Scrooge ‘ever afterwards’ must surely take us decades into the future. Dickens’ Hard Times (1854) has a concluding section in which the narrator tells us of the futures of various characters – including Josiah Bounderby, who, ‘five years to come’, dies in the street. And, once again, I ask, ‘Why not?’. In ‘The Basement Room’, Greene has exploited the chronological flexibility available to all fiction-writers, and it is strange that David Lodge, himself a brilliant fiction-writer, has forgotten this law of permissive flexibility.