Graham Greene's Thrillers and the 1930s

By DeCoste, Damon Marcel | Style, Fall 1997 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Graham Greene's Thrillers and the 1930s


DeCoste, Damon Marcel, Style


Brian Diemert Graham Greene's Thrillers and the 1930s. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1996. x + 237 pp. $44.95 cloth; 16.95 paper.

It did not seem fair to Conder that the products of his brain should be condemned to the same cycle as his body. Something should be left His body must decay, but some permanent echo should remain of the defective bathroom, the child with whooping cough. He began to write ....

Graham Greene, It's a Battlefield (1934)

Some seven years after the death of the man so often hailed as "our greatest living writer," Graham Greene's place in literary history and, more specifically, in the literary canon remains unsettled. Whether his work will attain that exalted immortality for which the journalist Conder hungers, or whether it will come to share that liminal position of semicanonization held by such other writers of the 1930s generation as George Orwell and John Dos Passos, has not, as yet, been decided. Moreover, the question of which works from his formidable corpus will continue to be studied, taught, and deemed worthy of critical response remains an open one. For Greene scholarship, now is the time when such issues are open to resolution, when the canonical future of Greene, and of his individual works, may be determined. In this critical context, Brian Diemert's study of Greene's early use of the thriller format, with its explicit concern for "the twin concepts of canon formation and critical authority, of privileging certain types of literary texts . . . over others" (5), is both an apposite and exciting addition to Greene criticism.

Certainly Diemert's treatment of Greene's early novels and thrillersRumour at Nightfall (1931) through The Ministry of Fear (1943)-is a timely one, for as he points out, these texts have been largely ignored by critics of Greene's work. Indeed, besides Diemert's analysis, there exists only one other book-length study of Greene's many "entertainments," namely Peter Wolfe's Graham Greene, The Entertainer, published in 1972. Yet Wolfe's study approaches these texts not as thrillers or detective fiction, but as further evidence of Greene's status as a Catholic novelist; thus these are, for him, all tales of "the potential saviour[,] not only a man with a mission[, but] also a man on the run" (9). Apart from this book, which thus largely elides the generic specificity of these texts, critics have, as Diemert observes, largely dismissed these novels as inferior, "genre" fictions (7-9). This, indeed, is a trend which continues in other recent attempts-for example, Peter Mudford's 1996 Graham Greene and Cedric Watts's 1997 Preface to Greene-to secure Greene's canonical status. In these studies, Greene's thrillers of the 1930s are either simply ignored, as in Mudford, or dismissed, as in Watts, as "blithely preposterous" or "strained and implausible" (45, 50), as inferior study pieces for the "serious" work to follow. The stage has then been set by both past and contemporary scholarship for the exclusion of these novels from any critically sanctioned Greene corpus, and Diemert's work is thus valuable, if only in that it pauses, at this decisive juncture in Greene's reception-history, to reconsider the merits and complexities, and the due claim to canonical status, of these largely overlooked works.

Yet the value of Diemert's study is not strictly the esoteric one of attending to the forgotten text. His book is also laudable both for the rigor with which it theorizes Greene's use of popular literary forms and for its thorough situation of this use in the context of the political and cultural debates of the 1930s. Diemert's impressive first chapter convincingly places Greene and his literary concerns in the crisis-laden milieu of this decade and reads his embrace of "genre" fiction "as part of a widespread response to the literature and criticism of high modernism . . . and to the political, socio-economic, and military crises of the 1930s" (5).

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Graham Greene's Thrillers and the 1930s
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?