The Pursuit of Justice: Graham Greene's Refiguring of the Detective Story in 'It's a Battlefield.'

By Diemert, Brian | Papers on Language & Literature, Summer 1994 | Go to article overview

The Pursuit of Justice: Graham Greene's Refiguring of the Detective Story in 'It's a Battlefield.'


Diemert, Brian, Papers on Language & Literature


Graham Greene remarked towards the end of his life that "in the twenties and thirties I was much interested in the detective story" ("Last Word" viii). These decades are routinely referred to as the golden age of the detective story by the genre's historians(1); however, the classical British detective story familiarly presented to us in the work of Christie or Sayers failed to meet Greene's demands that the story express both a sense of realism, and social and political concern. Aiming his attack at Sayers's novels particularly, he recalls in Ways of Escape that classical detective stories were, "[w]ith all their carefully documented references to Bradshaw's timetable or to the technique of campanology or to the geography - complete with plan - of a country house.... lacking in realism. There were too many suspects and the criminal never belonged to what used to be called the criminal class" (73). Instead, Greene preferred the "blood" or the thriller as the form best able to deal with the modern world:

There never was a school of popular English bloods. We have been damned from the start by middle-class virtues, by gentlemen cracksmen and stolen plans and Mr. Wu's. We have to go farther back than this, dive below the polite level, to something nearer the common life. (Reflections 65-66)

Although Greene is discussing the popular cinema here, the idea of going further back to the thrillers of Buchan, Childers, or Wallace, to name just three authors Greene enjoyed reading, inspired attempts in his own early fiction to adapt the detective story and the thriller to the political and social concerns of the day by recreating and restructuring these forms to produce a new kind of thriller not steeped in the jingoistic, even fascistic, ideology of the pre-World War I thrillers. This endeavour is most clearly seen in those texts Greene chose to call "entertainments," but is not exclusive to them. It's a Battlefield (1934), which he described as "his first overtly political novel" (Allain 87), was never considered an "entertainment," but it is, nonetheless, a text that marks the beginnings of Greene's attempts to rework the formula of the thriller in order to challenge the form's implied ideology and to bring political, social and economic concerns into popularwriting so as to make it the vehicle of both entertainment and "serious" purpose.

Considered one of his best novels in the thirties (Calder-Marshall 373), It's a Battlefield follows its textual precursor, Conrad's The Secret Agent, in using the thriller as it derives from the detective story to interrogate received and accepted ways of interpreting or reading the world and, by implication, texts. Detective fiction is a particularly apt genre for this purpose since, as Todorov and others have pointed out, the classical detective story is itself a story of reading.2Most clearly, the detective is a figure for the reader in the text, since the detective must read a text that is written by a criminal or murderer in the clues that he or she finds. However, the murderer attempts to keep this story hidden from the detective by creating a fiction, an alibi, which will conceal the true story of the crime. That is, the murderer is the author of a palimpsestic account of the murder, with the story of the crime as it really happened lying beneath a story of the crime claiming to be the truth of what happened. The detective is forced to interpret one text, the alibi, in such a way that he or she is able to uncover the hidden story that is the true account of events, for showing through the fictional account of the crime are indications of what actually happened. The detective story ends with the detective producing a new narrative, which is the explanation and interpretation of the criminal's fiction. In this way, "[d]etective fiction, particularly of the classical formula,... thematizes narrativity itself as a problem, a procedure, and an achievement" (Huhn 451). …

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

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.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Pursuit of Justice: Graham Greene's Refiguring of the Detective Story in 'It's a Battlefield.'
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
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?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    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.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.