Cycnos | Volume 25 n°1 - 2007 Graham Green, The Power and the Glory 

René Gallet  : 

Newman, Greene and The Power and the Glory


On s’est peu intéressé à la longue épigraphe de Newman ajoutée à The Lawless Roads, ou à sa portée éventuelle dans The Power and the Glory. Greene a dit et redit l’importance de la pensée de Newman comme facteur intellectuel de sa conversion. On s’aperçoit que la philosophie religieuse du penseur victorien sous-tend une bonne part de la vision de la nature, de l’homme et de Dieu telle que l’exprime le roman. L’auteur critique visiblement le présupposé du lieutenant selon lequel l’observation scientifique du monde matériel permettrait de connaître avec certitude la réalité d’un Dieu. Comme Newman, Greene souligne le rôle central du monde intérieur, en particulier comme “conscience”, ainsi que le montrent l’attitude de Coral et, moins attendue, celle de Mr Tench.


mots-clés : éthique de la responsabilité , littérature catholique, Newman, philosophie religieuse


Texte intégral

1Many readers of The Lawless Roads must have been struck or puzzled by its long epigraph taken from “Cardinal Newman”’s Apologia. One immediate question concerns its relevance to the rest of the book.

2 In what may be taken as the central chapter in the narrative, the title “The Godless state” partly sounds like a rephrasing of a quotation made by Newman himself in his text: “having no hope, and without God in the world”. The phrase “the Godless state” recurs a number of times, and a wider resonance of the word “state” seems to be implied on one or two occasions. “State” could occasionally also be understood as “condition” (cf. Newman’s phrase, “condition of his being”, occurring in the passage about the “aboriginal calamity” [Newman 1965, 279]). And in the section called “Tabascan Sunday” (Greene 1950, 153), or at the beginning of the next chapter, the phrase does seem to take on a wider meaning as a result of its relation to universal notions like “the world and the flesh” (“and who can judge the temptation to such a priest, living in a Godless state, and seeing the world and the flesh grossly triumphant […]” [Greene 1950, 200]). At any rate the relation to Newman’s epigraph is obvious. And in such a context “state” could be thought to approach Pascal’s description of man’s condition without God (“misère de l’homme sans Dieu”).  The quotation from the Bible made by Newman (“having no hope, and without God in the world”) was also used in the first personal part of the Prologue (Greene 1950, 6).

3Another argument for a wider perspective is that the chapter called “The Godless state” is not concerned only with the totalitarian measures against the Church prevailing in Tabasco. The shooting of priests against the wall of the cemetery is mentioned in the “Tabascan Sunday” section, just before the section devoted entirely to “A Dentist’s Life”, the dentist being quite a harmless figure as far as anti-religious persecution is concerned. Yet this section, bearing directly on a key character in the novel, ends with a reflection which brings us back to the epigraph : “[…] without a memory and without a hope in the immense heat, he loomed during those days as big as a symbol I am not sure of what, unless the aboriginal calamity, ‘having no hope, and without God in the world’ ” (Greene 1950, 156, italics mine). As in the novel, moral materialism, resulting in the indifference to others, and revolutionary idealism, leading to persecution, are thus placed side by side, as more or less direct illustrations of “the Godless state” or Newman’s “aboriginal calamity”.

4Two important characteristics of Mr Tench’s attitude to life can, in retrospect, be recognized. “Without a memory and without a hope” neatly summarizes his experience of time. He keeps forgetting, and the first sentence in the novel suggests an essential link between him and “ether” or unconsciousness. And if he claims to be an optimist (“ ‘I’ll forget all this. Oh, it won’t be long now. I’m an optimist’ ” [9]), this hope placed in forgetting is deeply ironical on the author’s part. The other key aspect in his attitude to life is his sense of abandonment which may be felt to be defined by the phrase (“without God in the world”) quoted in Newman’s epigraph. As a result of this, two of Mr Tench’s major characteristics can be traced to Newman’s view of human existence. And Mr Tench is a less minor character than he might seem at first.

References to Newman’s influence

5The presence of Newman’s epigraph in The Lawless Roads, with its consequences for the travel narrative as well as for the novel, merely confirms the role played by the Victorian thinker in Greene’s intellectual formation. Whereas the novelist can be hesitant in some of his statements as we have just seen (“I am not sure of what, unless …”), he  acknowledges his intellectual debt to Newman without any ambiguity: “Newman has always been staple reading of mine. I used to read him before my conversion, and often still do. I admire him greatly”1 (Greene 1950a, 130). In his next remark we are brought back to my starting point: “ My report on Mexico, The Lawless Roads, bears as an epigraph the following long paragraph from the Apologia on the need to renounce the world”2. Greene’s brief final comment is worth noting: it adds another twist to the ambivalent notion of “abandonment” in the novel.

6This is part of a conversation held in Paris in December 1949 (“Paris, déjeuner du 20 décembre 1949”) with a Jesuit, Father Jouve, and the French intellectual Marcel Moré. The text was published in the then influential magazine Dieu Vivant. Greene mentions Newman in a reply to Marcel Moré who had first brought the latter’s name into the conversation. The centrality of Newman’s vision for the novelist, in this statement at least, cannot be missed: “staple reading” shows that this was no casual reading, and, though partly an overstatement, “always” is specified in the following sentence: “I used to read him before my conversion”. This throws some light on the idea of “conversion” in Greene’s case, “conversion” being definitely a “complex word” to use Empson’s phrase. The name “Newman” itself is another complex word. It can refer to the philosopher (as illustrated in particular in his Grammar of Assent [1870]) or the theologian (not to the mention the historian of theology, the intellectual or religious leader and other less prominent aspects of his career). If we are to trust Greene’s repeated statements on the subject, it seems to be clear that Newman’s philosophy of religion influenced him most in his adoption of Catholicism (Newman’s philosophy of religion should be distinguished from his theology, a field in which other influences than Newman’s seem to have intervened, like that of Péguy, and of which I shall say little or nothing).

7According to the above-mentioned statement, Greene’s reading of Newman began before his conversion. It should also be pointed out that, at this stage at least, no other thinker is referred to as having played a similar role. It is therefore deeply puzzling, if not disturbing, that a major Newman scholar like I. Ker should not mention Newman’s name in the chapter devoted to the novelist in his recent book, The Catholic Revival in English Literature, 1845-1961 (2003).

8In a much later context, Greene returns to this intellectual phase of his life in his long interview with Marie-Françoise Allain, L’Autre et son double (1981). Again Newman’s considerable influence on him figures prominently: “But I would reject the term ‘Catholic writer’. Cardinal Newman, whose writings much influenced me after my conversion, said there was no such thing as Catholic literature”3 (Greene 1981, 212). The primary context is no longer that of his conversion but of his view of literature in connection with religion. And Newman’s powerful influence is now described as having come into play after his conversion. This may not be incompatible with his previous statement: “I used to read him before my conversion” might mean that the reading did take place at this stage, but with no special intellectual impact on him as yet. Greene’s deep interest in the Victorian thinker is confirmed later by L. Duran’s recollections of his conversations with the novelist: “Newman, one of the men who had most influenced Greene” (Duran 112)4.

9Concerning his conversion itself, in the ordinary sense of the term, circumstances of a different nature were involved, as we know, those of his impending marriage to a Catholic. But Greene is at pains to stress that this had aroused curiosity about her religion, without any intention of adopting her faith (“I had no intention of becoming a convert”5 [Greene 1981, 203]). He is also quite emphatic that arguments were what he expected or was looking for, and that ultimately his conversion was “purely intellectual” (Greene 1981, 203). Similar comments about the mode of his conversion can be found in his 1989 interview for The Tablet: “ ‘I was much more interested in the theological arguments. I read a good deal of theology during that period […]’ ” (the italics are worth noting, and “theology” in Greene can mean natural theology, that is a form of philosophy). Then to the question “ ‘Which theological writers influenced you’ ”, the answer is “‘Newman, von Hügel, Unanumo’ ” (Greene 2006, 127). The latter is mentioned primarily for his “spirituality”, and Newman still comes first.

10Even when Newman’s name is left unmentioned, his influence can be detected. In Journey Without Maps, Greene writes: “I had not been converted to a religious faith. I had been convinced by specific arguments in the probability of its creed” (Greene  1950b, 263).  In substance this is what Greene repeats to Marie-Françoise Allain in 1981: “The arguments of Father Trollope of Nottingham are what convinced me of the probable existence of a God”6 (Greene 1981, 203). No mention of the Victorian thinker is made in either occurrence. But the remarks are reminiscent of Newman’s strongly held view that faith is not simply a matter of “feeling”, as with Evangelical Protestants or even since Luther, but an “intellectual act” (Newman 1923, 27-8). And in this “intellectual act” the notion of “probability” is most important.  

11 In the second statement, Father Trollope’s name appears instead of that of the religious philosopher. But the term “probability” in both instances is a fairly clear indication that Father Trollope’s line of argument was following Newman’s. Further investigation would be required to be absolutely sure that Father Trollope was himself influenced by Newman’s thought or used it in his discussions with Greene. However, the type of arguments used by him and based on probability is characteristic of that of Newman as developed at length in his classic An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent. That Newman’s specific arguments on this important philosophical issue should have carried such weight with Greene is not unprecedented. It had had some similar impact on W. Pater as can be seen in Marius the Epicurean or in his unpublished essay on Newman.

The impact of Newman’s philosophy on The Power and the Glory

12I am not suggesting that Greene’s novel is a mere translation of Newman’s philosophy in the relevant fields. But that it helped him give meaning and shape to the experience and ideas displayed there seems beyond question, though this did not take place without some adjustment to Greene’s own perspective and without the contribution of other sources. I have concentrated on less striking aspects of the novel. This is where its philosophical underpinning is most visible.

13First, limited echoes of Newman can be detected. The presence of his views can be felt in the portrait of more than one character. I shall focus primarily on the lieutenant and Coral. The central character, the priest, is far too complex for a short paper to deal with seriously, and his case also involves major theological aspects which, as far as I can see, are less clearly related to Newman’s views on the subject.

Thelieutenant’s certaintyabout the knowledge of Nature

14In the substantial intellectual portrait given of the lieutenant shortly after his entering the story, one of the first indications given concerns his “complete certainty” about the nature of the universe: “He was a mystic, too, and, what he had experienced was vacancy - a complete certainty in the existence of a dying, cooling world, of human beings who had evolved from animals for no purpose at all. He knew” (19, italics mine). The ironical distance can already be felt in the conflation or confusion of (implicitly scientific) knowledge (“evolved”) and religious vocabulary (“mystic”). And the lieutenant’s irrational attitude in his “complete certainty” is confirmed a few lines further, when Greene writes: “But he believed against the evidence of his senses […]”. The empiricist claims assumed in the scientific and philosophical doctrine followed by the lieutenant are now comically turned against him.

15This ironical distance is based on specific philosophical points. Long before the formal debate towards the end of Part III, another intellectual confrontation is already taking place. In the present case it is not between the policeman and the priest but between a disciple of Newman and a representative of Spencer and the authors of the antireligious “Thinkers’ Library”, as Greene informs us in The Lawless Roads (14), with names like Spencer, Wells, or the notorious author of The Riddle of the Universe, Haeckel (Pichot 103-5).

16Bearing in mind Newman’s and Greene’s emphasis on “probability” in essential aspects of human knowledge, it is fairly obvious that the lieutenant’s idea of “certainty” is being questioned. And in Newman’s view this kind of “certainty” has a merely “notional” character (Newman 1906, 9); it belongs with the kind of “paper logic” (Newman 1965, 225) which does not really concern “the concrete being that reasons”. The “notional” character of the truth about the universe adopted by the policeman should be contrasted with what Newman terms “real apprehension”: “Real Apprehension is [...] in the first instance an experience or information about the concrete” (Newman 1906, 23). An example of “real apprehension” is provided by Luis at the end of the novel. He had been more than sceptical about the stereotyped narratives of martyrdom forced on him by his mother, but the reality of religious life is “brought home” to him, when he realizes that the victim of the execution had actually visited his house: “it brought it home to one” (219). This may even echo a phrase used by Newman in similar contexts (“brought home to us”, [Newman 1965, 111 ; Newman 1906, 159]).

17It is not just the inadequate rationality of the lieutenant’s mental attitude that is pointed out in the present confrontation.  A central tenet of his belief is also challenged, especially in the consequence he draws from it. The phrase “[...] human beings who had evolved from animals for no purpose at all” (19, italics mine) reads like an allusion to the Darwinian deconstruction of the “argument from design”. The argument had been put forward in England especially by Paley, a major target of Darwin’s Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of the Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (Gallet 2004, 112-3). According to this standard argument, the extreme complexity displayed by a living organism testifies to a transcendent or divine intelligence and purpose (this was an argument thought to be irresistible by deistic promoters of the Enlightenment, like Voltaire, in the eighteenth century, and favoured nowadays by American Evangelicals in particular).

18For reasons different from those of Darwin, Newman also distrusted such an argument (this placed him in a rather original position in the Victorian evolutionary debate). In his view, the examination of the living world could ultimately provide neither proof nor disproof of the existence of a God, especially in the Christian sense of a “loving and merciful God” (19). “Mercy” is absolutely central to Greene’s vision of God (and to the “glory” shown in the novel – the connection between “mercy” and “glory” is implied in the quotation from St John and the liturgy [173]). The lieutenant’s view is thus diametrically opposed to that of the novelist. By describing his character as “infuriated”, the author again stresses the irrational aspect of the lieutenant’s attitude. And this irrationality is perceived once more in the light of Newman’s reasoning. Contrary to Newman, the policeman believes that the consideration of Nature can disprove the reality of such a merciful God. For a reader of Newman like Greene, he is deliberately made to sound intellectually naïve or, at least, ignorant of Newman’s 1855 lectures on “Christianity and physical science” and “Christianity and scientific investigation”, added to The Idea of a University.  For Newman, as we have seen, the consideration of the physical world can neither prove nor disprove the existence of a merciful God. This truth can be discovered only through Revelation (Newman 1923, 453-4), and cannot be confirmed or gainsaid by science. Generally speaking, for him, science and religion deal with ultimately separate aspects of reality, and, in spite of appearances, no real conflict between them can occur.

Coral and conscience

19If the lieutenant may be felt to appear as a negative example, standing for the kind of philosophical outlook based on the consideration of the physical universe, Coral can be viewed as the opposite pole, the positive one illustrating the centrality of conscience, or of the inner world.Some direct confrontation and comparison between the two does take place: “She was as inflexible as the lieutenant [...]” (31), though, of course, it is not presented exactly in these terms and the connection with Newman is not immediately apparent.

20 Newman’s religious philosophy is based not primarily on the outer physical world, but on the inner one, and more particularly on the experience of conscience. A few words may be necessary to avoid misconceptions about this difficult idea of “conscience”inNewman’s thought. More common or recent definitions of the term must first be suspended if we are to grasp what he means by this. The Freudian idea of a “superego” repressing unconscious impulses would not do justice to his conception. Besides, Freud’s view is rooted in, and largely derived from a completely different philosophical school, that of Schopenhauer, (Henry 214, passim), which was immensely influential in the last decades of the nineteenth century and in the following ones. For Newman, “conscience” does act as a judge of aspects of the subject’s behaviour, but, as seen in the novel, it can also lead to rebellion against the adult world. Conscience, as an active principle in man, also implies more than “consciousness”, since it can be repressed and somehow become unconscious (this seems to be one aspect of Mr Tench’s frequent lapses of memory). More positively, conscience includes these psychological dimensions while grounding them in something like the ultimate reality of the individual. In this sense, it could be compared with Coleridge’s “primary imagination” which, in chapter XIII of his Biographia Literaria, he defines as the active repetition of the infinite or divine “I Am” in the finite human subject.

21In his Grammar of Assent, which Greene seems to have read, Newman writes about his view of “an ordinary child [...] one who is safe from influences destructive of his religious instincts” (Newman 1906, 112). This child, Newman goes on to explain, “keenly understands that there is a difference between right and wrong”. The intensive adverb “keenly” is worth noting since Coral similarly shows a “keen” sense of right and wrong: “ ‘[…] He [the lieutenant] hadn’t any right’ ” (31). In her case, this sense of what is right or not was not acquired from her adult environment, which proves so irresponsible, if not childish. But she does more than “understand”; in her attitude “understanding” and responding are almost one and the same thing. This certainly links up with the principle of “responsibility”, a prominent idea in the novel. And on her first appearance, Coral is equated with this principle of “responsibility” (28), which can be understood as an active illustration of Newman’s notion of conscience, whereas, from the same perspective, the lieutenant would represent a misguided intellectual dependent on the philosophy of thinkers like Spencer or Huxley.

22However, one difference with Newman’s approach should be taken into account. For Newman, the child’s experience of conscience involves a religious dimension: “it involves the impression on his mind of an unseen Being with whom he is in immediate relation” (Newman 1906, 113). On the other hand, Coral frankly states her lack of religious belief: “ ‘You see, I don’t believe in God. I lost my faith when I was ten’ ” (37). Yet, her attitude has nothing to do with that of the lieutenant. And “loss” means that some “faith” was there initially, as in Newman’s view. The “loss” may have resulted from adult “influences destructive of [...] religious instincts” in the child (Newman 1906, 112). To say the least, the irresponsible behaviour of her parents on such a major metaphysical issue cannot have been of great help to her initial “faith”.

23Some evolution can also be observed in her attitude. Later in the novel she begins to face the question in a different way. She asks for her mother’s view on the subject: “ ‘Mother,’ the child said, ‘do you believe there’s a God?’ ” (49). The indefinite article (“a God”) is typical of Newman’s phrasing at this initial stage of  a rational approach of the problem (Newman 1965, 276). There are further indications that she not only has an open mind on the subject, but that she is considering it seriously: “ ‘Oh’, she said, ‘I’ve been thinking’ ” (49). “Thinking”, in the novel, can mean that a character is moving closer to reality or some form of truth, even in Mr Tench’s case: “Mr Tench was lost in thought beside the window” (216). At the very least, her attitude is to be contrasted with the lieutenant’s “fury”.

24Coral is often seen as the priest’s spiritual daughter. But she is also, in a sense, a spiritual master to him. In context, the confession: “He realized how much he had counted on this child” (139) assumes wider resonance than the practical considerations that follow. The recurrence of the door symbol (140), associated with Coral and “responsibility” from the very start (28), suggests as much. The case of the priest’s own daughter, Brigitta, should also be considered, along with that of the other children present in the story. But I have tried to do so elsewhere (Gallet 2007, 41).

25Apart from the limited points I have been examining, the structure of the whole vision found in The Power and the Glory, with its contrast between the degraded human world and the image of right and beauty given by conscience, also seems indebted to Newman.

26This brings us to the question of “Greeneland” and its status. First, it might be pointed out that all physical settings in the novel do not fit such a description. The Indian plateau or the place where the Lehrs live have different characteristics. Greene is also quite explicit about Mr Tench’s seedy world, which originates in the character’s own choice dating back to a remote personal “aboriginal calamity”: “The hot wet river-port and the vultures lay in the wastepaper basket, and he picked them out” (6). “Picked them out” also contains an element of choice, resembling Sartre’s idea of “project”. The dentist’s world is something like the objective correlative of his own personal “project”.

27This seedy world resulting from some “aboriginal calamity” (the phrase used in the epigraph to The Lawless Roads), does not correspond to the true nature of things, and in Newman’s reflection on the subject, the idea of an abandoned world is not based only, or primarily, on the direct experience of outer reality. It is based on a comparison with contrary evidence coming from inner experience, and more particularly what can be discovered through “conscience”. This is what leads him to the suggestion of some “aboriginal calamity” in the history of mankind. A possible misconception ought to be dispelled here. Newman is usually careful in his use of words. And if he avoids the more conventional phrase “original sin”, it is because his reasoning on this point, in the Apologia as in the Grammar of Assent, is based on a philosophical approach, not on Revelation. When reading the Apologia’s long development on the subject in full (Greene quotes only part of it in his epigraph), Newman’s line of reasoning becomes transparent. His first logical step (“Starting then […]” [Newman 1965, 277]) concerns inner reality, providing him with the double certainty of his “own existence” and of “the being of a God”. Then comes the second step: “[...] I look out of myself into the world of men, and there I see a sight which fills me with unspeakable distress. The world seems simply to give the lie to that great truth, of which my whole being is so full”. The suggestion of some “terrible aboriginal calamity” is put forward as an attempt to reconcile the two conflicting sets of data.

28Does this bear on the way Greene saw things before or when he wrote the novel? The idea of a confrontation between an inner sense of beauty and a treacherous human world is not only present, but recurrent in some of his essays. In “Henry James: the religious aspect”, for instance, he writes: “The novels are only saved from the deepest cynicism by the religious sense; the struggle between the beautiful and the treacherous is lent, as in Hardy’s novels, the importance of the supernatural […]” (Greene 1951, 36). The two notions are also found in the novel though their logical connection is not so immediate (“treachery”, “beautiful”, [94]), and “glory” also plays its part at this point in the text.

29The word “treacherous” is highly significant, of course, apart from its being rooted in a vision largely derived from Newman’s, or developed thanks to Newman’s philosophy. On the one hand, it shows that “beauty” is not to be seen in an aesthetic, but spiritual light. It corresponds to man’s deep-lying reality, probably related to what Greene terms “God’s image” (98) (the phrase has a different focus in the Grammar of Assent [Newman 1906, 112, for instance]). “Treacherous” also indicates that evil is a secondary, not fundamental, characteristic of mankind. Evil betrays some principle of beauty pre-existing in man. Though this is less obvious, the principle of beauty seems to be understood as something dynamic requiring some active fidelity as well as resistance to the contrary forces in the outer world.

30The connection made between the two notions may strike one as not completely consistent. One would expect “ugliness” to be given as the opposite of “beauty”. In the novel, the word can be found, for example concerning the “mongrel bitch” (140) the fugitive discovers instead of Coral. But this ugliness does not seem to be an inherent characteristic of the dog. It is the result of various forms of degradation revealed by the negative form (“hadn’t had food”) and the numerous past participles (“bent”, “wounded”, “broken”, “abandoned”). More importantly perhaps, this ugliness is also the result of a comparison between the priest’s own positive expectation centring on Coral (“He realized how much he had counted on this child.” (139); “like hope” [140]), and his sudden coming up against this form of degraded reality. The scene also dramatizes the experience of “treachery” in connection with the world. And this might be seen as transposing the contrast developed by Newman between positive inner experience and a degraded outer world. The two conflicting aspects of life also occur on either side of the “doorway”. Deeper implications in this “doorway” are not unlikely, when one bears in mind its openly symbolic meaning in connection with the dentist’s transition from childhood to the external adult world: “There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in” (6). Through his partial identification with Coral, the priest experiences a similar fateful transition into a world of “horrors and degradations” (6). Incidentally such a contrast is also reminiscent of Wordsworth’s vision in the first four stanzas of his ode on immortality. And Wordsworth was one of Greene’s favourite poets (Greene 1950, 134).

Treachery vs rebellion

31If treachery, in the form of seediness, ugliness or horror, is the more striking consequence of this conflict between conscience and the outer world (or human behaviour), the opposite of treachery, rebellion against this degraded world, is also found. In fact the two appear to be interdependent.

32Some confirmation of this may be present in the very first paragraph of the novel, where ugliness or seediness dominate. But if there was nothing more than this environment, in other words if it was only a fact of nature, possibly perceived in an expressionistic light, why should Greene also mention the dentist’s inner protest, his “faint feeling of rebellion”? And this feeling of rebellion is present as early as the third sentence. It is practically simultaneous with the perception of the degraded environment, as if the two were also interdependent. Even Mr Tench would appear to be a disciple of Newman. The consequences of the “aboriginal calamity” are resented by him because some inner force or principle conflicts with this unpalatable spectacle.

33It may sound at first like a rather wild claim to suggest that the “faint feeling of rebellion” in Mr Tench’s “heart” (the word is worth noting) might or should be compared with Newman’s idea of “conscience”, but this is given some support by the narrator who speaks of his “responsibility” in the following paragraph, in a context remaining basically the same.

34In Mr Tench’s case “rebellion” is only “faint” presumably because his active conscience is repressed or stifled, and the outer reality he finds repulsive is, to a large extent, a reflection of himself. Yet, his response is sufficient for him to be compared with Coral on an essential point. She also rebels against the lieutenant’s intrusion and, more remotely, a representative of the “Godless state”. Both possess an inner criterion and power which makes it possible for them to judge and, as the case may be, resist circumstances. This is revealed, one may feel, in their shared idea of what is “right” or not.

35 Confronted with the lieutenant’s violent intrusion, Coral declares fearlessly: “ ‘He hadn’t any right…’ ” (31). Surprisingly enough, the notion is also used by Mr Tench when he recalls the political violence leading to the destruction of the church and his saving of the (highly symbolic) stained glass: “ ‘I got it [...] when they sacked the church. It didn’t feel right - a dentist’s room without some stained glass’ ” (7). The partial fragmentation of the syntax in the second sentence, due to the punctuation, deserves special attention as various critics have pointed out in similar instances. Here the dash works like a run-on line in verse, making the word “right” momentarily independent from the following elements, and giving it wider semantic resonance. In this resonance a link can be felt to be briefly formed with the preceding sentence, so that a kind of syntactic counterpoint, comparable to that of music, begins to be felt. The submerged syntactic structure would then read: “when they sacked the church. It didn’t feel right [...]”. When made explicit like this, the dentist’s response and protest is comparable to that of Coral in front of the lieutenant’s intrusion. The difference lies in the weaker force of the protest, which is in keeping with the “faint rebellion” mentioned in the opening sentences of the chapter. The submerged voice of protest in the double, or counterpointed, syntax I have been describing would correspond precisely to the suppressing of conscience which is so typical of Mr Tench. As soon as we move to the next clause, beyond the dash, in the more explicit syntactic layer of the text, the meaning of the sentence is refocused on trivial matters, the decoration suitable for a dentist’s room, in other words the seedy world linked to the dentist’s predominantly irresponsible attitude. (Additional support would be given to the preceding comments if attention were paid to another significant element in the scene, the striking presence of “beauty” in the dentist’s environment [Gallet 2007, 32-3]).  I would suggest that this kind of counterpoint, either in syntax or in words, is by no means limited to the present example and it can, on other occasions as well, express the conflict between outer degradation and conscience.

36What remains essential, in my view, is that Coral and the dentist should ultimately share this faculty of conscience in varying degrees.  A few words should be said about the variation in its intensity. In Mr Tench’s case conscience is reduced to a “faint” existence, as we have seen. The suppression or repression of its power seems to be a major factor in the existential malaise or neurosis (in Sartre’s sense of the term) associated with the dentist. This could be one way of understanding the forgetting which is typical of him, as well as his falling prey to recurrent nausea. On the contrary, at the end of the novel, a more positive sign in his attitude can be detected after he has witnessed the execution of the priest.  His memory shows signs of reviving. He begins to remember his own childhood and his own children, and plans to take a different path. Whether he will actually do so or not is another matter.

37Unlike Mr Tench, Coral gives free rein to her conscience. Her “sense of responsibility” is said to be “immense”. This is actually the first aspect mentioned in connection with her as she enters the story personally: “She stood in the doorway watching them with a look of immense responsibility” (28). The prominence given to this characteristic probably makes it more than a detail. “Immense responsibility” might be seen as signalling Coral’s major, if not emblematic, significance.

38The adjective “immense” is added to the idea of “responsibility”, and, in the novel, the noun usually implies an active form of “responsibility” about other characters (the notion was already used repeatedly in The Lawless Roads). This is exactly the opposite of the attitude of a “bystander”, the moral category providing the title of chapter 4 in the first part. “Immense” is not the only example of such a word used in a similar context. This attribute is transferred later to the priest: “He was aware of an immense load of responsibility” (63).

39This may bring us back to Greene’s pronouncement in his essay on James about the “struggle between the beautiful and the treacherous”. The “beautiful” can be betrayed also because it is presumably compared to the sense of “immense responsibility” illustrated by Coral and open to other characters as well. In this case the “beautiful”, in its “immensity”, verges on the sublime, not in its external or physical form, but corresponding to the inner or moral type defined by Kant in his Critique of Judgment, for instance. Newman goes further than Kant in this respect: conscience is more than the discovery in ourselves of a faculty transcending the senses. For him the experience of conscience brings the certitude both of the self and of an infinite divine being (“I feel it impossible to believe in my own existence (and of that fact I am quite sure) without believing also in the existence of Him, who lives as a Personal, All-seeing, All-judging Being in my conscience” [Newman 1965, 247]). It is far from sure that Greene actually follows Newman all the way on this point (which amounts to a sense of divine immanence in the individual’s conscience). But the presence of a form of inner sublime in the novel may help explain why Greene was so reluctant about the idea of “Greeneland”. What is usually meant by “Greeneland” is challenged by Coral’s conscience (in sharp contrast to her parents’ irresponsibility), and even by that of Mr Tench in its limited, though real form.

40In this respect Coral and the dentist could be seen as the two extreme attitudes in the novel, while retaining some common ground between them (other characters should be considered of course, but this would take us too far). The essential point, as I have already said, would be the degree of activity of this conscience. It “stirs” in a “faint” way in the dentist’s “heart” (1), whereas no power in the world, even a totalitarian one, can stop it in Coral’s case.

41It might be argued that one of the main issues in the novel is increasing the intensity of the characters’ response, or, to use more conventional phrasing, awakening their conscience from the deep or almost comatose state in which it may find itself. This is achieved largely through “calls” to which Catherine Lanone has drawn attention (99). This is more than a thematic aspect of the novel, since, on a deeper level, it largely determines its overall structure and provides much of its dynamics.

42In the opening scene of the book, the priest’s conscience is awakened by the call (both as a visit and as a reminder of where his duty lies) of the unimpressive, if not seedy messenger, though he looks in with “infinite patience” (10). And the priest deciphers the message, even if his response to it is a difficult one.  In this opening scene, a call occurs within a call, the second addressee being Mr Tench himself, and the messenger the disguised priest.

43In the conclusion of the novel, another, more personal call is made to Mr Tench’s conscience, through his patient who can be seen as the dying priest’s mouthpiece and who, beneath the trivial or seedy circumstances, asks him “ ‘What are you waiting for?’ ” (215). The deeper resonance of this call is unmistakable in view of the dentist’s thoughts immediately before this: “Good God, one ought to do something. This was like seeing a neighbour shot”.  Here “neighbour” is also likely to refer to the central New Testament notion of “prochain”, possibly even in an unconscious layer of Mr Tench’s conscience.

44This perspective, which is basically indebted to Newman’s philosophical paradigm, may even throw some light on the final scene with the knocking at the door while Luis is asleep. There is no need to expand on the obvious symbolism of this awakening. One point which might need stressing, however, is the remarkable extent to which this unexpected conclusion fits into the dynamics of the narrative. The knock on the door is not of a deus ex machina type. It has just been preceded by a similar call to the dentist (and even to Coral’s parents). In a sense such a call has been there all the time, from the very first pages. And if Luis’s conscience was asleep, repressed or misled by the attraction of the lieutenant’s gun and treacherous idealism, it was in no sense absent or dead (his rejection of his mother’s stereotypes is another sign of this). The vivid or “real” “apprehension” of the meaning of the priest’s presence (“it brought it home to one” [219]) leads him to an act of rebellion: his conscience defies the Godless state when he spits on the lieutenant’s “revolver-butt”. No explicit mention is made of his conscience, but its action can be recognized. “Brought it home” already reveals one of its attributes. And “memory”, often an aspect of conscience in the novel, comes into play decisively before the spitting (and the complex symbolism attached to it). Actually “remembered” (which is repeated, as in Mr Tench’s case a few paragraphs before [216]) refers to the lieutenant. But the boy’s facial expression (“the boy crinkled up his face” [219]) shows that he also remembers the previous incident and the executioner’s identity. His response suggests the opposite of that of the lieutenant whose inner condition is described: “the dynamic love which used to move his trigger-finger felt flat and dead”. “Trigger-finger” contradicts the idea of love, which is still there, however. But “dynamic love” and “move” are words which might apply to the boy’s inner reaction or conscience. “A feeling of rebellion stirred” in his “heart” (1), as it had stirred in Mr Tench’s heart in the opening scene. The difference is that it is no longer “faint” but “immense” as in Coral’s example, and this may have something to do with the “glory” mentioned in the title.

Notes de bas de page numériques

1 “Je me suis toujours nourri de Newman. Je le lisais avant ma conversion. Je le lis encore fréquemment. J’ai une grande admiration pour lui.”

2  “Mon reportage sur le Mexique, The Lawless Roads, porte dans l’édition anglaise, en exergue un long paragraphe de l’Apologia sur la nécessité d’abandonner le monde, que voici [the quotation follows]. ”

3  “Mais je réfute le terme d’écrivain catholique. Le cardinal Newman, dont la lecture m’a beaucoup influencé après ma conversion, niait l’existence d’une littérature ‘catholique’ ”.  

4   I am indebted to A. Grafe for this source.

5   “Je n’avais pas l’intention de me convertir”.

6   “Ce sont les arguments du Père Trollope de Nottingham qui  m’ont convaincu de la probabilité de l’existence d’un Dieu”.


Works cited

Greene, Graham. Journey Without Maps. 1936. London: W. Heinemann, 1950b

---. The Lawless Roads. 1939. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1950.

---. The Power and the Glory. 1940. London: Vintage, 2005.

---. “Propos de table avec Graham Greene”. Dieu vivant, n°16, 1950a.

---. The Lost Childhood and Other Essays. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1951.

---. L’Autre et son double. Entretiens avec Marie-Françoise Allain. Paris: P. Belfond, 1981.

---. Articles of Faith. The Collected Tablet Journalism of Graham Greene. Oxford: Signal Books, 2006.

Duran, Leopoldo. Graham Greene: Friend and Brother. 1994. Trans. E. Cameron. London: HarperCollins, 1995.

Gallet, René. Romantisme et postromantisme. De Wordsworth à Pater. Paris : L’Harmattan, 2004.

---. “L’abandon et l’appel, ou l’optimisme paradoxal de Graham Greene dans The Power and the Glory”. revueLISAe-journal. Université de Caen, septembre 2007.

 ---. (

Henry, Michel. La Généalogie de la psychanalyse. Paris: P. U. F., 1985.

Lanone, Catherine. The Power and the Glory. Graham Greene. Paris: CNED Armand Colin, 2006.

Newman, John Henry. An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent. 1870. London: Longmans, Green, and Co, 1906.

---. Apologia Pro Vita Sua. 1864. London and Glasgow: Fontana Books, 1965.

---. The Idea of a University (1852 & 1858). London: Longmans, Greene and Co, 1923.

Pichot, André. La société pure. De Darwin à Hitler. Paris: Flammarion, 2000.

Pour citer cet article

René Gallet, « Newman, Greene and The Power and the Glory », paru dans Cycnos, Volume 25 n°1 - 2007, mis en ligne le 10 mars 2010, URL :


René Gallet

René Gallet enseigne à l’Université of Caen. Après un travail sur G. M. Hopkins (G. M. Hopkins ou l’excès de présence, Paris, Fac Edition, 1984), il a publié des études à la frontière de la littérature et de l’histoire des idées, principalement sur le 19e siècle (Romantisme et postromantisme de Coleridge à Hardy, Paris, L’Harmattan, 1996; Romantisme et postromantisme de Wordsworth à Pater, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2004). Il a également traduit des poèmes de G. M. Hopkins (Le naufrage du Deutschland et autres poèmes, Paris, Orphée-La Différence, 1991) et de Geoffrey Hill (Scènes avec arlequins et autres poèmes, Paris, La Différence, 1998; Le triomphe de l’amour, Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, Cheyne, 2007).
Université de Caen