Two Periods, One Faith

Graham Greene’s Catholic Imagination

Mark Bosco, SJ

Oxford University Press, $47.50, 216 pp.

Like the writers associated with the term “Southern literature,” those associated as “Catholic novelists” have a shared achievement. In the case of the Catholic novel, the cast spans several nations—England (Waugh, Greene, Lodge), the United States (O’Connor, Percy), and France (Mauriac, Bernanos), to name a few. All wrote in the twentieth century, and each presents an image of lived Catholic faith in a world that challenges it. In this company, Graham Greene was the most prolific, and arguably the greatest. The particular challenge his novels present—the starting point of Mark Bosco’s illuminating study—is the widely held dictum that the forty-plus years of his imaginative work divides into two contrasting periods: one earlier and Catholic, the other later and “post-Catholic.” The novels thus present not continuity but rupture: the Catholic era, running from the publication of Brighton Rock (1938) through The Power and the Glory (1940), The Heart of the Matter (1948), and The End of the Affair (1951), is succeeded, even trumped by, a more despairing, post-Catholic set of excurses into politics and a return to Greene’s earliest work as a writer of thrillers and detective novels. Examples of the turn include Our Man in Havana (1958), A Burnt-Out Case (1961), The Honorary Consul (1973), and Dr. Fischer of Geneva, or the Bomb Party (1980).

Bosco demurs...

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About the Author

Richard A. Rosengarten is dean of the University of Chicago Divinity School.