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The Religious Affiliation of British Novelist
John Baxter, Bunuel, Carroll & Graf Publishers: New York City (1994), page 244:
Luis seems neer to have read Graham Greene, but there is an affinity between the work of the two men at this period [circa 1955]. Both were remote, ascetic, misanthropic, Catholic/atheist. Greene's protagonists in The Heart of the Matter and The Comedians, lonely men drifting along the edges of empire, troubled by moral doubts, losing themselves in casual infidelities but obsessed always with the lack of meaning in their lives, are interchangeable with Valerio and his equivalents inn Death in the Jungle and Fever Moments at El Pao, except that social justice rather than God saves Bunuel's men. The films are scattered with quasi-devotional fetish objects that Greene might have relished, like Valerio's photograph of a cement statue of Christ which World War II engineers in Africa had pressed into service as a telegraph pole, so that insulators branched from his face like exotic flowers.
From: John Irving, The Imaginary Girlfriend: A Memoir, Ballantine Books: New York (2002; copyright 1996), pages 28-34:
Catholics in general took the film badly. Bunuel was widely quoted as having joked, 'Thank God I'm still an atheist,' and though this was hardly original... it gained added venom coming from the mouth of so unregenerate an enemy of the Church. Some sticklers also complained about Luis showing a priest socializing with a dictator.
I can't read Proust, or Henry James; reading Conrad almost kills me... [Gunter] Grass, Garcia Marquez, and Robertson Davie are my three favorite authors; when you consider that they are all comoic novelists, for whom the 19th-century tradition of storytelling--of narrative momentum and developed characters--remains the model of the form, I suppose you could say that I haven't ventured very far from Dickens.
With one exception: Graham Greene. Greene was the first contemporary novelist I was assigned to read at Exeter; it would probably have provoked him to know that I read him not in an English class but in the Reverend Frederick Buechner's extremely popular course on Religion and Literature. [Buechner was a Presbyterian clergyman, a professor, and an author.] I took every course Fred Buechner taught at Exeter, not becuse he was the school minister but because he was the academy's only published novelist--and a good one... Anyway, we didn't like Freddy Buechner for his sermons in Phillips Church or in our morming chapel... It was his eloquence about literature that moved us; and his enthusiasm for Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory, which engendered my enthusiasm for all (or almost all) of Greene, was unstoppable.
I feel that I know Greene's people better than I know most of the people in my life, and they are not even people I wanted (or would ever want) to know: it is that simple. I cannot sit in the dentist's chair without envisioning the terrible Mr. Tench, the expatriate dentist who witnesses the execution of the whisky priest. It is not Emma Bovary who epitomizes adultery to me: it is poor Scobie in The Heart of the Matter, and poor Scobie's awful wife, Louise; it is Helen,the 19-year-old widow with whom Scobie has an affair, and the morally empty intelligence agent, Wilson, who is a little bit in love with Louise. And then there is the ghastly sleaziness of Brighton Rock: the utterly corrupted 17-year-old Pinkie, and the innocent 16-year-old Rose . . . the murder of Hale, and Ida drinking stout. They have become what an "underworld" means to me, just as The End of the Affair is the most chilling antilove story I know. Poor Maurice Bendrix! Poor Sarah and poor Henry, too! They are like people you would shy away from if you encountered them on the street, knowing what you know...
If, in the beginning--when I first read him in prep school--Graham Greene showed me that exquisitely developed characters and heartbreaking stories were the obligations of any novel worth remembering, it was also Greene, later, who taught me to loathe literary criticism; to see how the critics would dismiss him made me hate critics. Until his death in 1991, Graham Greene was the most accomplished living novelist in the English language; in any language, he was the most meticulous.
As Greene was always keen to observe: coincidence is everywhere. Greene's niece, Louise Dennys, is my Canadian publisher. The man who introduced me to Greene, the Reverend Frederick Buechner--no longer the school minister at Exeter--is my old friend and neighbor in Vermont. (Small world.) And it is only mildly astonishing to me that by the time I left Exeter I had already read most of the writers who would matter to me in my life as a writer...
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