Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh and Mexico
Brennan, Michael G
1. “It is before you cross a frontier that you experience fear” (Graham Greene)
IN 1951, the year in which The End of the Affair was published, Graham Greene also contributed a five-page introduction to John Gerard: The Autobiography of an Elizabethan, translated by Father Philip Caraman, S.J. – a composition which passes unnoticed in the three major biographies of Greene by Norman Sherry, Michael Shelden, and W.J. West. This introduction (also overlooked by most of Greene’s modern-day literary critics) may, at first sight, appear merely of incidental interest to his career as a novelist. It puts on record Greene’s intense admiration for the heroism and spiritual fortitude of Jesuit missionaries, both during the brutal Elizabethan persecutions of the 1580s and during the 1920s in modern Mexico. On one level, Greene’s willingness to attach his name (a potent marketing-device after the international success of The Heart of the Matter in 1948) to this translation was doubtless intended as a straightforward act of personal friendship. The translator was a respected member of an extensive London circle of Catholic literati, including Evelyn Waugh and Greene’s then mistress, Catherine Walston; and the idea for a new translation of Gerard’s work had come from Father Martin D’Arcy, the Provincial of the English Jesuits. However, on a deeper level, the vicissitudes of the Elizabethan Jesuit missionaries also seem to have exerted a strong emotional appeal, both heroic and spiritual, for Greene. His introduction to Caraman’s translation at first casts Gerard’s gripping narrative of his return to England, followed by his capture, interrogation and torture, as a kind of exciting “adventure” story. But this tone is then recast within a more somber and devotional framework: “(it would be more accurate, when we remember his narrow escapes, his disappointments and betrayals, the long terrible scene of his torture, to call it his Passion)” (vii).
This concept of delineating the “Passion” of the missionary priest is both powerful and arresting; and it is one which took firm root in Greene’s creative imagination during the second half of the 1930s. A key text perhaps the most important one – in considering the formulation of this spiritual concept in his writings is Greene’s first-hand account of the effects of the repression of the Catholic Church in Mexico, as recorded in The Lawless Roads (1939), a volume which is often categorized, rather flatly, as one of his major “travel” books. It seems now mainly prized either for its spectacularly vivid realizations of the oppressive landscapes of Mexico; or for its documentary relevance to the rise of Mexican socialism; or, most commonly for modern literary critics, on account of its germinal role in the inspiration of Greene’s most powerful and memorable depiction of the personal agonies and “Passion” of the ordinary, flawed man through the sufferings of the whisky priest in The Power and the Glory (1940). But The Lawless Roads (and it is significant that it was compiled soon after the intense preoccupation with hell, damnation, and the elusiveness of redemption in Brighton Rock) should also be considered for the insight it offers into the development of Greene’s own understanding of his personal but often doctrinally unorthodox adherence to a Catholic faith. Within the context of Greene’s exploration of his own often conflicting religious emotions in his fictional writings, The Lawless Roads becomes a pivotal text, drawing together many of the preoccupations of Brighton Rock and, at the same time, preparing the author for the intense devotional potency of The Power and the Glory.
Greene himself admitted in Ways of Escape (75) and The Other Man (154-5) that, following his conversion in 1926 (motivated primarily by a desire to please his future wife, Vivien Dayrell-Browning), his own Catholicism had hardly exceeded a dutiful formal observance of the statutory devotions. Only through his 1938 visit to Mexico (and also, to a lesser extent, in response to Franco’s attack on Republican Spain), did he finally achieve a more personal and emotional engagement with what, through Brighton Rock, had already become for him the three key polarities of Catholicism: heaven and hell, love and hate, salvation and damnation. In the torrid and murderous landscapes of The Lawless Roads, an environment perfectly matched to his idiosyncratic tastes for the extremities of the human condition, Greene finally found a world which demanded from him a more intense personal engagement with Catholicism. This engagement, however, did not blend seamlessly with his initial purposes as a writer in going to Mexico. The Lawless Roads, unlike his earlier “travel” work, Journey Without Maps (1936), is distinctive for a striking unevenness of structure, at least for an overtly journalistic work which purports to have a clear documentary purpose. It opens, for example, not in South America (or even with Greene’s outward voyage from Europe) but rather with a series of puzzling internalized reminiscences about Greene’s school days and childhood ‘fears. The first readers in 1939 of The Lawless Roads – many of whom would perhaps have been drawn to it by the success of Brighton Rock – were offered a disturbing “Prologue” which took them not to Mexico but first to the hellish landscapes of Berkhamsted School and its renowned “green baize door.” This was a world in which on one side his parents’ quarters, smelling of “books and fruit and eau-de-Cologne,” seem to represent a calm, socially ordered middle-class England; and on the other, the lawless iodine and ink-stained schoolrooms, presided over by the bullying Collifax, become a kind of allegorical Mexico: “one was aware of fear and hate, a kind of lawlessness – appalling cruelties could be practiced without a second thought … Hell lay about them in their infancy. There lay the horror and the fascination.” But – and the relevance of this “Prologue” to the subsequent chapters of The Lawless Roads now comes into clearer focus – it is only through this schoolboy world of extremities that the author can first experience the peace and solace of what he denotes as pure “faith.” Retreating into the school gardens, a kind of tainted Eden, from the fearful dichotomy symbolized by the “green baize door,” the young boy finds:
faith came to one – shapelessly, without dogma, a presence above a croquet lawn, something associated with violence, cruelty, evil across the way. One began to believe in heaven because one believed in hell, but for a long while it was only hell one could picture with a certain intimacy. (13-14)
Such language, of course, pointedly echoes that of Brighton Rock. It is as though the thoughts of Pinkie had contaminated Greene’s drafting of the “Prologue” to The Lawless Roads. This, of course, is entirely understandable since, as he notes in Ways of Escape (76, 82) the page-proofs of Brighton Rock were actually corrected by Greene during his Mexican journey. Although The Lawless Roads is habitually paired with The Power and the Glory, its “Prologue” suggests that it may also be regarded as a self-conscious continuation of the three central spiritual dichotomies of Brighton Rock.
As The Lawless Roads develops, specific political and geographical descriptions of Mexico are increasingly interrupted by the author’s apparently incidental spiritual musings and anxieties. The first chapter (maintaining the motif of the “green baize door”) is starkly titled “The Border” (23), and Greene frequently reiterates its symbolic significance: “It is before you cross a frontier that you experience fear” (104). The transitory peace experienced by the child on the croquet lawn at Berkhamsted is momentarily regained when Greene observes in Orizaba the celebrations of “Saint’s Night,” on one of those evenings “that conspire for happiness… during a few hours you experience peace” (95). Finding himself in a strange land, it is as though the author’s primary struggle lay not in physically locating himself in an alien and hostile landscape – the renowned precision and visual potency of his descriptions of Mexico are those of the cool, controlling (and increasingly confident) artist’s eye. Physically speaking, he seems entirely in command of his own geographical placement. But, at the same time, there are touches of uncertainty and questioning about exactly what moral and spiritual lessons should be drawn from this testing experience. The classrooms of Berkhamsted and Pinkie’s Brighton constantly intrude into the alien environment of Marxist Mexico: “No hope anywhere: I have never been in a country where you are more aware all the time of hate . . There has always been hate, I suppose, in Mexico, but now it is the official teaching” (127). It is as though the narrative of the objective journalist is repeatedly and bewilderingly thrown by the sheer intensity of what he sees and hears about the fortitude of the hunted priests and their congregations during the religious suppressions. As the political and geographical details of The Lawless Roads rapidly encompass the extremes of climate, politics, and religion, so they are increasingly utilized as a framework for a rather more self-questioning narrative of the author’s own spiritual education and, it might even be suggested, of his private “Passion” leading for the first time to his emotional engagement with religious belief.
2. “The haunted, trapped, murdered priest is our contemporary” (Evelyn Waugh)
WHY, then, link The Lawless Roads of the late-1930s to Father Caraman’s 1951 translation of the autobiography of an Elizabethan Jesuit? The first and indisputable reason is that Greene himself explicitly makes the connection between the two works. Quoting from Gerard’s own account of his nerve-racking arrival back on the east coast of England as a young Jesuit missionary, Greene comments in his 1951 introduction:
That homecoming has been enacted in many countries during our half-century since Father Pro landed at Vera Cruz in his bright cardigan and his striped tie and his brown shoes, but here, in Gerard’s narrative, it is happening in our own Norfolk, to us. (viii)
The Jesuit Miguel Pro had returned to his native Mexico in July 1926 at the age of twenty-five: “He came back to his own country from a foreign seminary much as Campion returned to England from Douai,” The Lawless Roads reports (19). The description of Father Pro’s habitual disguise (for the garb of a priest would have provoked instant arrest) in his introduction to Caraman’s translation also draws directly from the same paragraph in The Lawless Roads:
… he may well have worn the same disguise when he landed (the equivalent of Campion’s doublet and hose): a dark lounge suit, soft collar and tie, a bright cardigan. Most priests wear their mufti with a kind of uneasiness, but Pro was a good actor. (19)
In both descriptions, the English martyr Edmund Campion acts as a model for Greene’s understanding of the physical and spiritual heroism of Father Pro. Just as Campion’s memory was revered by English Catholics after his execution at Tyburn in December 1581 (and also served as an inspiration for the young missionary priests, including Father John Gerard, who followed him), so the official photographs of Father Pro’s execution, intended to publicize the government’s successful repression of the Catholic Church, served only to bolster the religious fervor of the common people. The possession of the image of him, “praying for his enemies by the pitted wall, receiving the coup de grace” (20) soon attained an iconic status among the Mexican peasantry, a gesture of silent resistance, made all the more powerful by futile government attempts to prohibit the possession of such photographs.
But simply noting the fact that Greene himself makes a direct comparison between Campion and Father Pro is only the first stage in an appreciation of the significance of this connection between The Lawless Roads and Father Gerard’s autobiography. The symbolic and devotional act of a missionary willingly crossing over a frontier into a dangerous and hostile territory becomes in The Lawless Roads the central motif for Greene’s personal understanding of the power and pervasiveness of Roman Catholicism in the face of brutal repression. Only through an understanding of the sheer power of hate, cruelty and violence – and a stoical testing of oneself against their pains – can a faith in goodness and love finally come to fruition. Such a duality is, of course, not only central to The Lawless Roads but also to Brighton Rock and The Power and the Glory. The reiterated juxtapositioning of Campion and Pro, a sixteenthcentury Englishman and a twentieth-century Mexican, effectively formulates a strong sense of the timeless battle of the soldiers of St. Ignatius of Loyola against the forces of evil. “For Mexico remained Catholic,” Greene notes at the end of the “Prologue” to The Lawless Roads, “it was a war … for the soul of the Indian” (20).
The England of Queen Elizabeth I and the Mexico of President Calles constantly interact with one another in The Lawless Roads. At first, in the “Preface,” the hints are merely subliminal, almost trivial. Greene playfully recalls Berkhamsted’s mundane “Tudor Cafe” and its photographer’s shop with the the genuine “diamonded Elizabethan pane” of glass (16). But by the end of the first chapter, “The Border,” Campion and Pro stand heroically alongside one another: “They had killed Campion, they said, for treason, not for his religion, and they said the same of Pro in 1927” (34). The same point is picked up in the third chapter, describing Greene’s impressions of Mexico City, but now in a tone of passionate spiritual conviction:
For the State puts its own interpretation on the word treason – and never punishes anyone for his religion. It is the technique the totalitarian State has always employed: in the time of Elizabeth in England, just as much as in Mexico, Russia, or Germany today, and Campion’s reply is still a valid one, “In condemning us you condemn all your own ancestors – all the ancient priests, bishops, and kings… For what have we taught, however you may qualify it with the odious name of treason, that they did not uniformly teach? To be condemned with these lights – not of England only, but of the world – by their degenerate descendants is both gladness and glory to us.” (75)
Greene’s preoccupation during the latter half of the 1930s with the Jesuit missions seems to have relied heavily upon two major sources: Evelyn Waugh’s popular biography, Edmund Campion, published in 1935 (the year in which both John Fisher and Thomas More were canonized 400 years after their executions); and a now long forgotten volume by the Jesuit Father Wilfred Parsons on the suppression of the Catholic Church in Mexico, entitled Mexican Martyrology (1936). Before considering Waugh’s handling of Campion’s life and martyrdom, it is also worth briefly recalling the important personal connection which links Edmund Campion directly to Father Caraman’s translation of Gerard’s autobiography. In July 1930 Waugh had been on the lookout for a Jesuit priest to instruct him in the Catholic faith. His friend, Olivia Plunket Greene, had found him Father Martin D’Arcy, and Waugh was duly received into the Church on September 29. In 1934 the lease on the Jesuit’s college at Oxford, Campion Hall, was coming up to expire and a decision had been retaken to build a new institution off St. Aldate’s. Father D’Arcy was then its Master and, as Martin Stannard has explained (385), Waugh wished to offer his literary skills as a way of offering thanks to his former instructor, “to whom, under God, I owe my faith.” Furthermore, Waugh had at first been considering writing a life of Pope Gregory XIII (who founded a system of seminaries for Roman Catholic priests and supported the Irish rebels against Queen Elizabeth I’s anti-Catholicism) but was deflected from this project by Father D’Arcy who suggested Campion as a preferable subject matter. Given that D’Arcy also advised Father Caraman to translate Gerard’s autobiography (and was instrumental in drawing Greene into this latter project since they were close friends by the early-1950s), it becomes apparent that the interest of two of England’s most influential twentieth-century novelists in commemorating the historical achievement of the Jesuit missions was far from being merely a random coincidence.
If, as can be argued, both Waugh and Greene were drawn into a deftly orchestrated literary campaign on behalf of the Jesuits, then Father D’Arcy’s impact on their respective literary careers, from the mid-1930s until the early-1950s, should be regarded as of the utmost significance. Waugh writes in Edmund Campion not only as a well-briefed journalist/historian but also as a fervent devotee of the Roman Catholic faith. His depiction of Campion as the prototype English Jesuit martyr (he had, in fact, taught at Douai the first of the seminarian martyrs, Cuthbert Mayne) is a potent, at times almost lyrically written, piece of Jesuit hagiography. At the same time, it also aims at providing a broad English readership (and not necessarily an exclusively Catholic one) with a clear sense of the essential character and quality of the man. But, despite his genuine concern to document the full span of his subject’s life, for Waugh the essence of Campion’s achievement lies in his unifying and unwavering commitment to the one culminating act of his mission – a resolutely embraced martyrdom. For example, from the chronology of his early years at Douai, Waugh places strongest emphasis upon the fortuitously still-surviving copy of the Summa used by Campion at the college, with the word “Martyrium” – glossed by Waugh as “the single mot prophete et radieux” – annotated in Campion’s own hand against an argument on baptism by blood (51). Similarly, the final chapter, starkly entitled “Martyr” (130), painfully details the agonies of Campion’s torture, hanging, and mutilation but, as it draws to a triumphant conclusion, Waugh breaks joyfully into an unashamed hymn of praise. An onlooker, Henry Walpole, is splashed by a spot of Campion’s blood as the butcher throws his disemboweled entrails into a cauldron of boiling water:
In that moment he was caught into a new life; he crossed the sea, became a priest, and, thirteen years later, after very terrible sufferings, died the same death as Campion’s on the gallows at York.
And so the work of Campion continued; so it continues. He was one of a host of martyrs, each, in their several ways, gallant and venerable… to each succeeding generation, Campion’s fame has burned with unique warmth and brilliance; it was his genius to express, in sentences that have resounded across the centuries, the spirit of chivalry in which they suffered, to typify in his zeal, his innocence, his inflexible purpose, the pattern which they followed. (167).
In his favorable review of Waugh’s biography, published in the November 1935 issue of the Spectator (and often reprinted as a preface to later editions of Edmund Campion) Greene himself picks up on this description of Walpole’s “anointing” with Campion’s blood, using it to demonstrate a resolute “continuity of culture” for the Jesuit missions. He was also very much struck by that peculiar blending of extreme heroism and playfulness, characteristic of young men about to cross a geographical (and psychological) frontier into alien, dangerous territories:
The graduates from Douai crossed the Channel to martyrdom with the same enthusiasm, the same rather childish release of spirits in practical jokes, as recruits in the first months of the [First World] War. The similarity ends at the Channel ports. For these recruits there were no leave trains. They had simply to stay in the line until death… (Edmund Campion 3)
For both Greene and Waugh, this poignant sense of a playful bravado served only to accentuate their personal awareness of the heroic, unquestioning self-sacrifice of the missionaries. In this 1935 review Greene was inspired by Campion’s story to recall the experiences of young Englishmen in the trenches of France and Belgium. But, by the time the second (American) edition of Edmund Campion was published in 1946, Waugh had much more immediate battlefields to call upon. In the aftermath of the Second World War, Waugh felt, like Greene, that the memory of Campion’s personal via dolorosa provided a clear model for a more modern devotional understanding of Father Pro’s fortitude and selfsacrifice. In his 1946 preface Waugh wrote: “We know that his [Campion’s] age was a brief truce in an unending war. The Martyrdom of Father Pro in Mexico re-enacted Campion’s in faithful detail.” By this date Father Pro’s fate was, in one sense, merely part of the past history of a distant land. Nevertheless, Waugh’s new preface was now able, pointedly, to reiterate the timeless moral significance of the sacrifice of all Jesuit martyrs, whether murdered in England, Mexico, or elsewhere, for an English readership still reeling from the recently discovered Western– European horrors of the Second World War:
We have seen the Church drawn underground in country after country. In fragments and whispers we get news of other saints in the prison-camps of Eastern and Southern Europe, of cruelty and degradation more savage than anything in Tudor England, of the same, pure light shining in the darkness, uncomprehended. The haunted, trapped, murdered priest is our contemporary and Campion’s voice sounds across the centuries as though he were walking at our elbow. (Edmund Campion 5-6)
3. “Mexico is a state of mind” (Graham Greene)
WHILE the fervent admiration of Greene and Waugh for Father Pro’s heroic self-sacrifice ensured that the life and death of this incidental figure in Mexican history was very well known to Catholic English readers of the 1940s onwards, it is important to recognize that neither writer seems to have expressed any significant level of personal interest in South American politics or religion before the mid-1930s. Greene did briefly mention in a letter of 1927 to his future wife, Vivien, that he had seen an article on the Mexican martyrs, although this seems to be as far as his knowledge of such matters then went (Sherry I.698). But in May, 1936, the situation rapidly changed for Greene. His powerful Journey Without Maps (through Liberia), was published on May 11 and created for him, virtually overnight, the reputation of a writer who was willing to undergo extreme physical hardship in dangerous places for the sake of his art. The seeds of Greene’s desire to visit Mexico may have already been sown by this stage, but the positive public response to his Journey Without Maps brought them into confident fruition. By May 24, 1936 he was writing to his brother, Hugh Greene: “Later in the new year I may be getting off to Mexico; negotiations are on hand for a book on the Mexican Revolution and the Catholic church.” As Norman Sherry notes (I.656), these discussions were being held with Sheed and Ward, the publisher of Waugh’s Edmund Campion; and by July Greene’s agent seems to have secured him the promise of a book contract and a 500 advance. Although Sheed and Ward eventually grew cold over the project, Greene then secured the interest of Longman in England and Viking in North America. At the very end of January, 1938 he embarked with his wife, Vivien, on the Normandie for New York.
After a week of frenetic party-going, shopping, and business meetings, the Greenes headed south to Washington, where Greene sought an interview at Georgetown University with Father Parsons, the author of Mexican Martyrdom. Although, in later years, Greene was rather hazy over their meeting (which in his own autobiography Parsons confirmed did take place), he had certainly read his book and almost certainly had it with him as he began his own journey through the country. Norman Sherry suggests (1.663-4, 704) that Greene also probably read some other works on the Mexican situation, including Francis McCullagh’s Red Mexico and EC. Kelley’s Blood-Drenched Altars, but Parsons’s Mexican Martyrdom almost certainly had the greatest impact upon his creative thought.
Tracing the arrival in 1569 of the Jesuits in Mexico – which “more than Russia, more than Spain is a proving ground for human destiny” (3) Parsons notes how they had successfully established some thirty-two colleges by 1767 (113). But the primary purpose of his documentary survey was the persecutions of the 1920s, when “the priests and people suffered… a silent epic” (27), leading to an estimated 100 priests having been executed by firing squad by 1928 (29). Emphasizing the timelessness of these horrors, Parsons relates both written and verbal reports of numerous examples of the brutality meted out to captured priests, beginning with Father Gonzalo de Tapia, “that proto-martyr of the Jesuits in Mexico,” who was murdered by the native Indians in 1594 (11). He also catalogues the obscene range of mutilations (powerfully reminiscent of the disfiguring and disemboweling of Campion) performed by their executioners upon the priests of the 1920s (87). There are, inevitably perhaps, several passages in Parsons’s Mexican Martyrdom which directly influenced not only The Lawless Roads but also The Power and the Glory. With reference to this latter work, for example, Parsons describes the hunting down and execution of the Augustinian priest, Father Elias Nieves in the spring of 1928 by a pursuing captain who, unlike so many of his compatriots (but like Greene’s idealistic and fiercely secular lieutenant), “was seagreen incorruptible” (30). Father Nieves’s captain and the whisky priest’s lieutenant are strikingly similar characters: both are clearly motivated by a desire to improve the lot of their poor compatriots, and neither is entirely devoid of compassion for his prisoner. Both try to persuade their priest to recant, show compassion during his imprisonment, and ensure that, at the moment of execution, their victim is mercifully dispatched by a single shot from their own revolvers. The fourth chapter of Parsons’s book (41-53) is devoted entirely to Father Pro, tracing how he had been rapidly embraced by the “Christian world” as a “martyr” (41) on account of the government’s ill-conceived circulation to international news agencies of the photographs of his execution. He also quotes the young Mexican’s Campion-like embracing of his fate in one of his own letters:
Already the splendor of the Resurrection is felt because the blackness of the Passion is almost at its thickest. From all sides we receive news of attacks and reprisals; the victims are many; the number of martyrs grows every day. Oh, if only I should draw a winning number. (49)
Most potently, as the day on which Father Pro had been executed drew to a close, that night at his family home “a Jesuit priest, defying the law in cassock and surplice, led the prayers” (52) – a clear precursor to the concluding scene of The Power and the Glory when, after the execution of the whisky priest, the next, unnamed missionary quietly arrives at the house of the young boy and his mother.
Once in Mexico (Vivien was sent home to England from New Orleans), Greene usually travelled alone and often in gruelling conditions which are vividly described in The Lawless Roads. Commendably, he managed to cover a broad geographical sweep of the country and powerfully documented the disturbing treatment of the Catholic Church by President Calles. But as one begins to read through the early chapters, another more emotional concern with the timeless universality of the author’s observations begins to surface. In the first chapter, “The Border,” Greene whiles away his spare time at Laredo by reading Trollope’s Barchester Towers, sharply reminding himself of the universality of the struggle of good against evil: “The world is all of a piece, of course; it is engaged everywhere in the same subterranean struggle … between the two eternities of pain and – God knows the opposite of pain, not we” (33). The strange landscapes of Greene’s childhood school memories in the “Preface” to The Lawless Roads grow entirely relevant as Barchester and Laredo become polarized in the same way as the two sides of the green baize door at Berkhamsted School: on one side the calmly ordered world of suburban English life, on the other the torrid and anarchic world of the schoolrooms. At that moment the recent persecutions in Mexico become primarily for Greene an uncomfortable reminder of the universality of intolerance: “So many years have passed in England since the war began between faith and anarchy: we live in ugly indifference. Over here lay the grave of Pro, Tabasco with every church destroyed, and Chiapas, where the Mass was forbidden” (34). As this first chapter draws to a close there is an even more intense, almost hallucinatory, blending of Laredo and Barchester. As the rain falls heavily outside Greene’s tacky hotel onto the desolate Nuevo Leon plain, a drunken voice is heard singing in Spanish. Greene attempts to concentrate on his novel, but he finds that these sounds impinge insistently upon the reassuringly comfortable images of Mr. Arabin’s High Church Anglicanism, breakfast at the archdeacon’s, and the Barchester spires. As the two environments of Mexico and England finally blend into one greater whole, the martyrdom of Father Pro (killed like Campion for his “treason,” not for his “religion”) takes Greene back in time to an England even before the Elizabethan persecutions: “Pro speaks with the psychology of Thomas of Canterbury, who also was in love with the good death” (34).
Another incidental but (for Greene) curiously memorable Anglo– Mexican linkage is first encountered during his brief visit to Villahermosa. Strangely, on his arrival the chief of police casually informs him: “`You’ve come home. Why, everybody in Villahermosa is called Greene – or Graham’.” He naturally enquires whether Englishmen live in the town but is simply informed in cryptic fashion: “`The Greenes are Mexicans”‘ (115). He then meets up with an elderly Scotsman “who had never been out of Mexico” called Dr. Roberto Fitzpatrick. For Greene, still in the early stages of his itinerary, this transatlantic name-blending (which is far from uncommon in the colonial history of South America) serves only to compound a growing sense of unease over preserving his own identity as a solitary Englishman in Mexico:
He had been absorbed nearly as completely as the Greenes and Grahams, and there was something rather horrifying and foreboding in this – for an unabsorbed Greene. (118)
By this stage in The Lawless Roads, as the memories of Campion and Pro mingle interchangeably with one another, and the unseen Greenes of Villahermosa confuse a Greene from Berkhamsted, even individual historical identity has become a more fluid, imaginative concept than is usually denoted by traditional western nomenclature and geographical placement.
The insistent movement in The Lawless Roads from the specific to the universal underlies what is probably the most powerful, disturbing, and prophetic message for a book published in February 1939. In the “Epilogue,” the lessons of Mexico of the 1920s are brought sharply into a Western-European focus as Greene recalls his embarkation in mid-1938 at Veracruz for Havana and then the Atlantic crossing to Lisbon. Through newspaper and radio reports, the “shadow of the Spanish war stretched across the South Atlantic and the Gulf’ (215). The boat itself, a German ship carrying a diversity of nationalities, becomes a microcosm both of the challenges faced by Greene as a traveller in Mexico and of the Western– European world to come:
There is something dauntingly world-wide about a ship, when it is free from territorial waters. Every nation has its own private violence, and after a while one can feel at home and sheltered between almost any borders. (218)
The dangerous frontier which now must be crossed is that posed by the national socialism of late-1930s Germany. Although the races on board are mixed (there is even a Syrian traveller), it is the Germans who gradually predominate in Greene’s account. He mentions in passing a “German stewardess,” and a “German ex-officer,” but most prominent are two other figures. The first is a “young German farmer … from Chiapas, who . . . hated Christianity,” and refers with admiration to recently deceased General Erich Ludendorff (1865-1937), who had played a major role in German military strategy during the First World War. In debating the Mexican religious suppressions with Greene, the German farmer declares in confidently ungrammatical English:
I see you do not know the works of Ludendorff. Listen to me. The Christians have only winned because they have killed all not Christian. Once we had nothing to give people, only Religion. Now we give the Nation. But we are not atheists like the Reds, We have a God, one God.”
“The old Jewish Jehovah?”
“No, no. A Force. We do not pretend to know what he is. A Principle.” (217)
Greene notes that the Mexican volunteers for the Spanish Civil War “listened politely to the new Germany.” Incidentally, he mentions in Ways of Escape (82) that they provided him with the plot-line for a later novel (“the Franco volunteers on the German ship I took back to Europe began a train of thought which ended in The Confidential Agent”). But the fanatical views of the young farmer neatly encapsulate the threat of the European horrors to come. The recently deceased Ludendorff had become a widely respected member of the Nazi party, publishing his influential advocacy (especially for Hitler) of Der Totale Krieg (“Total War”) in 1935. A gently insistent voice of opposition to such views comes from yet another German passenger, a prisoner called Kruger who had once deserted from a German ship. The other passengers openly discuss the threat posed by Hitler with him, even though he “never for a moment disguised his opinion of National Socialism.” It turns out that he had left Germany in 1913 because of the then impending First World War but, ironically and entirely against his will, he finds himself in 1938 being repatriated and “carried remorselessly on towards Hamburg and prison” (218-23). As the ship finally approaches Western-Europe and its safe arrival at Lisbon is expected for the following day, the lessons of violence and repression taught by Mexico prompt Greene only to look forward in time: “Violence came nearer – Mexico is a state of mind” (224).
4. “Notes on Anarchy” (Evelyn Waugh)
JUST as Waugh’s Edmund Campion had inspired Greene’s view of the Jesuit missionaries in The Lawless Roads, so Greene’s perspectives on the Mexican repression were certainly familiar to Waugh as he compiled his own study of Mexico, published in 1939 with the pungent title, Robbery Under Law for the English market and the rather more neutral title, Mexico: An Object Lesson for North American copies. Waugh had been commissioned by the Cowdray Estate (then a prominent player in the Mexican oil industry) to expose the expropriation of British holdings by the socialist government. Unlike Greene, Waugh based himself mainly in Mexico City (at the Hotel Ritz) and opened with the frank words: “The succeeding pages are notes on anarchy” (3). Waugh had carefully studied Greene’s The Lawless Roads but was at pains to emphasize that he was writing an entirely different kind of book:
Nor will I plagiarize from Mr. Graham Greene’s harrowing description of his recent expedition through Tabasco and Chiapas’. My own experiences, I am afraid, were definitely homely. (37)
For the first two-thirds of his volume Waugh provides the reader with a diligently documented history of Mexican politics from the nineteenthcentury onwards. As he begins to deal with the 1920s, he traces how the repression of the Catholic Church was first instigated as an attempt by Generals Obregon and Calles to appease two powerful labor unions, the C.R.O.M. (a Marxist grouping) and its successor the C.T.M. syndicate. Even though it is penned in Waugh’s characteristically elegant prose style, the first two hundred pages of Robbery Under Law, it has to be admitted, read rather like a resolutely factual history lesson. Even the fate of Father Pro is only briefly mentioned and, in conjunction with the somewhat wry end of General Obregon:
… in 1925 the churches were closed throughout the country; countless outrages against the religious took place during an officially supported persecution, the most famous incident of which was the execution of Father Pro, a Jesuit; there was an armed revolt by the Cristeros (followers of El Cristo Rey – Christ the King). Obregon was assassinated, with unsolicited help from his own party, by a religious cartoonist named Tocal, in 1928. (57)
Waugh then presses relentlessly onwards through his account of the regimes of Calles and (from 1934) Cardenas. The intended central destination of Robbery Under Law – from which a more specifically religious itinerary could only have distracted – comes on the following page when Waugh records: “In March 1938 he [Cardenas] took the grave step of confiscating the whole oil industry” (58). And so Waugh’s potted survey of Mexican history and politics continues for the next one hundred and fifty or so pages. But then, entirely unexpectedly, it seems as though the author could himself take no more of these firmly factual perspectives. In a marked change of both direction and tone, Waugh’s personal preoccupations (as opposed to those he was being generously paid to express) finally break through, radically redefining the narrative progression of the rest of the work.
The lengthy seventh (of eight) chapters in Robbery Under Law, “The Straight Fight,” runs from pages 206 up to 256; and it is within this concluding third of the book that Waugh’s Mexico finally converges with Greene’s in The Lawless Roads. The chapter begins with a rhetorical acknowledgement of the common charge that Catholics “intrude their religion into everything,” enabling Waugh unashamedly to adopt the very same tactic. Having dutifully dealt with the oil expropriation question in some considerable detail, he can at last categorically insist: “It is not land or oil or race or political organization but religion which is the single, essential question of the nation” (207). Shaking off, as it were, the shackles of the Cowdray Estate’s demands, he even begins to refer back (214-15) to selected passages from Greene’s The Lawless Roads. He recalls, for example, Greene’s delineation of Father Pro’s civilian disguise in his own description of a local priest: “a dusty fellow in lay clothes like an impoverished ranchero to look at” (212). He lavishes praise on the pioneering work of early Spanish missionaries among the Aztec natives (221); and he records how even “Mr. Greening, the leading apologist for the revolution” in Mexico, admitted that “the Jesuits were a fairly decent lot. They were kept in order” (214). He celebrates the establishing of a large seminary in Texas which had supplied many priests in recent years to Mexico (like Douai sending its students back to England); and he notes that secret seminaries were even beginning to spring up in Mexican cities (247). His greatest enthusiasm is reserved for his lengthy description (222-34) of the cult of the Virgin of Guadalupe – also reverentially described by Greene in The Lawless Roads (87) – which he represents, alongside the martyrdom of Father Pro, as one of the two key gestures of irrepressible Catholic resistance in Mexico: “Pro is the inspiration of thousands through whom the Mexican Church is still alive” (240).
Waugh postulates in Robbery Under Law: “The Church for her life, has to have a priesthood, an order of men peculiarly educated and consecrated for a specific work” (245). This assertion, within the context of both The Lawless Roads and Robbery Under Law, yet again brings to mind the Jesuit missionary priests, as exemplied by Fathers Campion, Gerard, and Pro. There were, of course, also other kinds of priests in Mexico. The Scotsman Fitzpatrick at Villahermosa tells Greene about a priest at Chiapas who had fled his duties and was once so drunk that he tried to christen one of Fitzpatrick’s sons with the name Brigitta: “`he was just what we call a whisky priest,”‘ Fitzpatrick remarks, and was deemed “little loss” by the locals. Greene, however, adds the telling aside: “but who can judge what terror and hardship and isolation may have excused him in the eyes of God?” (122). Within this context, the powerful focus on the Jesuit missionary priest in both The Lawless Roads and Robbery Under Law also reminds us that there are two central but distinct examples of priesthood in The Power and the Glory. The dominating figure of the frightened whisky priest (who is clearly based upon Fitzpatrick’s story in The Lawless Roads) shares in Campion’s and Pro’s glorious fate, executed like them, as is emphasized in the final pages of The Power and the Glory. Greene, however, is careful not to end his novel with this single scene of martyrdom; and, no less importantly, upon such a flawed and compromised figure. Instead, as the whisky priest dies (and unknown to those who think that they have finally eradicated the threat that he embodies), so a mother is fervently teaching her young son of the execution of a Father Juan who had “spent his last night preparing for martyrdom.” Her children also recall a priest who once stayed with them, a member of “el Cristo Rey,” according to their mother, who is now venerated as another “of the martyrs of the Church.”
The whisky priest’s narrative is undoubtedly the dominant one in The Power and the Glory. But if the religious message of this novel is viewed as an organic progression from Greene’s spiritual thinking in The Lawless Roads (and, by association, also held in comparison with Waugh’s Robbery Under Law), then its conclusion becomes a triumphant confirmation – like Waugh’s Edmund Campion and Father Caraman’s translation of John Gerard’s autobiography – of the endless renewal of the missionary cycle. The boy is later awakened by a knock on the door. There he finds a “stranger . . . a tall pale thin man with a rather sour mouth, who carried a small suitcase.” He quietly tells the puzzled boy: “I have only just landed. I came up the river tonight” (221). Intended as both the successor and a counterpoint to the whisky priest, he is also the direct descendant of Campion and Pro. In terms of the chronological progression of Greene’s own writings, he is also the fictional precursor to Greene’s admiration over a decade later for the heroism and self-sacrifice of Father John Gerard.
I wish to express my thanks to Professors David Hannay (Union College, NY) and Margaret Hannay (Siena College, NY) for obtaining for me a copy of Mexican Martyrology by Wilfred Parsons, S.J. (when it had proved impossible to locate one in the UK); to Professor Tom McAlindon (University of Hull) for first drawing my attention to
Greene’s introduction to Father Caraman’s volume on John Gerard; and to Wm. Thomas Hill (Sophia University, Tokyo) for inviting me to contribute an essay on Greene and Waugh’s religious beliefs (which in turn prompted some of the ideas in this essay) to his collection Perceptions of Religious Faith in the Work of Graham Greene (Peter Lang Publishers: Bern, 2002).
Allain, Marie-Franqoise. The Other Man: Conversations with Graham Greene. 1981. Reprint. London: The Bodley Head, 1983.
Greene, Graham. Journey Without Maps. 1936. Reprint. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1980.
The Lawless Roads. 1939. Reprint. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1976. The Power and the Glory. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1991.
A Sort of Life. 1971. Reprint. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1984.
Gerard, John. John Gerard. The Autobiography of an Elizabethan. Trans. Philip Caraman. Intro. Graham Greene. London: Longmans, Green, 1951.
Parsons, Wilfred, Mexican Martyrdom. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1936. Shelden, Michael. Graham Greene: The Man Within. London: Heinemann, 1994.
Sherry, Norman. The Life of Graham Greene. Volume One 1904-1939. London: Lester & Orpen Dennys, 1989.
The Life of Graham Greene. Volume Two 1939-1955. London: Jonathan Cape, 1994. Stannard, Martin. Evelyn Waugh: The Early Years 1903-1939. London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1986.
Waugh, Evelyn. Edmund Campion. London: Cassell Publishers Limited, 1987.
Robbery Under Law: The Mexican Object-Lesson. 1939. Reprint. London: The Catholic Book Club, 1940.
West, W.J. The Quest for Graham Greene. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1997.
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