“Brighton Rock” by Graham Green
Published in 1938, Brighton Rock by the Nobel Prize winning writer Graham Green is one of the most important novels in the history of 20th century English literature. In its stylistic and thematic structure, the book comprises the elements that are characteristic of all Graham Green’ literary work. In order to entirely grasp the specificity of Brighton Rock, it is certainly noteworthy to take under consideration some facts related to the life of the author.
Often referred to as Catholic writer (in the manner of François Mauriac in France), Green is indeed obsessed with this faith that he adopted only at the age of 24, in the name of love, to marry his fiancée, Vivien Daryell-Browning. This important lifetime event results in his ambiguous attitude towards this religion (NB akin to many of his fictional characters): admiration and doubt.
In our analysis, one other detail needs to be considered: even though Brighton Rock constitutes the seventh book written by Graham Green, only two of his previous publications (Stamboul Train and A Gun for Sale) were noticed by a relatively large range of readers. Green is determined to become a successful bestselling writer without abandoning his literary aspirations easily perceptible in his anterior novels. Desirous to maintain the stylistic quality of his work and, on the other hand, to appeal to a wider audience, Green writes Brighton Rock, which reconciles these two preoccupations. The book is, in fact, rich in plot and has perfectly written psychological portraits of the characters.
The protagonist, Pinkie, is a seductive and mischievous 17-years-old boy who, after the unsuspected death of Kite, struggles to assure his position as a leader of a gang amongst his older fellows. Despite his troubled life, the young gangster and former altar boy continues to be a deeply religious Roman Catholic. Based on antithetical components, this character construction undoubtedly constitutes one of the most interesting particularities of the novel. Because it is impossible to reconcile a crime with religiousness, Pinkie will always feel guilty, deeply unhappy and lost. He will never become a fearless miscreant, a ruthless gangster that his comrades expect him to be. The opposition between faith and felony is not incidentally the only discrepancy, which characterises Pinkie. As a dauntless criminal, he tries to embody manhood and yet he is disgusted by physical contact with women. This psychological problem is caused by a traumatising childhood experience that has a lasting effect on him. As a very young boy, Pinkie sees by accident his parents copulating: this recollection haunts him till the present day and makes him unable to have sexual intercourse.
The reader will certainly appreciate the psychological construction of secondary characters: the naive and unattractive Pinkie’s girlfriend and wife Rose, the shrewd and implacable Ida Arnold or elderly gangster dreaming of a peaceful life far away from the mob, Spicer.
As any other worldwide bestsellers, Brighton Rock was adapted for the screen; the first cinematographic adaptation comes from 1947 and the second one from 2010. As in the case of many others encounters between cinema and literature, both films do not manage to render the psychological complexity of the characters and fail to measure up to the literary masterpiece.
text by Pawel Hladki
“A Passage to India” by E.M. Foster
A Passage to India (1924), by a renowned English writer Edward Morgan Foster, is a novel about cultural encounter, colonisation and alterity. Moreover, it constitutes an interesting “document” about life and atmosphere in time of rapid colonial expansion approximately twenty years before the collapse of the British Empire.
The book tells a story of Mrs Moore’s stay in India where her son Ronny, engaged to Adela Quest, occupies the post of a city magistrate. Encouraged by a pleasant conversation with Dr Aziz, a young Muslim physician, Mrs Moore is willing to socialise with the local people and, before returning to England, experience their culture and some Indian tourist attractions. Her open-minded mentality does not unequivocally please Ronny who blatantly treats Indians as inferior. Deaf to her son’s unreasonable prejudice, Mrs Moore accepts Dr Aziz’s proposal to visit the Marabar Caves. Her friend and potential future daughter-in-law, Adela, also participates in the trip. Due to an unexpected incident, this typically enjoyable getaway becomes a source of misunderstandings, antagonisms and racial abuses: because Mrs Moore, overcome with claustrophobia, decides to stay back, Adela goes to the caves alone with Dr Aziz. They are separated; soon after an echo causes Mrs Quest to panic, to mishear the young physician words and to take them for a sexual assault.
Notwithstanding Dr Aziz’s claims, the English community instantly turns its back on him and treats him as a criminal. Fielding, the only Englishman who believes in Indian Muslim’s innocence, will soon pay for his personal conviction with ostracism and an accusation of being a traitor. Although Mrs Moore sides with the defendant, she does nothing to help him. Alarmed by his mother’s behaviour, Ronny decides to arrange a trip for her back to England, so she is not able to testify. During the trial, Adele admits to not being certain of Dr Aziz’s guilt and the latter is thus pronounced innocent.
This apparently happy ending does not help to lessen hostilities between the indigenous or to quell resentment of the falsely accused physician. Despite being thankful to Fielding for his support, Dr Aziz declares that they cannot stay friends until India becomes a free country.
At the heart of the intrigue, the false accusation of the young Muslim is not the only element of the division between the Indians and the English in A Passage to India. The writer seems to use Dr Aziz’s trial as a pretext to emphasise tensions in the British colonies. From the outset and throughout, Foster’s story is indeed strewn with numerous excerpts showing how much the English fail to fathom Indian mores, how much they despise the local population, their culture and mentality. Furthermore, the novel presents how much the autochthones consider the colonists a necessary evil, an unwanted guest who, by using their power, became the host, or even a master. In fact, Foster depicts the English-Indian exchanges as a relationship between the dominant and the dominated. This does not augur well for the future of the status quo in this region. Before reading the last page of the book, the reader has no doubts that a significant conflict is hovering in the air, which will soon lead to a definitive separation between the two nations.
text by Pawel Hladki