The Man Within, by Graham Greene
As someone who has read quite a few novels and other writings by the author , it was very intriguing to read his first novel. In reading this novel in retrospect, we have both an advantage and a disadvantage over the original readers of the novel. On the one hand, we know that the promise and potential of this novel was amply fulfilled in later novels that were more accomplished, more polished, and more entertaining than this one. On the other hand, we also know that the author never moved beyond the dark and twisted moral universe of this novel, and what was fresh and original the first time it was written was considerably less fresh and original once the author had written dozens of novels that trod the same sort of cynical and gloomy material over and over again. One can easily imagine that the author found his first novel to be a bit cringeworthy in light of his later and more accomplished efforts, but it is possible that without this initial success he may not have written much more, so one should appreciate one’s early efforts, especially one’s early successes, for giving someone encouragement to write.
At a bit more than 200 pages, this book is a relatively standard length for a novel by the author, although it starts slow, with a man hiding out in a cabin with a woman, without a great deal of back story about either known at the beginning. It takes a bit of time to realize that the man in the cabin is a young man who had been abused by his father and who is fleeing because he had turned his smuggling associates to the authorities and led them into a trap, and that the young woman is a lonely but lovely person who had been raised as a daughter by a kindly man who had taken to her once she started becoming a woman, which is not too unusual of a phenomenon. Of course they fall in love and, this being a Graham Greene novel, it ends badly, as the man seeks to recover his courage, which only puts him further in harm’s way until he sacrifices himself to be reunited in death with his beloved Elizabeth after lots of talking and lots of fairly monotonous discussion and a vivid courtroom scene.
To be sure, this novel is not Graham Greene’s best, but it is worthwhile to see where he began even as a young author and where he would go from here. Greene shows himself interested in the relations between men and women, the concern of purity and religion, the courtship of death through suicide or self-sacrifice, the corruption of government figures and the behavior of smugglers and other international evildoers, and creates a novel that manages to lay the groundwork for what would become further writings along these lines. The book is a memorable one, even if an immature one, for its portrayal of the inner conflict between a man as he sees himself (and how others have abused him) and how he could be. Yet this message of improvement is counteracted by Greene’s dark cynicism which does not allow for much moral advancement of any kind (much less in his own body of work, alas), and which would soon lead him into a strange conversion to Catholicism and his getting stuck in the morass in which he found himself beginning in. One does not know whether to celebrate this work or to pity the man who wrote it and would soon find himself stuck.
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