A desperate man tries to find out why his beloved left him years ago. On a rainy London night in 1946, novelist Maurice Bendrix has a chance meeting with Henry Miles, husband of his ex-mistress Sarah, who abruptly ended their affair two years before....
The End of the Affair (1951) is a novel by British author Graham Greene, as well as the title of two feature films (released in 1955 and 1999) that were adapted from the novel.
Set in London during and just after the Second World War, the novel examines the obsessions, jealousy and discernments within the relationships between three central characters: writer Maurice Bendrix; Sarah Miles; and her husband, civil servant Henry Miles.
Graham Greene's own affair with Catherine Walston played into the basis for The End of the Affair. The British edition of the novel is dedicated to "C" while the American version is made out to "Catherine." Greene's own house at 14 Clapham Common Northside was bombed during the Blitz.
Henry Graham Greene OM CH (2 October 1904 – 3 April 1991), better known by his pen name Graham Greene, was an English novelist regarded by many as one of the leading English novelists of the 20th century.Combining literary acclaim with widespread popularity, Greene acquired a reputation early in his lifetime as a major writer, both of serious Catholic novels, and of thrillers (or "entertainments" as he termed them). He was shortlisted, in 1966 and 1967, for the Nobel Prize for Literature. Through 67 years of writings, which included over 25 novels, he explored the ambivalent moral and political issues of the modern world, often through a Catholic perspective.
Although Greene objected strongly to being described as a Roman Catholic novelist, rather than as a novelist who happened to be Catholic, Catholic religious themes are at the root of much of his writing, especially the four major Catholic novels: Brighton Rock, The Power and the Glory, The Heart of the Matter, and The End of the Affair;which have been named "the gold standard" of the Catholic novel. Several works, such as The Confidential Agent, The Quiet American, Our Man in Havana, The Human Factor, and his screenplay for The Third Man, also show Greene's avid interest in the workings and intrigues of international politics and espionage.
There are many Greenes, and almost all of them – the thriller writer (The Third Man), the entertainer (Our Man in Havana), the contemporary political novelist (The Quiet American), the polemicist (The Comedians) and the serious religious writer (The Power and the Glory) – deserve consideration in this series. I’ve chosen The End of the Affair because it blurs the line he drew between his “entertainments” and his more serious work. The novel owes its inspiration to the conventions of romantic fiction while at the same time transcending genre. Crucially, it dates from Greene’s best years, the age of postwar austerity that also nurtured the previous author (No 70) in this series, George Orwell.
Set in Clapham during the blitz (before the war, Greene owned a house in Clapham), it’s a story of adultery. Maurice Bendrix, a second-rank novelist, wants to write about a civil servant, and makes the acquaintance of his neighbour’s wife, Sarah. They fall in love and have an affair tortured by his jealousy and her guilt. When Bendrix is nearly killed by a bomb (Greene’s house was similarly wrecked during the blitz), his mistress suddenly breaks off relations. Only in retrospect will the meaning of this inexplicable act of rejection become apparent.
Two years pass. Sarah’s husband, Henry, who is ignorant of the affair, approaches Bendrix about his wife’s infidelity with “a third man”. Intrigued, the novelist employs a private detective to investigate. Having said, at the outset, that “a story has no beginning or end”, Greene now employs a dizzy mix of flashback, stream-of consciousness and conventional narrative, partly based on Sarah’s diary, to relate how she, having prayed for a miracle, “catches belief like a disease”, and then subsequently dies. The “third man”, a recurrent figure with Greene, turns out to be God, for whom Sarah has become “a bride in Christ”. This supernatural, Roman Catholic element of the plot has not worn well, but the portrait of wartime London, and the agony of two people caught in an illicit love affair, remains compelling.
A note on the text
The best clue to the emotional freight carried by The End of the Affair is probably to be found in its differing dedication pages. The English edition, published by William Heinemann in September 1951, reads “To C”. But the American edition, much less cryptic, reads “To Catherine with love”. Catherine Walston, the wife of the Labour peer Harry Walston, had been quite explicitly Greene’s mistress for several years, in a relationship that tormented all concerned. Few women ever touched Greene as deeply, however, and his novel became the sad record of their ultimately doomed relationship. “It was,” writes Norman Sherry in his very unsatisfactory three-volume biography, “a love affair of dangerous proportions”, and one wracked, as the novel is, with Catholic guilt.
The End of the Affair is the fourth and final Greene novel with an overtly Roman Catholic dimension. (The others are Brighton Rock, The Power and the Glory and The Heart of the Matter.) About a year after its publication Greene told Evelyn Waugh that he wanted to write a political novel. It would be fun to deal with politics, he said, “and not always write about God”. Waugh’s response was characteristically sharp and practical. “I wouldn’t give up writing about God at this stage if I was you,” he replied. “It would be like PG Wodehouse dropping Jeeves halfway through the Wooster series.”
Waugh’s review of The End of the Affair of 6 September 1951 in the magazine Month stands up well to the test of time. In his new novel, writes Waugh, “Mr Greene has chosen another contemporary form, domestic, romantic drama of the type of Brief Encounter, and has transformed that in his own inimitable way.” Waugh added that the story was “a singularly beautiful and moving one”.
This, perhaps, explains its continued appeal. The novel has been filmed twice (in 1955 and
1999). William Golding, who has yet to appear in this series, ignored the religion and accurately described Greene as “the ultimate chronicler of 20th-century man’s consciousness and anxiety”.
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