Tuesday, January 29, 2013

525. England Made Me – Graham Greene

History: This book was first published in 1935, and was republished as "The Shipwrecked" in 1953.
Plot: Anthony is a ne’er-do-well and a rake who has been a failure at one job after another all over the world. Anthony has a very close relationship, which borders on incest, with his twin sister, Kate. Kate is the personal secretary and mistress to Erik Krogh, a wealthy Swedish businessman. Through Kate’s influence, Anthony obtains a job as Krogh’s bodyguard.
Krogh is ruthless and amoral in his pursuit of more wealth and power. A central theme of this book is internationalism. Krogh has no allegiance to any country. His only loyalty is to himself and his fortune. There is a good bit of talk in this novel about how nations and borders will be a thing of the past in the modern world with quick travel by airplane and instant communication by telephone and radio.
Krogh is engaged in all kinds of shady business deals to sell worthless stock and defraud shareholders. Krogh also lies to a labor union leader to avoid a strike and then frames the man for wrongdoing and ruins his reputation before firing him. Krogh’s closest thing to a friend is Hall, who has known Krogh since they were both poor young men. Although Krogh has treated Hall badly through the years, Hall is fanatically loyal to Krogh and would do anything for him. Just as Anthony and Kate’s relationship borders on the incestuous, Hall’s infatuation with Krogh borders on the homoerotic.
Ferdinand Minty, an expatriot Englishman who is employed as a reporter by a Swedish newspaper. Minty is eccentric. He lives in a seedy tenement and wears a wrinkled old coat and suit. He is a sadist who tortures a spider by watching it under a glass until it dies. He constantly refers to himself in the third person and is a diehard Anglo-Catholic who is constantly praying to obscure saints. Minty is an alumnus of Harrow, the English public school. When he sees Anthony wearing a Harrow school tie and begins to ask him questions, Minty almost immediately recognizes Anthony as a fraud. Minty’s assignment from his editor is to report on Erik Krogh, so Minty offers to bribe Anthony to leak information to him.
Anthony is appalled by Krogh’s amoral business practices and decides to leak the information to Minty and then return to England where he plans to have a true relationship with his current mistress whom, up to now, he has used merely as a sex object. When Anthony leaks that Krogh is planning to marry Kate, Krogh realizes that Anthony is about to ruin his reputation and wants to prevent Anthony returning to England. Hall engineers a late night poker game to attempt to have Anthony run up large gambling debts and be unable to leave Sweden. After being foiled in this plan because Anthony already has tickets to sail to England, Hall murders Anthony whose death is made to look like an accident.
Review:  In retrospect, the premise that nationalism is on the way out is kind of laughable for a novel published in 1935, two years after Hitler took power in Germany in 1933 and four years before the outbreak of World War II in Europe in 1939. However, it's no more laughable than reading things published in the 1990s after the Soviet Union fell that opined that we had entered a new era of world peace and prosperity.
If England made Anthony Farrant she couldn't have been very proud of her job, and unless Graham Greene has a grudge against England we fail to see much point to his title. For the Anthony Farrants are ubiquitous, they are indigenous to every land, and go their small, pestiferous way at one period of history as well as another. Not sufficiently honest with themselves to be real criminals, they are none the less predatory. Every business house knows the type, and when it is unfortunate enough to have hired such a one it gets rid of him as quickly as possible. It may, of course, seem that a rat would not make much of a hero for a novel; but then, novels aren't what they used to be. Or is it that readers aren't? Futility appears nowadays to be as fruitful a subject for the novelist's pen as success was formerly. And perhaps it is better so, for if one becomes sufficiently bored with the presentation of futility one may be moved to try to amount to something, though merely for the sake of being different. Hence, in "England Made Me" Mr. Greene may be covertly preaching a sermon.
Anthony Farrant was probably not born bad, he may even have had less of the Old Adam in him than most. But he never grew up. At the age of 30 or thereabouts, after he had been sacked in half the mercantile centres of the world -- Singapore, Hongkong, Calcutta, to say nothing of London, Paris and Amsterdam -- he was just as ingratiating and just as unable to distinguish between right and wrong as when a child. His sister Kate preceded him into life by half an hour, and she has all the traits he lacks: stamina, stability, loyalty. And this, the author would have us believe, explains the obsession she labors under that she can transfer these qualities from herself to him -- to use a trite expression, make a man of him. In the end Tony, going down to another, and this time final, defeat, brings about Kate's disillusionment.
In an earlier period of history Kate Farrant would have been the mistress of a king, for it is neither love nor wealth which motivates her but lust for power. But kings being out of date, and industry and finance in the saddle, she accedes to the wishes of Krogh of Krogh's, whose branches circle the globe and whose stock manipulations have made, and can break, millions of holders. But -- a bit of psychology to be noted -- Kate does not desire power for herself. Anthony, sacked again ("resigned" he had written her), is on is way back to England, and she wants this hold on Krogh that her brother may be provided for. Not, however, as a mere parasite; she insists that Tony be given a job. She herself is not a mere parasite but Krogh's confidential secretary, for although the headquarters of the firm is in Stockholm, the business is conducted in English. Just before Anthony arrives -- Kate's meeting him in a small English port is one of the most effective short scenes in the book -- Krogh had been frightened by a Socialist demonstration, so he takes on Anthony as his bodyguard.
Mr. Greene in "England Made Me," as should be evident by this time, might have contented himself with writing only a melodrama. Had he done so the story would have been less good than it is. On the other hand, as seen in Kate's obsession about her worthless brother, and especially in her acceptance of a loveless relationship solely for the purpose of establishing and advancing him, the author's aspirations to be a novelist of psychological discernment are manifest. Had he been able to carry his psychology deeper and further the book would be more impressive. Graham Greene sees implications which he realizes will immensely strengthen the story but seems on the whole not to be able to work them out convincingly. The central spring of all which subsequently takes place is the mental relation between Krogh and Anthony immediately the two have come together. This is imagined with considerable subtlety, and is, we believe, something few novelists have used, although one has but to look about to perceive instances of it.
If one wished to go back to the ancients, one would say that Tony discovers the Achilles' heel of the great man. Up from peasant beginnings, Krogh can be powerful only so long as he is impersonal, cold, ruthless. Once he can be made in any part of his life to acknowledge silently within himself an inferiority to others, once he drops his role of Jove to become human, he will start to disintegrate. And Tony, who is as genial as such lesser scoundrels always are, suddenly finds the great man putty in his hands. Krogh permits Anthony to drag him from the opera to a music hall, he lets him buy his suits and ties, he permits him to plead for a discharged workman. To be sure, the disintegrating process might have been long drawn out, and it makes for action in the story to have Tony discover on his sister's desk confidential information which he can make use of to blackmail Krogh.
The firm, for all its glittering exterior, is crumbling within. Krogh has been forced to short-term loans, and to sell the stock of one subsidiary to another in order to put through an American deal. There are also pre-dated checks. A cynical touch, for "England Made Me" is often both cynical and sinister, is Krogh's offer of marriage to Kate. "Because a wife cannot be compelled to testify against her husband?" she queries. And without compunction he acknowledges the correctness of her diagnosis.
There is one other character to be mentioned -- Hall, of the Amsterdam office. Associated with Krogh from the latter's humble start, he is the faithful retainer to whom all the dirty work is entrusted. It is Hall who engineers the sale of the subsidiary company in such a manner that it shall appear a genuine transaction. It is Hall who flies to Stockholm when Krogh, suspicious of Tony, and also afraid of his growing power over him, sends for the faithful henchman. And the riddance is complete, and Kate, her work for Tony finished, her dream for him broken, goes marching on, out of Krogh's, out of the book, a tarnished figure, though one is not without some respect for her.
Too often the author of "England Made Me" seems to be shadow-boxing, not delivering the full punch. But the story is skillfully fabricated, and the suspense so well maintained that any one who starts it is certain to go to the end.
In typical Greene fashion, the seedy antihero wrestles with his conscience as murky moral dilemmas begin to trouble even his disreputable soul.
A strong theme is the questionably close bond between the main protagonist, the always ineffectual Anthony, and his twin sister Kate. Her life as secretary and live-in mistress to the crooked tycoon, Krogh, who is no great lover, absorbs her time and energy but leaves her emotionally unfulfilled. By getting Anthony to Stockholm and on Krogh’s payroll, she is looking for a much closer relationship with her charming, unreliable and totally broke brother. His failure to respond, and the unhappy ending, leaves her in an even worse position as Krogh’s artificial empire threatens to unravel.
Opening Line: “She might have been waiting for her lover.”
Closing Line: “the missal in the cupboard, the Madonna, the spider withering under the glass, a home from home.”
Quotes: “Tuesday is always a tiring day for me.”
Rating: Not as good as other Graham Greene novels.

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