Set in a provincial Argentinean town, The Honorary Consul takes place in that bleak country of exhausted passion, betrayal, and absurd hope that Graham Greene has explored so precisely in such novels as The Power and the Glory and The Comedians.
On the far side of the great, muddy river that separates the two countries lies Paraguay, a brutal dictatorship shaken by sporadic revolutionary activity; on the near side, a torpid city whose only visible cultural institution is a brothel. The foreigners of the city are refugees, each washed up on the banks of the Paraná by some inner disaster or defeat: Dr. Eduardo Plarr, a physician, whose English father has vanished into a Paraguayan prison, and for whom "caring is the only dangerous thing"; Humphries, a teacher of English, who has touched bottom and accepted it; Charley Fortnum, the Honorary Consul, who at the age of sixty-one, sustained by drink and his disputed status as British Consul, still retains enough hope and illusion to marry a twenty-year-old girl from Señora Sanchez' brothel...
With gathering force, Graham Greene draws his characters into the political chaos that lies beneath the surface of South American life. Fortnum is kidnapped by Paraguayan revolutionaries who have mistaken him for the American Ambassador. Realizing their error, they threaten to execute him anyway if their demands are not met. Plarr, torn between his instinctive feeling for the revolutionaries -- one of whom is an old friend -- and his ambiguous relationship with Fortnum, whose wife he has taken as a lover, becomes involved in a tragicomedy that leads inexorably to a meaningless death.
At the center of The HonoraryConsul is Plarr, a brilliant Graham Greene creation, perhaps the most moving and convincing figure in his fiction. Plarr is a man so cut off from human feeling, so puzzled by the emotional needs of men like Fortnum, that he is paradoxically vulnerable, chillingly exposed, and required in the end to pay with his life for the illusions that other people believe in and that he himself cannot share.
In the men and women who surround Plarr -- Clara, who has moved from the brothel to Charley Fortnum's bedroom; Father Rivas, the revolutionary priest who dominates those near him, despite his unsanctified marriage and belief in political terror; Saavedra, the Argentinean novelist, whose work lugubriously mirrors the world around him; Aquino, the poet-turned-revolutionary; Colonel Perez, the cheerfully efficient chief of police -- Graham Greene has created a world peculiarly his own. It is a world illuminated by that special passion for the complexities of love, faith, compassion, and betrayal that lies at the very heart of his work.
About the Author
Graham Greene (1904-1991), whose long life nearly spanned the length of the twentieth century, was one of its greatest novelists. Educated at Berkhamsted School and Balliol College, Oxford, he started his career as a sub-editor of The Times of London. He began to attract notice as a novelist with his fourth book, Orient Express, in 1932. In 1935, he trekked across northern Liberia, his first experience in Africa, recounted in A Journey Without Maps (1936). He converted to Catholicism in 1926, an edifying decision, and reported on religious persecution in Mexico in 1938 in The Lawless Roads, which served as a background for his famous The Power and the Glory, one of several “Catholic” novels (Brighton Rock, The Heart of the Matter, The End of the Affair). During the war he worked for the British secret service in Sierra Leone; afterward, he began wide-ranging travels as a journalist, which were reflected in novels such as The Quiet American, Our Man in Havana, The Comedians, Travels with My Aunt, The Honorary Consul, The Human Factor, Monsignor Quixote, and The Captain and the Enemy. In addition to his many novels, Graham Greene wrote several collections of short stories, four travel books, six plays, two books of autobiography—A Sort of Life and Ways of Escape—two biographies, and four books for children. He also contributed hundreds of essays and film and book reviews to The Spectator and other journals, many of which appear in the late collection Reflections. Most of his novels have been filmed, including The Third Man, which the author first wrote as a film treatment. Graham Greene was named Companion of Honour and received the Order of Merit among numerous other awards.
Mark Bosco is associate professor of English and Theology at Loyola University Chicago. He has written on Graham Greene and Flannery O'Connor, as well as on the aesthetics of Hans Urs von Balthasar.
Date of Birth:October 2, 1904
Date of Death:April 3, 1991
Place of Birth:Berkhamsted, England
Place of Death:Vevey, Switzerland
Education:Balliol College, Oxford