Graham Greene on the problem of “I”

On Saturday I did my semi-annual rereading of Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair and was struck as always by its perfection. Greene himself had many regrets about the novel. If you can brave the bad design, here’s the text of an essay he wrote about it:

Many a time I regretted pursuing “I” along his dismal road and contemplated beginning The End of the Affair all over again with Bendrix, my leading character, seen from outside in the third person. I had never previously had to struggle so hard to lend the narrative interest. For example how could I vary the all-important “tone” when it was one character who was always commenting? The tone had been set on the first page by Bendrix — “This is a record of hate far more than of love” — and I dreaded to see the whole book smoked dry like a fish with his hatred. Dickens had somehow miraculously varied his tone [in Great Expectations], but when I tried to analyze his success, I felt like a colourblind man trying intellectually to distinguish one colour from another. For my book there were two shades of the same colour — obsessive love and obsessive hate….


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