At the second meeting of our reading group, held on Wednesday 23rd November 2011, we discussed two of Graham Greene’s works: The Third Man and The End of the Affair. We had a lively discussion with our male members of the group liking the writing, although one preferred the latter and the other enjoyed the former. The female members in attendance felt that Greene seems not to sympathise with his women, and certainly does not seem to care much for Anna Schmidt in The Third Man; Sarah Miles seems very much a secondary character and not dealt with particularly fairly in The End of the Affair. His male characters do not appear particularly likeable either but are well-drawn. We talked of the fact that both books are very much of their time and it was suggested that the film version of The Third Man is indeed very much better than the book with the sense of gloom and moodiness of post-war Vienna with Orson Welles playing the part of Harry Lime, Joseph Cotton as Rollo Martins and Trevor Howard taking the part of Major Calloway. As Greene himself says: “My story, The Third Man, was never written to be read but only to be seen. The story, like many love affairs, started at a dinner table and continued with headaches in many places: Vienna, Ravello, London, Santa Monica…. The film, in fact, is better than the story because it is, in this case, the finished state of the story.’ Graham Greene, from an article appearing in his collection of essays entitled Ways of Escape.
A must for all of us who haven’t yet seen it, it came out in 1949, a year before the novel was published.
Of the two film adaptations of The End of the Affair, only the second with Ralph Fiennes playing the role of Maurice Bendrix and Julianne Moore as Sarah Miles, had been seen by group members (we have a copy of the dvd in our libraries, available to borrow). One of the group preferred the film ending to that in the book, I would disagree and say that I enjoyed the ending as Greene wrote it! What do you think?
Four of us enjoyed the style and his use of language but the remaining four were less enthusiastic. Sue and I found certain phrases and sentences which, on the face of it appear innocuous, but which struck a chord given certain experiences we’ve lived through. Nevertheless, we all felt that it was good to read these titles and had a good chat about Greene’s life and how we could see influences of his beginnings, here at Berkhamsted, and life during the forties and fifties, with the long-lasting effects of World War II still hanging over the literary circles of the time. We are fortunate here in Berkhamsted to be hosts to some of the events of the Graham Greene Festival which takes place at the end of September/beginning of October each year, if you are a fan of Graham Greene, why not come next year?