Friday, July 31, 2020

John O'Hara's pandemic story "The Doctor's Son" - If you wanted an ice cream soda you had to have it put in a cardboard container

The first story in Collected Stories of John O’Hara (1984) is “The Doctor’s Son” (1935), about the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.  Several months ago, bookish Twitterists were compiling lists of pandemic fiction, although not, as far as I can tell, reading much of it, and who can blame anyone.  But I thought there were some interesting things in this story.

O’Hara is from Pennsylvania coal country:

The mines closed down almost with the first whiff of influenza.  Men who for years had been drilling rock and had chronic miner’s asthma never had a chance against the mysterious new disease; and even younger men were keeling over, so the coal companies had to shut down the mines, leaving only maintenance men, such as pump men, in charge.  Then the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania closed down the schools and churches, and forbade all congregating.  If you wanted an ice cream soda you had to have it put in a cardboard container; you couldn’t have it at the fountain in a glass. (4)

The switch from the tragic to the trivial fits the narrator, James, who is the doctor’s son of the title but who is only fifteen years old.  His father has more or less collapsed from stress and exhaustion, so a young replacement doctor has been dispatched from medical school on a temporary basis.  James, with  no school, becomes the chauffeur, driving the Model T and filling the new doctor in on mining country culture.

The use of bars as immigrant medical clinics, for example, that was interesting.  The doctor goes to the bars “where the practice of medicine was wholesale” (9), to Kelly’s to treat crowds of Irish immigrants and Wisniewski’s to handle the Poles.  The owner of the latter has the flu, but that does not mean an end to hospitality, so he is passing the bottle around:

Doctor Myers was horrified.  “You oughtn’t to do that.  You’ll give the others the flu.”

“Too late now , Doc,” he said.  “T’ree bottle now already.”

“You’ll lose all your customers, Steve,” I said.

“How ya figure dat out?” said Steve.  “Dis flu make me die, dis bottle make dem die.  Fwit!  Me and my customers all togeder in hell, so I open a place in hell.  Fwit!”  (22)

How O’Hara loves the varieties of human speech.

I should include the mask passage, in case we think we have never done this before:

Doctor Myers at first wore a mask over his nose and mouth when making calls, and so did I, but the gauze stuck to my lips and I stopped wearing it and so did the doctor.  It was too much of a nuisance to put them on and take them off every time we would go  to a place like Kelly’s, and also it was rather insulting to walk in on a group of people with a mask on your face when nobody in the group was wearing one.  (16)

A long, grim passage, when a house call to treat a family with flu uncovers something even worse, diphtheria, was the dramatic highlight for me, but the actual story is about the new doctor starting an affair with the mother of James’s girlfriend (and James is complicit, since he is the driver), which seemed a little thin, but life goes on, I know, except when it does not, even in the face of this:

This graph of the American mortality rate from infectious diseases is taken from a 1999 Center for Disease Control article, “Achievements in Public Health, 1900-1999: Control of Infectious Diseases.”

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Huxley changes into Huxley - who was speaking, according to a well-authenticated tradition, about his own genius

Aldous Huxley wrote good literary criticism, travel writing, art criticism, short stories, as well as four novels during the 1920s, all loose contemporary satires.  London artists and writers and their problems.  Fifteen books during the 1920s, not counting his poetry.  What a monster.  The arts criticism and so on, as represented in Huxley’s Collected Essays (1958), is quite good, as are the two novels I have read.

And then it was goodbye to all that, all of it tossed out for mysticism, pacifism, and psychedelic drugs.  I have had great trouble seeing how the Huxley of Antic Hay turned into the proto-hippie psychedelic prophet of the 1950s.  A long, strange trip.  Brave New World (1932) is the hinge.

England, and apparently the world, is populated with clones, assigned to their social level and occupation in a strict, chemically-engineered hierarchy.  Industrial productivity has increased to the point that everyone has plenty of leisure and recreational drugs; social norms have changed so that everyone has plenty of sex, although Huxley hints at some complications in that area.  It is a utilitarian parody.  How many people would take this deal, so to speak?  For a plot, introduce a character who rejects the deal.

Huxley’s earlier novels are written in what I think of as the Platonic ideal of the British “house style” of the 1920s, clever, witty, and conversational, just a bit arch, capable of darker colors, but generally light on its feet.  (I would like to read an essay about how English Golden Age detective novels have survived so well in part because the British house style was so appealing, compared to, say, its heavier pre-war predecessor or the contemporary American pulp style.  Maybe that is not true, but I would like to see the case made.)  Huxley’s style in Brave New World is weighed down, compared to his novels with a contemporary setting, by the mass of information he has to impart, like all of the nonsense about how cloning and hypnotic conditioning works in the first chapter.

It is a relief, in chapter two, to find some satire.  An administrator is recounting the origin of hypnotic conditioning, when a boy falls asleep with the radio on and “woke up repeating word for word a long lecture by that curious old writer (‘one of the very few whose works have been permitted to come down to us’), George Bernard Shaw, who was speaking, according to a well-authenticated tradition, about his own genius.”  That is a joke about 1932, not 2532.  The parenthetical is possibly more insulting that the punchline.

Just a few lines later, more satire:

“The case of [the boy] occurred only twenty-three years after Our Ford’s first T-Model was put on the market.”  (Here the Director made a sign of the T on his stomach and all the students reverently followed suit.)

This terrific gag, the pseudo-worship of Henry Ford in place of Jesus Christ, in a society where even the people are produced on an assembly line, recurs throughout the novel.  Two things blow my mind, and I wish I had looked them up back in college, but looking things up was work back then: first, Gramsci’s concept of Fordism is from 1934, two years later – all credit to Huxley; second, Henry Ford was not some distant, or even deceased, historical figure.  He was sixty-nine in 1932, running Ford Motor Company, and would live for another fifteen years.  By chance, 1932 was an especially important year for Ford, since it saw the introduction of the flathead V-8 engine, a major innovation.  I wonder if Ford ever read Brave New World.

The two chapters before the last, where the rebel and the ruler debate ethics, quoting Shakespeare and Cardinal Newman back and forth, are where Huxley gives up the game.  Why not write Platonic dialogues or some such thing after this, why bother creating novelistic characters?  And I guess that is what Huxley does.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Huxley and the "pessimism of outlook" of the 1920s, with help from George Orwell and William Pritchard - twelve buttocks slabbily resounding

Brave New World (1932) was the first book assigned at the University of Kansas, long, oh so long ago, in a course naively titled “Western Civilization,” in theory the first book a student new to college would read.  I had not read it since then, thirty years ago, when it was used as a source of ethical questions, not really as a work of art, which suits it well, except, for example:

Round they went, a circular procession of dancers, each with hands on the hips of the dancer preceding, round and round, shouting in unison, stamping to  the rhythm of the music with their feet, beating it, beating it out with hands on the buttocks in front; twelve pairs of hands beating as one; as one, twelve buttocks slabbily resounding.  (5.2)

I feel bad I did not file away “twelve buttocks slabbily resounding,” did not even notice it, apparently.  The magic word is “slabbily,” right?

I’ve read two other Aldous Huxley novels, Antic Hay (1923) and Point Counter Point (1928), and boy were they eye-openers, exemplars of “the British novel in the 1920s.”  I was discovering what every read had discovered before me, the phenomenon George Orwell describes in “Inside the Whale” (1940), where what is nominally a review of a Henry Miller novel turns into a quick history of British literature, 1910 to the present, the books of Orwell’s lifetime.  After the war, he argues, major writers had “a certain temperamental similarity…  What it amounts to is pessimism of outlook” (italics Orwell’s).  Caused by, for example, anti-Victorian puritanism, the scientific attack on religion, fashionable philosophers, the war, or all of the above.  Mostly, really, the war.

His other helpful phrase, borrowed from Joyce, is that these writers “see through” all of the old received junk – King, church, country, family, art – or hope they do, or pretend they do.  The title to Robert Graves’s 1929 memoir is a perfect distillation – Goodbye to All That – no, really, all of it.  William Pritchard borrows the term for his 1977 book Seeing Through Everything: English Writers 1918-1940, which spends more time with Lawrence, Eliot, and Woolf, but leads off, more or less, with Huxley, because he is the one who really sees through everything and behind everything sees nothing.  He is, for the British 1920s, a nihilist.  Antic Hay is the sort of book which might… provide a generation with the illusion that they were disillusioned” (Pritchard, 39).

Point Counter Point was particularly instructive, perhaps because it is longer and covers more topics – “first-rate material for cultural historians interested in how the English intelligentsia talk” (Pritchard, 32).  D. H. Lawrence is a character in the novel, functioning as the reasonable voice of unreason, the person who does not merely “see through” but sees something, who has beliefs and ideas and a purpose.  Often, with Antic Hay and Point Counter Point, I felt like I was reading books that were no longer quite alive, which has not been my experience with Lawrence, however exasperating he might be.

This has been the crushed-down version of an essay I have meant to write for two years, but have not, I suppose because it is just a rehash of Orwell’s masterpiece and parts of Pritchard’s fine book.  But I had wondered, how did the Huxley of the contemporary nihilistic London satire of Point Counter Point turn, in just four years, into the Huxley of dystopian nihilistic London satire or Brave New World?  Expressed like that, it does not seem like such a big change.  Just the one word.  I will turn to the less slabbily resounding parts of Brave New World tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Tender Is the Night has some good writing - Fitzgerald's Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!

Tender Is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1934 novel about the decline and fall of a talented psychiatrist, is full of fine writing, beginning with the bit of “Ode to a Nightingale” that supplies the title.  Maybe Keats should not count.  “O for a beaker full of the warm South…,” Keats demands, a wine “[t]asting of Flora and the country green, / Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!”  Fitzgerald gives me plenty of that.  This is, I hope it is obvious, not the bit of “Ode” that supplies the title, but a different, relevant bit.

On the pleasant shore of the French Riviera, about halfway between Marseilles and the Italian border, stands a large, proud, rose-colored hotel.  Deferential palms cool its flushed façade, and before it stretches a short dazzling beach.

I take “deferential” and “flushed” as the nice touches here, adjectives I would not expect.  The beach is new, not fashionable, so some old villas “rotted like water lilies.”

“The hotel and its bright tan prayer rug of a beach were one.”  That is nice, right, a postcard view but who would see that rug?  The narrator lingers.  A man appears, “floundered a minute in the sea,” and disappears.  “When he had gone, beach and bay were quiet for an hour.”  Iambs in front of the comma, trochaic pentameter after.  The effect of watching the empty beach for two hours, while “bus boys shouted in the hotel court; the dew dried upon the pines,” while actually spending a couple of minutes reading the paragraph, is sharp.  This is 1923 or so, and the rich Americans have only barely started to descend on France.

Here are two, a young actress, fresh with her first taste of celebrity , and her duenna mother, “[the actress’s] cheeks lit to a lovely flame, like the thrilling flush of children after their cold baths in the evening…  she was almost eighteen, nearly complete, but the dew was still on her.”  I have made it to the second page of my copy of the novel.

The two uses of “dew,” are they too close together?  In writing like this, made up of hundreds of arresting little effects, and by “arresting” I mean that I stop and enjoy them, I often ask if Fitzgerald went too far.  What is overwritten?  What is beautiful and what is kitsch?  It is a dance.  His first novel and bestseller, This Side of Paradise (1920), I remember as a mishmash of undergraduate jokiness and overwritten kitsch.  The first-person narrator of The Great Gatsby puts a brake on the purple prose.  Now, the more mature Fitzgerald can show off:

… the hot light clipped close her shadow… a faded Buick cooked on the hotel drive… Three British nannies sat knitting the slow pattern of Victorian England, the pattern of the forties, the sixties, and the eighties, into sweaters and socks, to the tune of gossip as formalized as incantation. (still on the second page)

Maybe something in one of every three sentences where I think “Oh, that’s good.”  When the story gets moving, maybe more like one in ten.  I think this is the third time I have read Tender Is the Night, so I am in no hurry to see what happens.

This is a remnant of the old fraternity style – the actress has been on an all-night spree in Paris:

Later Rosemary and the Norths and a manufacturer of dolls’ voices from Newark and ubiquitous Collis and a big splendidly dressed oil Indian named George T. Horseprotection were riding along on top of thousands of carrots in a market wagon.  The earth in the carrot beards was fragrant and sweet in the darkness…  (I.xviii)

I like those carrots but that first sentence is packed with what I mean by overwriting.  Maybe it is directly drawn from life, manufactured dolls’ voices and Mr. Horseprotection and all, but it is, as the expression goes, too cute by half.  Case by case, adjective by adjective: too cute by 30%? 10%?  Just cute enough?

The ride on the carrot wagon is stolen directly from the opening of Zola’s The Belly of Paris (1873); a slightly earlier paragraph about the ludicrous “car of the Shah of Persia, “a new facet of the fabulous,” is likely pinched from Radiguet’s The Ball of the Count of Orgel (1924), although maybe it is an authentic contemporary detail used by coincidence by both writers.  I had not known any of this whenever I last read the novel.  What will I see next time?

Maybe I will have made it to the French Riviera by then.  The Riviera is the part of France that I am least interested in visiting, but in fairness it is now a lot more crowded than it was in Tender Is the Night.  It is a lot more crowded by the end of the novel than it is on the still, quiet first page.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Georges Bernanos's Diary of a Country Priest - a long monologue that I listened to without understanding it

Finally, I have finished Georges Bernanos’s Journal d'un curé de campagne (Diary of a Country Priest, 1936), a 285-page novel that has taken me four weeks to read.  Reading in French, it is pour les oiseaux.  The birds who already read French.

A bit more of the Wuthering Expectations Short History of French Literature I was writing last year:

The French twentieth century began with a crushing defeat of the Catholic Church, and the triumph of laicization, a struggle that had continued since the French Revolution.  For more detail, see “The Law of the 9th of December 1905 Concerning the Separation of Church and State.”  Meanwhile, French artists and writers were turning into godless Communists and lunatics.  So there is a Catholic counter-reaction, eventually.  Bernanos is the Catholic writer who has survived the best in French literature, I think, aside from Charles Péguy, who was killed in the war in 1914.  Bernanos is probably a better novelist than his peers in the movement, but I have not read them – I would have to look up their names – so what do I know.

This novel is well-described by its title.  A young priest in his first parish has a crisis of faith, and decides to write it down.  He does not doubt his own faith, but rather that of everyone else, the superstitious no-longer-peasants who would make up his congregation if they ever came to Mass, and the neurotic wealthy family in the mansion on the hill.  The latter provides most of the plot.  This is very much not a novel about a priest dealing with ordinary people.

The book is a mix of the priest’s reflections, some of which are personal, some theological, some both – doubts about the intensity of his prayer, for example – which is what I would expect from a priest’s diary, and long Thomas Bernhardish monologues by other people, like an older priest who is something of a mentor, an atheist doctor who kills himself, and an old friend from the seminary who gives up the vocation, which are completely preposterous as diary entries, unless I am supposed to think  the priest is inventing them.  But I think I am not supposed to think about it.  Just a convention.  Occasionally, Bernanos and the priest do acknowledge the problem:

He must have pursued this for a long time, since I have the memory of a long monologue that I listened to without understanding it. (299 of this Librairie Plon edition, tr. mine)

The priest does not have a forceful personality, so he mostly just lets people talk.  His own writing is clear, but the numerous long monologues are full of regional words, slang, and irony – oh so hard, so slow.  The monologues are a clue to the tradition Bernanos is working.  He is one of the French writers of the time who read Dostoevsky carefully, and he is bringing Dostoevsky’s many voices into French.  It is as if Alyosha, from The Brothers Karamazov, became a priest and kept a diary.  The narrator’s voice is orthodox, but many other voices have their say.

André Malraux, who writes the introduction to the edition I read, dated when I have no idea,  is another of the French Dostoevskians of the time, but he is interested in the political Dostoevsky, of The Possessed, for example, while Bernanos works the religious side.  It is all something new in French, and it is all about to turn into existentialism.  The parallels between Country Priest and Sartre’s Nausea, published a year later, are curious, although Bernanos never achieves the hallucinatory lunacy of Sartre.

Maybe just once.  The priest, poor fellow, has serious stomach problems, which may be psychological (a parallel with Sartre’s narrator’s nausea), but maybe not.  In the last, and I thought best, section, the priest finally visits a doctor.  After a professional examination, the young doctor begins to wander, perhaps just because his patient is a young priest.  I am paraphrasing: “You are like my double.  Do you think about suicide? Boy, I sure do!  By the way, I have a terminal illness.  Also by the way, so do you.”  That is one bad doctor, and one weird monologue.

The essential existentialism of the novel is likely another reason it has survived so well, is what I am saying.  As with Dostoevsky, it does not matter much if the reader agrees with the author, whatever that might mean.  There are other things to do with the book.

Regardless, now I will refer to my list of French books appropriate for junior high students and find a French book that is much shorter and much easier.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Thomas Mann's The Stories of Jacob - we know the stories in which it all comes to pass

Thomas Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers (1933-43) is on the one hand a 1,500 page monster that decompresses roughly the second half of Genesis, and on the other hand it is four novels, the first two of which are not even especially long, published over a decade.  Four books, not one; I just finished the first one, The Stories of Jacob (1933).

Why did Mann want to tell these stories in modern novelistic form?  What does he want with sentence like this:

He [Joseph] ventured to step down to the old man [Jacob] and carefully placed an arm around his shoulders, convinced he had enchanted and placated him with his chatter; and Jacob, who had been standing there pondering his God and playing with the little stone cignet cylinder dangling at his chest, sighed and, yielding to the pressure, set one foot on the circular step and then sat down on the rim of the well, resting his staff against his arm, ordering his robes, and turning his face now to the moon, with its clear light brightening his gentle aging majesty, its gleam mirrored in his wisely worried chestnut-brown eyes.  (“At the Well,” p. 77, tr. John Woods)

The bit about the moon is thematic, part of the novel’s ideas.  But the rest – as if what was missing from Genesis was minutiae about where Jacob put his feet.  The final clause is especially klutzy.

Form aside, Mann is deeply interested in the stories themselves, their origin and repetition, their power.  Joseph and Jacob are discussing a story, Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac.  Jacob has retold the story, and Joseph is responding:

“But that is the advantage of these later days, that we know the great rounds in which the world rolls ever on, and the stories in which it all comes to pass and that the fathers established.  You could have trusted the voice and the ram.”  (“At the Well,” 81)

Someone – Mann, Joseph – has been reading Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, which uses the Abraham and Isaac story as its exemplar.  Mann explores the way the stories are repeated as stories, and are then repeated by the characters themselves, with Jacob sometimes acting to repeat a story, say of something his grandfather Abraham did, or to avoid repeating a story, to prevent a repetition of the Cain and Abel story, especially if he would play the role of Abel.  Meanwhile Jacob generates new stories, some of them superb.  I was not surprised that Mann does interesting things whenever he brushes against the story of Jacob wrestling the angel, among the most sublime stories in the Hebrew Bible.  In the novel, it is a dream, perhaps, but what a dream.

The first forty pages of the book are a separate essay, “Descent into Hell,” a Key to All Mythologies that explains while dodging explanation.  Mann explicitly describes Joseph and His Brothers as what we now call a fantasy novel; he does this by denying that it is a fantasy novel:

The people there [at the bottom of the well, in the past] do not have horned armor or an eye in the middle of their foreheads, do not do battle with flying lizards, but are human beings just like us – allowing for a few easily pardoned dreamy imprecisions in their thoughts.  (40)

Mann is fascinated by the monotheists making their way in a polytheistic world, where their one God is at the same time one of many gods (the moon theme I mentioned above is used here – one God, or moon god, and what’s the difference, really).  He wants to understand the psychology of the monotheists.  Psychology, that is a novelistic project.

Side note, on a recurring Wuthering Expectations topic: Some fine cat mummies, “to which, weeping loudly, he would offer sacrifices of mice and milk,” on p. 122.  Once Mann gets Joseph to Egypt, there should be more, right?

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Yourcenar's taxidermy squirrels and Cocteau's Round Table - recent reading in French

See here – voici – the books I read in French in June that are not Diary of a Country Priest (1937) by Georges Bernanos, which is still in progress, if “progress” is the right word.

Marguerite Yourcenar liked distance in her fiction.  Long ago or far away or both.  A couple of years ago, I read her Nouvelles Orientales (Oriental Tales, 1938), a collection of stories of Balkan bandits, Classical Chinese painters, “The Last Love of Prince Genji.”  Lots of variety, in subject and form, all far from 1930s Belgium.  Some of these are commonly taught at the collège level, which is why I read them.  “How Wong-Fo Was Saved,” a parable about the price of the artistic life, has an ending of unusual beauty.

In June, I read Yourcenar’s short novel Le Coup de grâce (Coup de Grace, 1939), a tense story of a love affair thwarted by war, ideology, and cussedness. The war is the Russian Civil War, in what is now Latvia; the narrator is a White Russian and the woman he ought to be in love with is a Red.  The blow in the title is the end of the novel.  Everything, psychologically, is leading up to that blow. For much of the novel, little happens; anything that does happen is grim and horrible.

Mostly  the language is plain and clear, convincingly that of the French-speaking Prussian turned international revolutionary.  Once in a while it is like this:

Conrad worked with his back to the window, elbows on an enormous sculpted oak table in the middle of an office where a maniacal grandfather had heaped up a grotesque collection of hunting souvenirs.  A comical and sinister series of stuffed animals were lined up on the shelves, and I always remembered a certain squirrel wearing, on its worm-eaten pelt, a vest and Tyrolian hat.  I spent some of the most critical moments of my life in this room that smelt of camphor and mothballs.  (p. 214 of the Gallimard paperback that bundles the book with Alexis, tr. mine)

The table, the camphor, the squirrel – that is not what Yourcenar’s novel is like, mostly.  I would not have minded a little more of that, but it is really a psychological novel.  It reminded me sometimes of Benjamin Constant’s Adolphe (1816), a novel with no descriptive detail at all.


Jean Cocteau’s Les chevaliers de la table ronde (The Knights of the Round Table, 1937).  Cocteau’s Les Mariés de la tour Eiffel (Wedding on the Eiffel Tower, 1921), with its dancing gramophones and ostriches and bicycles, its mix of Modern music, ballet, visual art, and kooky text, I take as an epitome of French literature of the 1920s, an essential work.  And Orphée (Orpheus, 1926) is one of the best examples of the favorite French theatrical practice of rewriting myths.  Cocteau’s Orpheus is a radical re-imagining, yet the core of the myth is intact.

Cocteau’s King Arthur story has more trouble getting away from the usual story.  Once he does there are some revelations, an apotheosis, the usual Grail stuff.  I don’t know.  Still, I would not hesitate to see it, if I got the chance.  Coco Chanel created the costumes (source of the image).


I read a book of Jean-Pierre Jouve poems, too, but perhaps I should save him for a poetry roundup.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Graham Greene walks through Liberia in Journey Without Maps - I had discovered in myself a passionate interest in living.

Graham Greene spent four weeks in 1935 on vacation in Liberia, with a taste of Sierra Leone and Guinea, walking through the upland forests.  His account of the trip, Journey Without Maps (1936), is a peculiar book, misguided and innovative.  The journey, or the book, or both, were a turning point for Greene, or so I have read.  Greene had been steadily publishing books since 1925, but I have not read any of those (I haven’t read any Greene post-1950, either), so I don’t know what turned.  Still, keep reading; it may be visible.

Greene is looking for the aspect of Africa that “acts so strongly on the unconscious mind” (I.1.20), the part of Africa that creates whatever associations he has with the word “Africa,” and since he has to pick a specific spot, not an entire continent, he deduces or invents that these associations are to be found not in Egypt or Kenya but in West Africa, so having never left Europe before Greene picks Liberia.  I would have suggested Senegal, but I believe Greene wants to be near an English colony.

Also, Senegal would not have worked for the conceit of the title, which is that the Liberian forests were unmapped, allowing Greene to feel more like he was Richard Burton or Joseph Conrad or whoever.  Greene is , however, never near anything resembling wilderness, but rather in a long-settled agricultural region, with towns at most a day’s walk apart.  No heart of darkness here.  The region is, though, painfully, desperately poor.  The lack of a decent map was a bureaucratic failure of the Liberian government.  Greene is not an explorer, but a tourist; an adventure tourist, as we would call him now.

He hires guides and porters and walks from village to village for a month.  When I was an adventure tourist in West Africa, I hired guides and drivers, and was driven around, and was under no illusion that I was not a tourist.

As much as I enjoyed Journey, the journey itself often seemed pointless, or merely personally meaningful, which is enough for a good book, but still.  Dubious.  Several dubious ideas here, but Greene learns a lot, about Liberia, “Africa,” and himself.  He is a good traveler.

I suspect Greene wanted to write an innovative book, so although most of it is the usual chronological logistical account of the trip, Journey is studded with separate autobiographical chunks, like an earlier trip to Riga that somehow turns back to Greene’s childhood:

In Nottingham I was instructed in Catholicism, travelling here and there by tram into new country with the fat priest who had once been an actor.  (It was one of his greatest sacrifices to be unable to see a play.) (II.1.101)

Or the wild “dream” digression:

It is the earliest dream that I can remember, earlier than the witch at the corner of the nursery passage, this dream of something outside that has got to come in…

It was only many years later that Evil came into my dreams: the man with gold teeth and rubber surgical gloves; the old woman with ringworm; the man with his throat cut dragging himself across the carpet to the bed.  (III.1.180-1)

The Portable Graham Greene excerpts these and other similar passages so cleanly that I had no idea, when I read them decades ago, that they were from a travel book about Liberia.

Here is the turning point, by the way:

The fever would not let me sleep at all, but by the early morning it was sweated out of me.  My temperature was a long way below normal, but the worst boredom of the trek [see below] for the time being was over.  I had made a discovery during the night which interested me.  I had discovered in myself a passionate interest in living.  I had always assumed before, as a matter of course, that death was desirable.

It seemed that night an important discovery.  It was like a conversion, and I had never experienced a conversion before.  (III.4.213)

Some thoughtful skepticism follows, but now Greene sounds like a character in the kind of Graham Green novel I’ve read.  The next book is A Gun for Sale (1936), which I have not read:

It was another five hours’ march to Greh, by a track of appalling monotony.  I tried to think of my next novel, but I was afraid to think of it for long, for then there might be nothing to think about next day.  (III.2.195)

Journey without Maps is obviously a carefully shaped book, art, whatever else it might be.

Page numbers refer to the Penguin paperback.