Graham Greene. Reflections on treachery and trust

Roderick Strange

This article was given by its author as the David Pearce Memorial Lecture at the Graham Greene Festival held in Berkhamsted in September 2018, and is reproduced with kind permission of the festival organisers. Roderick Strange is Professor of Theology at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, and was previously Rector of the Beda College in Rome.

‘No-one’s reading Greene these days, are they? The issues are no longer ones that we care about or take seriously.’ I recognised at once the point of this comment, made recently by a friend. There are those who see the novels as being preoccupied with adultery and damnation: Is Pinkie going to hell? Will Scobie be damned for his adultery, receiving the Eucharist, and indeed for his suicide? What’s the eternal destiny of the whisky priest? What sense are we to make of Sarah’s pact with God to save her lover’s life? These questions arise within a school of moral theology, a more juridical school, whose influence nowadays is waning.

On the other hand, it occurred to me that there was another theme running through Greene’s writing, the theme of trust and betrayal, treachery and trust. These issues are, of course, fundamental in all relationships. Whom do we trust, and whom don’t we? Alec Guinness’ first memoir, Blessings in Disguise, concludes with: ‘Of one thing I can boast; I am unaware of ever having lost a friend.’1 I think he may have qualified the boast in a later memoir, but when I think of friends lost – not too many – the loss has happened because of a breakdown of trust. The friends I have lost are not unreliable people, untrustworthy. They are fine people. But something in the relationship between them and me has broken down. Friendships are damaged when trust collapses.

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