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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter July 3, 2020

The end of the affair: Catholic plots and sinful detectives

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The first paragraph of Greene’s The End of the Affair establishes a clear link between two of the major themes of the novel: storytelling and Catholicism. Maurice Bendrix, the first-person narrator, considers whether it is his craft as a professional writer that leads him to begin telling his story the way he does, or, were he a believer, whether the hand of God played a role in organizing the events that he retells. The order in which a story is told is pitted against the chronological order of the events depicted, this contrast in turn masking the one between human choice and divine intervention. The gist of the story is the affair Bendrix conducted with Sarah Miles, and its unexpected and unexplained end at her behest a year before the opening scene, at the height of the Blitz. That mystery is the crux of the plot, for Bendrix’s obsession with uncovering it leads him to hire a private detective, Parkis, whose exploits allow Greene to appropriate the narrative structure of detective fiction to frame his work, especially in what concerns what Franco Moretti called a “double system of meanings”, following Todorov’s work on detective fiction: the superficial level of investigation hides the deeper level of the crime which is only revealed at the end. My suggestion is that Greene’s novel operates under this system, superimposing it to his concerns with jealousy, religion, and how to tell it. The concern with God, however posits issues of authorship and narrative that go beyond the classical detective story. The interplay between narrative time and experienced time expressed in the novel’s initial paragraph is in this way rendered more complicated by a detective story’s reliance on its conclusion for it to “work”. Although the The End of the Affair opens by emphasizing its own opening, both title and structure point to the source of meaning: the end.


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Published Online: 2020-07-03
Published in Print: 2020-07-01

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