Shitty first drafts; its a common phrase in the writing world and one that I personally cling on to as one of the main reasons I keep plugging away on my first novel. Editing is where the story really ties itself together. Therefore, the edits an author makes from the first draft of their novel until publication fascinates me!
Unfortunately, with the use of computers and word documents, these changes often disappear into cyber space, never to be seen or studied by anyone. BUT in 1939 when Graham Green wrote the first version of The Power and the Glory, he used good ‘ol pen and paper. That original, hand-written copy of the novel is still in tack (see pictures below!), allowing individuals to compare the original copy with the published manuscript.
See my book review of The Power and the Glory here. It may surprise you!!
While doing a bit of snooping on the Internet, I came across this intriguing article by François Gallix, a professor of contemporary literature in English at the Sorbonne in Paris. Gallix had the privilege of looking at the original version of The Power and the Glory and in doing so, he found some meaningful cuts made to the text which he describes in his article. Click here for full article.
**Spoilers ahead** The most interesting cut Gallix pointed out is near the end of the novel when the main character, a priest in Mexico during a time when all religion is outlawed, was executed in the center of town. Gallix explains the passage as follows:
The published text runs as follows:
“Then there was a single shot, and opening [his eyes] again he [Mr. Tench] saw the officer stuffing his gun back into his holster and the little man was a routine heap beside the wall—something unimportant that had to be cleared away. [added on the manuscript and published: Two knock-kneed men approached quickly].”
After “cleared away,” Greene crossed out the following lines that were not included in the published version:
“But looking down Mr. Tench caught a look on the officer’s face—an uneasy look, the look of a disappointed man and it suddenly sunk to him, as the buzzards flipped down again after the explosion’s shot, as though the blood had been cleared away from a whole region of the world.”
Gallix explains this cut as part of Greene’s “purified minimalist style,” purposely leaving things open ended so the reader can interpret the work anyway he/she sees fit. Many authors incorporate this minimalist style into their writing, Raymond Carver as one of my favorites, but seeing the actual edits first hand is a unique experience. I’m very glad that I came across this article and have the opportunity to share it with you all! Please check out the entire article here. It’s not long and well worth the time!
Originally published in 1940, under the original American title The Labyrinthine Ways, The Power and the Glory has been widely read (by the general public) and researched (by literary academics everywhere).
The ironic title is a doxology from the Christian’s Lord Prayer. The title is ironic because the main character, a priest half-heartedly avoiding capture in a state where religion has been outlawed, has very little power and no glory whatsoever. This priest, who is supposed to represent God’s message on Earth, is an alcoholic, hopeless, desperate, poor man who doesn’t trust anyone. The obvious irony of it makes the title itself a very powerful statement.
The title is not the only thing that has changed throughout the versions. One area of study surrounding the book is the comparisons of different versions of the texts, where certain, impactful lines vary. (I will discuss this more in depth in a future blog!)
**Slight Spoiler** As many plotlines do, this story creates a circle, ending where it began. Without giving away the ending, I will say that minor characters that appear for a short time in the beginning of the novel, appear again in the last few pages, yet nowhere in-between. Also, a very important aspect of the story appears to “start over fresh” in the last few lines, suggesting that perhaps the entire story will occur again to another individual. This type of cycle is a successful plot structure because it creates the sense that the story is eternal and not unique to this individual.
I don’t particularly like talking about the “themes” of stories because I don’t think every story needs to or should have one. For example, another of Greene’s novels, Our Man in Havana, focuses mainly on entertaining the reader without a clear theme. However, The Power and the Glory has a common thread that can’t be ignored. The downfall of man is present in every step of the novel. First, the novel is set in a time when the government has outlawed all religion, which is a dominant source of hope and happiness for many people. Without religion, one is led to believe that death is the end, that no eternal happiness or “life ever after” follows. Some characters in the novel even state that they believe death on Earth is the end of being.
The story was a bit too political and unclear for my liking. Names were too often averted, characters were always hiding the truth and the drama was written in a very calm tone. These things made the story hard to follow at times, and no clear goal was ever established. Even the priest’s goal of not being caught did not ground the reader because the priest himself seemed it was only a matter of time, he did not fear it, and often walked knowingly into situations that could get him caught and killed. His wishy-washy character made me not care if he got caught. Therefore, I had no real suspense or emotion invested in the story.
Most people would agree that The Power and the Glory is a 5 star novel, but my personal taste has to disagree. I’m giving it 3 stars (and honestly, it would probably be lower if there wasn’t so much outside praise influencing me.) If you’re a literary nut like me it is well worth a read and I hope you enjoy it more than I did! If you simply want to read a fun, emotional, entertaining story, I would suggest you grab Greene’s Our Man in Havana instead. Its an entertaining, funny story that incorporates a unique writing style.
Previous Book Reviews:
Future Book Reviews:
Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
The Prestige by Christopher Priest
Book Review of Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana. Published by Penguin.
“Can we write human beings into existence? And what sort of existence? Had Shakespeare listened to the news of Duncan’s death in a tavern or heard the knocking on his own bedroom door after he had finished the writing of Macbeth?” This quote from page 121 of Our Man in Havana, is possibly the root idea that inspired this novel.
James Wormold, a single father and vacuum-cleaner-salesman in Havana, Cuba, is approached by a stranger who recruits him to become a spy for the Secret Service. Wormold, who is set up as a spineless push-over, believes the stranger is full of crap but lets the situation play out around him. Whatever may be fake, the money the agency sends him is very real. Wormold begins sending the agency fake reports and recruiting fake agents to help him spy on the city. One of his falsified reports sparks action from multiple countries’ agencies, causing his falsified reports to spin into real controversies. One of Wormold’s agents that was only alive on paper, turns up dead in real life. Before he knows it, Wormold is at the center of a deadly political tangle.
One of the most wonderful things about writing fiction is that you, as the author, can make everything work in your favor. In order for Wormold to go along with this “spy” business that he clearly thinks is bogus, he needs to be two things: 1) a spineless, go-with-the-flow kind of man and 2) struggling for money. Both are established beautifully by Greene in a scene where Wormold’s daughter asks him to buy her a horse for her birthday. Wormold first rejects, saying his business is struggling and they don’t have the money. After further (but seriously not that much) begging by his daughter, he folds. He agrees to the horse even when he knows he can’t afford it.
A single powerful line of characterization is at the beginning of Part 1, Chapter 4 as Wormold is walking his normal route to a bar in his hometown.
“At every corner there were men who called ‘Taxi’ at him as though he were a stranger…”
A line like this tells us more about Wormold’s character than a hundred stand along adjectives. (Awkward, unconfident, uncomfortable, dorky, foreign, stranger, nervous) Also consider that this line shows the character being acted upon, which explains how others view him. A character’s own actions offer more insight on how they view themselves.
This book has some of the best dialogue I have ever read. Here are some of the highlights that made it stand out:
- It was unpredictable and surprising
- Uncommonly few dialogue tags, yet it was never confusing who was speaking
- It moved the plot along and helped characterize individuals
- Silences were described by the thoughts and actions of the characters instead of “Silence followed” or the like
- It changed subjects randomly
- Those change-of-subjects would often circle around and connect with the original topic
- Characters could hold conversations about two separate topics at one time
This last point was particularly interesting to me. The best example is near the end of the book (pages 157-160) when Wormold is holding a serious conversation with another character while playing checkers. The main conversation is about what is happening in the plot but the characters randomly comment on the game they are playing. Greene’s dialogue is so smooth that he hardly has any dialogue tags and never has to describe what the characters are actually doing. Because they talk about playing checkers, we assume they are sitting at a table, moving their pieces in turn and talking. There is no need for Greene to describe that further. Brilliantly, the conversation of checkers doesn’t only interrupt the main conversation, but also is woven into it. The characters use the game as a metaphor for what is going on in their lives. (I wish I could simply share this section with you but it would be too much of a spoiler. (So please read the book!))
One more specific I will share is how Greene filled a gap in a conversation on page 26. **Spoiler ahead** At this point in the story, the stranger is trying to recruit Wormold to become a spy. He has pulled them into a bathroom and runs a water tap so they won’t be overheard. Wormold is going along with the conversation even when he thinks the stranger is crazy. When they hear another man approaching the bathroom, the stranger forces Wormold into a stall and he pretends to wash his own hands.
“…and then there was silence expect for the running tap. Wormold sat down. There was nothing else to do. When he was seated his legs still showed under the half door. A handle tuned. Feet crossed the tiled floor towards the pissoir. Water went on running. Wormold felt an enormous bewilderment. He wondered why he had not stopped all this nonsense at the beginning. No wonder Mary had left him. He remembered one of their quarrels. ‘Why don’t you do something, act some way, any way at all? You just stand there…’ At least, he thought, this time I’m not standing, I’m sitting. But in any case what could he have said? He hadn’t been given time to get a word in. Minutes passed. What enormous bladders Cubans had, and how clean Hawthorne’s hands must be getting by this time. The water stopped running. Presumably he was drying his hands, but Wormold remembered there were no towels. That was another problem for Hawthorne but he would be up to it. All part of the drill. At last the feet passed towards the door. The door closed.” And the conversation resumes.
In that moment of “silence” Green works in characterization, Wormold’s internal thoughts, setting, the surrounding actions and humor. (The sitting line made me laugh out loud!) Think about this the next time you are writing a moment of silence in your fiction, I know I will!
Greene’s transitions help the plot cover a lot of time. Chapter breaks often skip large amounts of unspecified time but Greene does is without causing confusion. The characters often casually allude to how much time has passed and give the reader a little “recap” of what has happened through dialogue. When one character is explaining the events to another character that is just learning of them, it helps the transition feel natural and the information unforced.
A specific interesting transition is when Greene starts a chapter off by explaining a common day-dream of Wormold’s. In the day-dream, he would suddenly realize he was rich but the day-dream was always shattered when he entered the “big American bank” where, in reality, his small savings account was managed. And where should the action start off but inside that very bank. An excellent and clever transition.
Although it is more of a style choice than a flaw, there were scenes where Green had very few details in this novel. The heavy reliance on dialogue often took over for the narrator which would be where details were told. I enjoyed the style very much but there were a couple moments when I wished there had been more details. Also, because the novel centered on Wormold, the reader was not present for one of the big scenes in the book when his agent died (though its questionable if it even happened so there is good reason for the reader not to be there).
I recommend this book to everyone! It is an excellent piece of literature as well as entertainment. Five stars! I will specifically recommend this novel to anyone who wants to see how great dialogue is done.
How I found this book: A fellow writer recommended it knowing how much I love great dialogue. Thanks Stephen!
Currently reading Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene, I am shocked by the passiveness of the main character, Jim Wormold. He is a push over, letting his friends, 16-year-old daughter and even a stranger bully him into doing whatever they want.
The opening line of the novel is Wormold’s friend comparing him to a “Negro blind in one eye and one leg shorter than the other.” Clearly an insult, Wormold is confused by the suggestion and his friend eventually twists his original comment into an attempted compliment. His 16-year-old daughter bullies him into buying her a horse when they cannot afford it. In chapter three, Wormold meets an eccentric stranger who pressures him to do strange things. Wormold goes along with it all, putting up little resistance to any of it. The only actions we see him take are his typical daily routines and things that are asked of him.
Less than 50 pages into the novel, I am simply shocked by this character. He is indecisive, a slow thinker and has extremely low self-esteem. Greene is setting up a character who has let the world write his life script for him and I am very interested to see if that changes throughout the novel; to see if Wormold ever takes charge of anything.
My reaction to this character opened my eyes to the typical brave, action-driven character we are custom to seeing today. Think Harry Potter, he is always breaking rules and sneaking out at night to take action. My last book review on Stephen King’s 11/22/63 focused on a man who chose to go back in time and takes action to change the entire world. As a society, we praise doers and the characters in books and movies are only reflections of those in real life. We cherish hundreds of stories where someone took charge of their life and got a better job, lost a lot of weight, met the person of their dreams. We praise people like Steve Jobs who start with a simple idea and take action to build their own success. Therefore, it is no surprise that today’s novel and movies reflect that type of character.
Is there something wrong with praising the doer? I don’t think so. I strongly believe that if you want something, you have to go out and make it happen. But this unresisting, self-doubting, soft man has got me hooked. Less than 50 pages in, I am deeply invested in this novel. The uniqueness of this character has me wanting more and more.