By the time Graham Greene composed The Honorary Consul he was already acclaimed as a writer. Greene had published 23 works prior to this novel many of which, such as The Power and the Glory, Brighton Rock, Travels with My Aunt, and The Heart of the Matter, received public praise and established Greene as a powerful author. The Honorary Consul was anticipated to follow in footsteps of Greene's previous writings. When The Honorary Consul was finally released it became number 10 on Publisher's Weekly bestseller list in 1973, it sold around 83,000 copies, and was translated into over 18 languages. The Honorary Consul was later made into a movie starring Richard Gere, called Beyond the Limit. Greene's novel, The Honorary Consul, helped to further his career even more as a successful author. Other than Greene being established as a writer, other factors contributed to the novel's success. Greene's novel discussed Catholicism, addressing the nature of human beings and the mysteries of God. Written only a few years after Vatican II, part of the books popularity can be attributed to the public interest in religious writings, especially Catholic literature. Another factor in the books success is the political turmoil of the 1960's and 1970's sparking a reader's interest in politics around the world. Greene's book, similar to many other successful writers of this time period, deals with the unsettled political situations acting as a philosophical commentary of the unsettled times. Finally Greene's connection to entertainment affects his popularity as a writer. Greene was one of the most successful movie critics in history; he had extensive connections within the movie industry, and close to twenty of his works became movies. His involvement with the entertainment industry had some influence on his success as a best selling author. By examining all of the factor's playing into The Honorary Consul's success it will become more evident why Graham Greene's novel was such a success, and even more so it will shed light on what it means to be a bestseller.
Vatican II led by John XXIII began in 1962 and ended in 1965. During these three years the pastoral Council worked on ways to increase the faith and renew the mission of the Church. The Pope wanted the issues discussed by the Council to deepen and present answers to the needs of the present time (Carbone, 3). Therefore, the Magisterium of Vatican II focused on Christ, renewing the spirit if living lives as imitators of Christ. This movement of the Church back to centering on Christ created a new vision for the Church, turning the Church away from closing itself off to opening itself up more. Vatican II reinstilled the value of humanity and the importance of humanities reconciliation with God (Carbone, 5). In a time of conflict and wars occurring throughout the world and divisions found between races and sexes, the Church sought to bring itself back together through the focus of Christ. As a result of the Church's renovations, Greene's book came at an appropriate time. The Catholic Church did not support Greene's writing and was fairly critical of his works (Elrebach, 93). The Catholic Church's disapproval of the book did not change the public's interest in religious literature, especially Catholic literature. The Honorary Consul reinvents the idea of being religious by having one of the main characters, a priest with a woman, kidnapping, and even considering killing. But this man is becomes a spiritual leader in the end of the book. Going along with Vatican II's mission, Greene uses a sinful priest to discover hope in the midst of chaos. Part of Greene popularity came from him being a writer who does not condemn the non-believer, but writes within a Christian framework, a framework that was being reestablished by the Church as he was writing. The publication of Honorary Consul in 1973 had the added success of coming right after a major decision of the Church to focus more attention on man's relationship to Christ.
Other than Graham Greene's Honorary Consul, other authors throughout history have found success from writing about the humanities relationship with God. It should be noted that the Bible itself has always been successful. The Bible is the all time best-selling book. Versions of the Bible have been on the best-selling list throughout history, and yearly there are more Bibles sold than any other novels in the world. It is the permanent best seller. This shows that people are interested in knowing more and reading more about human beings relationship with God. Greene and other authors knew this and attracted readers by discussing faith amidst their novels. Author of Jenny, Sigrid Undset, worked with the realism of Christianity within her works, by acting as an "honest observer, assessing and depicting the external natural world?reflecting a tough and realistic faith"(Whitehouse, 35). Similarly George Bernanos, author of Star of Satan, The Open Mind, and Night is Darkest, presented the author with "reflections of a man at the limits of his experience and with characters whose actions lead them to a confrontation with the transcendent"(Whitehouse, 42). Other than these two authors, there are many best-selling novels with religious themes. A few more key examples of successful books talking about faith and belief are Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment and Brother's Karamazov, C.S Lewis' Narinia Books, T.S. Eliot's poetry, specifically The Wasteland, or even the Exorcist by William Blatty. Greene attracts readers with The Honorary Consul in the same way that these authors found their audience, by presenting the heroic tragedy of the individual examining the meaning of faith, and presenting a picture of God's relationship to His creation.
These novels are successful because they present issues of faith and religion in ways that are pleasurable to read. The reader relates to the characters in these books because they struggle with what having hope in God really means, while questioning where this faith will lead them. None of these books discussed evil and God's love and sovereignty in sentimental, nonsensical ways. Instead the authors present men struggling with putting their faith in what they cannot see. Dr. Plarr and Charlie Fortum from Honorary Consul resemble many of these other main characters by being "fallen." Men who have sin in their lives that they are struggling with. Whether it is from killing someone, having an affair, drinking; these characters struggle with the sin in their lives that prevent them from accepting and truly believing in God. These books represent the public's desire to read and think about the relationship between humanity and the Divine.
Another factor in The Honorary Consul's success during this time period was the political situation during the 1960's and 1970's. At this time the focus became world politics. In 1969 the Vietnam War continued because of the bombing of Cambodia, the Woodstock festival, celebrating peace through music, drugs and communal spirit was held, and American men, competing against the tough Russian space program, walked on the moon (Pearce, 11). Conflict was occurring everywhere from the Cuban missile crisis to the United States involvement in the Chilean elections and Salvador Allende's assassination. These events illustrated the "apocalypse and absurdity that were part of the everyday American experience"(Pearce, 38). Thus the writers began writing more about world affairs, while also putting more focus "on individuals and the choices they have to make, reflecting a society in which the old clear guiding rules of conduct are being steadily eroded, living individuals with the unfamiliar burden of having to make their own decisions"(Horton, 143). Thus writers of Greene's time period became "travel writers" (Couto, 10). These writers were interested in the rest of the world because of how wars and political conflict had stirred interest in public to understand other cultures, while traveling also brought about independence and individuality which marked this time period. Their writing reflected the thoughts and feeling of the people during that period, confused and losing faith in politics and war, the individuals stepped out more, trying to figure out for themselves the truth of what was actually going on through this time.
Greene, fascinated by what was going on throughout the world, set the Honorary Consul in South America and in the midst of political conflict. Greene, like many authors of the time period intentionally wrote about conflicts in government claiming to be "more of a political writer?I tackle political subjects; but politics are in the air we breathe"(Couto, 230). During the 60's and 70's when most of what was reported on and debated involved politics, the general public would probably have felt the same. What is evident is that the readers were interested in this type of writing. John Updike, author of Rabbit Redux, is an example of this type of writing, "infused with contemporaneity, inextricably tied and even motivated by the events of its time frame"(Wilkerson, Critical Essay). Other authors that can be found in this genre of literature are Frederick Forsyth, author of The Odessa File and The Day of the Jackal, The Winds of War by Herman Wouk, or even Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy by John Le Carre, or even such nonfiction successes as All the President's Men by Carl Bernstien and Bob Woodward, or Plain Speaking: An Oral Biography of Harry S. Truman by Merle Miller (Unsworth, Bestsellers). In all of these works the major themes are political, whether fiction or non-fiction, they all delve into the secrets of government. The reception of these books was so large because it was what the public wanted to know about. The public desired to know what goes on in places beyond America, and the difference between a corrupt and good government. Political writings are successful because they help people envision corrupt politics while being able to stay detached from the situation through the medium of fiction. Greene and these other author's gifts to the public was their "ability to use the details of contemporary life?share political destinies of characters, and their struggles" (Adamson, 183) while deepening one's own understanding of contemporary history. The political novel allows the public to submerge themselves into a chaotic situation and connect with the struggles of the characters, while still being able to remain distanced through the author's gift of the novel.
Beyond politics and Catholicism, The Honorary Consul was successful because of Greene's remarkable career. Greene's personal life was entangled with the entertainment industry. Greene was not a writer who locked himself up in a room somewhere and wrote, but was very accessible to the media, to producers, and as a critic. Greene has contributed to "all the major literary genres: novels, short stories, travel books, essays and literary criticism, autobiography and biography, and books for children"(Smith, 195). Beyond his vast contributions of art, his involvement with film has been "closer than any other twentieth-century writer"(Smith, 204). Other than being a renound film critic, around eighteen films have been made of his works. Greene is one of the few authors that could merge the world of film and fiction. The Honorary Consul is one example of a book that was later made into a movie. When each of his books became movies, Greene "stayed closely involved?he had faith in the cinema?worked as a film critic?and felt that handing a novel over to film producers was giving them a license to do exactly as they liked with his creation"(Erlebach, 76). His books became popular both as novels and as movies. It seemed as though his works were meant to be films with the "effluence of places, streets, and things?in a since he does not write novels at all, but verbal movies"(Smith, 209). Greene had spent years as a movie critic for the Spectator, therefore knew more of what a successful film would look like. This helped his success as a novelist because his books were both entertaining, and in depth. Greene's involvement with the entertainment industry made him more accessible and was welcomed by both the entertainment industry, and the public.
The Honorary Consul was a success because of the way the time period of the 1960's and 1970's is reflected in the major themes, the way that Graham Greene presents issues of faith, sin, and religious hope, and his success in many genres of art. Greene was successful as a writer because his popularity touched many diverse groups of people. His book was for those interested in Catholic writings, those interested in politics, those who appreciated travel writings, or those interested in literature dealing with various parts of the world different form their own, and even those people who read Greene's literature because he had given so much to so many genres of art. Greene's novels were universal, especially during the early 70's when so much of what he was writing about people could connect with. Graham Greene through The Honorary Consul shows that success as a bestseller often has to do with the time period in which it is written, staying in tune with the interests of the general public, and the author's ability to create a name for himself. Graham Greene had become so popular because of his writings ability to cross genres and mediums of art. Greene had created a name for himself by writing about what he knew best, travel, politics and religion, and presenting it to the public at a time when they most wanted to hear about these topics, writing so that the reader felt as though they were truly there. The public knew they could trust Greene to be their eyes, exploring these new worlds and areas, then captivating them with the stories of his return. The most successfully best-sellers are the books, like Honorary Consul, that give to the reader an escape from the mundane, while keeping them connected to the issues and realism of the present situation, allowing them to decide for themselves what part of the novel is fiction, and which parts of the novels are the truth.
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