The inglorious viciousness of Greeneland

In the 1930s, leftist intellectuals in England affected to be rather sniffy about the writing style and subject matter of tyro novelist Graham Greene, whose debut, The Man Within, was published in 1929.

In particular, they reckoned that Greene was pulling a fast one – taking some of the themes and narrative posturings of hard-boiled American detective fiction (Hammett, principally: Chandler had yet to make his mark) and repurposing them for an English market.

This, the critics reckoned, was just plain wrong on so many levels.

Things came to a head in Arthur Calder-Marshall’s review of Journey Without Maps when he seized on a word Greene had used (“seedy”) in an impressionistic survey of life in London, from the perspective of one but recently returned from more innocent shores.

Thus was “Greeneland” born.

The seedy level! That is the location of Greeneland. The sadist and the masochist, the impotent athlete, the incestuous brother and sister, the greenlandcoward, the braggart, the man with the tie, the hare-lip, the spy maniac, the torturer of spiders and the collector of small foreign coins, the diseased dentist in a foreign port, the one-legged military man managing a road-house, the rich Jew despised by aristocrats, the bullied chambermaid in an all-night hotel, the Major ordering whores by telephone (“a pig in a poke”), the lawyer who married beneath him lusting after typists who pass his window, the adulterous butcher; they are all different… but all seedy, the ingloriously vicious.

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