A BURNT-OUT CASE
Graham Greene was born in 1904. On coming down from Balliol College, Oxford, he worked for four years as sub-editor on
. He established his reputation with his fourth novel,
. In 1935 he made a journey across Liberia, described in
Journey Without Maps
, and on his return was appointed film critic of the
. In 1926 he was received into the Roman Catholic Church and visited Mexico in 1938 to report on the religious persecution there. As a result he wrote
The Lawless Roads
and, later, his famous novel
The Power and the Glory. Brighton Rock
was published in 1938 and in 1940 he became literary editor of the
. The next year he undertook work for the Foreign Office and was stationed in Sierra Leone from 1941 to 1943. This later produced the novel,
The Heart of the Matter
, set in West Africa.
As well as his many novels, Graham Greene wrote several collections of short stories, four travel books, six plays, three books of autobiography –
A Sort of Life, Ways of Escape
A World of My Own
(published posthumously) – two of biography and four books for children. He also wrote hundreds of essays, and film and book reviews, some of which appear in the collections
Mornings in the Dark
. Many of his novels and short stories have been filmed and
The Third Man
was written as a film treatment. Graham Greene was a member of the Order of Merit and a Companion of Honour. He died in 1991.
ALSO BY GRAHAM GREENE
The Man Within
It’s a Battlefield
A Gun for Sale
The Confidential Agent
The Ministry of Fear
The Third Man
The End of the Affair
The Quiet American
Travels with my Aunt
Dr Fischer of Geneva
The Bomb Party
The Human Factor
The Tenth Man
England Made Me
The Power and the Glory
The Heart of the Matter
The Fallen Idol
Loser Takes All
Our Man in Havana
The Honorary Consul
The Captain and the Enemy
The Last Word and Other Stories
May We Borrow You Husband?
Journey Without Maps
The Lawless Roads
In Search of a Character
Getting to Know the General
Mornings in the Dark
A Sort of Life
Ways of Escape
Fragments of an Autobiography
A World of my Own
Lord Rochester’s Monkey
An Impossible Woman
The Little Train
The Little Horse-Bus
The Little Steamroller
The Little Fire Engine
GRAHAM GREENEA Burnt-Out Case
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Epub ISBN: 9781409020318
Published by Vintage 2004
7 9 10 8 6
Copyright © Graham Greene 1960
Introduction copyright © Giles Foden 2004
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition, including this condition, being imposed on the subsequent purchaser
First published in Great Britain by William Heinemann 1960
First published by Vintage in 2001
Random House, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road,
London SW1V 2SA
The Random House Group Limited Reg. No. 954009
A CIP catalogue record for this book
is available from the British Library
To Docteur Michel Lechat
I hope you will accept the dedication of this novel which owes any merit it may have to your kindness and patience; the faults, failures and inaccuracies are the author’s alone. Dr Colin has borrowed from you his experience of leprosy and nothing else. Dr Colin’s leproserie is not your leproserie – which now, I fear, has probably ceased to exist. Even geographically it is placed in a region far from Yonda. Every leproserie, of course, has features in common, and from Yonda and other leproseries which I visited in the Congo and the Cameroons I may have taken superficial characteristics. From the fathers of your Mission I have stolen the Superior’s cheroots – that is all, and from your Bishop the boat that he was so generous as to lend me for a journey up the Ruki. It would be a waste of time for anyone to try to identify Querry, the Ryckers, Parkinson, Father Thomas – they are formed from the flotsam of thirty years as a novelist. This is not a
roman à clef
, but an attempt to give dramatic expression to various types of belief, half-belief, and non-belief, in the kind of setting, removed from world-politics and household-preoccupations, where such differences are felt acutely and find expression. This Congo is a region of the mind, and the reader will find no place called Luc on any map, nor did its Governor and Bishop exist in any regional capital.
You, if anyone, will know how far I have failed in what I attempted. A doctor is not immune from ‘the long despair of doing nothing well’, the
that hangs around a writer’s life. I only wish I had dedicated to you a better book in return for the limitless generosity I was shown at Yonda by you and the fathers of the Mission.
The cabin-passenger wrote in his diary a parody of Descartes: ‘I feel discomfort, therefore I am alive,’ then sat pen in hand with no more to record. The captain in a white soutane stood by the open windows of the saloon reading his breviary. There was not enough air to stir the fringes of his beard. The two of them had been alone together on the river for ten days – alone, that is to say, except for the six members of the African crew and the dozen or so deck-passengers who changed, almost indistinguishably, at each village where they stopped. The boat, which was the property of the Bishop, resembled a small battered Mississippi paddle-steamer with a high nineteenth-century forestructure, the white paint badly in need of renewal. From the saloon windows they could see the river before them unwind, and below them on the pontoons the passengers sat and dressed their hair among the logs of wood for the engine.
If no change means peace, this certainly was peace, to be found like a nut at the centre of the hard shell of discomfort – the heat that engulfed them where the river narrowed to a mere hundred metres: the shower that was always hot from the ship’s engine: in the evening the mosquitoes, and in the day the tsetse flies with wings raked back like tiny jet-fighters (a board above the bank at the last village had warned them in three languages: ‘Zone of sleeping sickness. Be careful of the tsetse flies’). The captain read his breviary with a fly-whisk in his hand, and whenever he made a kill he held up the tiny corpse for the passenger’s inspection, saying ‘tsetse’ – it was nearly the limit of their communication, for neither spoke the other’s language with ease or accuracy.
This was somewhat the way in which the days passed. The passenger would be woken at four in the morning by the tinkling sound of the sanctus bell in the saloon, and presently from the window of the Bishop’s cabin, which he shared with a crucifix, a chair, a table, a cupboard where cockroaches lurked, and one picture – the nostalgic photograph of some church in Europe covered in a soutane of heavy snow – he would see the congregation going home across the gang-plank. He would watch them as they climbed the steep bank and disappeared into the bush, swinging lanterns like the carol singers he had once seen during his stay in a New England village. By five the boat was on the move again, and at six as the sun rose he would eat his breakfast with the captain. The next three hours, before the great heat had begun, were for both men the best of the day, and the passenger found that he could watch, with a kind of inert content, the thick, rapid, khaki-coloured stream against which the small boat fought its way at about three knots, the engine, somewhere below the altar and the Holy Family, groaning like an exhausted animal and the big wheel churning away at the stern. A lot of effort it seemed for so slow a progress. Every few hours a fishing village came into sight, the houses standing high on stilts to guard them against the big rains and the rats. At times a member of the crew called up to the captain, and the captain would take his gun and shoot at some small sign of life that only he and the sailor had eyes to detect among the green and blue shadows of the forest: a baby crocodile sunning on a fallen log, or a fishing eagle which waited motionless among the leaves. At nine the heat had really begun, and the captain, having finished reading his breviary, would oil his gun or kill a few more tsetse flies, and sometimes, sitting down at the dining-table with a box of beads, he would set himself the task of manufacturing cheap rosaries.
After the midday meal both men retired to their cabins as the forests sauntered by under the exhausting sun. Even when the passenger was naked it was difficult for him to sleep, and he was never finally able to decide between letting a little draught pass through his cabin or keeping the hot air out. The boat possessed no fan, and so he woke always with a soiled mouth, and while the warm water in the shower cleaned his body it could not refresh it.
There yet remained another hour or two of peace towards the end of the day, when he sat below on a pontoon while the Africans prepared their chop in the early dark. The vampire bats creaked over the forest and candles flickered, reminding him of the Benedictions of his youth. The laughter of the cooks went back and forth from one pontoon to the other, and it was never long before someone sang, but he couldn’t understand the words.