Navigation – Plan du site

AccueilNuméros7.1Articles “hors thème”Graham Greene’s Journey Without M...

Articles “hors thème”

Graham Greene’s Journey Without Maps and the Fascination of the Abomination



Le narrateur de ce récit de voyage se révèle fasciné par ce qui est abominable : maladies, crimes de guerre, cruauté et cauchemars sont les principaux exemples dans le texte. A ce sujet, il ouvre un dialogue critique avec ses deux principaux hypotextes, Heart of Darkness de Conrad et surtout The Blue Book, publication du gouvernement Britannique : l’abominable serait donc polysémique. Son voyage fait de l’arrière pays ‘primitif’ du Libéria un ‘texte’ scriptible. Parallèlement, il utilise la partie du pays explorée comme métaphore de l’inconscient : de la sorte il compare son périple au ‘voyage’ de Freud. La ‘civilisation’, souvent symbolisée par le Christianisme dans le récit, ferait fausse route car elle serait fondée sur le refoulement, voir la déformation d’une partie de la réalité : être sain d’esprit serait refuser d’accomplir ces actions et s’engager dans un dialogue avec ‘le père politique’ (Barthes). Le lecteur est incité à avouer sa fascination pour cette zone ténébreuse et donc à entreprendre sa propre exploration.

Haut de page

Texte intégral

1Journey Without Maps is, at least superficially, an account of the expedition Graham Greene made to the largely unexplored hinterland of Liberia in 1935. The few maps of this area which existed at the time were either mostly blank or else so wildly inaccurate as to be useless; hence Greene undertook his journey without any, as the title of the text suggests. There is, however, another dimension to the expedition recounted in Journey Without Maps. As Valentine Cunningham points out on the subject of nineteen thirties travel writing in British Writers of the Thirties,

the experience of any actual journey could be made, and was made, to provide lively emblems of the mental and spiritual, political and psychological positions that authors and their characters had reached or were traversing. Nowhere are the inner and outer bolted more firmly and extendedly together than in Graham Greene’s Journey Without Maps (1936).” (406)

2He argues that the text establishes a parallel between the exploration of the Liberian interior and the exploration of “Greene’s subconscious” (408) and strongly suggests that this inner journey mirrors that undertaken by Marlow in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. (See 409) Assuming that the narrator of Journey Without Maps is following in Marlow’s footsteps, it follows that Heart of Darkness provides the narrator with a ‘map’. However, Conrad’s novella cannot have this function if the narrator’s mental journey is to mirror the physical journey; logically, both should be undertaken without maps, or else interpretation is reduced to the mere reproduction of an existing meaning. This observation raises the question of whether or not Greene’s text has a more complicated relationship with the intertexts it alludes and refers to than Cunningham would appear to assume. Chief amongst these is the Blue Book, a British government publication which informs travellers of the conditions in various countries; it denounces those in Liberia as abominable. Although Marlow admits that the abominable may be fascinating, he presents Mr Kurtz’s failure to resist this fascination negatively and gives this as the reason for his descent into insanity. Given the potentially ambiguous status of these ‘moral maps’ in Journey Without Maps, it has to be asked whether or not Greene’s narrator uses them to guide his interpretative journey.

Seediness and the abomination

3Before leaving for Liberia, the narrator of Journey Without Maps consults the Blue Book. He presents copious quotations from this text, none of which make the Republic appear to be an appealing holiday destination; the traveller exposed himself to the risk of catching various diseases such as elephantiasis, leprosy, yaws, malaria, yellow fever and even the plague. Anyone unlucky enough to fall ill while in Liberia was not likely to receive much medical care since, as the narrator points out, there were very few doctors in the country, not that in the nineteen thirties much could be done to cure the diseases the traveller risked catching. Added to such disincentives was the presence of Elwood Davis, a colonel in the Liberian army given to indiscriminate killing and the use of torture. As the narrator of Journey Without Maps says,

there was something satisfyingly complete about this pic­ture. It really seemed as though you couldn’t go deeper than that; the agony was piled on in the British Government Blue Book with a real effect of grandeur; the little injustices of Kenya became shoddy and suburban beside it. (18)

4The Blue Book makes Liberia seem such an appalling place to visit that the narrator’s wish to go there requires an explanation; as the narrator of Journey Without Maps admits, “the motive of a journey deserves a little attention.” (20)

5He claims that his choice of holiday destination came from the unconscious: “it is not the fully conscious mind which chooses West Africa in preference to Switzerland.” (20) He then sets up a contrast between ‘primitive’ and ‘civilised’ parts of Africa:

It is not then any part of Africa which acts so strongly on this unconscious mind; certainly no part where the white set­tler has been most successful in reproducing the conditions of his country, its morals and its popular art. A quality of dark­ness is needed, of the inexplicable. (20)

6The civilised parts do not interest him, he claims, because they are explicable. This would appear not to be the only reason, as the narrator’s scene of imagined psychoanalytic word association shows:

When I say that to me Africa has always seemed an important image, I sup­pose that is what I mean, that it has represented more than I could say. ‘You dreamed you were in Africa. Of what do you think first when I say the word Africa?’ and a crowd of words and images, witches and death, unhappiness and the Gare St Lazare, the huge smoky viaduct over a Paris slum, crowd together and block the way to full consciousness. (20)

7The somewhat incongruous associations the narrator makes with the word “Africa” are all negative, and yet they are nevertheless what, he implies, send him trekking through the Liberian interior.

8The narrator’s claim to be looking for nothing nastier than mere seediness is, however, suspicious. Of Liberia, he says:

There seemed to be a seediness about the place you couldn’t get to the same extent elsewhere, and seediness has a very deep appeal: even the seediness of civilization, of the sky‑signs in Leicester Square, the tarts in Bond Street, the smell of cooking greens off Tottenham Court Road, the motor salesmen in Great Portland Street. (20)

9The seediness of the examples he gives is fairly obvious since, like the viaduct over a slum, they symbolise a civilisation that has in some way degenerated, or gone to seed; for instance, the presence of prostitutes in Bond Street, a place of wealth and respectability, suggests decadence. Given the following description of the history of the Liberian state, then, it is no surprise that the narrator should want to go there:

An American philan­thropic society at the beginning of the nineteenth century (many of its directors, it is said, were slave‑owners who found it convenient thus to get rid of their illegitimate children) be­gan to ship released slaves to the Grain Coast of Africa. […] The history of the Republic was very little different from the history of neighbouring white colon­ies: it included the same broken contracts, the same resort to arms, the same gradual encroachment, even the same heroism among the early settlers, the peculiarly Protestant character­istic of combining martyrdom with absurdity. (18)

10The narrator goes on to state that the Liberian constitution was based on that of the United States, noting that “Today the ‘ideals’ are still American, something a little like the American of Tammany Hall; the descendants of the slaves have taken to politics with the enthusiasm of practised crap players.” (19) He makes Liberia seem a good holiday destination for anybody attracted to seediness. However, if he were merely interested in seeing examples of decadence, he should have stayed in Europe since by far the seediest characters in the text appear in scenes where he describes his journeys in Europe, most notably to Riga, Kensington Gardens and Nottingham. Even more confusing still is that the text is supposed to be about a journey into the ‘primitive’ interior since the villages and tribes the narrator goes to see are not seedy, at least if the term is to be defined in the way that the examples in the text would suggest: there are no prostitutes, no advertising hoardings and no corrupt politicians. If the interior of the country is to be considered as seedy, it is obvious that this seediness is very different from the seediness of ‘civilisation’; the definition of the word evidently needs to be stretched to cover several very different meanings.

11Of course, the narrator is less than candid about his reasons for being interested in Liberia. After his description of the seedy origins of the Liberian state, he says “this too attracted me.” (19) If an attentive reader looks for the preceding item on the narrator’s list of Liberia’s tourist attractions, he will find the quotations from the Blue Book which refer to diseases and Colonel Davis’ war crimes. Since the various examples of seediness given by the narrator are qualitatively different from such abominations, the narrator’s use of the term seedy is rather disingenuous. Assuming, however, that the word is used to describe anything ugly or unpleasant, from advertising hoardings to war crimes, it is perfectly logical that the narrator should go into the Liberian interior and find that “there seemed to be a seediness about the place you couldn’t get to the same extent elsewhere.” (20) When referring to the interior, the narrator would appear to be using the word as a polite euphemism for the horrific or the abominable. With the Blue Book for a Baedeker, he embarks on a misery tour in which the principal ‘sights’ are hideous diseases and a war criminal.

12The narrator admits that he is attracted to cruelty and pain:

Like a revelation, when I was fourteen, I realized the pleas­ure of cruelty; I wasn’t interested any longer in walks on com­mons, in playing cricket on the beach. There was a girl lodging close by I wanted to do things to; I loitered outside the door hoping to see her. I didn’t do anything about it, I wasn’t old enough, but I was happy; I could think about pain as something desirable and not as something dreaded. It was as if had discovered that the way to enjoy life was to appreciate pain. (36-37)

13Older now, he decides to do something about his sadomasochistic tendencies: he goes on holiday to Liberia, taking the reader along with him. His journey reads like a nightmare, and in a sense it is. The cast of the narrator’s nightmares includes “the man with gold teeth and rubber surgical gloves; the old woman with ringworm; the man with his throat cut dragging himself across the carpet to the bed.” (181) The second two characters represent two fairly obvious fears of the dreamer. The old woman with ringworm symbolises a terror of contagion and more specifically of disfiguring diseases such as those that the traveller in nineteen-thirties Liberia risked seeing and even catching. The man with his throat cut suggests pain and suffering, of which there was no shortage in the republic. Although the narrator is exploring his nightmares, he is using what most readers will identify as a part of the real world to do this, not least since Journey Without Maps seems to invite its consumption as travel writing, hence as non-fiction. If the reader were in any doubt as how to read the text, the back cover of the Vintage edition helpfully classifies the book as “Travel/autobiography”. The narrator would appear to be fascinated with real abominations, not merely those in his fictional dream world. For example, he intends to end his journey with a visit to chief Nimley, whose tribe was the victim of some especially brutal treatment, as the narrator points out:

It was in the fight against Nimley that the Frontier Force under the command of Colonel El­wood Davis, the President’s special agent, a North American black, had, according to the British Consul’s report, killed women and children, destroyed villages, tortured prisoners. (47)

14The narrator has to cut his journey short, and so does not get to hear Nimley’s atrocity stories. Although he does witness a few scenes of mindless brutality at a prison, this can only be a poor substitute. The narrator’s mildly shocking admission looks very sinister in the context of these atrocities, which readers are encouraged to see as being very real.

15The man with gold teeth and rubber surgical gloves in the narrator’s dreams is a somewhat enigmatic image. The rubber surgical gloves imply either a surgeon or a dentist, both suggesting pain. Dentists and dentistry frequently appear as symbols of pain in Greene’s texts, most notably in The Power and the Glory. However, the gold teeth provide the most obvious link between this character and Colonel Davis; the narrator refers to Davis’ gold teeth four times while recounting his meeting with the Colonel (200, twice on 203 & 206). Davis’ sadistic tendencies merely reinforce his link to the character in the narrator’s nightmares. Although the narrator teasingly allows Davis to explain away the accusations against him, the reader is never left in any doubt that the Colonel is lying. As the narrator says,

he was always inclined to over‑state his case, as when he told me that in the Kru war no women had been killed, only one woman accidentally wounded, while the British Consul’s report spoke of seventy‑two women and children dead. (210)

16Davis does not try to hide his brutality from the narrator, as the following comment shows: “Colonel Davis, so he told me later, had court‑martialled and shot fifty members of the Leopard Society in a village near Grand Bassa.” (174) The narrator is evidently fascinated by this character, as the number of pages dedicated to him would suggest. Furthermore, Davis is referred to throughout the text, whereas Nimley is not; the torturer completely overshadows his victim. The narrator is not, however, merely admitting to an essentially private fascination with Davis, as a seemingly anodyne comment from the beginning of the text suggests:

Today our world seems peculiarly susceptible to brutality. There is a touch of nostalgia in the pleasure we take in gang­ster novels, in characters who have so agreeably simplified their emotions that they have begun living again at a level below the cerebral. (21)

17Journey Without Maps is rather like a gangster novel transposed onto a third world setting, with Davis as the amoral hero murdering and torturing his way across Liberia. The narrator implies that his fascination with Davis can only be condemned hypocritically; everyone, he claims, is fascinated by abominations.

Re-writing the intertexts

18Despite the references to Conrad’s expedition to The Congo, the narrator of Journey Without Maps would appear instead to have in mind Marlow’s journey up-river to meet Mr. Kurtz. In his biography of Greene, Michael Shelden alludes to a possible link between Greene’s text and Heart of Darkness. He remarks that

if anyone stood at the heart of darkness Greene was seeking, it was Dr. Harley. He was heroic, but he also looked overworked and extremely agitated. Accordingly, he is portrayed as a man who has a touch of Marlow’s Kurtz in him – a wasted, obsessed character who is not sure whether the natives adore him or want to murder him. (164)

19Shelden goes on to mock what he sees as Greene’s portrayal of Dr. Harley, although, unsurprisingly since he is a biographer, basing his argument on biographical fact rather than the text of Journey Without Maps. However, Shelden strangely fails to make a very obvious connection between Davis and Kurtz, which is all the more surprising given as he jokes that “T. Elwood Davis’ heart of darkness was not in Africa but in Indianapolis.” (156) That Davis is black whereas Kurtz is white is irrelevant to the comparison. Both characters come from civilised countries and both go into the ‘dark’ interior with a ‘civilised’ mission: ivory collecting for Kurtz and tax collecting for Davis. Most importantly, in pursuit of their objectives, both men abandon the moral precepts of ‘civilisation’ and hence rediscover the fascination of the abomination.

20It would seem reasonable to cast the narrator as Marlow as Cunningham does. He would appear to be imitating Marlow in so far as the purpose of his journey into the interior, although ostensibly to meet Nimley, is in fact to learn more about the enigmatic Kurtz-like Colonel. However, his attitude towards Davis and his crimes is unlike that of Marlow towards Kurtz. Whereas Marlow protests that Kurtz’s behaviour is abominable, albeit that he perhaps protests too much, the narrator of Journey Without Maps does not protest enough. Marlow has moral standards, however imperfect his faith in them, which allow him to state that Kurtz’s actions are abominations. ‘Greene’, the narrator, in effect refuses to pass judgement on his ‘Kurtz’. For Marlow, the abomination may be fascinating, but it nevertheless remains an abomination and so must be resisted; appropriately, he accuses Kurtz of lacking “restraint” (83). The narrator of Journey Without Maps, however, adopts a far more subversive attitude towards the meaning of his ‘Kurtz’s’ behaviour. Some of his remarks are not especially provocative. For example, only a most unsophisticated reader would expect a war criminal like Davis to be portrayed as being utterly devoid of positive characteristics. Hence, the narrator’s comment that the Colonel “was obviously a man of great ability” (203) is not in itself likely to cause much offence. However, such readers would expect the narrator to condemn the Colonel’s actions. Instead, he turns them into a joke. After listening to some of Davis’ least plausible denials of wrongdoing, the narrator teasingly says:

It is the simplest explanation of the facts contained in Blue Book, Cmd. 4614: the woman just delivered of twins shot in her bed and her children burnt; children cut down with cut­lasses; the heads and limbs of victims carried on poles; for otherwise Colonel Davis has to be pictured as a monster, and a monster one simply couldn’t believe him to be, as he flashed his gold teeth over the whisky, a bit doggish, a bit charmingly and consciously shy and small boy in the manner of the black singer Hutch. (206)

21While it may be acceptable to turn a war criminal into a figure of fun, this mockery has to be kept separate from his abominations or else they become trivialised in the process, as Davis’ atrocities do. To do otherwise suggests that the person describing the abominations does not view them as being particularly abominable.

  • 1  Bergonzi’s first chapter deals with the subject of names, although examples are scattered througho (...)

22Given the attitude towards Davis and his crimes displayed by Mr. Greene, the narrator, Shelden’s opinion that “the only character in Journey Without Maps who comes close to resembling Kurtz is the Englishman who seems to think he is Marlow” (165) is perhaps not entirely unfounded. Of course, he fails to see that the narrator is not necessarily the same ‘shade of Greene’ as the author. Shelden himself noticed that many of the characters in Greene’s novels have names which evoke the author’s, although Bergonzi’s analysis in A Study in Greene1was far more systematic. Some names are colours and others evoke colours, most notably those that evoke the colour green, there is even a Mr. Green in A Gun for Sale. H. Graham Greene also had a tendency to give his first name, Henry, to characters in his novels as well as his baptismal name: Thomas. He even gave his secret service number to Henry Hawthorne, the incompetent spymaster in Our Man in Havana. Greene was, it would appear, addicted to onomastic jokes. Rather like his creator, the narrator of Journey Without Maps is somewhat devious, only too willing to mislead unwary readers. For example, looking back, he says “I could remember reading the British Blue Book and thinking, ‘In three weeks I shall be there,’‘there’ meaning the long list of diseases and of Colonel Davis’s atrocities. I got no thrill at all; I was just scared” (171). Whether or not he did get a thrill looking forwards is not the point; he certainly is getting a thrill looking back from a safe vantage point. Given that the narrator’s claims are highly dubious, it is worth asking whether or not his hints that he is imitating Marlow are misleading. The narrator’s fascination with the ceremonial masks of Liberian ‘devils’, coupled to the recurring theme of masks in the text, would suggest that his imitation of Marlow is a disguise. More suggestive still is the scene in which the narrator is shown examining a ceremonial mask, modelled, he conjectures, on the features of a shipwrecked Portuguese sailor. He wonders why the sailor might have wandered into the interior and concludes, “I do not think it was greed: it was a fanatical curiosity which leant out of the empty eyeballs” (177). The narrator is himself walking through the interior, not because of greed but curiosity. Admittedly Marlow is curious, however it is Kurtz who is fanatically curious, even more than he is greedy.

23In Journey Without Maps, Marlow’s function of separating right from wrong, however ineffectually, would appear to have been given to the Blue Book. It would be possible to object that the Blue Book, unlike Marlow, does not explicitly condemn Davis since it is merely a list of facts. However, apart from the interpretation being indicated by its context, namely that it was published by the British Government, the text communicates its meaning by not stating it directly. It is a truth universally acknowledged that cruelty and pain are bad things in themselves, and so besides being superfluous to say that they are, saying so opens up the possibility of interpreting the statement as being ironic. In other words, the ability of the Blue Book to communicate its message derives from the assumption that the facts it presents are what Barthes refers to in S/Z as “un texte lisible”. ‘Greene’ does not dispute the facts, but rather the interpretation of them implicit in the Blue Book; this suggests that he is contesting the objectivity of the consul’s interpretation. For example, after having stated that Davis “was obviously a man of great ability” (203), the narrator justifies his argument by referring to Davis’ claim to have disarmed the rebellious tribes as proof of this ability. Then he adds, “I had not only his own word for it: the fact emerged even from the unfriendly report of the British Consul” (203). It is significant that, rather than being stated by the Blue Book, which was based on the consul’s report, the fact is said to “emerge”; the Blue Book, ‘Greene’ implies, is not impartial. Moreover, through his use of the adjective “unfriendly”, the narrator of Journey Without Maps suggests that the report was simply biased. Most notably, however, the narrator points out that the consul only travelled down part of the Liberian coast, the obvious implication being that the Blue Book is not about Liberia so much as a small part of it, namely the ‘civilised’ area. Travel in Journey Without Maps becomes a metaphor for reading, in which the country visited is a text to be interpreted. Travellers can decide that their ‘text’ is readable, which leads to reproducing an already existing meaning, as ‘Greene’ implies the consul did. Instead, the traveller can explore the text’s potential to allow for multiple interpretations, which is the reading strategy adopted by the narrator of Journey Without Maps and closely resembles that advocated by Barthes in S/Z: “Interpréter un texte, ce n’est pas lui donner un sens (plus ou moins fondé, plus ou moins libre), c’est au contraire apprécier de quel pluriel il est fait” (11). This would imply that, according to the narrator of Journey Without Maps, no such thing as an abomination exists since nothing is, in itself, abominable.

Reading and transgression

24Although ‘Greene’ transforms abominations into transgressions of a subjective moral code, he is nevertheless fascinated by these transgressions, which leads to the question of why he should be. The narrator compares exploring the ‘primitive’ interior of Africa with exploring the ‘primitive’ parts of the human mind, presumably meaning the id:

Freud has made us conscious as we have never been before of those ancestral threads which still exist in our un­conscious minds to lead us back. The need, of course, has always been felt, to go back and begin again. Mungo Park, Livingstone, Stanley, Rimbaud, Conrad represented only an­other method to Freud’s, a more costly, less easy method, calling for physical as well as mental strength. (248)

25‘Going back’ is linked to his critique of civilisation, which is founded, he suggests, on a misconception:

When one sees to what unhappiness, to what peril of extinction centuries of cerebration have brought us, one sometimes has a curiosity to discover if one can from what we have come, to recall at which point we went astray. (21)

26Clearly the narrator considers civilisation to have taken a wrong turning at some point in its history; his journey, more through his own mind than the Liberian interior, aims to identify that point. His exploration of the facts presented in the Blue Book provides a clue since the narrator’s journey is an attempt to dig up the interpretation repressed by this text; he tries to show that abominations can be attractive, as is shown by his comments on the joys of cruelty, pain and gangster novels. The obvious error in the Blue Book’s interpretation was to repress the unacceptable yet, according to ‘Greene’, equally coherent reading. In other words, the Blue Book is a falsification of reality because it covers up the plural and hence scriptible nature of the ‘text’, to use Barthes’ terminology.

27The narrator’s attack on the Blue Book presents a parallel to Pierre Bayard’s exploration of the relationship between interpretation and delusions, in the clinical sense, in Qui a tué Roger Ackroyd ?. Bayard, paraphrasing Freud, makes the following distinction: “A une réalité insupportable le psychotique substitue une néo-réalité plus acceptable, là où le névrosé sera plutôt porté à la refouler dans l’inconscient” (107). In other words, a psychotic reading will be a distortion of the evidence whereas a neurotic interpretation will betray its knowledge of omissions. The interpretation presented by the Blue Book could therefore be seen as evidence of the author’s neurosis in so far as he has falsified reality by repressing part of it; his avoidance of the question of Davis’ good qualities is the most obvious example. Journey Without Maps brings about the return of all that its hypotext repressed, which implies staking a claim to a complete and therefore sane view of reality. What emerges from this is the plurality of the raw material to be interpreted, and hence the impossibility of making it conform to any ideology without either omission of distortion; it follows that the attempt to impose order on original chaos is the point at which “we went astray”. Cerebration could therefore be defined as thought based on the delusion or the wish to believe that order can justifiably, in terms of truth and not expediency, be imposed on experience.

28The narrator’s linking of Freud’s ‘journey back’ to his own trip into the primitive interior of Liberia is, as Cunningham suggests, effectively a claim to be exploring the unconscious. This observation forms the basis for untangling the threads linking Greene’s text to Heart of Darkness and thus elucidating the reasoning behind the fascination of the abomination. Marlow speculated that Kurtz had gone insane through listening to the whispering of the wilderness (see 83), which could be taken as a metaphor for listening to the voices of his unconscious. In Journey Without Maps however, insanity comes from listening to the voice of civilisation instead of those from the unconscious; the Marlows of the text are mad while the Kurtzes are sane in so far as they have a firm grip on reality, shown by their refusal to resist “the fascination of the abomination.” (Conrad 9) The chief ‘Kurtz’ in the text is, of course, the narrator, as the reasons for his choice of holiday destination and his attack on the moral certainties of the Blue Book show. Unlike in Heart of Darkness, the Mr. Kurtz of Greene’s text gets to present his case directly and deploy all of his eloquence in the attempt to make an accomplice of the reader. His comment on the “nostalgia” produced by reading gangster novels is such an attempt, in effect a challenge to the hypocrite lecteur to be honest, to ‘go back’ and explore the forbidden territory of transgression.

29Nevertheless, the rebel voice is unlikely to attract the attention of many readers since the implications of its existence are unpleasant enough to induce a wish not to listen to it. The narrator’s joke that Davis could not have committed the atrocities he is accused of because he does not look like a monster provides an example of this. Superficially he seems to be saying that since, as he makes it clear, he believes that Davis did commit the acts the Blue Book accused him of, the colonel is a monster. Few readers would wish to disagree. Recognising that the narrator thinks Davis guilty as charged, and yet impossible to condemn, entails making a disturbing discovery; rather than being a friendly Marlow-like textual travel guide, the narrator is as lacking in moral principals as Kurtz, who went beyond good and evil. Most important of all, however, is the fact that most readers would consider, or want to consider, the meaning of Davis’ transgressions as unquestionable, and hence repress any doubts the text might provoke; given the extreme nature of his crimes, just like the extreme unpleasantness of the diseases which interest the narrator, most readers can be relied on to retreat in horror towards their moral certainties.

30The narrator makes it difficult to ignore the question of transgression by simply introducing so much of it into the text. Prostitution, paedophilia, flagellation fantasies and war crimes are perhaps the most prominent, although by no means the only sins catalogued; the various moral codes of civilisation in Journey Without Maps, most notably Christianity, have not so much failed to curb an innate human depravity as caused it: bad behaviour is almost exclusively restricted to Europeans and ‘civilised’ Liberians. The consistent incapacity to live up to these moral standards suggests weak belief in them; the more transgression there is, the weaker the grip of civilisation’s ideals is, which in turn casts doubt on the validity of these ideals. The prevalence of sin in Greeneland, for example, has always made readers, especially Catholic readers, uncomfortable, whence the many condemnations of the novels and the various attempts to show how faith in Christian ideals wins in the end. Recent criticism of Greene’s work, most notably that of Mark Bosco S. J. and Murray Roston, looks like an attempt to shore up the novelist’s reputation as Christian writer after Shelden’s onslaught. Even Cates Baldridge, whose Graham Greene’s Fiction : The Virtues of Extremity explores some of the more subversive aspects of Greene’s work, concludes with a tentative endorsement of the orthodox view: “And so perhaps, in the final analysis, the best single word to describe the politics of Graham Greene is “Christian”” (196). A reader with little or no wish to believe in the validity of the ideals of civilisation, or simply with a sense of curiosity more powerful than the will to believe, will become complicit with the narrator, however unwillingly, in so far as he will not have rejected out of hand the repressed knowledge that transgression can be fascinating. Shelden’s curiosity forced him to see, if only in part, the nihilism implicit in Greene’s works. However, his evident and profound disgust with this position was doubtless what led to his defending the ideologies the texts attack and portraying Greene as a moral monster; as in the case of Colonel Davis, the reader is pushed towards orthodoxy by the extreme nastiness of the heterodox alternative. Journey Without Maps is effectively a dialogic space in which the narrator can give voice to what the Blue Book refuses to say and since it is a British government publication, ‘Greene’ is indirectly arguing against his political father, to borrow a metaphor from Barthes’ Le plaisir du texte. This is in itself a transgression. To become complicit in this rebellion, that is to question, to be curious, to fail to repress the idea that transgression can be fascinating, is to have succumbed to the fascination of transgression: it is to have embarked on the same journey without maps as Kurtz and ‘Greene’.

Haut de page


Primary sources

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. 1902. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1975.

Greene, Graham. Journey Without Maps. 1936. London: Vintage, 2002.

Greene, Graham. Our Man in Havana. 1958. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971.

Greene, Graham. The Power and the Glory. 1940. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1962.

Secondary sources

Baldridge, Cates. Graham Greene’s Fiction: The Virtues of Extremity. Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 2000.

Barthes, Roland. S/Z. Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1970.

Barthes, Roland. Le plaisir du texte. Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1973.

Bayard, Pierre. Qui a tué Roger Ackroyd ? Paris: Les Editions de Minuit, 1998.

Bergonzi, Bernard. A Study in Greene: Graham Greene and the Art of the Novel. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Bosco, Mark. Graham Greene’s Catholic Imagination. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Cunningham, Valentine. British Writers of the Thirties. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Roston, Murray. Graham Greene’s Narrative Strategies: A Study of the Major Novels. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

Shelden, Michael. Graham Greene: The Enemy Within. New York: Random House, 1994.

Haut de page


1  Bergonzi’s first chapter deals with the subject of names, although examples are scattered throughout the text.

Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

John AIREY, « Graham Greene’s Journey Without Maps and the Fascination of the Abomination »E-rea [En ligne], 7.1 | 2009, mis en ligne le 15 juillet 2009, consulté le 08 décembre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

Haut de page



Docteur de l’Université de Provence

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur


Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.

Haut de page
Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search