Monday, 20 August 2012

James Hilton vs Graham Greene

  The blitz- the Nazi bombardment of London- evoked a similar response in two great writers whose work translates well to the big screen. Both chose to write novels about distraught men, suffering from amnesia, burdened by some nameless guilt, who nevertheless find themselves, and perhaps are redeemed, as the bombs rain down.
   James Hilton's 'Random Harvest' is explicitly political. Britain itself is the amnesiac which forgot the promises it had made to itself at the end of the First World War. The 1930's themselves had been as 'a long Weekend'- a golden afternoon of declining effort and increasing rewards- but also a 'lost Weekend' in the sense of a man on an alcoholic bender who will retain no memory of the enormities he perpetrated while drunk.
  Graham Greene's 'the Ministry of Fear' is simply a thriller- a pot boiler- it turns out his amnesiac was guilty of murdering his own wife whereas Hilton's hero had merely abandoned his. But, it was a mercy killing and so, in Greene's novel, there is a sort of redemption to be found in battling Nazi agents and in the arms of some slightly shop soiled girl with ambiguous loyalties. Hilton's hero, however, had absent mindedly remarried the very wife he'd abandoned and so the recovery of his memory is either a truly damning indictment of his fundamental superficiality, the superficiality of his class and caste, or it is a Divine Comedy vouchsafing the Universal Truth that all Good Marriages are based on the husband's amnesia, his absent minded remarrying of the woman whom he abandoned, and wives probably only put up with husbands in the prospect of getting in this truly devastating last word.

  James Hilton, like Graham Greene, was the son of a headmaster- but the headmaster of a State funded School rather than a 'Public' School- and he too went up to Oxbridge after the War but, it would seem, before the aestheticism of a Harold Acton established its reign.
  Literary success came earlier to Hilton- he is credited with setting off the paper-back phenomenon- and Hollywood made hugely popular versions of his 'Lost Horizon' and 'Goodbye Mr. Chips'. Interestingly, these versions remain pretty faithful to the original novel- whereas American directors often reversed the meaning of Greene's, but also Maugham's, stories.
 In terms of Class origin and political views, Hilton is close to, the Economist, Ronald Coase and his American sojourn, like that of Coase, was productive of the type of insights the British tradition of Liberal Political Economy needed to reinvigorate itself as opposed to the Continental nonsense that grafted itself onto the aestheto-Anglo-Catholic colocational availability cascades that shitheads like Chesterton and Belloc, but also Wyndham Lewis and D.H. Lawrence, were propagating.
  Greene, unlike Waugh, had no feeling for British tradition in political economy and his attempt to be a sort of dingy Dos Passos in the 30's fell somewhat flat. By contrast, Waugh's 'Work suspended' was anthologized by the Soviets because it showed a sharper grasp of Political Economy than that displayed by any of their partisans or fellow travelers.
   Hilton died relatively young and with him was buried that portion of the childhood of Judas in which Christ hadn't yet been betrayed. Greene was the Garden that overgrew what can never grow up. Both were blind alleys. The Toys finally threw away the children and successfully adjusted to bitter-sweet careers in Media Sales and Business Process Outsourcing.






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