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The End of the Affair (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition) Paperback – Deckle Edge, September 28, 2004
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Set in London during and just after World War II, Graham Greene's The End of the Affair is a pathos-laden examination of a three-way collision between love of self, love of another, and love of God. The affair in question involves Maurice Bendrix, a solipsistic novelist, and a dutifully married woman, Sarah Miles. The lovers meet at a party thrown by Sarah's dreary civil-servant husband, and proceed to liberate each other from boredom and routine unhappiness. Reflecting on the ebullient beginnings of their romance, Bendrix recalls: "There was never any question in those days of who wanted whom--we were together in desire." Indeed, the affair goes on unchecked for several years until, during an afternoon tryst, Bendrix goes downstairs to look for intruders in his basement and a bomb falls on the building. Sarah rushes down to find him lying under a fallen door, and immediately makes a deal with God, whom she has never particularly cared for. "I love him and I'll do anything if you'll make him alive.... I'll give him up forever, only let him be alive with a chance.... People can love each other without seeing each other, can't they, they love You all their lives without seeing You."
Bendrix, as evidenced by his ability to tell the story, is not dead, merely unconscious, and so Sarah must keep her promise. She breaks off the relationship without giving a reason, leaving Bendrix mystified and angry. The only explanation he can think of is that she's left him for another man. It isn't until years later, when he hires a private detective to ascertain the truth, that he learns of her impassioned vow. Sarah herself comes to understand her move through a strange rationalization. Writing to God in her journal, she says:
You willed our separation, but he [Bendrix] willed it too. He worked for it with his anger and his jealousy, and he worked for it with his love. For he gave me so much love, and I gave him so much love that soon there wasn't anything left, when we'd finished, but You.It's as though the pull toward faith were inevitable, if incomprehensible--perhaps as punishment for her sin of adultery. In her final years, Sarah's faith only deepens, even as she remains haunted by the bombing and the power of her own attraction to God. Set against the backdrop of a war-ravaged city, The End of the Affair is equally haunting as it lays forth the question of what constitutes love in troubling, unequivocal terms. --Melanie Rehak --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"Undeniably a major work of art...It remains from first to last an almost faultless display of craftsmanship and a wonderfully assured statement of ideas." —The New Yorker
"Singularly moving and beautiful...the relationship of lover to husband with its crazy mutation of pity, hate, comradeship, jealousy, and contempt is superbly described...the heroine is consistently lovable." —Evelyn Waugh
"An absorbing piece of work, passionately felt and strikingly written." —The Atlantic Monthly
"Brighton Rock, The Heart of the Matter, and The End of the Affair...all have claims to greatness; they are as intense and penetrating and disturbing as an inquisitor's gaze." —John Updike
"Graham Greene was in class by himself.... He will be read and remembered as the ultimate twentieth-century chronicler of consciousness and anxiety." —William Golding
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Top Customer Reviews
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There are authors and books that come back to some of us through the years, and the late Graham Greene is a visitor here at times. There was no particular reason, or so I thought at the time, when recently I decided to read again his "End of The Affair" (1951). The story ends, or begins in London after WWII and Maurice Bendrix, the narrator is a writer who is gaining prominence among his readership. His journal, which he calls an account of hate, begins after he runs into an acquaintance, Henry Miles whom he hasn't seen in two years on a bleak wet night in January, and they have drinks together at a neighboring pub.
Henry Miles, now a rising civil servant at the Ministry of Home Security, does not know that Bendrix had an intense affair with his wife Sarah for a few years, and that she suddenly left Bendrix without an explanation after one of their passionate encounters. After surviving a bomb explosion at his lodgings, he writes later in his journal: "She got up from the floor and reached for her clothes. I told her there's no point in your leaving. There must be an All Clear first". But Sarah has just made a promise to someone and he does not realize that she is now saying farewell.
Two years later, Bendrix is now full of hatred for her and for Henry, having always despised the latter, and yet against the force of his will, he is anxious to get as much news of Sarah as he can from the deceived husband, whom he considers an impotent, bland and dull man. So it comes as a rude surprise when Henry tells him sadly over drinks: 'Jealousy's an awful thing'; a stinging irony that Henry for the first time now suspects Sarah, who has had affairs since their marriage, of seeing another man. Henry is sufficiently distressed, and at the risk of his impeccable reputation, about to approach a detective agency.
Bendrix, in a renewed state of bitterness and jealousy, calmly offers to act on his behalf as a caring friend, and shoulder this unsavory burden by approaching the agency, pretending to be a betrayed lover of Sarah's, and ask for an investigation of his newest rival.
While some readers might find this somewhat farcical if devious, Greene, with his masterful writing skills, is able to set the tone for his famous novel and portrays Bendrix in such an unflattering way, that he sounds both detestable and despicable: a difficult, complex and selfish man at odds with himself, riddled with doubts and insecurity, and so full of hatred and resentment for his lost love, that one remains sober in the reading of this affair. While he is able to describe himself accurately in his notes, he shows no intent of really wishing to change, and this in itself might be cause for an opinion of his character in itself. When we read later of this self-portrayal in the novel, we also understand why he feels at times that there is a demon at work inside himself.
Graham Greene, by many accounts, was irritated to be labeled as a Catholic author, instead as an author who was Catholic, and some of his readers have been irritated in turn by his religious views, becoming disapproving at times in the process. When it comes to such a personal and sensitive matter as religion, I read carefully what the cold distant Father Crompton in this story has to say when he comes to dinner with Henry and Bendrix; the latter who finally breaks down into a rage at the end and causes a furor of a scene. But the priest remains implacable, holding his hand out to Henry and turning his back on Bendrix, as he leaves.
In the second reading of this novel, I decided instead to follow the persona of Sarah in her foot-steps, for she reminds me of someone close to my heart, and Sarah is a woman with a vast capacity for love, who may never be able to find it. She has been attempting to fill an emotional void from the time of her birth, which often leaves her feeling lost in the desert. Bendrix is the only man she has truly loved, and yet she has often hated him for his inability to understand her, his relentless hounding and jealous accusations, his cruel undermining and mockery of her behavior, while attempting in his insecurity, to destroy them both in a final act of fear: Fear of losing the only happiness he has known, rather than await what he perceives as the inevitable death of their love.
As for Sarah's own character, her love for Bendrix, the promise she made two years ago to someone else, the struggle to come to terms with herself and the one she is learning to believe and love, we learn more of the above from her journal which Bendrix has managed to secure, and then later much more when Bendrix takes Sarah's lost vacuous mother to dinner, who relays to his shock, what might be termed as the very beginning of The Affair.
It was of deep interest for this reader to learn with compassion of the expressions of love and care that the men of import in Sarah's life have to offer her, and it is perhaps the humble but ever loyal detective, Parkis, for whom I maintain at this age a soft-spot, because he is the first to understand that Sarah is 'Good' through her many kindnesses, her aura, tenderness and impact on others.
This was Graham's last romantic novel, laced with religious and autobiographical undertones, where the Dead may be the ones praying for the Living. If the pivotal figure in his short masterpiece, Maurice Bendrix, a devastated man and tormented soul, is finally able to find some inner peace and solace, some of the believers among us may feel that only one has the answer when it comes to the resolution of this final matter.
For S. Curteis who once asked 'When will we ever see each other again?', an answer could be that one can always love and believe without seeing. This much we both now know is true.