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Katelyn Dudash

Clark

AP Literature and Composition

19 December 2018

Authorial Intent Research Paper—Graham Greene

The knowledge of an author’s background is vital for a reader to get the most out of a

literary work because it gives a deeper understanding of the foundation of their characters and

ideas expressed in the book. This is accomplished through a comprehensive look at the life of an

author because a biography gives greater insight into the personal influences that have caused the

author to think or feel a certain way about the topic. For example, in one of his most famous

works, The End of the Affair, Graham Greene communicates his innermost struggles with

religion and personal relationships through his characters, showing the invaluable connection

between an author’s work and their background.

Greene’s novel follows the story of a character who is forced to face questions about

love, hate, and religion. Those who read the book without any knowledge of Greene’s personal

life can still understand the work, and appreciate the main character, who struggles with personal

relationships and the presence of religion in his life. However, a look into the life of Graham

Greene allows for a deeper level of understanding, and can act as an explanation for the thoughts

and feelings that are expressed throughout the story. For instance, Graham Greene’s biography

reveals that he, much like the main character Maurice Bendrix, had a very complicated

relationship with religion. He was agnostic for a large part of his life until he met his future wife,

Vivien Dayrell-Browning. She was a devout Catholic and persuaded him to examine the Catholic
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religion, which led to his conversion and baptism after various arguments with priests (Sherry).

However, he continued to struggle with religion, even after his conversion. This struggle with

religion is a major theme in his book, and complicates the characters of Sarah Miles and Maurice

Bendrix. This knowledge of Greene’s experience and struggle with religion allows the book to be

read under a different lens which gives a deeper understanding of the topic. It gives him a more

authentic voice, and creates two characters that are more realistic than characters produced by an

author that has no connection to the story that he writes. At a glance, it is evident that both

characters battle with their religious beliefs (or lack-there-of), but this is a theme that is

examined in numerous books. Knowledge of Greene’s personal struggle with religion—his

conversion to and from Catholicism—creates a deeper level of understanding of the topic. He

writes the conversion of the Sarah Miles through her diary entries, using his own experience to

show the slow, painful transition from complete denial of faith to tranquility. Much like Greene,

Sarah had been agnostic until a pivotal event in her life had forced her to consider the existence

of God. Greene writes the character of Sarah with powerful detail that can only be achieved by a

person who has experienced that same conversion. She writes “You were there teaching me to

squander so that one day we might have nothing left except this love of you. When I ask You for

Pain, you give me peace. Give it to him too. Give him my peace—he needs it more”, recognizing

her own love of the God she has come to know, and asking him to bring peace to her ex-lover,

Maurice (Greene). While Sarah undergoes a full conversion, Greene utilizes the character of

Maurice to express his doubts and fears regarding religion. Bendrix had not given a second

thought about religion until he had read Sarah’s diary. Immediately after reading the entries, he

declares, “I hate you God. I hate you as though you actually exist” (Greene). He feels as though

God has robbed him of his one true love, and is angry without thinking, especially after Sarah’s
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death. He even goes as far as to say “She [Sarah] mixes religion with desertion to make it sound

noble”, blaming religion entirely for the failure of his relationship (Greene). Eventually, Bendrix

comes to recognize the experience of God, but he does not embrace faith in the same way that

Sarah does. He says “O God, You’ve done enough, You’ve robbed me of enough, I’m too tired

and old to learn to love, leave me alone for ever” (Greene). This is not the complete conversion

that Sarah experiences, but it is a further example of the painfully real way that Green writes. He

writes the characters of Sarah and Bendrix in a powerfully compelling manner. The passion with

which he writes carries the reader through the story and enables them to feel as though they are

living through the characters themselves. This is something that can only be achieved by an

author who has experienced those emotions.

The End of the Affair also explores issues in personal relationships. A look into the life of

Graham Greene demonstrates the various personal struggles that he experienced in his life,

which therefore influenced his works. For example, in his early years, Greene struggled with his

mental health and experienced depression (Sherry). Maurice Bendrix and Sarah Miles appear to

have similar internal struggles that plague their minds. From the beginning of the book, Maurice

Bendrix is portrayed as an unstable character. He writes what he calls “a record of hate” about a

married woman that he had an affair with, and spends much of the story reflecting on his jealous

and bitter feelings. He also laments that “The sense of unhappiness is so much easier to convey

than that of happiness” (Greene). Later in the story, Sarah writes “It’s a strange thing to discover

and to believe that you are loved when you know there is nothing in you for anybody but a

parent or God to love” (Greene). Their feelings of inadequacy are inspired by Greene’s own

struggles throughout his life, allowing him to write their internal struggles with greater meaning.

The character’s complicated feelings towards themselves and others create a unique plot. A look
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at Greene’s biography shows the inspiration for such a storyline—his own personal experiences.

Although he married Vivien Dayrell-Browning after a long and tortuous courtship, he had

extramarital affairs for a large part of their relationship, even before he asked for a divorce

(Sherry). Most notably, he had a relationship with a woman named Catherine Walston, which

had parallels to the relationship between Bendrix and Sarah (Sherry). This experience gave him

the ability to write the characters of Sarah and Bendrix and enabled him to convey the emotions

that they experienced with striking detail.

While it is unquestionable that the biography of an author is vital to a full understanding

of a fictitious literary work such as Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair, it is interesting to

examine whether or not this applies to other works of literature, such as a historical novel. Works

of literature that fall under the historical genre give a factual account of an event that happened

in history. Generally, this type of work would be considered to be unbiased, suggesting that an

author’s background has no impact on the overall work. However, a historical author’s biography

would still be valuable, because it still contributes to the work. For instance, the time period in

which an author is born, or their country of origin can influence the way that they write about a

particular historical event. It is also interesting to explore the benefits of leaving an author’s

background unknown. Because works of literature should be able to stand alone without

biographical information, the absence of an author’s biographical information would not

necessarily take away from the story. It would allow for readers to have a more creative

interpretation of the work, but an author’s background is consistently important to the full

understanding of a literary work.

In conclusion, a literary work should be able to stand alone from any connections with

the author’s biography, but this information should still always act as a supplement, which adds a
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deeper level of understanding that cannot be achieved from the work alone. This can be seen in

Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair, which is shows how knowledge of an author’s personal

experiences and history enables the reader to better understand the origin of the ideas and

emotions expressed through the story.


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Works Cited

Greene, Graham. The End of the Affair. Penguin Books , 1975.

Sherry, Norman. The Life of Graham Greene, Volume 1: 1904-1939. Vol. 1, Penguin Books,

2004.

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