Read-along discussion: The End of the Affair by Graham Greene, part two

Welcome to our first read-along discussion of The End of the Affair by Graham Greene. If you’re following our schedule, you should have read Books One through Four.

Spoiler warning: We will be discussing Books One through Four of The End of the Affair in detail, both in this post and the comments section.

In The End of the Affair, Greene deals with three big topics. I thought we might discuss our opinion of how these themes are presented in the characters’ lives.

Marriage: In today’s world, it is difficult to relate to a marriage like Henry’s and Sarah’s. Can you imagine a woman today putting up with a man who is completely obsessed with work, refuses to make love to her, and with whom she is really more casual acquaintances than life partners? I can’t. Even in most churches today, a couple like that would be able to get some good marital counseling. But in the time period of this novel, divorce was much less common, and women were supposed to put up with just about anything from their husbands, because, after all, they are men.

Henry is such a weak character; he is very hard to empathize with. I know he was the one who was cuckolded, and so I should feel sorry for him, but I don’t understand how he could be so dense and unable to see what was right in front of his eyes: that Sarah was desperately unhappy for a long time, and then she found happiness with another man.

Passion: In my opinion, the passion experienced by Bendrix and Sarah isn’t of the romantic, “I would do anything for you” type. It’s more of an obsessive, grasping, needy passion – the desire to own someone, to control them, to be so tied to them that they are isolated from all others, at least on Bendrix’s part. I honestly don’t see what the draw to Bendrix is, but love in real life doesn’t often make sense, either!

Faith: Here’s where the book becomes most fascinating to me. Sarah is a woman who, at first, appears to have very little faith. And yet, when faced with losing Bendrix during the air raid, she makes a promise to God that she will give him up if He will spare his life. When Bendrix lives, she feels obligated to stick to that promise. The section of the book that was made up of her diary entries was most enlightening – to read what she was experiencing while Bendrix was stewing in his anger and resentment about being thrown over. In the end, I got the impression that she believed her sickness was imposed on her by God as a way to prevent her from breaking her promise.

And that leads us to the big “wow” moment at the end of this week’s reading section. I have to admit I saw it coming, and I wasn’t surprised at all. I’m curious to see where the book goes from this point on, as we still have about a third left, and one of the participants in the titular “affair” is now dead.

Be sure to leave your thoughts on this week’s reading in the comment section below! Or if you write your own post, please leave me a link so I can read it.

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4 Responses to Read-along discussion: The End of the Affair by Graham Greene, part two

  1. Emma @ Words And Peace
    Twitter: wordsandpeace

    was busy all day today, will try to post tomorrow

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  3. Emma @ Words And Peace
    Twitter: wordsandpeace

    Here are finally my answers:

    – Marriage: this is definitely not a happy portrayal of marriage. Henry and Sarah do not communicate, which I think is one of the most fundamental key to a successful and loving marriage. They both live in the same house, more to me like two independent renters.
    Bendrix’s relationship does not seem to point to a happy idea of marriage either.
    It might be interesting to remember that Graham Green was suffering from bipolar disorder, and that may have affected his own marriage with Vivien. He spent the last 30 years of his life with a woman he had known earlier on.

    – Passion: This does not seem to be too hot either!, but always lived for a purpose in mind for Bendrix. Sarah seems to be more genuinely passionate, but her passion does not seem to be strong enough to take Bendrix away from his self-interest and ego-centrism.
    As for Henry, he probably does not know the word, just like Sarah reassures Bendrix that Henry, coming home at the moment when Sarah reached her orgasm, would not have recognized what that cry meant!

    – Faith: now this is a very interesting element, and unexpected from my part. I have to even confess that I kind of passed over the scene of the London bombing without realizing this was the crux of the novel. Only when I read Sarah’s journal thorugh Bendrix’s eyes did I realize what was going on!!
    At the beginning of the book, faith seems to be a very superficial element, not central, but then everything evolves with it, as Sarah made the promise to God to leave Bendrix if he survived. And survive he did. Sarah gets involved in more religious reflections and tries absolutely to keep her promise. But it is hard nevertheless, and her last hope is to escape her struggle by dying from a sickness before she feels weak enough to break her promise.

    Graham Greene, though objecting to be considered a Roman Catholic writer, did insert the theme of faith and religion in four of his major works.

    I’m not comfortable though with this presentation of God. He looks more like a cruel business-oriented God (I’ll give you this IF you do this) than the loving God I know and experience daily.

    My post is here:

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Emma – I missed the significance about that section on the bombing, too, until it was revisited in Sarah’s journal. The end of the book, and its heavy emphasis on faith, really surprised me – it wasn’t the direction I was expecting it to take.

      I was especially interested in the theme of jealousy/obsession on Bendrix’s part. First, he was jealous of Henry, then jealous of Sarah’s previous lovers, then jealous of her relationship with God. His antagonism toward God and his refusal to allow her a Catholic burial seemed so small-minded and petty. I really did not like his character at all!