Brighton Rock and Sherlock Holmes: A Comparison Essay
Brighton Rock and Sherlock Holmes: A Comparison
In this assignment I will be looking at the differences in writing style between Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock and Arthur Conan-Doyle’s The Man With The Twisted Lip. The style of writing is the main difference that I see between the stories of Greene and Conan Doyle, and not in the plot; partly this is due to the half a century or so time difference between the pieces, Conan Doyle’s, I guess in around 1890 (due to the date given at the start of The Man With The Twisted Lip, “it was in June ’89”) and Greene’s written in 1938, although partly it is due to the different intentions of the authors.
The works of Conan Doyle were mainly popular, short stories written for a Victorian middle-class monthly periodical, “The Strand” written between 1887 and 1927, although most were written by 1903. Because of this, the structures on all levels, from plot to sentence, are simple, chronological and in the first person. Examples of this are “Isa Whitney, brother of the late Elias Whitney, D. D. , Principal of the Theological College of St. George’s, was much addicted to opium. ” This is a simple statement to open the story with.
It introduces a character, actually two, gives a little background information and tells us the point of the sentence, and the story (or so the reader thinks) at the end of the sentence in “was much addicted to opium”. The plot generally gives no depth to the characters and is a one-track plot due to the story being written in the first person and following the activities of one man. All of this is in striking contrast to Brighton Rock. In the first part of the novel there are three chapters.
Greene’s work is not in the first person but the third. This enables Greene to follow a multi-track plot, taking in the actions of three characters; chapter one begins with ‘Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him. ‘ This shows Hale as the focus of the first chapter. Chapter two begins with, ‘The boy paid his threepence and went through the turnstile. ‘ Focussing attention on to ‘the boy’ or Pinkie. And chapter three begins with, ‘Ida Arnold broke her way across the Strand’.
Furthermore, where Conan Doyle is very sparing on his description, Greene lavishes in it: ‘trams rocking down to the aquarium, they surged like some natural and irrational migration of insects up and down the front. ‘ Whereas Conan Doyle, writing as Dr. Watson, keeps it to the respectability of the place and its genteelness, much more important to a middle class Victorian than a clever simile, for example, ‘Upper Swandam Lane is a vile alley… ‘ the effect of this is to give the reader an impression of what the alley looks like in their minds, instead of the precise detail Greene employs, it is often cinematic.
He did not have to produce a script for the film version, as Brighton Rock reads more like one. One would not expect to find an author looking to join the ranks of world literature simply writing ‘potboiler’ short stories for bourgeoisie light entertainment magazines. In contrast, Brighton Rock is much more complex. It is classed as a modern classic, and therefore does not follow the simple lines of popular, mass produced fiction. Instead, its chapters are presented as from each of the character’s points of view making the plot non-chronological, as some events happen simultaneously but at different pages of the book.
For example, the death of Hale and Ida searching for him occur at the same time but at different stages of the book. This adds a more complex level to the narrative. Brighton Rock is written nominally in the third person, as it still only follows each character’s movements in turn but the Sherlock Holmes stories are always in the first person, as Dr. Watson, which gives the reader a definite sense of place in the story but has its limitations. For example, all events must take place while Dr.
Watson is present, or they must be recounted to him by another character. In contrast, Greene can make the reader everywhere at once and it allows him to use the cinematic detail in his description that gives his locations the depth and quality that Conan Doyle’s does not due to his use of the first person. This is because if Conan Doyle were to use such complex description and metaphor in his description as Dr. Watson or in the speech of another character, it would make them sound like they had verbal diarrhoea.
Greene’s talent, I feel, lies in his ability to use such gushing torrents of description and manage not to bore or alienate his reader, rather he involves them further in the scene. Conan Doyle, as I have said, achieves this in a different way, not through lengthening his description but by the simple act of using the first person to write his stories: he makes the reader Dr. Watson. Another dimension to the description in Brighton Rock is that Greene is biased against more or less everything. The squalor of the Steyne in, ‘The shabby secret behind the bright corsage, the deformed breast.
‘ Words such as ‘shabby’ and ‘deformed’ give the impression to the reader of poverty and mutation, the two going hand in hand. These are things, especially mutation, which society abhors. By using these adjectives, Greene tries to make the reader hate the place as well. Also, in that passage, ‘deformed breast’ is an interesting contrast of words. The breast is usually regarded as being an artistic, beautiful and motherly object of adoration, but by making it deformed, in the reader’s eye Greene is defiling a beautiful object, making the impact greater.
In The Man With the Twisted Lip Conan Doyle, by contrast, uses only simple atmospheric description and practical description (the naming of routes street by street, obviously made using a map of London, an unusual feature). An example of this simple description is found at ‘I seated myself in his armchair and warmed my hands before his crackling fire, for a sharp frost had set in, and the windows were thick with ice crystals. ‘ In this quotation two things are explored: the fire and the window.
The description is atmospheric because it uses the contrasting words ‘frost’ and ‘warmed’, one being cold, the other hot. The effect on the reader is that they immediately imagine the atmosphere of warmness inside but bitterly cold outside that we all know. The simple description has therefore set up an atmosphere; it is atmospheric. In The Man With The Twisted Lip Conan Doyle does use one unusual device to add depth to his writing: a ruse in the plot at the very beginning to throw the reader off what the true plot is. That ruse is the disappearance of Isa Whitney.
Conan Doyle does this to open the story in a mundane way, but surprise the reader with the eventual outcome: the disappearance of Neville St. Clair. Or perhaps Conan Doyle just got sick of the Whitney plot half way through writing. Who knows!? Other than this Conan Doyle sticks to the usual crime story plot: the missing/dead person or thing, the impossible clue, the amazing detective and the twist in the solving of it all. Greene does the same in his plot structure, although with much more focus on the characters in turn, especially on mentality of the criminal Pinkie.
Greene tries almost to explain why Pinkie is so evil with the recounting of his scarred childhood (the ‘weekly exercise’), resulting in his misogyny (? ), Catholic godfearing and sadism. Also, Ida Arnold is the ‘detective’ in Brighton Rock, although she is not intelligent or brilliant, just a whore sentimental to Hale’s memory as Greene portrays her. In fact, Greene grudgingly makes Ida the heroine and the force of good, even though the traditional good of Godliness is the real enemy in the book. Ida is a weird choice for a heroine. She personifies every human sin.
She is a puritan’s nightmare, as shown in, ‘Death shocked her, life was more important. She wasn’t religious. She didn’t believe in heaven and hell, only in ghosts… ‘ and her ultimate anti-religious statement, ‘to her death was the end of everything. At one with the One – it didn’t mean a thing besides a glass of Guinness on a sunny day. ‘ In all, Greene’s story is one of ‘good’ as the here and now, however demonic and hedonistic, triumphing over evil the eternal whereas Conan Doyle has no such moral depth to his story, just an impossible clue.
Brighton Rock is unusual in this way. Greene is writing a crime story, usually the realm of light entertainment (popular fiction) but here, he transforms the whole novel with the psychoanalysis of Pinkie and the subtext of religion, damnation and salvation. Greene sums this up in the phrase that Pinkie comforts himself with, ‘between the stirrup and the ground he mercy sought and mercy found’. Through this quotation Greene explores the hypocrisy of religion and the way the all-forgiving belief enables people to sin and expect God to forgive.
The psychosis of Pinkie is explored hand in hand with his love/hate relationship with the idea of Christianity, best shown in Pinkie’s treatment of the doll; ‘holding the Mother of God by the hair’ and ‘His fingers pulled absent mindedly at the doll’s hair’. The simile of the Mother of God being held by the hair reveals Pinkie as the ultimate misogynist; the one woman, as a Catholic and a Christian, he should revere he is holding by the hair.
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