Doctor Fischer of Geneva or the Bomb Party, p.1Graham Greene
DOCTOR FISCHER OF GENEVA OR THE BOMB PARTY
Graham Greene was born in 1904. On coming down from Balliol College, Oxford, he worked for four years as sub-editor on The Times. He established his reputation with his fourth novel, Stamboul Train. In 1935 he made a journey across Liberia, described in Journey Without Maps, and on his return was appointed film critic of the Spectator. In 1926 he had been received into the Roman Catholic Church and visited Mexico in 1938 to report on the religious persecution there. As a result he wrote The Lawless Roads and, later, his famous novel The Power and the Glory. Brighton Rock was published in 1938 and in 1940 he became literary editor of the Spectator. The next year he undertook work for the Foreign Office and was stationed in Sierra Leone from 1941 to 1943. This later produced the novel The Heart of the Matter, set in West Africa.
As well as his many novels, Graham Greene wrote several collections of short stories, four travel books, six plays, three books of autobiography – A Sort of Life, Ways of Escape and A World of My Own (published posthumously) – two of biography and four books for children. He also contributed hundreds of essays, and film and book reviews, some of which appear in the collections Reflections and Mornings in the Dark. Many of his novels and short stories have been filmed and The Third Man was written as a film treatment. Graham Greene was a member of the Order of Merit and a Companion of Honour. He died in April 1991.
ALSO BY GRAHAM GREENE
The Man Within
It’s a Battlefield
A Gun for Sale
The Confidential Agent
The Ministry of Fear
The End of the Affair
The Quiet American
A Burnt-Out Case
The Tenth Man
The Power and the Glory
The Heart of the Matter
Loser Takes All
Our Man in Havana
The Human Factor
The Honorary Consul
The Captain and the Enemy
The Fallen Idol
England Made Me
The Last Word and Other Stories
May We Borrow Your Husband?
Journey Without Maps
The Lawless Roads
In Search of a Character
Getting to Know the General
Mornings in the Dark
A Sort of Life
Ways of Escape
Fragments of an Autobiography
A World of my Own
Lord Rochester’s Monkey
An Impossible Woman
The Little Train
The Little Horse-Bus
The Little Steamroller
The Little Fire Engine
Doctor Fischer of Geneva or The Bomb Party
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Epub ISBN: 9781409020554
Published by Vintage 1999
13 15 17 19 20 18 16 14
Copyright © Graham Greene 1980
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First published in Great Britain in 1980 by The Bodley Head
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To my daughter, Caroline Bourget,
at whose Christmas table at Jongny
this story first came to me.
About the Author
Also by Graham Greene
Doctor Fischer of Geneva Or The Bomb Party
‘Who has but once dined his friends,
has tasted whatever it is to be Caesar.’
I think that I used to detest Doctor Fischer more than any other man I have known just as I loved his daughter more than any other woman. What a strange thing that she and I ever came to meet, leave alone to marry. Anna-Luise and her millionaire father inhabited a great white mansion in the classical style by the lakeside at Versoix outside Geneva while I worked as a translator and letter-writer in the immense chocolate factory of glass in Vevey. We might have been a world and not a mere canton apart. I would begin work at 8.30 in the morning while she would be still asleep in her pink and white bedroom, which she told me was like a wedding cake, and when I would go out to eat a hasty sandwich for my lunch, she was probably sitting before her glass in a dressing-gown doing her hair. From the sale of their chocolates my employers paid me three thousand francs a month which I suppose may have represented half an hour’s income to Doctor Fischer who many years before had invented Dentophil Bouquet, a toothpaste which was supposed to hold at bay the infections caused by eating too many of our chocolates. The word Bouquet was meant to indicate the choice of perfume, and the first advertisement showed a tasteful bunch of flowers. ‘Which is your favourite flower?’ Later glamorous girls in soft photography would be seen holding between their teeth a flower, which varied with every girl.
But it was not for his money that I detested Doctor Fischer. I hated him for his pride, his contempt of all the world, and his crue
How was it that I came to love Fischer’s daughter? That needs no explanation. She was young and pretty, she was warm-hearted and intelligent, and I cannot think of her now without tears coming to my eyes; but what a mystery must have lain behind her love for me. She was more than thirty years younger than I when we met, and there was certainly nothing about me to attract a girl of her age. As a young man I had lost my left hand when I was a fireman in the blitz – that night in December 1940 when the City of London was set ablaze – and the small pension which I received when the war was over just enabled me to settle in Switzerland where the languages that I knew, thanks to my parents, made it possible for me to make a living. My father had been a minor diplomat, so as a child I had lived in France, Turkey and Paraguay and learnt their respective tongues. By a curious coincidence my father and mother were both killed on the same night that I lost my hand; they were buried under the rubble of a house in West Kensington while my hand was left behind somewhere in Leadenhall Street close to the Bank of England.
Like all diplomats my father ended his days as a knight, Sir Frederick Jones – a name which with its dignified prefix no one found comic or unusual in England, though I was to find that a plain Mr A. Jones was ridiculous in the eyes of Doctor Fischer.
Unfortunately for me my father had combined diplomacy with the study of Anglo-Saxon history and, of course with my mother’s consent, he gave me the name of Alfred, one of his heroes (I believe she had boggled at Aelfred). This Christian name, for some inexplicable reason, had become corrupted in the eyes of our middle-class world; it belonged exclusively now to the working class and was usually abbreviated to Alf. Perhaps that was why Doctor Fischer, the inventor of Dentophil Bouquet, never called me anything but Jones, even after I married his daughter.
But Anna-Luise – what could have attracted her to a man in his fifties? Perhaps she was seeking a father more sympathetic than Doctor Fischer, just as I may have been unconsciously engaged on a parallel pursuit, of a daughter rather than a wife. My wife had died in childbirth twenty years before, taking with her the child who doctors told me would have been a girl. I was in love with my wife, but I had not reached the age when a man really loves and perhaps there had not been the time. I doubt if one ever ceases to love, but one can cease to be in love as easily as one can outgrow an author one admired as a boy. The memory of my wife faded quickly enough and it was not constancy which stopped me looking for another wife – to have found one woman who accepted me as a lover in spite of my plastic imitation of a hand and my unattractive income had been a near miracle, and I couldn’t expect a miracle like that to be repeated. When the necessity to have a woman became imperative I could always buy a copulation, even in Switzerland, after I had found my employment in the chocolate factory to augment my pension and the little which I had inherited from my parents (very little it was, but as their capital had been invested in War Loan, at least it paid no English tax).
Anna-Luise and I met first over a couple of sandwiches. I had ordered my usual midday meal, and she was taking a snack before visiting some little woman in Vevey who had been her nurse. I left my table to go to the lavatory while I waited for my sandwich; I had put a newspaper on my chair to keep my place, and Anna-Luise sat herself down on the opposite chair because she hadn’t seen the newspaper. When I returned I think she must have noticed my missing hand – in spite of the glove I wore over the plastic substitute – and it was probably for that reason she didn’t apologize and move away. (I have already written how kind she was. There was nothing of her father in her. I wish I had known her mother.)
Our sandwiches arrived at the same moment – hers was ham and mine was cheese and she had ordered coffee and I had ordered beer, and there was a moment of confusion with the waitress who assumed that we were together . . . And so, quite suddenly, we actually were, like two friends who encounter each other after years of separation. She had hair the colour of mahogany with a gloss on it like French polish, long hair which she had pulled up on her scalp and fastened by a shell with a stick through it in what I think is called the Chinese manner, and even while I gave her a polite good morning I was imagining myself pulling out that stick, so that the shell would fall to the floor and her hair down her back. She was so unlike the Swiss girls whom I would see every day in the street, their faces pretty and fresh, all butter and cream, and their eyes blank with an invulnerable lack of experience. She had had experience enough living alone with Doctor Fischer after her mother died.
We exchanged names very quickly before our sandwiches were finished and when she told me ‘Fischer’, I exclaimed, ‘Not the Fischer.’
‘I wouldn’t know who the Fischer is.’
‘Doctor Fischer of the dinners,’ I said. She nodded and I could see I had given her pain.
‘I don’t go to them,’ she said, and I hastened to assure her that rumour always exaggerates.
‘No,’ she said, ‘the dinners are abominable.’
Perhaps it was to change the subject that she then referred directly to my plastic hand over which I always wore a glove to hide the ugliness. Most people pretend not to notice it, though they often take a stealthy look when they think that my attention is elsewhere. I told her of the blitz night in the City of London and how the flames had lit the sky as far away as the West End, so that one could read a book at one in the morning. My station was off the Tottenham Court Road and we were not summoned to help in the east until the early hours. ‘More than thirty years ago,’ I said, ‘but it still seems only a few months away.’
‘That was the year my father married. What a feast he gave after the ceremony, my mother said. Dentophil Bouquet had already made him a fortune, you see,’ she added, ‘and we were neutral and the rich weren’t really rationed. I suppose that might count as the first of his dinners. There was French scent for all the women and gold swizzle sticks for the men – he liked to have women at his table in those days. They didn’t break up till five in the morning. Not my idea of a wedding night.’
‘The bombers left us at 5.30,’ I said. ‘I was in hospital by then, but I heard the All Clear from my bed.’ We both ordered another sandwich and she wouldn’t let me pay for hers. ‘Another time,’ she said, and the words were like the promise of meeting at least once again. The night of the blitz and the sandwich lunch – they are the closest and the clea
We finished the sandwiches and I watched her walk out of my sight before I turned towards the office and the five letters in Spanish and the three in Turkish which lay on my desk and were concerned with a new line in milk chocolate flavoured with whisky. No doubt Dentophil Bouquet would claim to render it harmless to the gums.
So it was that things began for us, but a month of stray meetings in Vevey and of watching classic films in a small cinema in Lausanne half way between our homes was needed before I realized we were both in love and that she was prepared to ‘make love’ with me, an absurd phrase, for surely we had constructed love a long while before over the ham and cheese sandwiches. We were really a very old-fashioned couple, and I suggested marriage without much hope the first afternoon – it was a Sunday – when I slept with her in the bed I hadn’t bothered to make that morning because I had no idea she would consent to come back with me after our rendezvous in the tea shop where we had first met. The way I put it was, ‘I wish we could be married.’
‘Why shouldn’t we be?’ she asked, lying on her back and looking at the ceiling and the shell which the Swiss call the barrette lying on the floor and her hair all over the pillow.
‘Doctor Fischer,’ I said. I hated him even before I had met him and to say ‘Your father’ was repugnant to me, for hadn’t she told me that all the rumours about his parties were true?
‘We needn’t ask him,’ she said. ‘Not that I think he’d care anyway.’
‘I’ve told you what I earn. It’s not much in Swiss terms for two.’
‘We can manage. My mother left me a little.’
‘And there’s my age,’ I added. ‘I’m old enough to be your father,’ thinking that perhaps I was just that, a substitute for the father she didn’t love and that I owed my success to Doctor Fischer. ‘I could even be your grandfather if I’d started early enough.’
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