Our man in havana, p.1
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       Our Man in Havana, p.1
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           Graham Greene
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Our Man in Havana


  Contents

  Cover

  About the Book

  About the Author

  Also by Graham Greene

  Epigraph

  Title Page

  Introduction

  Part One

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Part Two

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Part Three

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Part Four

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Part Five

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Epilogue

  Copyright

  About the Book

  Wormold is a vacuum cleaner salesman in a city of powercuts. His adolescent daughter spends his money with a skill that amazes him, so when a mysterious Englishman offers him an extra income; he is tempted. In return all he has to do is file a few reports. But when his fake reports start coming true, things suddenly get more complicated and Havana becomes a threatening place.

  About the Author

  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

  Novels

  The Man Within

  It’s a Battlefield

  A Gun for Sale

  The Confidential Agent

  The Ministry of Fear

  The Third Man

  The End of the Affair

  The Quiet American

  A Burnt-Out Case

  Travels with my Aunt

  Dr Fischer of Geneva or

  The Bomb Party

  The Tenth Man

  Stamboul Train

  England Made Me

  Brighton Rock

  The Power and the Glory

  The Heart of the Matter

  The Fallen Idol

  Loser Takes All

  The Comedians

  The Human Factor

  Monsignor Quixote

  The Honorary Consul

  The Captain and the Enemy

  Short Stories

  Collected Stories

  The Last Word and Other Stories

  Travel

  Journey Without Maps

  The Lawless Roads

  In Search of a Character

  Getting to Know the General

  Essays

  Collected Essays

  Yours etc.

  Reflections

  Mornings in the Dark

  Plays

  Collected Plays

  Autobiography

  A Sort of Life

  Ways of Escape

  Fragments of an Autobiography

  A World of my Own

  Biography

  Lord Rochester’s Monkey

  An Impossible Woman

  Children’s Books

  The Little Train

  The Little Horse-Bus

  The Little Steamroller

  The Little Fire Engine

  And the sad man is cock of all his jests

  GEORGE HERBERT

  Introduction

  Death From A Salesman:

  Graham Greene’s Bottled Ontology

  [In Havana,] ‘where every vice was permissible and every trade possible, lay the true background for my comedy.’

  Graham Greene, Ways of Escape 1980

  Graham Greene famously subdivided his fictions into ‘novels’ and ‘entertainments’ (this present one falling with a slightly suppressed chuckle into the second category) as if to slyly warn his audience that an element of the ludic and the flippant would sometimes be permitted to him and should be forgiven by his readers. If, in his infrequent confessions, he might have mentally reclassified some offenses as venial rather than mortal, something of the same analogy holds throughout his work.

  I should like to propose a third or subcategory: the whisky (as opposed to the non-whisky) fictions. Alcohol is seldom far from the reach of Greene’s characters, and its influence was clearly some kind of daemon in his work and his life. A stanza of that witty and beautiful poem On The Circuit, written in 1963, registers W.H. Auden’s dread at the thought of lecturing on a booze-free American campus and asks, anxiously and in italics:

  Is this a milieu where I must

  How grahamgreeneish! How infra dig!

  Snatch from the bottle in my bag

  An analeptic swig?

  Describing a visit to a 1987 conference of ‘intellectuals’ in Moscow in the early Gorbachev years, both Gore Vidal and Fay Weldon were to record Greene making exactly this dive into his handy and bottle-crammed briefcase. ‘Analeptic’ literally means ‘healing’, and there was no doubt of a buried connection in Greene’s mind between the properties of holy water and the redeeming qualities of raw spirit. In at least three of his literary ventures Greene chose to make the subject a central one. The lost but resigned little fugitive cleric in The Power And the Glory (1940) is actually aching at all times for a shot of brandy, but the Mexican vernacular deems his type ‘the whisky priest’. The burned-out figures of British intelligence in The Human Factor (1978) seem at times to be engaged in some sort of contest to amass the greatest number of ‘blend’ labels, from J&B to Johnnie Walker, and even to create a new pseudo-scotch by mixing White Label and Johnnie Walker on the grounds that ‘They’re all blends anyway.’

  The view that both sides in the Cold War were an admixture – at best – of each other’s hangover-inducing ingredients was an abiding belief of Graham Greene’s, and is never more on show than in this miniature drama, and drama of miniatures. The action commences in a bar and almost every subsequent moment in the story is set in a place where alcohol is dominant. To speak generally, if not absolutely, one may say that dependence on booze is a symptom of weakness, and although JimWormold (not a name to inspire immediate confidence) does turn out to possess a few latent strengths, he is presented from the first as a feeble man who both is a hostage – to his own poverty and inanition – and who has a hostage: his foal-like sixteen-year-old daughter Milly. This girl, a combination of slight tart and vague Madonna striding through the worldly and corrupt streets of Havana, makes the hapless vacuum cleaner salesman a prisoner of her childhood, and of his own. How wrenched yet charmed he is, having lost the wife to whom he promised that Milly would be e
ducated as a Catholic, to hear the little girl solemnly praying ‘Hail Mary, Quite Contrary’. Yet how oppressed he is by the recollection of his own misery as a schoolboy:

  Childhood was the germ of all mistrust. You were cruelly joked upon and then you cruelly joked. You lost the remembrance of pain through inflicting it.

  (Many is the Greene novel and reminiscence, most conspicuously Brighton Rock, where this trope of sadistic bullying makes its twitchy appearance. The slightly older boy who so relentlessly tortured him in his public-school days – a boy named Lionel Carter, as it happens – has put us eternally and unintentionally in his debt. And let us not forget that, as both tormentor and victim would have been taught: ‘In the lost boyhood of Judas, Christ was betrayed.’)

  Evidently resolving – for purposes of the ‘entertainment’ – not to make all this too lugubrious, Greene introduces Milly rather as Evelyn Waugh presented the more-ominously named Cordelia in Brideshead Revisited. That good/bad little girl once made a novena for her pet pig, and was mentioned in her convent school report as the naughtiest girl in the memory of the oldest nun. She ended up by volunteering to be a nurse for the forces of General Franco. Milly unknowingly gratifies her father by setting fire to a teasing schoolmate named Thomas Earl Parkman, Junior; shows her class the collected postcards of great aesthetic nudes, and gives artless yet casuistic replies to direct questions from her easily-baffled and highly-impoverished single parent. She also offers novenas in the hope of acquiring a horse, and allows herself to be escorted by the saturnine Captain Segura: a man who would have seemed exceptionally sadistic even in the ranks of Franco’s phalanx.

  Thus it is made as clear as possible, within a few pages of the opening, that Wormold is living a life of quiet desperation. He cannot go on as he is, but he is set in his ways and wedded to mediocre respectability. This would be dire enough even if – like Henry Pulling in Travels With My Aunt – he was back in suburban Wimbledon. But in exotic Havana, with business going poorly and with a burgeoning daughter to boot, he is additionally expected to keep up appearances as an awkward Englishman abroad. Yet this is precisely what makes him attractive to Hawthorne, the relentlessly incompetent envoy of British Intelligence who decides to sign him up as a sub-agent and (within limits) ‘put him in the picture’. To us, Hawthorne seems like yet another English naïf in the tropics, concerned like any harassed salesman with giving a pleasing impression to his ultimate boss in London, but to the hunted and needy Wormold he belongs to ‘the cruel and inexplicable world of childhood’, and it thus feels like no more than natural justice to exploit him and fleece him to the very hilt. The two men do, however, have an initial bond. When they meet in Sloppy Joe’s bar, Hawthorne surveys the range of bottles on offer and says:

  ‘Eighteen different kinds of Scotch … including Black Label. And I haven’t counted the Bourbons. It’s a wonderful sight. Wonderful,’ he repeated, lowering his voice with respect. ‘Have you ever seen so many whiskies?’

  ‘As a matter of fact I have. I collect miniatures and I have ninety-nine at home’.

  And this collection is about to be enhanced by the man with whom Wormold already has a bond, another lonely loser named Dr Hasselbacher who divides his time between a few remaining patients and the rival Wonder Bar:

  ‘There is always time for a Scotch.’ It was obvious from the way he pronounced Scotch that Dr Hasselbacher had already had time for a great many … He took from his pocket two miniature bottles of whisky: one was Lord Calvert, the other Old Taylor. ‘Have you got them? he asked with anxiety.

  ‘I’ve got the Calvert, but not the Taylor. It was kind of you to remember my collection, Hasselbacher.’ It always seemed strange to Wormold that he continued to exist for others when he was not there.

  This touching and abject allusion to Bishop Berkeley’s famous question is followed immediately by a playful and half-drunken ontological interlude, this time in the Seville-Biltmore bar where Dr Hasselbacher, flown with Scotch, imagines that he has already won the next day’s lottery and is awash in dollars. Addressing a stray American who doubts him, he says:

  ‘I have won them as certainly as you exist, my almost unseen friend. You would not exist if I didn’t believe you existed, nor would those dollars. I believe, therefore you are.’

  ‘What do you mean I wouldn’t exist?’

  ‘You exist only in my thoughts, my friend. If I left this room …’

  ‘You’re nuts.’

  ‘Prove you exist, then.’

  ‘What do you mean, prove? Of course I exist. I’ve got a first-class business in real estate: a wife and a couple of kids in Miami: I flew here this morning by Delta: I’m drinking this Scotch, aren’t I?’ The voice contained a hint of tears.

  From Berkeley to Descartes in a few paragraphs: Greene’s theological-philosophical subtext is always available to him. (‘Like Milly, Dr Hasselbacher had faith. He was controlled by numbers as she was by saints.’) And interestingly, the innocent and faithful Hasselbacher offers the annoyed American the alternative existence of ‘a Secret Service agent’ – the very career upon which Wormold is, all unaware, about to embark.

  Before we leave this scene, we may notice that the American is like all the other Americans in the novel – banal and bourgeois and self-pitying. (He doesn’t even consider claiming the words ‘I think’ as proof of his existence: the real-estate business comes first.) Most of the Yanks are tourist cameos, worried about the wave of violence that is afflicting the island and tending to congregate in yet another bar at the Hotel Nacional. Their days of treating Havana as a vacation and business backyard are about to be over, ‘for the President’s regime was creaking dangerously towards its end.’

  Our Man in Havana was published on 6 October 1958. On New Year’s Day 1959 Fidel Castro’s luxuriantly bearded guerrillas emerged from the sierras and the villages and captured the city. As with his setting of The Quiet American – in Vietnam just before the critical battle of Dien Bien Phu – or with his decision to locate The Comedians in the midnight of ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier’s Haiti, Greene seemed to have an almost spooky prescience when it came to the suppurating political slums on the periphery of America’s Cold War empire. In 1958 – the year that Dr No was first published – Ian Fleming had not yet captured the world’s attention, from his own Caribbean home, with a British agent who carried a number as well as a gun (and a licence to use it). Nor had humanity learned to associate Cuba with missiles, and with the possibility of thermonuclear annihilation. And Greene in any case was having fun, with his unarmed ‘agent 59200/5’, and his wholly-invented missile-sites based on vacuum-cleaner blueprints.

  Moreover, the eclipse of British power after the Suez catastrophe of 1956 had not then quite become self-evident. ‘I think we’ve got the Caribbean sewn up now, sir,’ Hawthorne tells ‘The Chief’ on his return to London. This black-monocled clubman and thwarted fiction-writer – a distinctly non ‘M’-like creation – also invents agents in his own mind, and is thus intrigued to learn more about ‘our man in Havana’:

  ‘Doesn’t run after women, I hope?’

  ‘Oh, nothing of that sort, sir. His wife left him. Went off with an American.’

  ‘I suppose he’s not anti-American? Havana’s not the place for any prejudice like that. We have to work with them – only up to a point, of course.’

  (‘The Chief’ – which was also the staff nickname given to Lord Copper in Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop – is fond of this ‘up to a point’ mantra, which he inflicts on Hawthorne rather than, as with Lord Copper’s underling Salter, having it practiced on him.) His character occupies only a few brief scenes but is nonetheless one of the most finished and polished portrayals in the entire book. Like Lord Copper, too, he is easy to delude or, as was said of President Coolidge, ‘once bamboozled, impossible to unbamboozle’. Greene’s own wartime relationship with British Intelligence, and his lifelong comradeship with its most famous traitor Kim Philby, evidently conditioned him to view ‘the Service
as a place of collapsing scenery and low comedy, populated by a cast of jaded misfits. Thus he presents Wormold’s fraud and dishonesty in a sympathetic light: the mandarins of MI6 are eager to deceive themselves, and to be deceived, and they get no more than what they ask for.

  I forget who it was who once updated the old moral couplet: ‘Oh what a tangled web we weave/When first we practice to deceive’ by adding the lines:

  But when we’ve practiced quite a while

  How vastly we improve our style!

  That later version (which was entitled ‘A Word of Encouragement’) could have been composed with Wormold in mind. Facilis descensus Averno! How easily he takes to the world of padded expenses, false reports, and fabricated salaries for non-existent staffers. But for Greene, the world of farce always has its bitter limitations. The inoffensive Dr Hasselbacher is drawn into the net of Wormold’s fantasy and suffers ruin and humiliation as a consequence. Now Wormold feels himself becoming coarsened:

  Shut in his car Wormold felt guilt nibbling around him like a mouse in a prison-cell. Perhaps soon the two of them would grow accustomed to each other and guilt would come to eat out of his hand … There was always another side to a joke, the side of the victim.

  That this last insight had been dearly bought by Greene, from his boyhood onward, there can be no doubt. Its counterpart and corollary – ‘Sometimes it seems easier to run the risk of death than ridicule’ – does not make its appearance until much nearer to the culmination of the story.

  From the name of the ‘Atomic Pile’ vacuum-cleaner to the shock-effect produced on ‘The Chief’ by the outlines so deftly and falsely sketched by Wormold, Greene also indulges the lighter side of ‘schoolboy’ humor:

  ‘Vacuum cleaner again. Hawthorne, I believe we may be on to something so big that the H-bomb will become a conventional weapon.’

  ‘Is that desirable, sir?’

  ‘Of course it’s desirable. Nobody worries about conventional weapons.’

  This could almost have come from a Peter Sellers script of the same epoch, and will inevitably remind some of today’s readers of more recent fiascos associated with paranoia about weapons of mass destruction. However, there is nothing flippant or innocent about Captain Segura. In the figure of this torturer and mutilator and sex-maniac, evidently appropriated from the dictator Batista’s dreaded ‘enforcer’ Captain Ventura, Greene offers a foretaste of the ‘death squads’, with their dark glasses and special unmarked automobiles, who were to terrorize Latin America and horrify the world in the succeeding decades. Once again, this character is not on stage very often or for very long, but he furnishes another well-etched and highly memorable ‘miniature’. It would not, perhaps, be correct to see in him an instance of the banality of evil. His evil is too overt and too ingrained for that. But he does have a way of turning up in banal or even jovial settings, reminding me of what Greene wrote about the skill of John Buchan as a thriller-writer: his ability to summon the spectre of death right up against the railings of the leafy and relaxing park. It is over a routine game of ‘checkers’ – accompanied this time by daiquiris rather than Scotch – that Segura casually mentions his belief in the ‘torturable’ and ‘non-torturable’ classes. Wormold affects shock and may even feel it: at any rate he reacts as if he was a stuffy Englishman who is quite new and unused to native customs:

 
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