Brighton Rock


Graham Greene

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Brighton Rock Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Graham Greene's Brighton Rock. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Graham Greene

Henry Graham Greene was born to a wealthy and influential family. As a boy, he attended a prestigious Berkhamsted boarding school, for which his father served as housemaster, and later went on to study at Oxford. Upon graduation, he worked as a tutor and journalist for both the Nottingham Journal and The Times. In 1926, he married Vivien Dayrell Browning, a Catholic, having converted to her faith. In 1929, Graham published his first novel, The Man Within, and the success of that book allowed him to work as a writer full-time. During World War II, he was recruited by his sister, Elisabeth, to join MI6 as a spy, and he spent much of his life traveling the world, using his experiences in foreign countries to inform his fiction. He also suffered from periodic bouts of depression and engaged in a number of extra-marital affairs. In 1947, he left Vivien and their two children, later proclaiming that his books were his true progeny. He wrote more than twenty novels, including The Power and the Glory (widely considered his masterpiece), four travelogues, eight plays, ten screenplays, and more than fifty short stories. He died at age 86 of leukemia in Vevey, Switzerland.
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Historical Context of Brighton Rock

Brighton’s horse racing tracks saw a rash of razor attacks in the 1930s and 1940s. Perpetrated by youth gangs, the assaults served as inspiration for Greene’s novel. Greene based the character of Colleoni on Charles “Derby” Sabini, a leader of the London underground often referred to as “the king of racehorse gangs.” Brighton was (and still is) a tourist town. The constant traffic of pleasure-seekers to the seaside town gives it an aura of transience and vice which informs the novel. Because the town’s economy was dependent on a steady flow of cash from visitors, it is possible that Brighton Rock is set during an economic “slump” caused by World War II. Although the war had a chilling effect on the town, tourists still visited in large numbers.

Other Books Related to Brighton Rock

For more on Pinkie and his gang, check out Greene’s 1936 thriller, A Gun for Sale, which acts in some ways as a prequel to Brighton Rock, in that it tells the story of Kite’s death, which sets the stage for Pinkie’s ascendance to the role of gang leader and the murder of Hale. With its focus on matters of damnation and redemption, Brighton Rock is often considered Greene’s first “Catholic” novel. Greene’s The Power and the Glory, The Heart of the Matter, and The End of the Affair also feature characters struggling to reconcile their faith with the harsh realities of a world overrun by sin. Sin and its repercussions are likewise the subjects of James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice and William Lindsay Gresham’s Nightmare Alley. Like Brighton Rock, these mid-twentieth century crime novels make it clear that murder is no easy business. Patricia Highsmith’s The Blunderer is another take on the psychology of the incompetent killer, while Dolores Hitchens’s Fool’s Gold explores the unintended consequences of a teenage robbery gone wrong.
Key Facts about Brighton Rock
  • Full Title: Brighton Rock
  • When Written: Late 1930s
  • Where Written: London, England
  • When Published: 1938
  • Literary Period: Modernism
  • Genre: Literary thriller
  • Setting: Brighton, England in the early 20th century
  • Climax: Pinkie drives Rose to the seaside town of Peacehaven where he hopes to convince her to take her own life in a suicide pact he doesn’t plan to honor. His plan is foiled, however, when Ida Arnold shows up with the police to confront him about the murders of Hale and Spicer. Desperate, Pinkie spills vitriol on himself and runs off a nearby cliff to his death.
  • Antagonist: Although Pinkie is the novel’s main character, he is also its villain. Ida Arnold, Pinkie’s adversary, is the strongest force for good in the novel. As such, each of these characters can be seen as both a protagonist and antagonist.
  • Point of View: Third person omniscient

Extra Credit for Brighton Rock

Graham Green and America’s Sweetheart. Early on in his career, Graham Greene wrote book and movie reviews for The Spectator, and, in 1937 he penned a scathing take-down of Wee Willie Winkie, a film based on the Rudyard Kipling story about the impact of British colonialism on mid-19th Century India. Greene’s opinion was that child star Shirley Temple’s performance amounted to thinly veiled child pornography, aimed at arousing priests and pedophiles. Commenting on Temple’s “well-shaped and desirable little body,” Greene raised the ire of both Temple and Twentieth-Century Fox, who successfully sued Greene and The Spectator for libel. The resulting settlement forced The Spectator out of business. Meanwhile, Greene fled to Mexico, where he started work on The Power and the Glory.

Greeneland. Readers and critics often to refer to the hard-edged locales where Graham Greene’s novels are set as “Greeneland.” Regardless of whether the action takes place in Brighton, Sierra Leone, or the Mexican state of Tabasco, Greene’s stories are characterized by a consistent atmosphere of impending doom, mortal sin, and the life-and-death struggles of right versus wrong, male versus female, and the rich versus the poor. The inhabitants of Greeneland often include tortured priests, corrupt government officials, young people desperate to escape poverty, and lovers thwarted by convention and jealousy. Greene resented the term “Greeneland,” claiming that his writing was not the result of predetermined stylistic choices but instead depicted the world as he saw it.