The Heart of the Matter

I was reminded yesterday of this quote from Graham Greene’s Heart of the Matter, which we just read in our book group: “Against the beautiful and the clever and the successful, one can wage a pitiless war, but not against the unattractive: then the millstone weighs on the breast.”

Pity is one of two topics I was left feeling like I wanted to discuss more. Greene speaks so often of pity in this book. Consider these two quotes:

“The lights inside would have given an extraordinary impression of peace if one hadn’t known, just as the stars on this clear night gave also an impression of remoteness, security, freedom. If one knew, he wondered, the facts, would one have to feel pity even for the planets? if one reached what they called the heart of the matter?”

“He knew from experience how passion died away and how love went, but pity always stayed. Nothing ever diminished pity. The conditions of life nurtured it. There was only a single person in the world who was unpitiable, oneself.”

I had an easy time relating to many of the emotional states of the book, but this one still evades me. Is there another word for pity that would help? Responsibility? Concern? Compassion? None of those are it, but I wonder how else to describe what he’s saying.

The other part of Graham Greene that I didn’t get to talk about enough was his masterful language. So many fantastic lines. Perhaps Scobie was not realistic. But this line from him is amazing: “I’ve lost the trick of trust.”

My favorite little part of a sentence was, “…happiness is never really so welcome as changelessness…”

And finally, the Writer’s Almanac two days ago featured the poem “The Heart of the Matter” by Dana Gioia. The heart of the matter seems to me to be poetry itself but I wonder if Graham Greene coined the term? I’m too lazy to look it up right now but maybe we can find that answer together.

So there you have it: pity, Graham Greene’s terrific lines, and the heart of the matter itself. Discuss!