Standing out from his bibliography of 26 novels, The Power and the Glory is arguably Graham Greene’s masterpiece. I reviewed this 1940 novel here. In short, we’re presented with the story of a nameless and hunted priest, trying to evade his captors during early twentieth century anti-clerical purges in the Mexican state of Tabasco. (Greene wrote a journalistic account of these purges in The Lawless Roads.) The priest faces the spectre of death, which he fears, and he is wracked by guilt for his many failures: breaking his vow of celibacy, drunkenness, lack of charity, lack of courage. He’s referred to at times as the “whisky priest.” He sees around him pious Mexicans, living in abject poverty, who look to him for guidance, hope and spiritual nourishment. Yet he is a failure as a priest. The Catholic faithful deserve much better, the nameless priest reflects.
This audio recording, which I produced at Ottawa’s Cave Studios, is from a scene in the book following the priest’s capture by The Lieutenant, a zealous priest hunter. It is the eve of the priest’s execution and the scene captures some of his dialogue with his captor and then his internal monologue in his last hours. He is hoping that another failed priest — a sell-out to authorities called Padre José, who married at the direction of the government — would visit him in his cell and hear his confession. He’s the only hope left, as far as local priests go. The Lieutenant, however, must share the news that Padre José won’t come. The “whisky priest” faces the prospect that he won’t be absolved of his sins. He reflects on his shame, failures and faith.
The music added to this audio recording is composed by Brock Hewitt and is entitled “Ages Ago.” (License: HWSJ5ICPKLAASEGK.)
The illustration at the top of this page is a detail from the Penguin Twentieth Century Classics cover of The Power and the Glory.