Graham Greene’s Colon(s)

graham-greeneI fancy myself a liker of colons and half-colons; and other punctuations. But then there’s Graham Greene: perverse—the fetishist! Take, for example, this paragraph from the first chapter of The Power and the Glory (1940):

Mr Tench thought: ether cylinder: I nearly forgot. His mouth fell open and he began moodily to count the bottles of Cerveza Moctezuma. A hundred and forty cases. Twelve times a hundred and forty: the heavy phlegm gathered in his mouth: twelve fours are forty-eight. He said aloud in English, ‘My God, a pretty one’: twelve hundred, sixteen hundred and eighty: he spat, staring with vague interest at a girl in the bows of the General Obregon—a fine thin figure, they were generally so thick, brown eyes, of course, and the inevitable gleam of the gold tooth, but something fresh and young…. Sixteen hundred and eighty bottles at a peso a bottle.

Three colons in the first sentence alone, followed by two more in each of the fourth and fifth. Plus a sentence-ending ellipsis, a pair of quotation marks and a dash. Unfortunately, there are no semi-colons: Greene is a colon purist: his fulls outnumber his halves.

The record for colons in a sentence in The Power and the Glory is four. It’s not as rare as you might think. Here’s one example, also from the first chapter:

They walked raggedly with rifles slung anyhow: ends of cotton where buttons should have been: a puttee slipping down over the ankle: small men with black secret Indian eyes.

And, lest you think the colon is merely common to one novel, here’s another example, this time from The Heart of Matter (1948):

Two hundred pounds was so small a sum: the figures ran their changes in his aching head like a peal of bells: 200 002 020: it worried him that he could not find a fourth combination: 002 200 020.

They had come beyond the range now of the tin-roofed shacks and the decayed wooden settlers’ huts: the villages they passed through were bush villages of mud and thatch: no light showed anywhere: doors were closed and shutters were up, and only a few goats’ eyes watched the head-lamps of the convoy.

Seven colons in two consecutive sentences! How exciting it is to find a kindred soul: a fellow colonophiliac. But the question remains: would an analysis of Greene’s novels ever qualify as a colonoscopy?

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