Brighton Rock

One part conventional crime thriller and equal parts morality tale. Graham Greene's Brighton Rock (1938) can be hard to define but includes many thrills as the reader is taken through the murky underworld of gangland Brighton. Here we will look at the novel's plot, characters and author.

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Table of contents

    A crime thriller is a work of fiction that depicts crime and its attempted prevention.

    A morality tale is a story or narrative which has a definitive sense of what is right and wrong.

    Brighton Rock (1938): Book

    Graham Greene published his crime thriller novel in 1938, which was later adapted into a film in 1947. The book is an exploration of the blurred lines of morality. The two protagonists are young gang leader Pinkie Brown, who is Roman Catholic, and the righteous amateur detective Ida Arnold, who is agnostic towards traditional religion. The book is widely regarded to be the first of Graham Greene's novels to reflect on Catholicism and morality.

    The novel is set in the British coastal town of Brighton, and its events are preceded by actions in a previous book by Greene. Gun For Sale (1936) involves the murder of gang leader Kite, whose death allows Pinkie to take over the gang and is perceived to be caused by Fred Hale's newspaper report.

    Graham Greene's novel proved popular with readers and critics alike. It was adapted for theatre twice and made into two films; the first adaptation was produced in 1947 starring Richard Attenborough. The novel can be seen to have an anti-capitalist sentiment. Most of the characters in the book are involved in Brighton's extensive tourist industry.

    Capitalism is a political system where trade and industry is controlled by private owners and not the state.

    BrightonRock,Pier,StudySmarterFig. 1 - The British coastal town of Brighton is the setting for Greene's novel.

    Brighton Rock (1938): Book Summary

    Journalist Fred Hale is sent to Brighton to distribute cards for a competition held by his newspaper. Hale had been to Brighton to report on a slot machine racket involving crime boss Colleoni. The report had led to rival gang leader Kite's death, and Hale feels he is being hunted by Kite's gang, now led by the young Pinkie Brown.

    Hale meets Ida Arnold in a local pub and persists in staying with her in an attempt to flee Pinkie's gang. Ida mistakes Hale's persistence for romantic ardour, so agrees to join him. The pair then move on to the Palace Pier, where Hale is abducted without Ida noticing. Meanwhile, Pinkie is waiting in a nearby cafe to hear news from his gang. They soon arrive and tell Pinkie that Hale is dead, and they have placed out his cards to cover their tracks.

    Worried that gang member Spicer was seen distributing the cards, Pinkie heads to the restaurant Spicer had visited. At the restaurant, Pinkie meets Rose, a waitress who finds Hale's card. Pinkie makes an effort to seduce Rose in order to prevent her from informing the police. After a few days, Ida learns of Hale's death after reading a largely false newspaper report. Ida decides to investigate the death, believing it to be suspicious.

    Pinkie and Rose discover that they are both Catholics, albeit in differing ways; Pinkie's faith is one of damnation, while Rose believes in the rewards of living a good life. Pinkie goes on to meet crime boss Colleoni, who wants Pinkie to join his gang. Pinkie pretends he will join in an effort to have Spicer killed, who he suspects of informing. Spicer evades the attempt on his life, so Pinkie kills Spicer himself.

    With Ida closing in and his gang dissipating, Pinkie marries Rose and suggests they make a suicide pact. They go to a hotel in order to go through with the pact, but they are followed by Ida and a police officer. In a panic, Pinkie attempts to throw acid at his pursuers but only succeeds in blinding himself before running off a cliff.

    BrightonRock,Catholicism,StudySmarterFig. 2 - Catholicism is a major themeof Graham Greene's novel

    Author of Brighton Rock (1938)

    Graham Greene was born in Hertfordshire, England on 2nd October 1904. He was a journalist, novelist and playwright who had published over thirty books in a career spanning 67 years. After studying at Oxford University, Greene moved to London and worked for The Times newspaper. At the same time, Greene converted to Catholicism. This was so that Greene could marry Vivian Dayrell-Browning in 1927. Greene's conversion to Catholicism would later go on to influence his literature.

    Greene's first published work was the poetry collection Babbling April (1925) and he quit working for The Times after the publication of his first novel, The Man Within (1929). Greene continued to work as a freelance journalist and this granted him the opportunity to travel the world. Greene often used the exotic locations he travelled to as settings for his novels. His first successful novel was the thriller Stamboul Train (1932). Greene found popularity in the thriller genre and he would go on to call these works his 'entertainments'.1

    With the publication of Brighton Rock, Greene's novels became more complex and thought-provoking. His novels started to tackle themes such as morality and human existence. Greene explored his Catholicism more directly in his next novel, The Power and the Glory (1940) telling the story of a priest being outlawed in a communist Mexican town. During World War II Greene worked for the foreign office, stationed in Sierra Leone.

    Communism is an ideological system where property belongs to the community and all members would contribute to it.

    After the war, Greene's novels took on a more political edge, often setting his books in countries on the brink of revolution. The most popular of these were The Quiet American (1956), set in Vietnam, and Our Man in Havana (1958) in Cuba. Greene continued to write but the output of his novels decreased, focusing more on short stories, plays and two memoirs. Graham Greene died in 1991 from leukaemia.

    Brighton Rock (1938): Characters

    This section will look at some of the more prominent characters that feature in the novel Brighton Rock.

    Pinkie Brown

    Pinkie is the protagonist of Greene's novel and the young leader of a Brighton gang. Pinkie blames Hale for his former leader Kite's death and orders Hale's murder. Despite his Catholicism, Pinkie is a remorseless sociopath with little faith in humanity. Pinkie's religion is one steeped in thoughts of damnation which cause him great consternation. He is attracted to Rose as he feels she is purely good and therefore the opposite of himself.


    Rose is a quiet and unassuming waitress who finds herself entwined with the criminal underworld. She finds one of Hale's competition cards that gang member Spicer had placed in her restaurant. Pinkie makes an effort to woo Rose to prevent her from informing the police. Rose is deeply religious and is seen as the epitome of goodness by Pinkie. Rose's love for Pinkie is almost as devout as her Catholicism and though aware of his flaws, she is happy to accept damnation alongside him.

    Ida Arnold

    Ida Arnold becomes the unexpected detective in the novel when she meets the panicked Fred Hale at a local pub. Ida initially doesn't believe Hale is in danger, however, after learning of his disappearance and death, she decides to investigate. Ida is not religious like Pinkie and uses alternative superstitions like an Ouija board to guide her investigation. Her pursuit of truth proves dangerous as she unwittingly throws herself into the world of gang crime. Despite her perceived naivety, Ida solves a murder that the police had ignored.

    An Ouija board is a flat board with the alphabet and numbers on it. Ouija boards were also known as 'spirit boards' as they were used to communicate with the afterlife.

    Fred Hale

    Although only in the novel for a short time, Fred Hale is the character that propels the action of Graham Greene's novel. It is Hale's newspaper report which seemingly has gang leader Kite killed and Hale's death is the reason that Ida Arnold is pursuing Pinkie Brown. Hale is a journalist who grew up in Brighton and is reluctant to return to his native town.

    Brighton Rock: Genre

    Brighton Rock is widely considered Graham Greene's first 'Catholic novel' and religion is rife throughout the book. What is essentially a crime thriller can also be seen as an exploration of morality. The book's two opposing forces, Ida and Pinkie, have differing theological and moral ideals. Ida is presented as righteous in her search for truth and Pinkie as evil.

    The novel questions whether someone inherently evil like Pinkie could be deserving of God's love, even if they claim to be religious. The title could suggest the author's thoughts - Brighton rock is a colourful, stick-shaped sweet sold by the sea which is the same inside throughout. This could hint that Pinkie's morality would not change, like the rock. The confectionery is also used as a weapon to kill Hale.

    BrightonRock,Stick,StudySmarterFig. 3 - A stick of rock, the confectionary from which the novel takes its name.

    The novel can also be seen as a conventional crime thriller, with amateur detective Ida Arnold pursuing the criminal Pinkie Brown. Greene's blending of the conventional crime thriller with a complex morality has made the novel consistently popular with readers and critics alike.

    Brighton Rock - Key takeaways

    • Brighton Rock (1938) is a crime thriller novel written by the English author Graham Greene.
    • The book is named after a form of confectionary found in seaside towns.
    • Graham Greene was an English author born in 1904 who authored over thirty books.
    • The book tells the story of Pinkie Brown, who is being pursued by Ida Arnold after the death of Fred Hale.
    • The book is widely considered to be the first of Graham Greene's 'Catholic novels'.

    1. Simon Raven, Martin Shuttleworth, The Art Of Fiction (The Paris Review) 1953.

    Frequently Asked Questions about Brighton Rock

    When was Brighton Rock (1938) written?

    Brighton Rock (1938) was written from 1936 to 1937 and published in 1938.

    What is Brighton rock?

    Brighton rock is a form of confectionary which is shaped like a colourful stick.

    Who wrote Brighton Rock (1938)?

    Brighton Rock (1938) was written by English author Graham Greene.

    Why is Brighton Rock (1938) called Brighton Rock?

    The title could be a suggestion that a person's morality does not change throughout their life. Like the confectionary stick of Brighton rock.

    What happens to Pinkie at the end of Brighton Rock (1938)?

    At the end of the novel, Pinkie blinds himself with acid before throwing himself off a cliff.

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