The Heart of the Matter

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The Heart of the Matter (1948) is a novel by British author Graham Greene about Catholicism and moral change in the novel's police officer protagonist, Scobie.


  • "Why [...] do I love this place so much? Is it because here human nature hasn't had time to disguise itself? Nobody here could ever talk about a heaven on earth. Heaven remained rigidly in its proper place on the other side of death, while on this side flourished the injustices, the cruelties, the meanness that elsewhere people so cleverly hushed up. Here you could love human beings nearly as God loved them, knowing the worst: you didn't love a pose, a pretty dress, a sentiment artfully assumed."
    • Book 1, Part 1, ch. 1, sect. 5
    • Said by Scobie
  • 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.
    • Book 1, Part 1, ch. 2, sect. 2
  • Despair is the price one pays for setting oneself an impossible aim. It is, one is told, the unforgivable sin, but it is a sin the corrupt or evil man never practises. He always has hope. He never reaches the freezing-point of knowing absolute failure. Only the man of goodwill carries always in his heart this capacity for damnation.
    • Book 1, Part 1, ch. 2, sect. 4
  • "The truth, he thought, has never been of any real value to any human being - it is a symbol for mathematicians and the philosophers to pursue. In human relations kindness and lies are worth a thousand truths."
    • Book 1, Part 1, ch. 2, sect. 4
  • "Point me out the happy man and I will point you out either extreme egotism, evil - or else an absolute ignorance."
    • Book 2, Part 1, ch. 1, sect. 3
  • "'It's not really much good tearing out a page because you can see the place where it's been torn.' [...] 'You can pull a stamp out,' she said with terrible youthful clarity, 'and you don't know that it's ever been there.'"
    • Book 2, Part 1, ch. 3, sect. 1
    • Said by Helen Rolt referring to her stamp collection
  • "To start off happy," Harris said. "It must make an awful difference afterwards. Why, it might become a habit, mightn't it?"
    • Book 2, Part 1, ch. 2, sect. 3
    • Referring to childhood experiences
  • People talk about the courage of condemned men walking to the place of execution: sometimes it needs as much courage to walk with any kind of bearing towards another person’s habitual misery.
    • Book 2, Part 1, ch. 2, sect. 3
  • He felt the loyalty we feel to unhappiness - the sense that it is where we really belong.
    • Book. 2, Part 2, ch. 1, sect. 1
  • "Pity smouldered like decay at his heart. He would never rid himself of it. 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."
    • Book 2, Part 3, ch. 1, sect. 1
  • No human being can really understand another, and no one can arrange another's happiness.
    • Book 2, Part 3, ch. 1, sect. 1
  • "He whispered, 'Oh God, I have deserted you. Do not desert me.'"
    • Book 2, Part 3, ch. 1, sect. 1
    • Said by Scobie
  • "God can wait, he thought: how can one love God at the expense of one of his creatures? Would a woman accept the love for which a child had to be sacrificed?"
    • Book 2, Part 3, ch. 1, sect. 3
  • He entered the territory of lies without a passport for return.
    • Book 2, Part 3, ch. 2, sect. 1
  • His hilarity was like a scream from a crevasse.
    • Book 3, Part 1, ch. 1, sect. 1
  • "He had read somewhere that love had been invented in the eleventh century by the troubadours. Why had they not left us with lust?"
    • Book 3, Part 1, ch. 2, sect. 1
  • "One must be reasonable, he told himself, and recognize that despair doesn't last (is that true?), that love doesn't last (but isn't that the very reason that despair does?)[...]"
    • Book 3, Part 1, ch. 2, sect. 2
    • Said by Scobie
  • "'You can look after yourself. You survive the cross every day. You can only suffer. You can never be lost. Admit that you must come second to these others.' And myself, he thought, [...] I must come last."
    • Book 3, Part 1, ch. 2, sect. 2
    • Said by Scobie to God
  • "'Waking up will be the worst. There's always a moment when one forgets that everything's different."
    • Book 3, Part 2, ch. 1, sect. 1
    • Said by Helen Rolt to Scobie
  • "We are all of us resigned to death; it's life we aren't resigned to."
    • Book 3, Part 2, ch. 2, sect. 1
    • Said by Scobie
  • "It isn't beauty that we love, he thought, it's failure - the failure to stay young for ever, the failure of nerves, the failure of the body. Beauty is like success: we can't love it for long."
    • Book 3, Part 2, ch. 3, sect. 2
    • Said by Scobie
  • "She put her hand out beside her and touched the other pillow, as though perhaps after all there was one chance in a thousand that she was not alone, and if she were not alone now she would never be alone again."
    • Book 3, Part 3, ch. 1, sect. 1
    • Referring to Helen Rolt

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