Short summary - The Honorary Consul - Henry Graham Greene

British literature summaries -

Short summary - The Honorary Consul
Henry Graham Greene

The action takes place in a small Argentinean town on the border with Paraguay in the late 1960s - early 1970s. The main character is a doctor Eduards Plarr, a political emigrant from Paraguay, where he left with his mother as a fourteen-year-old teenager. His father, an Englishman by birth, a fighter against the regime of the General (meaning dictator Stresner), remained in Paraguay, and the hero does not know anything about his fate: whether he was killed, died of an illness or became a political prisoner. Dr. Plarr himself studied in Buenos Aires, but moved to this northern town, where it was easier to get medical practice, where there were vivid memories of his father, whom he had divorced on the other side of Parana many years ago and where he was away from his mother, limited bourgeois woman, for whom the main purpose of life was to eat countless cakes. Doctor’s mother lives in the capital,


In addition to the doctor, two more Englishmen live in the town - the English teacher Dr. Humphries and the honorary consul Charlie Fortnum. The main character includes the writer Jorge Julio Saavedra, who writes long, boring novels, full of the spirit of machismo (the cult of masculine strength and valor), an integral feature of Latin Americans.

On this day, the doctor does not want to return home - he is afraid that Clara, the wife of Charlie Fortnum, who has long been in love with him and is expecting a child from him, will call. The honorary consul himself was invited to dinner with the governor to be a translator for the honored guest - the American ambassador. The doctor does not want to meet her, because he fears that Fortnum will return home too early and find them at the crime scene. Having had dinner with Humphries and having played two games of chess, the doctor goes home.


At two o’clock in the morning he was woken up by a telephone - underground workers crossing from Paraguay called to seize the American ambassador in order to exchange him for political prisoners. Among the "revolutionaries" are two classmates of the doctor, to whom he out of friendship gave information about the whereabouts of the ambassador. They ask him to come urgently, because the hostage is at death. Doctors are tormented by misgivings.

He is brought to Bidonville, the quarter of the poor, where mud never dries, there is no drinking water and any amenities, and rickety, sick from malnutrition children run around. The hostage is kept in one of the huts. He is unconscious from an overdose of sleeping pills. Entering the patient, the doctor recognizes in him the honorary consul Charlie Fortnum, who was captured instead of the ambassador. Waking up, Fortnum also recognizes the doctor. Plarr advises him to let go, but his friends: former priest Leon Rivas and Aquino Ribera - are afraid to disobey the group leader El Tigre. In addition, they hope in exchange for Fortum’s life to demand the release of ten political prisoners, including the father of the doctor (they were going to ask twenty for the American ambassador). In vain, Plarr is trying to prove that the honorary consul is too small for the Americans to quarrel with the General for his sake.

Dr. Plarr recalls how he met Fortnum. Somehow, a few weeks after his arrival from Buenos Aires, the doctor passed by the Italian club - a small restaurant where the Hungarian cook knew how to cook only goulash - and Dr. Humphries called out to him. He needed help to take the drunk Fortnum home to the insole. At first Fortnum rushed to the brothel, but then agreed that the doctor should take him to the consulate, and talked nonsense along the way, telling, in particular, how he once hung the British flag upside down, and Humphries conveyed the ambassador to it. The doctor from this meeting left an unpleasant residue.

Two months later, the doctor needed to certify some documents, and he went to the consulate. Fortnum did not recognize him; he took a thousand pesos without a receipt for the documents and said that he was once married, but did not like his wife, although he dreamed of having children; that his father was a tyrant; that as a diplomat, he has the right every two years to write out a car from abroad that can be sold profitably ... The doctor prescribes a medicine for his pressure and advises him to stop drinking.

Two years later, the doctor finally dares to visit the institution of Seniors Sanchez. He comes there accompanied by Saavedra, who, after futile attempts to explain something to the doctor regarding the principles of his work, leaves with one of the girls. The doctor’s attention is attracted by a girl with a mole on her forehead who has just been seeing a client, but while the doctor is struggling with a sense of disgust, she leaves with a new visitor. When the doctor visits there again about a year later, the girl with the mole is gone.

By chance, at the embassy, Plarr discovers that Fortnum married, and when he calls a doctor to his estate to examine his sick wife, Plarr recognizes a girl with a mole in her. Fortnum values Clara very much, wants to make her happy. Returning from the consul, Plarr relentlessly thinks about her.

They meet in the studio of the photographer Gruber, and the doctor buys her expensive glasses. After that, he invites her to his place, and they become lovers.

... In the morning after the abduction, the doctor goes to visit Clara at Fortum’s estate. There he meets Colonel Peres, the police chief. In response to the colonel’s questions, the doctor lies so ineptly that he risks incurring suspicion. The policeman realizes that Fortnum was abducted by mistake.

Later, the doctor recalls his first meeting with classmates who became fighters with the Paraguayan regime. Akuino talked about the torture he had to endure - he has three fingers on his right hand. Underground workers managed to recapture Akuino when he was transported from one police station to another. The doctor agreed to help them, hoping to learn something about his father.

Recovering, Charlie Fortnum tries to find out what awaits him. Having sensed a priest in Leon, he tries to pit him, but in vain. Desperate to persuade the kidnappers to let him go, Charlie Fortnum tries to escape, but Aquino injures him on the ankle.

Meanwhile, Plarr asks the British ambassador to contribute to the release of Fortnum, but the ambassador has long dreamed of getting rid of the honorary consul and only advises the doctor on behalf of the English club in their city to contact the leading newspapers in England and the United States. Colonel Perez is skeptical about this venture: a plane had just exploded from a terrorist bomb, one hundred and sixty people were killed, so who after that would worry about some Charlie Fortnum?

Plarr tries to persuade Saavedra and Humphries to sign his telegram, but both refuse, Saavedra, who recently received a negative review in the press, wants to attract public attention and offers himself as a hostage instead of Fortnum. With this news, Plarr goes to the central newspapers.

Returning home, he finds Clara at his place, but her declaration of love interrupts the arrival of Colonel Peres. During his visit, Leon calls and the doctor has to come up with explanations on the go. The colonel says that from the point of view of common sense it’s illogical to save such an old man as the doctor’s father, and hints that, putting forward a demand for his release, the kidnappers pay the doctor for some help. He is also interested in how the abductors could find out the program of the American ambassador's stay in their town. However, after finding out that Clara is here with the doctor, the colonel interprets his actions in his own way. Just before he leaves, he reports that in fact the doctor’s father was killed while trying to escape, which he and Akuino made.

When Leon calls again, the doctor asks him in the forehead about his father, and he admits that he died. Nevertheless, the doctor agrees to come and do a dressing to Fortnum, but he is also left a hostage. The situation is heating up - no one took Saavedra’s proposal seriously; the British government hastened to disown Fortnum, stating that he was not a member of the diplomatic corps; Diego, one of the "revolutionaries", lost his nerve, tried to escape and was shot dead by the police; Bidonville circled a police helicopter ... Plarr explains to Leon that their venture failed.


Leon is going to kill Fortnum, otherwise the hostage-taking will never affect anyone again, but while they are having endless discussions, the voice of Colonel Peres amplified by the speakers is heard in the courtyard. He offers to give up. The consul should be the first to leave, followed by everyone else in turn; anyone who comes out first, besides the consul, will face death. The abductors again begin to argue, and Plarr goes to Fortnum and suddenly finds out that he heard him talking about his connection with Clara. At this dramatic moment, Plarr realizes that he does not know how to love and that the miserable drunkard Fortnum in this sense is higher than him. Not wanting Fortnum killed, he hopes to speak with Peres out of the house, but is mortally wounded. As a result of the police action, everyone is killed, and only Fortnum remains alive.

At the funeral, Plarra Perez says the doctors were killed by the "revolutionaries." Fortnum is trying to prove that this is the work of the police, but no one wants to listen to him. An embassy spokesman tells Fortnum that he is being dismissed, although they promise to reward him.

But most of all Fortnum infuriates Clara's indifference: it is difficult for him to understand why she does not survive the death of her lover. And suddenly he sees her tears. This manifestation of feelings, even to another man, awakens in him tenderness for her and the child whom he loves, no matter what.