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First edition front
|Publisher||Hodder & Stoughton, London|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Preceded by||The Thirty-Nine Steps|
|Followed by||Mr Standfast|
Greenmantle is the second of five novels by John Buchan featuring the character of Richard Hannay, first published in 1916 by Hodder & Stoughton, London. It is one of two Hannay novels set during the First World War, the other being Mr Standfast (1919); Hannay's first and best-known adventure, The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915), is set in the period immediately preceding the war.
Hannay is called in to investigate rumours of an uprising in the Muslim world, and undertakes a perilous journey through enemy territory to meet his friend Sandy in Constantinople. Once there, he and his friends must thwart the Germans' plans to use religion to help them win the war, climaxing at the battle of Erzurum.
The book opens in November 1915, with Hannay and his friend Sandy convalescing from wounds received at the Battle of Loos. Hannay is summoned to the Foreign Office by Sir Walter Bullivant, a senior intelligence man, whom Hannay met and assisted in The Thirty-Nine Steps. Bullivant gives Hannay an outline of the political situation in the Middle East, and hints that the Germans and their Turkish allies are plotting to cause a great uprising throughout the Muslim world, that will throw the whole of the Middle East, India and North Africa into turmoil; Bullivant proposes that Hannay takes on the task of investigating rumours. The only clue he is given is a slip of paper left by a spy, Bullivant's own son, recently killed in the region, bearing the words Kasredin, cancer and v.I.
Despite his misgivings and feelings of inadequacy for the task, Hannay accepts the challenge, and picks Sandy to help him. Bullivant tells him that an American, John Blenkiron, will also be useful to him. The three meet up, ponder their clues, and plan to head to Constantinople. They start on November 17, and plan to meet up in a rough hostelry there exactly two months later, going each by his own route - Blenkiron, as a neutral, travelling through Germany as an observer, Sandy using his contacts in the Arab world to make the journey through Asia Minor, and Hannay, taking on the identity of Boer "Cornelis Brandt", entering enemy territory via Lisbon.
Arriving there, he meets by chance his old comrade from adventurous times in Africa, Boer Peter Pienaar, and together the two enter Germany via the Netherlands, posing as anti-British exiles itching to fight for the German side. They meet the powerful and sinister Colonel Ulric von Stumm, and persuade him they can help stir up the Muslim peoples to join the German side. The two are separated, and Hannay is introduced to a Herr Gaudian, famed mining engineer (who would later reappear after the war in The Three Hostages), hears of the mysterious Hilda von Einem, and has a brief meeting with the Kaiser.
Finding Stumm plans to send him to Egypt via London, Hannay flees into the snowbound countryside, tracked by the vengeful Colonel. He falls ill with malaria and is sheltered over Christmas by a poor woman in a lonely cottage. On his sickbed, he realises that the clue "v.I" on the piece of paper may refer to the name he overheard, von Einem.
Recuperated, he carries on, travelling by barge carrying armaments down the Danube, picking up with Peter Pienaar, who has escaped from a German prison, along the way. They pass through Vienna, Budapest and Belgrade, and as they travel, Hannay connects the phrase "der grüne Mantel" with something else he overheard earlier. They reach Rustchuk on January 10, with a week to go before the rendezvous in Constantinople.
On arrival there, Hannay has a run-in with Rasta Bey, an important Young Turk, and intercepts a telegram showing his trail has been picked up. They carry on by train, fending off an attempt to stop them by the angry Rasta Bey, and reach Constantinople with half a day to spare.
They seek out the meeting place, and are attacked by Bey and an angry mob, but rescued by a band of mysterious, wild dancing men, whom they then antagonise. Next day they return to the rendezvous, an illicit dance-room, where they find the main entertainment is none other than the wild men of the previous day. At the climax of the performance, Enver's soldiers arrive and drag Hannay and Peter away, apparently to prison, but they are instead delivered to a cosy room containing Blenkiron and the leader of the dancers - none other than the miraculous Sandy Arbuthnot.
They pool their news - Sandy has identified Kasredin from the their clue sheet, as the title of an ancient Turkish allegorical story, the hero of which is a religious leader called Greenmantle, and has also heard much of a prophet known as "the Emerald", associated with the play. Blenkiron has met and been impressed by Hilda von Einem, who is in Constantinople and owns the house in which they are staying.
Blenkiron provides Hannay with a new identity, an American engineer named Hannau, and they attend a dinner party where they meet Herr Gaudian again, and Enver himself. Lost out riding, Hannay encounters von Einem, and is fascinated by her; later, he is recognised by Rasta Bey, and has just knocked him out and hidden him in a cupboard when von Einem arrives. Hannay impresses her, and hears she plans to take him East with her. Sandy visits, agrees to deal with the captive Turk and provides news of his own - the clue Cancer means the prophet Greenmantle has the disease and is on his deathbed. Blenkiron joins them, and tells them that fighting has hotted up between the Russians and the Turks, and they deduce that they will be taken towards Erzerum to help with its defence.
On the long road to Erzerum, they crash their car, and spend the night in a barn, where Hannay has a vivid dream of a hill with a saucepan-like indent in the top. They carry on on worn-out horses, but seeing a new car by the roadside, they steal it, only to find it belongs to Rasta Bey. They make good speed onward, but on arrival in Erzerum, they are delivered straight to Stumm, who recognises Hannay and has them locked up. They are rescued by one of Sandy's men, steal some plans from Stumm, and escape across the rooftops.
With the battle of Erzurum booming in the background, they realise the importance of the stolen plans, and Peter Pienaar volunteers to sneak through the battle lines and deliver them to the Russians. Sandy appears, magnificently dressed, and reveals that Greenmantle is dead and that he himself has been chosen to impersonate him. They form a plan to flee around the side of the battle lines, and while Sandy's helper searches for horses, Pienaar sets off on his dangerous mission.
Pienaar has an eventful and terrifying journey across the battlefield, while Hannay and Blenkiron hide out in a cellar. On the third day, they break out, and make for safety in a wild horse ride, closely pursued by their enemies. On the verge of capture, they find the hill of Hannay's dream, and entrench there, holding the enemy at bay. Hilda von Einem comes in, and appeals to them to give up, but they refuse; she is shocked to learn Sandy is a British officer, and as she leaves, she is slain by a stray Russian shell.
Stumm arrives with artillery, and their position looks sure to be destroyed and overrun, but Stumm waits till dawn to savour his revenge. Just in time, the Russians, helped by the plans delivered by Pienaar, break through the defences and sweep towards the town. Stumm's men flee, Stumm is killed, and Hannay and Sandy meet up with Pienaar to ride into the city and victory.
Characters in Greenmantle
- Richard Hannay, stolid and resourceful soldier and occasional spy
- Sandy Arbuthnot, his multi-lingual friend and fellow soldier
- Peter Pienaar, a friend of Hannay's from African days
- Sir Walter Bullivant, a senior intelligence man
- John Scantlebury Blenkiron, a dyspeptic American agent
- Colonel Ulrich von Stumm, a hard-headed German soldier
- Herr Gaudian, a thoughtful German engineer
- Rasta Bey, a quick-tempered Young Turk
- Hilda von Einem, a powerful German operative in Turkey
Literary significance and criticism
The book was very popular when published, and was read and enjoyed by Robert Baden-Powell and by the Russian imperial family as they awaited the outcome of the Revolution in 1917.
Just as the British and American characters are positive, slightly jingoistic clichés, many of the German characters are negative clichés; for example, Colonel von Stumm is an ox-necked, bull-like bully with secret effeminate (possibly homosexual) tastes. Buchan saw his novel-writing as part of the war effort. Stumm, the bully, is intended as a symbol of Britain's war enemy of the time, Imperial Germany. However, when Buchan writes of a meeting between Hannay and the Kaiser, he portrays the German leader very positively, as a sensitive man who is greatly troubled by the war. This is one of the most unusual and unexpected episodes in the novel. He makes similarly sympathetic characters of a poor forester's wife who shelters Hannay when he has malaria, and of the captain of the Danube river steamer who takes Hannay on as engineer. Herr Gaudian, a renowned German engineer whom Hannay meets briefly during his time with von Stumm, and who later returns in The Three Hostages, is respected by Hannay, who describes him as "a capital good fellow".
Critics have claimed that the weakest elements in this book are the clunky narrative crutches Buchan uses, particularly the many unlikely coincidences and sit-down narratives with which subsidiary characters are brought in at predictable moments and made to tell their adventures.
The first chapter of Greenmantle, "A Mission is Proposed", was chosen by Graham Greene for his 1957 anthology The Spy's Bedside Book.
The book has been adapted for broadcast on BBC Radio 4. It was for instance broadcast on BBC Radio4 Extra in two episodes on 27 and 28 August 2013, and again on 30th April and 1st May 2015, with David Robb as Richard Hannay and James Fleet as Sandy Arbuthnot, forced to be 'Greenmantle':.
Allusions/references to actual history, geography and current science
Many[who?] feel that the character of Sandy Arbuthnot, Hannay's resourceful polyglot friend, was based on Buchan's friend, Aubrey Herbert, and perhaps also Lawrence of Arabia, while the character of Hannay drew on the real life military officer, Field Marshal Lord Ironside.
Many of the novel's references to political tensions in the Middle East seem strangely contemporary at the beginning of the 21st century. The potential of the tale to arouse controversy was again illustrated following the terrorist bombings in London on July 7, 2005, by the BBC's decision to cancel its broadcast of Greenmantle as its Classic Serial on Radio 4 that week.
According to Patrick McGilligan's 2003 biography, Alfred Hitchcock, who directed the 1935 film adaptation of The 39 Steps, preferred Greenmantle and considered filming it on more than one occasion. He wanted to film the book with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in the lead roles, but Buchan’s estate wanted too much money for the screen rights. However no such project ever materialised in Hitchcock's lifetime and Greenmantle itself has yet to be filmed.
Peter Hopkirk's nonfiction work, Like Hidden Fire, published in 1997, follows actual German plots to destabilise the region during World War I. While Hopkirk draws various connections between Buchan's work and the historical events, there is no indication that Buchan had knowledge of the actual events or used them as the basis for his story. However, Lewis Einstein's book Inside Constantinople: A Diplomatist's Diary During the Dardanelles Expedition, April to September, 1915 refers to a German woman agitating the Muslim population in Constantinople, rather in the mode of Hilda von Einem, so this element of the story seems realistic.
In the cartoon series Archer, in the episode Dial M For Mother, Archer's mother Mallory pulls a gun out from under a copy of the novel.
The subsequent Richard Hannay novels of John Buchan are:
- Slide, Anthony (2003). Lost Gay Novels: A Reference Guide to Fifty Works from the First Half of the Twentieth Century (1st ed.). Binghamton, NY: Harrington Park Press. ISBN 1-56023-413-X.
- Greenmantle at Project Gutenberg
- Greenmantle available freely in various digital formats at ManyBooks.net.
- "A Warning from History" - overview article by JDF Jones, exploring the contemporary significance of the publication, 16 July 2005, UK Guardian Review - General Fiction