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While reading The Power and the Glory, by Graham Greene, I don't fully understand the meaning of "belong" in these lines:

The stranger had left his book behind. It lay under his rocking-chair: a woman in Edwardian dress crouched sobbing upon a rug embracing a man's brown polished pointed shoes. He stood above her disdainfully with a little waxed moustache. The book was called La Eterna Martyr. After a time Mr. Tench picked it up. When he opened it he was taken aback-what was printed inside didn't seem to belong; it was Latin.

I'm considering these two options:

  • By its cover, the book seems to be a romance, but it is written in Latin: therefore cover and text don't match. Does "belong" refer in the sentence in bold to this fact?

    • The idea of the book not being "appropiate" in such context: the protagonist, who is a catholic priest, is in Mexico where the government is attempting to suppress the Catholic Church. He decides to hide the book as he doesn't know what is it about. Being Latin, it could be a catholic text and he's is not looking for trouble. Is "belong" referring to this reality: the book being inappropiate as Catholicism is strictly banned there?

Thank you

  • It appeared to be out of place. There are many possible reasons for such an appearance. – Hot Licks Apr 12 at 17:42
  • The phrasing of your question is confusing. After reading your question a couple of times, I think it's clear that you do know what the meaning of belong is. What you're actually asking is Why does the content of the book not belong? – Jason Bassford Apr 13 at 7:48
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It's probably your second option, but without additional context (perhaps the following paragraphs clarify why it doesn't belong), it's hard to say for sure. If Catholic texts are banned and Mr. Tench is a Catholic priest, I would assume he identified the text to be a religious, Catholic text. In this context, one could be taken aback by finding a piece of banned literature. He could also be taken aback because he expected a book with a Spanish title to be written in Spanish, but this would be a rather over-dramatized use of "taken aback" so I think it's unlikely. Besides, "The Eternal Martyr" doesn't sound much like a romance novel, but indeed like a religious text. However, it doesn't need to be a Catholic text, it could be a different denomination of Christianity based on the title alone (additional and/or historical context could refute this), but the Latin text inside cements that it is most likely a Catholic text.

It "didn't seem to belong;" as in it "didn't seem to belong [here, in Mexico, where Catholic texts are banned];"

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    The phrasing and close juxtaposition seem clearly to be saying that it was the fact that the text was in Latin not Spanish within a book whose cover was in Spanish not Latin which seemed out of place. – tchrist Apr 13 at 3:34
  • I just don't think that's enough to be "taken aback." Surprised, sure, but taken aback implies a strong surprise, usually characterized by a physical, bodily response: imagine someone putting their hand on their chest and pushing their shoulders back. It could be that the author is being overly dramatic but I think he means to say that the real shock here is finding banned literature. Perhaps also that the stranger had banned literature, which he left behind. I agree though, that the Spanish title with Latin text is part of the surprise. – Tom Lubenow Apr 13 at 16:42
  • The cover, La eterna mártir, denoted a scurrilous pornographic novel. The contrast with a solemn Latin breviary is enough to take one aback – tchrist Apr 13 at 19:37
  • I don't know what kind of porn you read, but nothing about "The Eternal Martyr" or "a woman in Edwardian dress crouched sobbing upon a rug embracing a man's brown polished pointed shoes" sounds pornographic to me. – Tom Lubenow Apr 15 at 17:01
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The title of the book is in Spanish. But the content of the book is in Latin.

If I picked up a book that had a title in one language, only to open it and see that it was written in a different language, I, too, might be surprised, and feel that the language inside didn't belong.

There is likely an explanation for why the title is in a different language, but that would only become clear upon actually reading the book—assuming you could read Latin.


The sentence itself clearly seems to indicate this as the explanation:

what was printed inside didn't seem to belong; it was Latin.

This phrasing is almost as close as you can get to:

The printed Latin inside didn't seem to belong.


Incidentally, at least according to Google Translate (which is never wholly reliable), the Latin version of the title should be Martyr Aeterni. I think the statement in the question about it being a romance, which somehow puts it at odds with being written in Latin, is a bit of a red herring. A romance novel can be written in any language.

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This seems to suggest that the book indeed was a religious document, possibly the Bible, any case something that was not acceptable (signalled by the the character being taken aback) to seen in public inner the original title that out head to be masqueraded as a Spanish novel. But at the and time the name of the book is a note so subtle hint as to what's it is

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