Doctor Fischer of Geneva
Geneva or The bomb party (1980) is a novel by the English novelist Graham Greene. The eponymous party has been examined as an example of a statistical search problem.
1 Plot summary 2 Characters 3 Film, TV or theatrical adaptations 4 References
The story is narrated by Alfred Jones, a translator for a large
chocolate company in Switzerland. Jones, in his 50s, lost his left
hand while working as a fireman during The Blitz. Jones is a widower
when he meets the young Anna-Luise Fischer in a local restaurant.
Jones is surprised to learn that Anna-Luise is the daughter of Dr.
Fischer, who has become rich after inventing a perfumed toothpaste and
whose dinner parties are famous (or infamous) around Geneva. After a
brief courtship, the two are married.
Anna-Luise is estranged from her father, the Dr. Fischer of the book's
title. Jones goes to see Dr. Fischer to inform him that he and
Anna-Luise are married, but Dr. Fischer is indifferent to the
information. Later, however, he invites Jones to one of his dinner
parties; Anna-Luise warns Jones not to go, saying that these parties
are nothing more than an opportunity for her father to humiliate the
rich sycophants (whom she calls “the Toads,” her malapropism for
“toadies”) in his coterie. Jones goes anyway when Anna-Luise
relents, saying that one dinner party can’t corrupt him.
At the party, Dr. Fischer and his guests explain some of the rules: If
a guest follows all the rules, he or she receives a present (or prize)
at the end of the meal. The presents are usually tailored to each
guest and are worth a substantial amount of money. However, the rules
include complete submission to the humiliations of Dr. Fischer, which
always include barbed verbal taunts that focus on each guest’s
failings or insecurities.
At this particular party, the dinner consists solely of porridge. One
guest asks for sugar, but Dr. Fischer only provides salt. Dr. Fischer
explains to Jones that the guests must eat the porridge to receive
their presents, and that this is all part of his experiment to see how
far the rich will go to debase themselves for more riches. The guests
all eat the porridge except for Jones, who earns himself the enmity of
the Toads by abstaining. Jones doesn’t receive another invitation
for some time.
Anna-Luise fills Jones in on the dissolution of her parents’
marriage. Her mother had developed a friendship with an employee of
Mr. Kips, one of the Toads, based on their mutual love of Mozart. When
Dr. Fischer found out, he paid Kips’ firm fifty thousand francs to
fire the man, and then hounded his wife until she "willed herself" to
die. Jones and Anna-Luise encounter the man, Steiner, in a local
record shop, and Anna-Luise's resemblance to her mother (Anna) gives
Steiner a heart attack.
Meanwhile, he and Anna-Luise discuss having children, but she says she
would prefer to wait until after the skiing season is over because she
wouldn’t want to ski while pregnant. The two go on a skiing trip,
and while Jones (who doesn’t ski) waits in the lodge, Anna-Luise
collides with a tree after swerving to avoid a young boy who had
sprained his ankle while skiing a course that was too tough for him.
She suffers a severe head injury and bleeds enough to stain the front
of her white sweater red. She later dies at the hospital, leaving
Jones broken and lonesome. He attempts suicide by drinking whiskey
laced with aspirin, but it only leaves him drowsy.
The next day he responds to an invitation to visit Dr. Fischer in his
office. Dr. Fischer offers to give Jones the money held in trust for
Anna-Luise, but Jones refuses it. Fischer is surprised, and asks Jones
to attend his next dinner party with the Toads, which he promises will
be the last.
This party – the "Bomb Party" of the novel's alternative title –
fills the longest chapter of the book. The party is held outside
sometime around New Year's Day, where enormous bonfires keep the
guests warm around Dr. Fischer's lawn. The meal is exquisite.
Following dinner, Dr. Fischer explains the rules for that night's
experiment. He has hidden six crackers in a bran tub. Inside five of
them are cheques for two million francs apiece, with the name left
blank. Inside the sixth is a small bomb. The guests are expected to
draw crackers and open them one by one.
One of the Toads, a stooped man named Kips, says that gambling is
immoral and refuses to take part, leaving the party instead, and
leaving Mr. Jones to consider that it is only Mr. Kips and himself who
take the Doctor's threat of a bomb in the last cracker seriously; the
other Toads seem to be disbelieving, especially Mrs. Montgomery, who
passes off Fischer's bomb threat as playful, untrue banter. The other
Toads begin to take the crackers; a hack actor named Deane,
immediately goes into a role from one of his movies as a soldier
volunteering for a dangerous mission, rambling dialogue to himself
while he stands near the bucket. Two other Toads, the widow Mrs.
Montgomery and the accountant Belmont, rush up and draw their
crackers, realising that the odds favour the earlier selectors. Both
draw crackers with cheques inside. Deane finally snaps out of his
delusion long enough to draw a cracker, and when he finds a cheque
inside, he passes out from either shock or inebriation.
This leaves just Jones and the retired military officer, the
Divisionnaire. The Divisionnaire takes a cracker but won’t open it.
Jones, still considering suicide as a way to avoid his lonely future,
takes a cracker, opens it, and finds a cheque. The Divisionnaire
remains paralysed by fear, so Jones roots around for the last cracker
(which would have gone to Kips) and opens it as well, finding the last
cheque, meaning that the Divisionnaire must hold the bomb. While Dr.
Fischer torments the Divisionnaire for his cowardice, Jones offers to
buy the Divisionnaire's cracker for two million francs. Over Dr.
Fischer's objections, Jones takes the fatal cracker and runs off into
the snow, where he opens the cracker to find nothing. Steiner suddenly
wanders up to Jones, saying he came to confront Dr. Fischer and to
spit in his face. Dr. Fischer arrives and after a brief conversation
about whether he has achieved his goals with his experiment, says that
it is "time to sleep" but heads away from the house. A few moments
later, Jones and Steiner hear a crack, and rush off to find Dr.
Fischer, who has shot himself with a revolver.
The novel ends with Jones saying that he is no longer considering
suicide and has even struck up a small friendship with Steiner where
the two meet for coffee and mourn their lost loves. Jones says he
rarely sees any of the Toads and avoids
Alfred Jones: The narrator, a widower in his 50s with a glove over his
artificial left hand. He marries Anna-Luise Fischer.
Anna-Luise Fischer: The daughter of the title’s Dr. Fischer and wife
of narrator Alfred Jones. She despises her father for the way he
treats people, especially how he treated her late mother.
Dr. Fischer: A fabulously wealthy man who made his fortune via the
invention of perfumed toothpaste. Fischer is a widower who throws
dinner parties to humiliate his rich guests.
Mrs. Montgomery: A wealthy widow who can never remember Jones’ name
and keeps calling him “Smith.” She is the only female guest at the
Deane: A former pin-up actor whose looks are fading. He is a guest at
the dinner parties.
The Divisionnaire: A retired Swiss military officer, sometimes
mistakenly called “The General” by his fellow dinner party guests.
Belmont: A tax accountant and guest at the dinner parties.
Kips: A secretive man with a severely deformed spine that causes him
to stoop so far that he faces the ground. He appears to be involved in
Steiner: The former love interest of Mrs. Fischer, now a clerk in a
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
The novel was made into a TV film, Dr. Fischer of Geneva, in 1985,
^ "The Ups and Downs of the Hope Function In a Fruitless Search"
Archived 1 July 2012 at the Wayback Machine., Falk et al 1994; ch15,
Subjective Probability, ed. G. Wright & P. Ayton
^ Dr. Fischer of
v t e
Works by Graham Greene
The Man Within
The Living Room (1953)
The Potting Shed
The Future's in the Air (1937)
The New Britain (1940)
"The End of the Party" (1929) "Proof Positive" (1930) "The Basement Room" (1936) "Across the Bridge" (1938) "Alas, Poor Maling" (1940) "The Blue Film" (1954) "The Destructors" (1954) "A Shocking Accident" "The Invisible Japanese Gentlemen" "Th