(Henry) Graham Greene

(1904-1991)

English novelist, short-story writer, playwright and journalist, whose
novels treat moral issues in the context of political settings. Greene
is one of the most widely read novelist of the 20th-century, a superb
storyteller. Adventure and suspense are constant elements in his novels
and many of his books have been made into successful films. Although
Greene was a candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature several times,
he never received the award.

«The main characters in a novel must necessarily have some kinship to
the author, they come out of his body as a child comes from the womb,
then the umbilical cord is cut, and they grow into independence. The
more the author knows of his own character the more he can distance
himself from his invented characters and the more room they have to grow
in.» (Graham Greene in Ways of Escape, 1980)

Graham Greene was born in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, as the son of
Charles Greene and Marion Raymond Greene, a first cousin of the author
Robert Louis Stevenson. Greene’s father had a poor academic record but
became the headmaster of Berkhamsted School, following Dr. Thomas Fry.
Charles Greene had a brilliant intellect. Originally he had intended to
become a barrister. However, he found that he had liking for teaching
and he decided to stay at Berkhamsted. Often his history lessons were
less lessons than comments on the crack-up of Liberalism. His brother
Graham ended his career as Permanent Secretary at the Admiralty.

Greene was educated at Berkhamstead School and Balliol College, Oxford.
He had a natural talent for writing, and during his three years at
Balliol, he published more than sixty poems, stories, articles and
reviews, most of which appeared in the student magazine Oxford Outlook
and in the Weekly Westminster Gazette. In 1926 he converted to Roman
Catholicism, later explaining that «I hand to find a religion… to
measure my evil against.» When critics started to study the religious
faith in his work, Greene complained that he hated the term ‘Catholic
novelist’.

In 1926 Geene moved to London. He worked for the Times of London
(1926-30), and for the Spectator, where he was a film critic and a
literary editor until 1940. In 1927 he married Vivien Dayrell-Browning.
After the collapse of their marriage, he had several relationships,
among others in the 1950s with the Swedish actress Anita Bjoerk, whose
husband writer Stig Dagerman had committed suicide. During the 1920s and
1930s Greene had, according to his own private reckoning, some sort of
of relationship with no less than forty-seven prostitutes. In 1938
Greene began an affair with Dorothy Glover, a theatre costume designer;
they were closely involved with each other until the late 1940s. She
started a career as a book illustrator under the name ‘Dorothy Craigie’
and wrote children’s books of her own, among them Nicky and Nigger and
the Pirate (1960).

During World War II Greene worked «in a silly useless job» as he later
said, in an intelligence capacity for the Foreign Office in London,
directly under Kim Philby, a future defector to the Soviet Union. One
mission took Greene to West Africa, but he did not find much excitement
in his remote posting — «This is not a government house, and there is no
larder: there is also a plague of house-flies which come from the
African bush lavatories round the house,» he wrote to London. Greene
returned to England in 1942. After the war he travelled widely as a
free-lance journalist, and lived long periods in Nice, on the French
Riviera. With his anti-American comments, Greene gained access to such
Communist leaders as Fidel Castro and Ho Chi Minh, but the English
writer Evelyn Waugh, who knew Greene well, assured in a letter to his
friend that the author «is a secret agent on our side and all his
buttering up of the Russians is ‘cover’.»

Greene’s agent novels were partly based on his own experiences in the
British foreign office in the 1940s and his lifelong ties with SIS. As
an agent and a writer Greene is a link in the long tradition from
Christopher Marlowe, Ben Johnson and Daniel Defoe to the modern day
writers John Le Carre, John Dickson Carr, Somerset Maugham, Alec Waugh
and Ted Allbeury. Greene’s uncle Sir William Graham Greene helped to
establish the Naval Intelligence Department, and his oldest brother,
Herbert, served as a spy for the Imperial Japanese Navy in the 1930s.
Graham’s younger sister, Elisabeth, joined MI6, and recruited his Graham
into the regular ranks of the service. His old friend, Philby, Greene
met again in the late 1980s in Moscow.

Greene received numerous honours from around the world, and published
two volumes of autobiography, A SORT OF LIFE (1971), WAYS OF ESCAPE
(1980), and the story of his friendship with Panamanian dictator General
Omar Torrijos. — Greene died in Vevey, Switzerland, on April 3, 1991. In
the service the priest declared, «My faith tells me that he is now with
God, or on the way there.» Two days before his death Greene signed a
note that gave his approval to Norman Sherry to complete an authorized
biography. The first part of the book appeared in 1989.

As a writer Greene was very prolific and versatile. He wrote five dramas
and screenplays for several films based on his novels. The Third Man
(1949) was developed from a single sentence: «I had paid my last
farewell to Harry a week ago, when his coffin was lowered into the
frozen February ground, so that it was incredulity that I saw him pass
by, without a sign of recognition, among the host of strangers in the
Strand.» To do research for the film, Greene went to Vienna, where a
reported told him about the black market trade in watered-down
penicillin. With the F9,000 he had received from Alexander Korda, he
bough a yacht and a villa in Anacapri. Later he portryed Korda in LOSER
TAKES ALL (1955) — he was Dreuther, the business tycoon.

In the 1930s and early 1940s he wrote over five hundred reviews of
books, films, and plays, mainly for The Spectator. Greene’s film reviews
are still worth reading and often better than the films he praised or
slashed. Hitchcock’s «inadequate sense of reality» irritated Greene, he
compared Greta Garbo to a beautiful Arab mare, and gave a warm welcome
to a new star, Ingrid Bergman. When Hitchcock had troubles with the
screenplay of I Confess (1953), Greene refused to help the director,
saying he was interested in adapting only his own stories for the
screen. In the story a priest is wrongfully accused of a murder.
Although Greene knew that some critics considered his novels
entertainment, his own models were Henry James, Joseph Conrad, and Ford
Madox Ford. In his personal library was a large collection of James’s
work.

Greene’s first published book was BABBLING APRIL (1925), a collection of
poetry. It was followed by two novels in the style of Joseph Conrad. The
title for THE MAN WITHIN (1929) was taken from Sir Thomas Browne’s
(1605-1682) «There’s another man within me that’s angry with me.» Greene
started to write it after an operation for appending on his sick leave
from The Times. The film version of the book, starring Michael Redgrave
and Richard Attenborough, was made in 1947. Greene received a letter
from Istanbul in which the film was praised for its daring
homosexuality.

«In Stamboul Train for the first and last time in my life I deliberately
set out to write a book to please, one which with luck might be made
into a film. The devil looks after his own and I succeeded in both aims,
though the film rights seemed at the time an unlikely dream, for before
I had completed the book, Marlene Dietrich had appeared in Shanghai
Express, the English had made Rome Express, and even the Russians had
produced their railway film, Turksib. My film came last and was far and
away the worst, though not so bad as a later television production by
the BBC.» (from Introduction, in Stamboul Train, 1974)

After the unsuccessful attempts as a novelist, Greene was about to
abandon writing. His first popular success was STAMBOUL TRAIN (1932), a
thriller with a topical and political flavour. Greene wrote it
deliberately to please his readers and to attract filmmakers. One of its
characters, Quin Savory, was said to be a parody of J.B. Priestley —
Greene depicted nastily the writer as a sex offender. Priestley had just
published a novel, which led some reviewers to compare him with Dickens.
In Greene’s story Savory was a popular novelist in the manner of
Dickens. Next year he attacked another well-loved writer, Beatric
Potter, in an article called ‘Beatrix Potter: A Critical Estimate’. Also
the American actress, Shirley Temple, aged nine, got her share when
Greene wrote in the magazine Night and Day that «her admirers —
middle-aged men and clergymen — respond to her dubious coquetry, to the
sight of her well-shaped and desirable little body, packed with enormous
vitality…» This time Greene had to pay for his remark.

THE CONFIDENTIAL AGENT (1939) is a problematic work. In it the
mysterious Forbes/Furstein, a rich Jew, plans to destroy traditional
English culture from within. However, in 1981 the author was invited to
Israel and awarded the Jerusalem Prize. He had visited Israel in 1967
for the first time, and spent some of the time lying against a sand dune
under Egyptian fire, and thinking that the Six Day War «was a bit of
misnomer. The war was too evidently still in progress.» Greene’s
religious convictions did not become overtly apparent in his fiction
until THE BRIGHTON ROCK (1938), which depicted a teenage gangster Pinkie
with a kind of demonic spirituality. Religious themes were explicit in
the novels THE POWER AND THE GLORY (1940), THE HEART OF THE MATTER
(1948), which Greene characterized as «a success in the great vulgar
sense of that term,» and THE END OF THE AFFAIR (1951), which established
Greene’s international reputation. The story, partly based on Greene’s
own experiences, was about a lover, who is afraid of loving and being
loved. These novels were compared with the works of such French Catholic
writers as Georges Bernanos and Francois Mauriac. «At a stroke I found
myself regarded as a Catholic author in England, Europe and America —
the last title to which I had ever aspired,» Greene later complained.

Greene returned constantly to the problem of grace. In his review of The
Heart of the Matter George Orwell attacked Greene’s concept of ‘the
sanctified sinner’: «He appears to share the idea, which has been
floating around ever since Baudelaire, that there is something rather
distingue in being damned; Hell is a sort of high-class nightclub, entry
to which is reserved for Catholics only.» The novel was set in Sierra
Leone where the author had spent a miserable period during the war.
Major Scobie, the hero of the story, dies saying: ‘Dear God, I love…’
The rest is silence.

The End of the Affair was drew partly on Greene’s affair with Catherine
Walston, whom he had met in 1946. She was married to one of the richest
men in England, Henry Walston, a prominent supporter of the Labour
Party. Catherine was the mother of five children. Greene’s relationship
with her continued over ten years and produced another book, AFTER TWO
YEARS (1949), which was printed 25 copies. Most of them were later
destroyed. In The End of the Affair Catherine was ‘Sarah Miles’ and the
writer himself the popular novelist ‘Maurice Bendix’, who narrates the
story and tries to understand why Sarah left him. Maurice discovers that
when he was injured in a bomb blast during the war, Sarah promised God
that she would end the affair if Maurice is saved. Sarah dies of a
pneumonia. Maurice’s response to his divine rival is: «I hate you as
though You existed.’

The Third Man is among Greene’s most popular books. The story about
corruption and betrayal gave basis for the film classic under the same
title. Successful partners on The Fallen Idol (1948) and Our Man in
Havanna (1960), Graham Greene and the director Carol Reed achieved the
peak of their collaboration on this film. «I am getting terribly bored
with… everybody except Carol who gets nicer and nicer on
acquaintance,» Greene wrote to Catherine Walston from Vienna in 1948. In
The Third Man Holly Martin (Joseph Cotten) arrives in Vienna to discover
that his friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles) has died in a car accident. It
turns out that Lime was involved in criminal activities, and Lime’s
girlfriend Anna Schmidt (Alida Valli) suspects that his death may not
have been accidental. A porter recalls a mysterious third man at the
scene of the death. One evening Martins sees a man obscured by the
shadows, who suddenly disappears — he is Lime. The meet and Lime
rationalizes his villainy in a speech at a fairground Ferris wheel: «In
Italy for 30 years the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder,
bloodshed. They produced Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci and the
Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, five hundred years
of democracy and peace. And what did that produce. The cuckoo clock.»
Major Calloway (Trevor Howard) threatens to deport Anna and Martins
betrays Lime to secure her freedom. In a chase through the sewers
Martins kills Lime, and Anna leaves him after the funeral. — Music,
composed by Anton Karas, became highly popular. «The reader will notice
many differences between the story and the film, and he should not
imagine these changes were forced on an unwilling author : as likely as
not they were suggested by the author. The film in fact is better than
the story because it is in this case the finished state of the story.»
(Greene in Ways of Escape) The character of Harry Lime inspired later a
series on American radio, performed by Welles, short stories published
by the News of the World, and the TV series of The Third Man, starring
Michael Rennie. And in Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures (1994) Kate
Winslet fantasized about Harry.

Greene’s ability to create debate and his practical jokes brought him
often into headlines. He recommended Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita as his
‘Book of the Year’ in the Sunday Times and praised the men involved in
the Great Train Robbery. In a letter to the Spectator he proposed a
scheme to bankrupt the British postal system. In the 1950s Greene’s
emphasis switched from religion to politics. He lived at the Majestic
hotel in Saigon and made trips to Hong Kong and Singapore. In 1953 he
was in Kenya, reporting the Mau Mau upraising, and in 1956 he spent a
few weeks in Stalinist Poland, and tried to help a musician to escape to
the West. In Ways of Escape Greene told a story about the Other, who
called himself Graham Greene, but whose real name was perhaps John
Skinner or Meredith de Varg. In the 1950s the Other lost his passport in
India, and was sentenced to two years rigorous imprisonment. A decade
later he was photographed in a Jamaican paper with «Missus drink», an
attractive woman. «Some years ago in Chile, after I had been entertained
at lunch by President Allende, a right-wing paper in Santiago announced
to its readers that the President had been deceived by an impostor. I
found myself shaken by a metaphysical doubt. Had I been the impostor all
the time? Was I the other? Was I Skinner? Was it even possible that I
might be Meredith de Varg?»

The Asian setting stimulated Greene’s THE QUIET AMERICAN (1955), which
was about American involvement in Indochina. The story focuses on the
murder of Alden Pyle (the American of the title). The narrator, Thomas
Fowler, a tough-minded, opium-smoking journalist, arranges to have Pyle
killed by the local rebels. Pyle has stolen Fowler’s girl friend,
Phuong, and he is connected to a terrorist act, a bomb explosion in a
local cafe. The Quit American was considered sympathetic to Communism in
the Soviet Union and a play version of the novel was produced in Moscow.
OUR MAN IN HAVANNA (1958) was born after a journey to Cuba, but Greene
had the story sketched already much earlier. On one trip he asked a taxi
driver to buy him a little cocaine and got boracic powder. The novel was
made into a film in 1959, directed by Carol Reed. During the filming
Greene met Ernest Hemingway, and was invited to his house for drinks.
THE COMEDIANS (1966) depicted Papa Doc Duvalier’s repressive rule in
Haiti, and THE HONORARY CONSUL (1973) was a hostage drama set in
Paraguay. THE HUMAN FACTOR (1978) stayed on the New York Times
bestseller list for six months. In the story an agent falls in love with
a black woman during an assignment in South Africa. The book did not
satisfy Greene and he planned to leave it in a drawer — it hung «like a
dead albatross» around his neck. Interested to hear what his friend Kim
Philby thought of it he sent a copy to Moscow, but denied that his
double agent Maurice Castle was based on Philby. TRAVELS WITH MY AUNT
(1969), which was filmed by George Cukor, took the reader on on journey
round the world with an odd couple, a retired short-sighted bank manager
and his temperamental Aunt Augusta, whose two big front teeth gives her
«a vital Neanderthal air.»

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