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(Henry) Graham Greene (1904-1991)

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(Henry) Graham Greene (1904-l991)

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. Greene was a candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature several times, but he never received the award.

'No human being can really understand another, and no one can arrange another's happiness.'

Graham Greene was born in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, as the son of Charles Greene and Marion Raymond Greene. His father had a poor academic record but became the headmaster of Berkhamsted School, following Dr. Thomas Fry. 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 Björk, whose husband writer Stig Dagerman had committed suicide a year earlier. 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).

Greene worked during World War II 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. His old friend, Philby, Greene met again in the late 1980s in Moskow. 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 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 Torillo. - 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.' As a writer Greene was very prolific and versatile. He wrote five dramas and screenplays for several films based on his novels. In the 1930s and early 1940s he wrote over five hundred reviews of books, films, and plays, mainly for The Spectator. 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-l682) 'There's another man within me that's angry with me.'

'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. One of its characters, Quin Savory, was a parody of J.B. Priestley - Greene depicted nastily the writer as a sex offender. 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 got her share when Greene wrote that she was trying to excite old perverts. This time Greene had to pay for his remark.

THE CONFIDENTIAL AGENT (1939) included a strange piece of Anti-Semitic characterization, in which the mysterious Forbes/Furstein, a rich Jew, s to destroy traditional English culture from within. However, in 1981 the author was invited to Israel and awarded the Jerusalem Prize. 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), a story of a man trapped between the emotional demands of two women, and THE END OF THE AFFAIR (1951), which established Greene's international reputation. These novels had much in common with the works of such French Catholic writers as Georges Bernanos and François Mauriac.

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 distingué 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. The hero of the story, Major Scobie, dies saying: 'Dear God, I love' The rest is silence. Greene was perpetually concerned with the problem of grace, with the shape of God's mercy, and saw Catholicism not as a creed for the triumphant, but rather for the desperate. The End of the Affair was partly based 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 a book, AFTER TWO YEARS (1949), which was printed 25 copies. Most of the copies were later destroyed. In The End of the Affair Catherine was 'Sarah Miles' and Greene the popular novelist 'Maurice Bendix', who narrates the story and tries to understand why Sarah left him. He 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.'

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, observing the Mau Mau upraising.

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 café. 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. The novel was made into a film in 1959, directed by Carol Reed, and 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, but falls in a trap after a brief reprieve from loneliness.

THE THIRD MAN (1949), 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. In the story 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.

Note: Greene's agent novels - THE TENTH MAN, OUR MAN IN HAVANNA, HUMAN FACTOR among others - are partially 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 a long tradition from Christopher Marlowe, Ben Johnson and Daniel Defoe to the modern day writers John Le Carré, 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 Note: Greene's mother was a first cousin of author Robert Louis Stevenson. Another Graham Greene is a Native American who was nominated for the Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor for Dances With Wolves (1990)- See also: Lennart Meri, Eric Ambler

For further reading: Graham Greene's Conradian Masterplot by Robert Pendleton (1995); Graham Greene: The Man Within by Michael Shelden (1994); Graham Greene: The Enemy Within by Michael Shelden (1994); Conversations with Graham Greene, ed. by Henry J. Donaghy (1992); Graham Greene: A Study of the Short Fiction by Richard Kelly (1992); The Life of Graham Greene by Norman Sherry (1990); Graham Greene: A Revaluation, ed. by Jeffrey Meyers (1990); The Life ofGraham Greene: Vol. 1 1904-l939 by Vincent Sherry (1989); A Reader's Guide to Graham Greene by Paul O'Prey (1988); Graham Greene by Richard Kelley (1985); Saints, Sins, and Comedians by Roger Sharrock (1984); The Other Man by Marie Francoise Allain (1983); Graham Greene, ed. by Samuel Hynes ( 1973); Graham Greene by David Lodge (1966); The Labyrinthe Ways of Graham Greene by Francis Leo Kunkel (1960); Graham Greene and the Heart of the Matter by Marie Mesnet (1954)

Selected bibliography:

  • Babbling April, 1925
  • The Man Within, 1929 - film 1947, dir. by Bernard Knowles
  • The Name of Action, 1930
  • Rumour at Nightfall, 1931
  • Stambul Train, 1932 - suom. Idän pikajuna - film 1933, dir. by Paul Martin
  • It's a Battlefield, 1934
  • The Old School, 1934 (ed.)
  • England Made Me, 1935 - film 1972, dir. by Peter Duffell
  • The Bear Fell Free, 1935
  • The Basement Room, 1935
  • Journey Without Maps, 1936
  • A Gun For Sale / This Gun For Hire, 1936 - film 1942, dir. by Frank Tuttle; film 1957, dir. by James Gagney
  • The Brighton Rock, 1938 - suom. Kiveä kovempi - film 19478, dir. by John Boulting
  • The Lawless Roads, 1939
  • The Confidential Agent, 1939 - film 1945, dir. by Herman Shumlin
  • The Power and the Glory, 1940 - suom. Voima ja kunnia - film 1947, dir. by John Ford
  • British Dramatists, 1942
  • The Ministry of Fear, 1943 - film 1944, dir. by Fritz Lang
  • The Little Train, 1946
  • Nineteen Stories, 1947
  • The Heart of the Matter, 1948 - suom. Mutta suurin kaikista - film 1953, dir. by George More O'Ferrall
  • Why Do I Write, 1948
  • After Two Years, 1949 (with Catherine Walston)
  • The Third Man, 1949 - suom. Kolmas mies - film 1949, dir. by Carol Reed
  • The Little Fire Engine, 1950
  • The Best of Saki, 1950 (ed.)
  • The Lost Childhood, 1951
  • For Christmas, 1951
  • The End of the Affair, 1951 - suom. Jutun loppu - film 1954, dir. by Edward Dmytryk; film 1999, dir. by Neil Jordan
  • The Little Horse Bus, 1952
  • The Living Room 1953 (play)
  • Essais Catholoques, 1953
  • The Little Steamroller, 1953
  • Twenty-One Stories, 1954
  • The Quiet American, 1955 - suom. Hiljainen amerikkalainen - film 1958, dir. by Joseph Mankiewicz
  • Loser Takes All, 1955 - film 1956, dir. by Ken Annakin ; film Strike It Rich, 1990
  • film script: Saint Joan, based on George Bernard Shaw's play, 1957, dir. by Otto Preminger
  • The Potting Shed, 1957 (play)
  • Our Man in Havanna, 1958 - Miehemme Havannassa, suom. Arvo Turtiainen - film 1961, dir. by Carol Reed
  • The Complaisant Lover, 1959 (play)
  • A Burnt Out-Case, 1961 - Loppuun palanut
  • In Search of a Character, 1961
  • The Bodley Head Ford Madox Ford, 1962-63 (ed., 4 vols.)
  • A Sense of Reality, 1963
  • Carving A Statue, 1964 (play)
  • The Comedians, 1966 - suom. Näyttelijät - film 1967, dir. by Peter Glenville
  • Victorian Detective Fiction, 1966
  • May We Borrow Your Husband? and Other Comedies of the Sexual Life, 1967
  • Collected Essays, 1969
  • Travels With My Aunt, 1969 - Tädin kanssa maailmalla - film 1972, dir. by George Cukor
  • A Sort of Life, 1971
  • The Virtue of Disloyalty, 1972
  • Collected Stories, 1972
  • The Pleasure Dome, 1972
  • The Honorary Consul, 1973 - Kunniakonsuli - film 1983, dir. by John MacKenzie
  • Lord Rochester's Monkey, 1974
  • An Impossible Woman, 1975 (ed.)
  • Alas, Poor Maling, 1975 (television play)
  • The Return of A.J.Raffles, 1975 (play)
  • The Human Factor, 1978 - Inhimillinen tekijä - film 1979, dir. by Otto Preminger
  • Dr. Fisher of Geneva or The Bomb Party, 1980
  • Ways of Escape, 1980
  • The Great Jowett, 1980 (play)
  • Yes and No, and For Whom the Bell Chimes, 1980 (play)
  • Monsignor Quixote, 1982
  • J'Accuse - The Dark Side of Nice, 1982
  • Yes and No, 1983
  • A Quick Look Behind, 1983
  • For Whom the Bell Chimes, 1983
  • VictorianVillainies, 1984 (ed. byt Hugh Greene)
  • Getting to Know the General, 1985
  • The Tenth Man, 1985
  • Graham Greene Country, 1986
  • The Captain and the Enemy, 1988
  • Why the Epigraph?, 1989
  • Yours, Etc., 1989
  • The Last Word, 1990
  • The Destructors, 1990
  • Graham Greene: Reflections 1923-88, 1990 (ed. by Judith Adamson)
  • Reflections, 1991
  • A World of My Own, 1992
  • The End of the Party, 1993
  • The Graham Greene Film Reader, 1993
  • Collected Plays, 1995

Other film adaptations:

  • Went the Day Well?, cir. by Alberto Cavalcanti, 1942
  • The Fallen Idol, dir. by Carol Reed, 1947
  • Across the Bridge, dir. by Ken Annakin 1957
  • tv adaptations (British TV, 1975) of short stories by Graham Greene, undet the title Shades of Greene


  • The First and the Last (21 Days), 1937
  • The New Britain, 1940
  • The Brighton Rock (Young Scarface), 1947 (WITH tERENCE rATTIGAN)
  • The Fallen Idol, 1948 (with Lesley Storm and William Templeton)
  • The Third Man, 1948 (with Carol Reed)
  • The Stranger's Hand, 1954 (with Guy Elmes and Giorgio Bassani)
  • Loser Takes All, 1956
  • Saint Joan, 1957
  • Our Man in Havanna, 1960
  • The Comedians, 1967


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