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Henry Graham Greene, OM

Norwegian: Greene, OM
Birthplace: Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom
Death: April 03, 1991 (86)
Vevey, Vaud, Switzerland (Leukemia)
Place of Burial: Corseaux, Riviera-Pays-d'Enhaut District, Vaud, Switzerland
Immediate Family:

Son of Charles Henry Greene and Marion Raymond Greene
Husband of Vivian Muriel Greene
Father of Lucy Caroline Greene and Francis Hugh Greene
Brother of Alice Marion Walker, Molly; Herbert Greene; Raymond Greene; Hugh Greene and Elizabeth Katherine Dennys, Liza

Occupation: Catholic convert and renowned novelist, Novelist/Auther/Forfatter, Writer
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Graham Greene

Greene, (Henry) Graham (1904–1991), author, was born on 2 October 1904 at St John's, Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, the fourth of six children of Charles Henry Greene (1865–1942), teacher, and his wife and cousin, Marion Raymond (1872–1959), eldest daughter of the Revd Carleton Greene, whose wife, Jane Wilson, was a first cousin of Robert Louis Stevenson.

Early years and education

Graham Greene spent his first sixteen years at Berkhamsted School, where his father, a shy man of modest talents but high moral standards, was headmaster. His tall and regal mother was a powerful force in the boy's life, but she was emotionally reserved and showed more interest in Graham's sisters, Molly and Elizabeth, than in him and his brothers—Herbert, Raymond, and Hugh Greene (who became director-general of the BBC). A troubled child, Greene felt uncomfortable on both sides of the green baize door that divided the main schoolroom from the family quarters. The need to satisfy his father as both a pupil and a son proved overwhelming, and caused the boy so much distress that he tried to kill himself. He developed a particular fascination for Russian roulette and, in later years, gave various accounts of a period in his teens when he supposedly played the deadly game with a revolver borrowed from an older brother.

Until he was thirteen Greene lived with his parents, and thus was spared the communal struggle of dormitory existence. When he finally joined one of the boarders' houses at his father's school, he found the experience traumatizing. He was bullied ruthlessly, partly because he was the headmaster's son, and partly because he was an awkward, bony youth with an introverted personality and little aptitude for games. His fellow boarders mocked him to his face, played cruel jokes on him, jabbed him with sharp objects, twisted his arm, and punched him. He grew desperate and tried running away.

Alarmed by his inability to cope with life as a boarder, Greene's parents took a step that was radical by the standards of their class and generation. They sent him away for psychiatric treatment in London. He was only sixteen when he was placed in the care of an amiable amateur psychoanalyst called Kenneth Richmond. After six peaceful and relatively pleasant months living with Richmond and his wife, Greene returned to Berkhamsted, where he was allowed to live in the family quarters as a day boy while finishing his final year at the school.

In 1922 Greene went up to Balliol College, Oxford, where he kept largely to himself, developed a fondness for writing verses, and was influenced by T. S. Eliot's early works. Though he found Oxford more to his liking than Berkhamsted, he continued to suffer from periodic bouts of depression and was often bored with his studies. In the memoirs of his famous contemporaries, he is rarely more than a vague presence among the ‘Brideshead set’. Evelyn Waugh observed that ‘Graham Greene looked down on us (and perhaps all undergraduates) as childish and ostentatious. He certainly shared in none of our revelry’ (Shelden, 86). It was only after they were both established novelists that Waugh and Greene became friends. Cyril Connolly summed up Greene's social life at Balliol by saying ‘he was of us, but not with us’ (Connolly, 10).

Greene spent much of his time and energy on poetry, which he contributed to the student magazine Oxford Outlook and to the Weekly Westminster Gazette. His verse also appeared in three successive volumes of the prestigious annual Oxford Poetry. In 1925, his last year at university, Basil Blackwell published his short collection Babbling April. The book attracted so many bad notices, however, that a disappointed Greene abruptly surrendered his ambition to be a poet. After coming down from Oxford with a second-class degree in history, he spent several months looking for work and finally decided to make his living as a journalist, starting as an unpaid assistant at the Nottingham Journal.

Marriage, religion, and early novels

While at Oxford Greene fell in love with Vivienne (later Vivien) Dayrell-Browning (1905–2003), an apprentice assistant to Basil Blackwell, and the daughter of Sidney and Muriel Dayrell-Browning. A sentimental, dreamy young woman, she shared Greene's love of poetry and wrote one book of verse. In later years she won renown as an authority on antique dolls' houses and wrote a history of the subject, English Dolls' Houses of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (1955). On 15 October 1927 Greene and Vivienne were married at St Mary's, a small Catholic church in Hampstead. They had two children, Lucy Caroline and Francis, born in 1933 and 1936 respectively.

A convert to Catholicism before her marriage, Vivienne encouraged her future husband to take an interest in her religion. While working in Nottingham he met Father George Trollope, of Nottingham Cathedral, and received religious instruction from him. In February 1926 Father Trollope baptized Greene in a simple ceremony with no friends or family present. Though Greene later objected to being called a ‘Catholic novelist’, he became celebrated for employing religious themes in his works, praised by Catholic critics during his lifetime for the powerful way in which his novels explore the subjects of sin, damnation, evil, and divine forgiveness. But Greene's relationship with the church was never easy, and he was often critical of the religion. In his last years he began referring to himself as a ‘Catholic atheist’ (Shelden, 6).

Greene and his wife made their first home in London, where in 1926 he had been appointed a sub-editor at The Times. In his spare time he wrote his first novel, The Man Within, which enjoyed widespread critical and commercial success when Charles Evans, the managing director at William Heinemann, published it in June 1929. The novel sold 13,000 hardback copies, an amazing feat for a first novel by an unknown author who was only twenty-five. Emboldened, Greene negotiated a generous financial arrangement with his publisher and was able to leave his job at The Times.

In many ways, however, The Man Within was a false start for Greene. A rousing historical romance about the smuggling trade on the Sussex coast in the early 1800s, the novel is an apprentice effort set in a time and place that Greene did not know well. But the book's success made him think that his future lay in writing more tales of the same kind, and he quickly produced another two novels of romantic adventure, The Name of Action (1930) and Rumour at Nightfall (1931), neither of which enjoyed the popularity of his first book. By 1931 he was in debt to his publishers and was worried that his income would soon dry up. In an effort to save money, and to revive his literary fortunes, he moved to a thatched cottage in the Cotswolds, on the outskirts of Chipping Campden, and began work on a new fictional work set on the Orient Express.

Major novels and ‘entertainments’, 1932–1950

As Greene later admitted, Stamboul Train (1932) was a calculated effort to win back a large readership and to keep him in business as a full-time writer. In particular, he wanted to please Hollywood, believing that his story was perfect for a lucrative screen adaptation. Long before the appearance of such films as The Thirty-Nine Steps and The Lady Vanishes, he was able to see the cinematic potential of a drama unfolding on an express train crossing vast expanses. He had briefly visited Constantinople in 1930, while on a cruise, but his only experience of the Orient Express was limited to its run from Ostend to Cologne. Relying mostly on his imagination, he created a narrative involving a vivid cast of exotic characters caught up in political intrigue, spying, and crime. During the first eight months of 1932 he stayed in the Cotswolds and wrote his book, exercising the rigid discipline that became a familiar feature of his career: he began a steady habit of writing a certain number of words (usually 500) each day and then stopping until the next day.

Stamboul Train was a considerable success, selling 21,000 copies in its first year and earning £1500 in film rights from Twentieth Century Fox. The book became the first of Greene's so-called ‘entertainments’, a term that was meant not only to attract readers of popular fiction, but also to disarm highbrow critics. It was a convenient way of telling the reviewers that he had more serious ambitions in mind, and that writing thrillers was simply a kind of hobby, albeit a profitable one. In any event, his thrillers helped him to move to more spacious quarters, first to an expensive modern flat in Woodstock Close, Oxford, and then to a large, elegant house in London at 14 North Side, Clapham Common. The house was built in 1720 and had once been the home of Zachary Macaulay, the historian's father. Greene and his family occupied the house from 1935 until 1940, when bomb damage during the blitz made it uninhabitable.

Greene once explained that his entertainments were ‘exciting’ stories ‘with just enough character to give interest in the action’, but that ‘in the novels I hope one is primarily interested in the character and the action takes a minor part’ (Pryce-Jones, 62). Stamboul Train saved his career; but its designation as an ‘entertainment’ created a false impression of his talent, for his entertainments have much in common with his supposedly ‘serious’ works, and are not mere trifles to be tasted once and thrown aside. All the powerful obsessions that fill the pages of his masterpieces—Brighton Rock (1938), The Power and the Glory (1940), The Heart of the Matter (1948)—are also present in Stamboul Train, A Gun for Sale (1936), The Ministry of Fear (1943), and other entertainments. It is also not the case that the ‘minor’ works lack fully developed characters. Two of Greene's most compelling creations are the assassin Raven in A Gun for Sale and the petty racketeer Harry Lime in The Third Man (1950). Even Greene was occasionally uncertain of the dividing line between his entertainments and his other work. When it was first published, Brighton Rock was called an entertainment in the American edition, but not in the British edition. After the 1950s the author stopped trying to label his works of fiction, but the impression remains among some readers that the thrillers are potboilers that do not deserve serious consideration. If this were true Greene would never have bothered to create, for example, the complexity of Arthur Rowe's nightmare world of private and public war in The Ministry of Fear, or the intricate duel between good and evil in The Confidential Agent (1939). Until much later the artist in Greene was never far behind the entertainer.

In his entertainments Greene was not imitating a tried-and-true commercial formula, but was creating a new form of fiction—one that stands somewhere between the traditional art of the novel and the new art of the cinema. He tried to reproduce on paper the experience of watching a well made film. Nowhere is this more apparent than in A Gun for Sale. Many of its scenes are placed in short sections that seem ready to go before the camera. The opening section arrests the reader's attention with a no-nonsense, almost wordless scene in which two people are swiftly and brutally murdered by a mysterious gunman. Even the killer looks at the murder scene as though it is something his eyes have filmed. When he enters the house where his victims are working, he looks slowly round the room, like a cameraman executing a careful panning shot, taking notice of every detail.

Greene was a self-taught student of the cinema. At Oxford he was an avid filmgoer and contributed his first film review to the Oxford Outlook. In the 1930s he spent four and a half years writing film reviews for The Spectator, commenting on over 400 productions. He was also film critic for the short-lived Night and Day magazine which he helped to start. (It folded after Greene lost a libel suit brought against him by the representatives of the nine-year-old Shirley Temple in 1938 for suggesting that she exploited male sexual desire.) The works he liked best were those that filled the screen with evocative images. The ‘poetry’ of the cinema spoke to his concerns as a novelist, giving him new ideas for literary imagery. He was especially fond of lingering close-ups. Reviewing Anna Karenina in 1935, he was impressed by the shots of Greta Garbo leaning over a croquet ball and of her face emerging from a cloud of locomotive steam. What he learned from such a film was a way to make images carry more of the meaning in his own fiction. Memorable images such as Raven's harelip in A Gun for Sale, the gulls swooping over the pier in Brighton Rock, the yellow-fanged mestizo in The Power and the Glory (1940), all seem to have sprung from the darkness of the cinema.

Until he went to work as a screenwriter for the movie mogul Alexander Korda in the 1940s, Greene was not fully aware that what he had been creating in his works of the 1930s were very sophisticated, highly polished versions of a ‘screen treatment’. Under Korda's guidance, and with the help of a true genius of the cinema, British director Carol Reed, Greene became so adept at the art of the screenplay that he never produced one without first writing a complete treatment of the story, and some of these works eventually emerged as books. The short novel The Third Man is simply the screen treatment that Greene created as a first step in the production of the film version, which appeared in 1949 and which won first prize at the Cannes film festival.

In large measure, speed and intense concentration were the secrets of Greene's success as a writer of entertainments. His steady method of working meant that he could finish a book in less than a year, and this focus of attention allowed him to achieve the unity of vision that works so well on film. In a few cases his pace became almost feverish, as though he were trying to live through each frame of the story as he wrote it. The Confidential Agent was written in only six weeks, The Third Man in eight.

Brighton Rock is his most successful attempt to create a work that is as fast-paced as a thriller and as complex as a more leisurely character study. It deals with the racecourse gangs who created havoc in Brighton during the 1930s and is an exciting story of murder and duplicity in the underworld. More important, it offers the unforgettable portrait of Pinkie Brown, a bloodthirsty young gangster who courts damnation with the zeal of a saint seeking salvation. Partly inspired by a gruesome murder in Brighton in 1934, the novel provides a deeply disturbing insight into the cruel heart of a killer who cannot decide whether he is God's child or Satan's. He uses religion to enhance the pleasure of doing evil, and then dares God to save him as a perverse test of divine mercy.

Each of Greene's three masterpieces is overflowing with what his friend Douglas Jerrold called ‘emotion recollected in hostility’ (Picture Post). Vague, festering grievances lie at the heart of each story, and the main characters wrestle with the question of whether it is best to lash out at an unjust world or to destroy themselves in a private war against God. In The Power and the Glory the unnamed whisky priest finds that he is the last representative of the Catholic church in a rebel Mexican state that recognizes neither the power nor the glory of the church. He decides to stay in the dangerous land not because he is faithful to his religion, but because he wants to live outside the rules of both God and man. He revels in his own condition as an outcast in a lawless world and seeks power and glory in personal independence.

Disloyalty, betrayal, and the grim satisfactions of self-destruction also infect the heart of the colonial policeman Major Scobie, in The Heart of the Matter, who is tormented by a loveless marriage that he cannot escape and a guilt-ridden affair with a vulnerable younger woman. Like the whisky priest, he is a traditional figure of authority who finds that he cannot keep order in his own life. Suicide appeals to him as a desirable way out of his troubles. He thinks that the only escape is to embrace defeat and to take pride in suffering the fate of a defiant loner unfettered by loyalty to anyone or anything.

Not long before he died, George Orwell reviewed The Heart of the Matter and harshly condemned it. From his perspective as a moral critic, he could not approve of Greene's fascination with sin, suicide, and damnation. A straightforward thinker who had once been a colonial policeman himself, Orwell found no evidence in the novel of the ‘ordinary human decency’ that he valued so much in life and literature. Indeed, he detected a certain snobbishness in Greene on the question of hell: ‘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’ (New Yorker).

Most contemporary readers, however, did not share Orwell's reservations. The Heart of the Matter was enormously popular, selling more than 300,000 copies in Britain. It was also a main selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club in America. Though Greene considered the book his most serious work to date, it brought him more money than all his previous entertainments combined. (The Ministry of Fear, for example, sold a ‘mere’ 18,000 copies five years earlier.) From 1948 until his death Greene continued to enjoy large sales, widespread critical respect, and largely favourable publicity in the mainstream press, both at home and abroad. After nineteen years of hard work—in which he brought out a new book almost every year—he was established for life.

War years and espionage

The Heart of the Matter is set in wartime Sierra Leone, where Greene worked as an intelligence officer for fourteen months between 1941 and 1943. After the Second World War broke out his first government job was at the Ministry of Information in London, where he commissioned and edited various works of propaganda. At night he served as an air raid warden. But he soon grew weary of the bureaucratic dullness at the Ministry of Information, and sought more adventurous work with the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). He officially joined the service in July 1941 and became officer 59200, the same code number given to Wormold's immediate superior in Greene's later parody of the espionage world, Our Man in Havana (1958). He held a position in section V, the unit responsible for counter-espionage. After receiving his training in England, he went to west Africa and spied on the Vichy French colonies and on neutral ships that docked at his home base in Freetown. As a cover, he was placed in the police service of the Colonial Office.

When he returned to Britain, Greene took a job in the Iberian department of the service, which kept track of intelligence operations in Gibraltar, Lisbon, Madrid, and Tangier, all of which were hotbeds of espionage activity. His immediate superior was Kim Philby, who later achieved notoriety when he was exposed as a secret agent for the Soviet Union. Greene worked closely with Philby and liked him, but if he somehow discovered that his friend was a double agent, he never betrayed him. Instead, he abruptly submitted his resignation from service less than a month before the D-day invasion in 1944 and kept his distance from Philby, who continued to rise in the Secret Intelligence Service hierarchy until the 1950s. After the spy defected to the Soviet Union in 1963 Greene wrote a sympathetic introduction to Philby's autobiography, My Silent War (1968), revealing a certain degree of admiration for the skill with which his former boss had managed such a long and intricate scheme of deception and betrayal. He sometimes spoke of Philby as though he were a character in one of his own novels and may have used the spy as a model for Harry Lime in The Third Man. As Greene was aware, Philby had been involved in an underground socialist movement in Vienna in 1934 and, like Harry Lime, had used the city's extensive network of sewers as a hide-out.

Greene's own fondness for secrecy and deception is evident in his willingness to continue serving the Secret Intelligence Service unofficially for many years. As late as the 1980s he was still providing help to his contacts, giving assistance during his many foreign trips. From the 1950s to the 1970s one of his closest contacts in the service was Maurice Oldfield, who became director-general in 1973. In exchange for expenses he gave his help to the organization in many places—most notably Vietnam, Poland, Russia, and China. On a trip to Warsaw in 1955, for example, he spied on the Catholic Pax movement, which was a Soviet-sponsored group. During several visits to Vietnam in the 1950s, he actively spied on both the French colonial army and the communist insurgents, and worked closely with Trevor Wilson, the British consul in Hanoi, who was also the local Secret Intelligence Service station chief and a wartime colleague of Greene's in section V. In 1957 alone, Greene's foreign journeys covered, by his own estimate, 44,000 miles, and much of this travel was paid for by the service. The thrill of spying and the opportunity for constant travel helped to ease the burdens of writing, and allowed him to keep at bay the depression and boredom that plagued him for much of his life. In the words of his official biographer Greene ‘was the perfect spy … an intensely secretive man’ (Sherry, 2.xiv).

As his literary fame grew in the 1950s and 1960s Greene took pains to make public declarations of his sympathy for international socialism and his suspicion of American capitalism and military expansion. But friends who knew of his work for the Secret Intelligence Service did not take such public comments seriously. In 1960 Evelyn Waugh confided to a friend that he was not fooled by Greene's occasional efforts to praise the Soviet Union, explaining that Greene ‘is a secret agent on our side and all his buttering up of the Russians is “cover”’ (Waugh, Letters, 548). Waugh knew that his fellow novelist had previously shown little interest in the left and had, in fact, been closely associated in the past with men who favoured the right, such as the tory MP Victor Cazalet (who backed Night and Day in 1937) and the apologist for Franco Douglas Jerrold (who employed Greene as his deputy at the publishing house of Eyre and Spottiswoode in the mid-1940s). In any event Greene was not averse to wealth and privilege. With his literary earnings he acquired a villa on Capri, apartments in Antibes and Paris, and, towards the end of his life, an apartment overlooking Lake Geneva. To reduce his taxes he decided in the 1960s to end his status as a permanent resident of England and to move to the continent. Afterwards, whenever he made brief visits to London, he invariably stayed at the Ritz.

The last of Greeneland

After the war Greene separated informally from his middle-class wife and began a passionate affair with the rich American-born beauty Catherine Walston (1916–1978), who was married to Henry Walston, later Lord Walston, the Labour peer. Greene never divorced his wife, but did not live with her after 1946. Instead, he spent as much time as possible with Catherine Walston, visiting her at her homes in Cambridgeshire and travelling with her to Capri for long holidays. She was the great love of his life and the inspiration for his powerful novel about the pains and pleasures of adultery, The End of the Affair (1951). A highly unconventional society hostess, she liked to shock guests at her dinner parties by wearing jeans and doing cartwheels across the floor. Her playful, mischievous manner prompted one of her friends to call her ‘a Marie-Antoinette in elegant jeans’ (Shelden, 359).

Greene became obsessed with her and demanded that she spend all her time with him. But she had other lovers, as well as a husband and five children, and was unable to give Greene the attention he craved. Inevitably, they quarrelled and began to drift apart because she would not leave her husband. The intense dynamics of this three-way relationship are vividly portrayed in The End of the Affair (1951), and the narrator's heart-rending comments on his turbulent affair are some of the most compelling passages in Greene's work. He dedicated the book to ‘C’ in the British edition and to ‘Catherine’ in the American. The real affair survived the novel's publication, but the acute tension between the lovers gradually decreased in the 1950s, and their tumultuous romance ended in the early 1960s.

The End of the Affair is not a conventional love story: the protagonist and narrator, Maurice Bendrix, says in the opening chapter that he will provide the reader with a record of hate. The story of this affair with a married woman becomes a harrowing tale of spiritual torture because sin and guilt stimulate the couple more than love. What gives the novel its special power, however, is Greene's ability to show the many complex ways in which love and hate can become confused. In life and art he was fascinated by borderlines and liked exploring the ambiguities that attend them. His best novels portray destabilized worlds in which all the borders collapse, and this in turn forces individual characters to chart their own course in a ‘journey without maps’ (this was the title of a travel book about Africa that Greene published in 1936).

For many critics ‘Greeneland’ has become a convenient term for describing the murky territory of shifting boundaries inhabited by Greene's characters. The first critic to use the term was Arthur Calder-Marshall in 1940, but the novelist himself suggested the pun four years earlier in A Gun for Sale. In the minds of some readers Greeneland is associated with rugged landscapes in dangerous parts of Latin America or Africa or Asia. But until the 1950s the novelist set most of his works of fiction in Europe. The Power and the Glory and The Heart of the Matter are the notable exceptions. It is only after The End of the Affair that Greene shifts his focus almost entirely to regions outside Europe. Indeed, Greeneland has two different sets of cast and scenery. One is an urban, lower-middle-class world of sordid European streets haunted by lonely killers, desperate lovers, and assorted lost souls; the other occupies desolate backwaters of wretchedly poor Third World countries where tortured Europeans find their lives halted at a dead end. This second version is evident in The Quiet American; Our Man in Havana (1958); A Burnt-Out Case (1961), set in Africa; The Comedians (1966), set in Haiti; and The Honorary Consul (1972), set in South America.

By writing about such places as Haiti, the Congo, Cuba, and Vietnam, Greene was able to establish a reputation for himself in the cold war era as a writer with a strong social conscience and a keen interest in other cultures. But that reputation was misleading. Though he altered the landscape of his fiction, the major themes in his work changed very little from the 1930s, and have only slight connections to political, social, or cultural ideology. Whether the backdrop is Brighton or Haiti, Greene always places his greatest focus on the torments that distinguish an individual character's private hell. In The Quiet American, for example, the political references and exotic details help to disguise the fact that the story is essentially the same as that in Greene's third novel—Rumour at Nightfall, an almost forgotten work—which is set against the background of the Carlist wars, in the 1870s. In both books a tough-minded journalist covering a controversial war betrays an idealistic friend partly out of jealousy. The wartime atmosphere in the later novel is brilliantly conveyed, but its treatment of political matters is as superficial as that in the earlier book. Though the British journalist Fowler in The Quiet American has complete contempt for imperial adventurism, he is not ‘committed’ to anything in Vietnam besides his opium pipe.

Despite his extensive travels in the cold war era, Greene rarely stayed in one place for very long, except when he was at home in Britain, France, or Italy. The portrait of Papa Doc Duvalier's Haiti in The Comedians is based on a visit in 1963 that lasted only a fortnight. Greene visited Latin America often, but never bothered to learn Spanish and spent much of his time cultivating the goodwill of such undemocratic regimes as Fidel Castro's in Cuba and General Omar Torrijos's in Panama. In the 1970s and 1980s he visited Panama frequently and made so many friends among the members of Torrijos's military entourage that the general once paid for his flight home on Concorde. He had a personal obsession with Torrijos, as is clear in his non-fiction work Getting to Know the General (1985). Fifty years earlier, when he was fascinated by the Carlist wars, he developed a special liking for the doomed figure of a Spanish general called Torrijos. He thought fate had brought him together with Panama's leader of the same name. But none of the Panamanians seems to have known that their fondness for him was compromised by his continuing contacts with his old friends in the British intelligence community.

Greene's last major novel was his most explicit treatment of the world of espionage. The Human Factor (1978) is set in the 1970s, but the writer drew his material primarily from his wartime memories of office life at Philby's section V headquarters in central London. After a quarter of a century of avoiding London as a setting in his fiction, he returned to it with great success, bringing vividly to life a part of town that he knew better than any other place in the world. In the novel the old red bricks of St James's Palace glow in the winter afternoon, the night porter scrubs the steps of the Albany (where Greene once kept a set of chambers), a young woman giggles into a telephone at Piccadilly Circus station, and prostitutes lurk in the doorways of Soho. Sure of himself and intimately knowledgeable about his subject and his primary setting, Greene produced a novel that ranks just below his masterpieces written before the cold war. It also enjoyed the greatest commercial success of any of his works, selling especially well in the United States, where it stayed on the New York Times best-seller list for six months.

Final years

After his relationship with Catherine Walston ended, Greene began an affair with another married woman who soon became his principal companion, and who remained as such until his death. In 1959 he met Yvonne Cloetta (1923–2001), the wife of a French businessman, and moved to Antibes in the 1960s partly because he wanted to be near her home in Juan les Pins. Though she never left her husband, Jacques, she was almost always at Greene's side when he was in Antibes, and would usually spend holidays with him on Capri. He had a comfortable life with Mme Cloetta, who made few demands on him, and he was reasonably content in Antibes, where the local people left him alone and the authorities treated him with respect. In 1969 the French government appointed him chevalier of the Légion d'honneur. In the early 1980s, however, his life in Antibes became difficult after he made angry charges of corruption against the mayor of Nice in a pamphlet he called J'Accuse: the Dark Side of Nice (1982). Threats were made against his life, and he was successfully sued for libel in a Paris court by one of the men he charged with corruption.

Greene finally left France in 1990 and spent the last year of his life at the village of Corseaux, outside Vevey, Switzerland, sharing an apartment with Mme Cloetta. Suffering from a mysterious blood disease, he sought treatment at Vevey's Hôpital de la Providence, where he was given transfusions every fortnight. The new blood helped and, for a while, it seemed that he would recover. But late in March 1991 he became seriously ill and was rushed by ambulance to the Hôpital de la Providence, where he died just before noon on 3 April 1991. His last words were ‘Why must it take so long to come?’ He was buried on 8 April in the small cemetery at Corseaux.

Subsequent reputation

In most studies of twentieth-century British fiction Greene's considerable body of work ranks high. In the period between the great depression and the beginning of the cold war the three indispensable novelists are Greene, George Orwell, and Evelyn Waugh. Of the three, Greene is the one whose career was the longest and most diverse. He left behind more than two dozen novels, several plays, many essays and short stories, three travel books, two volumes of autobiography, a history of British drama, and a literary biography of the Restoration poet Lord Rochester (1974), which he had begun in his twenties (Rochester's rebelliousness, passionate nature, and ambiguous relationship with sin appealed to Greene, but publishers had found the sexual content too explicit in the 1930s). He wrote the screenplay for one of the most highly regarded British films of the twentieth century—The Third Man—and since his death his fictional works have continued to attract film-makers. All his major novels have been filmed—The End of the Affair twice (1955, 2000)—and Travels with my Aunt (1969) has been adapted for both the screen and the stage.

Greene had a rare ability to capture the confusion and terror of the twentieth century. His sharp narrative voice misses nothing. In arresting detail it reveals the cracks waiting to open up, the towers beginning to lean. The monstrous Pinkie of Brighton Rock forever slouches towards the bright lights of the resort town with nothing but destruction in mind. The charmingly ruthless Harry Lime perpetually prowls the ruined streets and labyrinthine sewers of post-war Vienna like a refugee from hell. Both Pinkie and Harry are iconic figures of the twentieth century whose hearts of darkness reflect the worst fears of the age. In his talent for plumbing the depths of that darkness, Greene stands without rival among the writers of his time.

Michael Shelden

Henry Graham Greene, OM, CH (2 October 1904 – 3 April 1991) was an English author, playwright and literary critic. His works explore the ambivalent moral and political issues of the modern world. Greene was notable for his ability to combine serious literary acclaim with widespread popularity.

Although Greene objected strongly to being described as a Roman Catholic novelist rather than as a novelist who happened to be Catholic, Catholic religious themes are at the root of much of his writing, especially the four major Catholic novels: Brighton Rock, The Power and the Glory, The Heart of the Matter and The End of the Affair. Several works such as The Confidential Agent, The Third Man, The Quiet American, Our Man in Havana and The Human Factor also show an avid interest in the workings of international politics and espionage.

He was recruited into the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) by his sister, Elisabeth, who worked for the organisation; and he was posted to Sierra Leone during the Second World War. Kim Philby, who would later be revealed as a Soviet double agent, was Greene's supervisor and friend at MI6. As a novelist he wove the characters he met and the places where he lived into the fabric of his novels.

Greene suffered from bipolar disorder, which had a profound effect on his writing and personal life. In a letter to his wife Vivien, he told her that he had "a character profoundly antagonistic to ordinary domestic life", and that "unfortunately, the disease is also one's material".

Early years

Henry Graham Greene was born in 1904 in St. John’s House, a boarding house of Berkhamsted School on Chesham Road in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, England, when his father was housemaster there. He was the fourth of six children; his younger brother, Hugh, became Director-General of the BBC, and his elder brother, Raymond, an eminent physician and mountaineer.

His parents, Charles Henry Greene and Marion Raymond Greene, were first cousins, members of a large, influential family, that included the Greene King brewery owners, bankers, and businessmen. Charles Greene was Second Master at Berkhamsted School, the headmaster of which was Dr Thomas Fry, who was married to a cousin of Charles. Another cousin was the right-wing pacifist Ben Greene, whose politics led to his internment during World War II.

In 1910 Charles Greene succeeded Dr. Fry as headmaster. Graham attended the school. Bullied, and profoundly depressed as a boarder, he made several suicide attempts, some, as he wrote in his autobiography, by Russian roulette. In 1920, at age 16, in what was a radical step for the time, he was psychoanalysed for six months in London, afterwards returning to school as a day student. School friends included Claud Cockburn the satirist, and Peter Quennell the historian.

In 1922 he was for a short time a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain.

In 1925, while an undergraduate at Balliol College, Oxford, his first work, a poorly received volume of poetry entitled Babbling April, was published. Greene suffered from periodic bouts of depression whilst at Oxford, and largely kept to himself. Of Greene's time at Oxford, his contemporary Evelyn Waugh noted that: "Graham Greene looked down on us (and perhaps all undergraduates) as childish and ostentatious. He certainly shared in none of our revelry".

Early career

After graduating with a second-class degree in history, he worked for a period of time as a private tutor and then turned to journalism – first on the Nottingham Journal, and then as a sub-editor on The Times. While in Nottingham he started corresponding with Vivien Dayrell-Browning, a Catholic convert, who had written to him to correct him on a point of Catholic doctrine. Greene was an agnostic at the time, but when he began to think about marrying Vivien, it occurred to him that, as he puts it in A Sort of Life, he "ought at least to learn the nature and limits of the beliefs she held". In his discussions with the priest to whom he went for instruction, he argued "on the ground of dogmatic atheism", as his primary difficulty was what he termed the "if" surrounding God's existence. However, he found that "after a few weeks of serious argument the 'if' was becoming less and less improbable". Greene converted to Catholicism in 1926 (described in A Sort of Life) when he was baptised in February of that year. He married Vivien in 1927; and they had two children, Lucy Caroline (b. 1933) and Francis (b. 1936). In 1948 Greene separated from Vivien. Although he had other relationships, he never divorced or remarried.

Novels and other works

Greene's first published novel was The Man Within (1929). Favourable reception emboldened him to quit his sub-editor job at The Times and work as a full-time novelist. The next two books, The Name of Action (1930) and Rumour at Nightfall (1932), were unsuccessful; and he later disowned them. His first true success was Stamboul Train (1932), adapted as the film Orient Express (1934).

He supplemented his novelist's income with freelance journalism, book and film reviews for The Spectator, and co-editing the magazine Night and Day, which folded in 1937. Greene's film review of Wee Willie Winkie, featuring nine-year-old Shirley Temple, cost the magazine a lost libel lawsuit. Greene's review stated that Temple displayed "a dubious coquetry" which appealed to "middle-aged men and clergymen". It is now considered one of the first criticisms of the sexualisation of children for entertainment.

Greene originally divided his fiction into two genres: thrillers (mystery and suspense books), such as The Ministry of Fear, which he described as entertainments, often with notable philosophic edges, and literary works, such as The Power and the Glory, which he described as novels, on which he thought his literary reputation was to be based.

As his career lengthened, both Greene and his readers found the distinction between entertainments and novels increasingly problematic. The last book Greene termed an entertainment was Our Man in Havana in 1958. When Travels with My Aunt was published eleven years later, many reviewers noted that Greene had designated it a novel, even though, as a work decidedly comic in tone, it appeared closer to his last two entertainments, Loser Takes All and Our Man in Havana, than to any of the novels. Greene, they speculated, seemed to have dropped the category of entertainment. This was soon confirmed. In the Collected Edition of Greene's works published in 22 volumes between 1970 and 1982, the distinction between novels and entertainments is no longer maintained. All are novels.

Greene also wrote short stories and plays, which were well-received, although he was always first and foremost a novelist. He collected the 1948 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for The Heart of the Matter. In 1986, he was awarded Britain's Order of Merit.

Greene was one of the most "cinematic" of twentieth century writers; most of his novels and many of his plays and short stories would eventually be adapted for film or television. The Internet Movie Database lists 66 titles based on Greene material between 1934 and 2010. Some novels were filmed more than once, such as Brighton Rock in 1947 and 2011, The End of the Affair in 1955 and 1999, and The Quiet American in 1958 and 2002. The early thriller A Gun for Sale was filmed at least five times under different titles. He also wrote several original screenplays. In 1949, after writing the novella as "raw material", he wrote the screenplay for the classic film noir, The Third Man, featuring Orson Welles. In 1983, The Honorary Consul, published ten years earlier, was released as a film under its original title, starring Michael Caine and Richard Gere. Michael Korda, the famous author and Hollywood script-writer, contributed a foreword and introduction to this novel in a commemorative edition.

In 2009 The Strand Magazine began to publish in serial form a newly discovered Greene novel entitled The Empty Chair. The manuscript was written in longhand when Greene was 22 and newly converted to Catholicism.


There is so much weariness and disappointment in travel that people have to open up – in railway trains, over a fire, on the decks of steamers, and in the palm courts of hotels on a rainy day. They have to pass the time somehow, and they can pass it only with themselves. Like the characters in Chekhov, they have no reserves – you learn the most intimate secrets. You get an impression of a world peopled by eccentrics, of odd professions, almost incredible stupidities, and, to balance them, amazing endurances.

Throughout his life Greene travelled far from England, to what he called the world's wild and remote places. The travels led to him being recruited into MI6 by his sister, Elisabeth, who worked for the organisation; and he was posted to Sierra Leone during the Second World War. Kim Philby, who would later be revealed as a Soviet double agent, was Greene's supervisor and friend at MI6. As a novelist he wove the characters he met and the places where he lived into the fabric of his novels.

Greene first left Europe at 30 years of age in 1935 on a trip to Liberia that produced the travel book Journey Without Maps. His 1938 trip to Mexico, to see the effects of the government's campaign of forced anti-Catholic secularisation, was paid for by Longman's, thanks to his friendship with Tom Burns.[19] That voyage produced two books, the factual The Lawless Roads (published as Another Mexico in the U.S.) and the novel The Power and the Glory. In 1953 the Holy Office informed Greene that The Power and the Glory was damaging to the reputation of the priesthood; but later, in a private audience with Greene, Pope Paul VI told him that, although parts of his novels would offend some Catholics, he should not pay attention to the criticism.[20] Greene travelled to Haiti which was under the rule of dictator François Duvalier, known as "Papa Doc", where the story of The Comedians (1966) took place. The owner of the Hotel Oloffson in Port-au-Prince, where Greene frequently stayed, named a room in his honour.

Final years

After his apparently benign involvement in a financial scandal, Greene chose to leave Britain in 1966, moving to Antibes, to be close to Yvonne Cloetta, whom he had known since 1959, a relationship that endured until his death. In 1973, Greene had an uncredited cameo appearance as an insurance company representative in François Truffaut's film Day for Night. In 1981 he was awarded the Jerusalem Prize, awarded to writers concerned with the freedom of the individual in society. One of his final works, the pamphlet J'Accuse – The Dark Side of Nice (1982), concerns a legal matter embroiling him and his extended family in Nice. He declared that organized crime flourished in Nice, because the city's upper levels of civic government had protected judicial and police corruption. The accusation provoked a libel lawsuit that he lost. In 1994, after his death, he was vindicated, when the former mayor of Nice, Jacques Médecin, was imprisoned for corruption and associated crimes.

He lived the last years of his life in Vevey, on Lake Geneva, in Switzerland, the same town Charlie Chaplin was living in at this time. He visited Chaplin often, and the two were good friends. His book Doctor Fischer of Geneva or the Bomb Party (1980) bases its themes on combined philosophic and geographic influences. He had ceased going to mass and confession in the 1950s, but in his final years began to receive the sacraments again from Father Leopoldo Durán, a Spanish priest, who became a friend. He died at age 86 of leukemia in 1991 and was buried in Corseaux cemetery.

Greene's literary agent was Jean LeRoy of Pearn, Pollinger & Higham.

Writing style and themes

The literary style of Graham Greene was described by Evelyn Waugh in Commonweal as "not a specifically literary style at all. The words are functional, devoid of sensuous attraction, of ancestry, and of independent life". Commenting on this lean, realistic prose and its readability, Richard Jones wrote in the Virginia Quarterly Review that "nothing deflects Greene from the main business of holding the reader's attention." His novels often have religious themes at the centre. In his literary criticism he attacked the modernist writers Virginia Woolf and E. M. Forster for having lost the religious sense which, he argued, resulted in dull, superficial characters, who "wandered about like cardboard symbols through a world that is paper-thin". Only in recovering the religious element, the awareness of the drama of the struggle in the soul carrying the infinite consequences of salvation and damnation, and of the ultimate metaphysical realities of good and evil, sin and divine grace, could the novel recover its dramatic power. Suffering and unhappiness are omnipresent in the world Greene depicts; and Catholicism is presented against a background of unvarying human evil, sin, and doubt. V. S. Pritchett praised Greene as the first English novelist since Henry James to present, and grapple with, the reality of evil. Greene concentrated on portraying the characters' internal lives – their mental, emotional, and spiritual depths. His stories often occurred in poor, hot, and dusty tropical backwaters, such as Mexico, West Africa, Vietnam, Cuba, Haiti, and Argentina, which led to the coining of the expression "Greeneland" to describe such settings.

A stranger with no shortage of calling cards: devout Catholic, lifelong adulterer, pulpy hack, canonical novelist; self-destructive, meticulously disciplined, deliriously romantic, bitterly cynical; moral relativist, strict theologian, salon communist, closet monarchist; civilized to a stuffy fault and louche to drugged-out distraction, anti-imperialist crusader and postcolonial parasite, self-excoriating and self-aggrandizing, to name just a few.

The Nation, describing the many facets of Graham GreeneThe novels often powerfully portray the Christian drama of the struggles within the individual soul from the Catholic perspective. Greene was criticised for certain tendencies in an unorthodox direction – in the world, sin is omnipresent to the degree that the vigilant struggle to avoid sinful conduct is doomed to failure, hence not central to holiness. Friend and fellow Catholic Evelyn Waugh attacked that as a revival of the Quietist heresy. This aspect of his work also was criticised by the theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, as giving sin a mystique. Greene responded that constructing a vision of pure faith and goodness in the novel was beyond his talents. Praise of Greene from an orthodox Catholic point of view by Edward Short is in Crisis Magazine, and a mainstream Catholic critique is presented by Joseph Pearce.

Catholicism's prominence decreased in the later writings. According to Ernest Mandel in his Delightful Murder: a Social History of the Crime Story: "Greene started out as a conservative agent of the British intelligence services, upholding such reactionary causes as the struggle of the Catholic Church against the Mexican revolution (The Power and the Glory, 1940), and arguing the necessary merciful function of religion in a context of human misery (Brighton Rock, 1938; The Heart of the Matter, 1948). The better he came to know the socio-political realities of the third world where he was operating, and the more directly he came to be confronted by the rising tide of revolution in those countries, the more his doubts regarding the imperialist cause grew, and the more his novels shifted away from any identification with the latter." The supernatural realities that haunted the earlier work declined and were replaced by a humanistic perspective, a change reflected in his public criticism of orthodox Catholic teaching. Left-wing political critiques assumed greater importance in his novels: for example, years before the Vietnam War, in The Quiet American he prophetically attacked the naive and counterproductive attitudes that were to characterize American policy in Vietnam. The tormented believers he portrayed were more likely to have faith in communism than in Catholicism.

In his later years Greene was a strong critic of American imperialism, and supported the Cuban leader Fidel Castro, whom he had met. For Greene and politics, see also Anthony Burgess' Politics in the Novels of Graham Greene. In Ways of Escape, reflecting on his Mexican trip, he complained that Mexico's government was insufficiently left-wing compared with Cuba's. In Greene's opinion, "Conservatism and Catholicism should be .... impossible bedfellows".

“ In human relationships, kindness and lies are worth a thousand truths. ” —Graham Greene

Despite his seriousness, Graham Greene greatly enjoyed parody, even of himself. In 1949, when the New Statesman held a contest for parodies of Greene's writing style, he submitted an entry under the pen name "N. Wilkinson" and won second prize. His entry comprised the first two paragraphs of a novel, apparently set in Italy, The Stranger's Hand: An Entertainment. Greene's friend, Mario Soldati, a Piedmontese novelist and film director, believed that it had the makings of a suspense film about Yugoslav spies in postwar Venice. Upon Soldati's prompting, Greene continued writing the story as the basis for a film script. Apparently he lost interest in the project, leaving it as a substantial fragment that was published posthumously in The Graham Greene Film Reader (1993) and No Man's Land (2005). The script for The Stranger's Hand was penned by veteran screenwriter Guy Elmes on the basis of Greene's unfinished story, and cinematically rendered by Soldati. In 1965 Greene again entered a similar New Statesman competition pseudonymously, and won an honourable mention.

Graham Greene International Festival

The Graham Greene International Festival is an annual four-day event of conference papers, informal talks, question and answer sessions, films, dramatised readings, music, creative writing workshops and social events. It is organised by the Graham Greene Birthplace Trust, and takes place in the writer's home town of Berkhamsted, on dates as close as possible to the anniversary of his birth. Its purpose is to promote interest in and study of the works of Graham Greene.

List is of books by Graham Greene:

  • Converted in 1926 to catholicism (Roman Catholic) - perhaps to gratify or to understand better Vivien's way of dealing with the life. She had converted some years earlier.
  • They were married in 1927.
  • In 1948 they were seperated, but never divorced according to the catholic religion.
  • He called himself an agnostic catholic.
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Graham Greene's Timeline

October 2, 1904
Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom
London, Greater London, England, United Kingdom
London, Greater London, England, United Kingdom
April 3, 1991
Age 86
Vevey, Vaud, Switzerland
Corseaux, Riviera-Pays-d'Enhaut District, Vaud, Switzerland