Greene, Graham (Henry)
GREENE, Graham (Henry)
Nationality: English. Born: Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, 2 October 1904. Education: Attended Berkhamsted School; Balliol College, Oxford, B.A. in 1925. Family: Married Vivien Dayrell in 1927; one son and one daughter. Career: Writer and sub-editor, Times, London, 1926-30; film critic, Night and Day, 1930s; film critic, 1935-39, and literary editor, 1940-41, Spectator, London; with Foreign Office in Africa, 1941-44; publisher, Eyre & Spottiswoode Ltd., 1944-48; Indo-China correspondent, New Republic, 1954; publisher, Bodley Head, London, 1958-68; member of Panamanian delegation to Washington for signing of Canal Treaty, 1977. Awards: Hawthornden prize, for The Labyrinthine Ways, 1940; James Tait Black Memorial prize, for The Heart of the Matter, 1949; Catholic Literary award, for The End of the Affair, 1952; Pietzak award, 1960; Shakespeare prize, 1968; John Dos Passos prize, 1980; medal of the city of Madrid, 1980; Jerusalem prize, 1981; Grand Cross of the Order of Vasco Nunez de Balboa, 1983; Royal Society of Literature prize. D.Litt.: Cambridge University, 1962; University of Edinburgh, 1967. Honorary degrees: Balliol College, Oxford, 1963; Moscow State University, 1988. Commander, Order of Arts and Letters, France, 1984. Order of Ruben Dario, Nicaragua, 1987. British Order of Merit, 1986. Died: Vevey, Switzerland, 3 April 1991.
The Portable Graham Greene, edited by Philip Stratford . 1973.
The Basement Room and Other Stories. 1935.
Nineteen Stories. 1947; revised as Twenty-one Stories, 1955.
The Destructors and Other Stories. 1962.
Collected Stories. 1973.
The Last Word and Other Stories. 1990.
The Man Within. 1929.
The Name of Action. 1930.
Rumour at Nightfall. 1931.
Orient Express. 1932; as Stamboul Train, 1932.
It's a Battlefield. 1934.
England Made Me. 1935; as The Shipwrecked, 1953.
The Bear Fell Free. 1935.
This Gun for Hire. 1936.
Brighton Rock. 1938.
The Confidential Agent. 1939.
Another Mexico. 1939.
The Labyrinthine Ways. 1940.
The Ministry of Fear. 1943.
The Heart of the Matter. 1948.
The Third Man. 1950.
The End of the Affair. 1951.
The Quiet American. 1955.
Loser Takes All. 1955.
Our Man in Havana. 1958.
A Burnt-out Case. 1961.
A Sense of Reality. 1963.
The Comedians. 1966.
May We Borrow Your Husband? And Other Comedies of the Sexual Life. 1967.
Travels with My Aunt. 1969.
The Honorary Consul. 1973.
Lord Rochester's Monkey, Being the Life of John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester. 1974.
The Human Factor. 1978.
Dr. Fischer of Geneva; or The Bomb Party. 1980.
Ways of Escape. 1981.
Monsignor Quixote. 1982.
J'accuse: The Dark Side of Nice. 1982.
Getting to Know the General: The Story of an Involvement. 1984.
The Tenth Man. 1985.
The Captain and the Enemy. 1984.
The Living Room. 1953.
The Potting Shed. 1957.
The Complaisant Lover. 1959.
Three Plays. 1961.
Carving a Statue. 1964.
The Return of A. J. Raffles. 1975.
Yes and No and For Whom the Bell Chimes. 1983.
Twenty-one Days, with Basil Dean, 1937; Brighton Rock, with Terence Rattigan, 1946; The Fallen Idol, 1948; Loser Takes All, 1956; Saint Joan, 1957; Our Man in Havana, 1960; The Third Man: A Film, with Carol Reed, 1968.
Babbling April. 1925.
This Little Fire Engine. 1950.
The Little Horse Bus. 1952.
The Little Steamroller. 1955.
The Little Train. 1957.
Journey without Maps (travelogue). 1936.
British Dramatists. 1942.
The Lost Childhood and Other Essays. 1951.
3: This Gun for Hire; The Confidential Agent; The Ministry of Fear. 1952.
In Search of a Character: Two African Journals. 1961.
The Travel Books: Journey without Maps and The Lawless Roads. 1963.
Victorian Detective Fiction: A Catalogue of the Collection, with Dorothy Craigie. 1966.
Collected Essays. 1969.
A Sort of Life (autobiography). 1971.
Graham Greene on Film: Collected Film Criticism, 1935-1940. 1972.
Yours, ets.: Letters to the Press, 1945-1989. 1989.
The Graham Greene Film Reader: Reviews, Essays, Interviews & Film Stories. 1994.
A World of My Own: A Dream Diary. 1994.
Editor, The Old School. 1934.
Editor, The Best of Saki, by H. H. Munro. 1952.
Editor, with Hugh Greene, The Spy's Bedside Book. 1957.
Editor, The Viper of Milan, by Marjorie Bowen. 1960.
Editor, The Bodly Head Ford Madox Ford. 1962.
Editor, An Impossible Woman: The Memories of Dottoressa, Moor of Capri. 1976.
Editor, with Hugh Greene, Victorian Villainies. 1984.*
The Labyrinthine Ways of Graham Greene by Francis L. Kunkel, 1957; Graham Greene: Some Critical Considerations, edited by R. O. Evans, 1963; Graham Greene by L. A. DeVitis, 1964; Graham Greene by David Lodge, 1966; The Other Man: Conversations with Graham Greene by Marie-Francoise Allain, 1983; Graham Greene: Man of Paradox, edited by A. F. Cassis, 1994; Graham Greene: The Aesthetics of Exploration by Gwenn R. Boardman, 1971; Graham Greene: An Intimate Portrait by His Closest Friend and Confidant by Leopoldo Duraan, 1994; Graham Greene: The Enemy Within by Michael Sheldon, 1994; Graham Greene by Peter Mudford, 1996; Fighting Evil: Unsung Heroes in the Novels of Graham Greene by Haim Gordon, 1997; The World Remade: Graham Greene and the Art of Detection by Elliott Malamet, 1997.* * *
Even though Graham Greene is primarily known as a novelist, his short stories are still read and widely anthologized. Critics vary widely in their evaluations of his stories, some seeing them as merely incidental to his more significant novels, others finding them at their best equal to his longer works of fiction. In his introduction to Collected Stories, Greene revealed that early in his career as a writer of short stories he looked upon the genre as inferior to the novel. At that early stage he thought that "in the short story I knew everything before I began to write," but his opinion changed over the years, and he discovered that there were "surprises" awaiting the author as he wrote a story.
Greene's large output of stories includes a wide variety of types: straightforward narratives, anecdotes, fantasies, fables, farces, and philosophical journeys into the darkest areas of the characters' souls. Many employ a first-person narrator, often identifying himself as an author, who speaks directly to the reader as though engaged in conversation, and a few are little more than dialogues between two characters, much in the style of Ernest Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants." Just as Greene chose to identify some of his novels as "entertainments" in order to distinguish them from those he considered more serious works, so he might have done the same with the stories.
The stories range from a light anecdote such as "The Blue Film," in which a man takes his wife, who is demanding a new adventure, to see a pornographic film only to find that it was one in which he had appeared years ago, to "The Hint of an Explanation," a philosophical inquiry into man's relationship to religion. The anecdotal quality of "The Blue Film" is in stark contrast to the serious moral problem examined in the latter story. Critics have often pointed out that Greene's work as a scriptwriter and his years as a film reviewer exerted a powerful influence on his fiction, and indeed there is a strong pictorial sense in most of his stories, with scenes unfolding as they would on the screen.
Among Greene's stories there are a number of farces that are filled with bizarre humor and slapstick but that comment cogently on the foibles of human nature. In "The Root of All Evil," which is set in a nineteenth-century German village, Herr Puckler is so obnoxious that the other men of the neighborhood gather in secret to drink so as to exclude him from their gatherings. Puckler concludes that they have formed a secret society, and since such organizations are illegal, he reports them to the police. He dresses as a woman and bakes pastries for their parties and, in the process, manages to get himself killed. The story, which Greene says in his introduction to Collected Stories originated in its entirety in a dream, is a parable that was told to the narrator by his father as a lesson against secrecy.
In another farce, "A Shocking Accident," Jerome, a boy in an English boarding school, has always imagined that his father, a travel writer, was in reality a daring spy or hero of some kind. He discovers, however, that his father has been killed when a pig living on a balcony in Italy became so fat that the balcony collapsed and the pig fell on him. Jerome spends years avoiding telling the story, which almost always evokes laughter. Later, however, he meets a young woman he loves, who, when she learns the truth about his father's death, is horrified, while Jerome, ironically, is delighted by her response. As in this story and "The Root of All Evil," Greene often portrays deaths that are bizarre and oddly humorous, in contrast to the more traditional approach.
Greene wrote several fables and parables, including "Beauty," a brief anecdotal tale in which the title character, a gorgeous Pekingese dog in Antibes, slinks away from his possessive owner, an obnoxiously loud, middle-aged American woman, to seek rotten food in a trash can. As the woman stands on her balcony calling her pet, the narrator almost pities the woman, "calling for her lost Beauty," while the Pekingese revels in the garbage. "Awful When You Think of It," a fantasy and a fable, relates the story of a man carrying on an imaginary conversation with a baby on a train and guessing what the baby will grow up to be.
Greene uses a variety of settings for his tales, including English villages and cities, European locales, jungles, and other outposts in Africa and the Far East. His characters, as well, are a variety of types drawn from all of the British class levels as well as from other countries. One quality many of them share is a down-and-out sleaziness, and Greene seems inclined to write about those whose fortunes have failed or who have never been granted any good luck. All of them, the lowly and those from the upper class, tend to be in one way or another immoral, and the author repeatedly demonstrates his belief in the prevalence of corruption and shows the marks it has left on humanity. Indeed, he seems not particularly interested in so-called good people, and if his characters are in the beginning of their story moral, they almost inevitably change. This can be seen, for example, in "A Chance for Mr. Lever," another of Greene's own favorites.
Although Greene always insisted that he was not a Catholic writer but rather a writer who happened to be a Roman Catholic, it is clear that religion is a shaping influence in his fiction. Original sin and its effects on human nature are always on display in his stories, and the most interesting of his characters are frequently not the highly moral ones but those who are the greatest sinners. He is intrigued with sin and its effects and seems to share the view of his protagonist in the story "Cheap in August," who thinks that failure is worse than sin, "for sins have glamour." He repeatedly returns to religion and spiritual themes, notably guilt and God's movement in the affairs of men, as in "The Hint of an Explanation," in which an agnostic baker attempts to bribe an altar boy to bring him a consecrated wafer from the Catholic mass. (It is interesting that Greene took a venerable cautionary tale used by nuns to teach children the significance of communion and converted it into one of his stories.)
The plot often takes Greene's characters into "the heart of darkness," either literally or figuratively or both. The title character in "A Chance for Mr. Lever," a machinery salesman fallen on hard times, takes on the assignment of finding a man named Davidson somewhere in the jungles of Liberia in order to get his endorsement for a new invention. In a journey reminiscent of the work of Joseph Conrad, Lever, basically an honest man, moves far from his ordered view of the world to see it as chaotic and amoral. When he finds Davidson unconscious, dying of yellow fever, Lever "was lost and he was set free" at the same time, and the ethical code that had shaped his actions in the past, intended to make one happy and successful, seems to him meaningless in this setting. He forges a letter from Davidson endorsing the invention and sets out happily for home, unaware that he has been bitten by a mosquito carrying yellow fever.
Greene, like William Golding in Lord of the Flies, perceives clearly and employs to effect a belief in natural depravity that is a part even of the nature of children. He is aware as well of the terrors and loneliness that are often a part of childhood. In "The Destructors," which Greene listed as one of his favorites, a group of young boys in London during World War II come home under the control of a brilliant and frightening youth named Trevor. Under his guidance they demolish an ancient house that was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, not out of hatred for the elderly man who resides there but merely for the joy of destroying it. The reader is shocked by the depths of depravity in Trevor but not by the ease with which he converts the others to his cause. Greene's belief in the blend of good and evil in human nature is symbolized in the narrator's comment on another contrast, that between building and destroying—"destruction after all is a form of creation." When the house is no more than a shell, waiting for the final coup de grâce, the narrator observes that "a kind of imagination had seen the house as it had now become." The ultimate horror is that the old man, who has lost his home and everything he owns, is greeted only with laughter from the man who releases him from the privy in which the hoodlums have locked him as they complete their destruction.
Children frequently figure significantly in Greene's stories, more often than not in ways that are disturbing, even terrifying. The fear that is a part of the consciousness of most youths is chillingly demonstrated in the horror tale "The End of the Party," which is reminiscent of certain Henry James stories and of D. H. Lawrence's "The Rocking Horse Winner." Although Peter and Francis Morton are identical twins and have a power of silent communication between them, they differ in several ways. Because Peter was born a few minutes before his brother, Francis is terrified of being alone in the darkness, and he pleads not to have to go to a birthday party, agonizing over the inevitable game of hide-and-seek that he knows awaits them. He is forced to attend, and during the game, with all of the lights extinguished, Peter, knowing intuitively where his brother will hide, quickly finds him in the darkness, touches him, and whispers that all will be well. They huddle there until the game is over, the lights are turned on, and Peter and the others realize that Francis has died of fright. Only then is the final horror, reminiscent of some of Ambrose Bierce's tales, particularly "Chickamauga," and of Henry James's The Turn of the Screw, revealed. Peter discovers that, despite the fact that his brother is dead, he can still feel his brother's fear, even though Francis has now gone "where he had always been told there was no more terror and no more darkness."
Stylistically, Greene tends to write in a straightforward, often conversational tone that is low-key and understated, even when the action involved is violent or shocking. His dialogue is realistic, often employed to reveal the lack of communication between characters, clearly one of the author's major motifs. Blended with the direct narrative voice, however, there is a heavily satirical tone. Greene is always acutely aware of the irony often found in a sequence of events involving human beings. The irony of the conclusion of "A Chance for Mr. Lever" is characteristic of the typical Greene story. In "When Greek Meets Greek," for example, a con man sets up a phony correspondence university during World War I and is himself cheated in turn by a phony nobleman. The ultimate irony of the story involves the children of the two crooks, who meet, fall in love, and decide to marry. In "The Invisible Japanese Gentleman" an aspiring author who prides herself on her powers of observation fails to observes the most obvious details around her.
In the introduction to Collected Stories, Greene describes the act of creative writing as an "escape" from "the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear which is inherent in the human situation." As his career progressed, he came to look upon the short story as "escapes from the novelist's world," and his range of styles and methods grew wider and more complex through the long decades of his productivity.
See the essay on "May We Borrow Your Husband?"