The works of the English novelist and dramatist Graham Greene (1904-1991) explore different permutations of morality and amorality in modern society, and often feature exotic settings in different parts of the world. A storyteller with a spare and elegant style, he divided his literary output into two categories. The first identified his long, serious works as "novels", while the second, which he called "entertainments", were shorter, taut-paced political thrillers with boldly-defined characters designed to satisfy the reader whose main concern is plot rather than theme. He also wrote screenplays and dramas, but they have not stood the test of time as steadfastly as his fiction, which has been translated into 27 languages.
Graham Greene was born on October 2, 1904, in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, in England. He was one of six children born to Charles Henry Greene, headmaster of Berkhamsted School, and Marion R. Greene. He did not enjoy his childhood, often preferring to skip classes rather than endure the baiting of his fellow students. When Greene suffered a mental collapse, his parents sent him to London for psychotherapy administered by a student of the famous Sigmund Freud. While he was living there, he became a voracious reader and began to write poetry. Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein became lifelong mentors to him before he returned to high school.
After graduating in 1922, Greene went on to Oxford University's Balliol College. When he was a junior in 1924, he contacted the German embassy and offered to write some pro-German articles for an Oxford paper. Intrigued, an embassy official accepted his offer, and sent him on an all-expenses-paid trip to the Rhineland, where Germany and France were vying for superiority in the creation of a separatist republic. As promised, Greene returned from Germany and wrote an article favoring Germany in the Oxford Chronicle of May 9, 1924.
His next attempt to enliven his studies brought him to a flirtation with the Communist party, which he abandoned after a mere six weeks, though he later wrote sympathetic profiles of Fidel Castro and Ho Chi Minh. Otherwise, Greene spent his vacations at Oxford roaming the English countryside. Despite all these efforts to distract himself from his studies, he graduated from Oxford in 1925 with a second-class pass in history, and a slender, badly-received volume of poetry with the effusive title Babbling April.
The following year Greene decided to convert from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism, the religion of his fiancee. The shift brought him a new perspective in his search for the origins of human morality and amorality.
The same year he began his professional writing career as an unpaid apprentice for the Nottingham Journal, moving on later to become a subeditor for the London Times. The experience was a positive one for him, and he held this position until the publication of his first novel, The Man Within (1929). Here he began to develop the characteristic themes he later pursued so effectively: betrayal, pursuit, and the yearning for death.
His next works, Name of Action (1931) and Rumour at Nightfall (1931), were not well-received by critics, but Greene regained their respect with the first book he classed as an entertainment. Called Stamboul Train in England, it was published in 1932 in the United States as Orient Express. The story revolves around a group of travelers on the Orient Express, a setting mysterious enough to permit a large helping of melodrama and grotesque character-building. Journey without Maps, published in 1936, was a travelogue, detailing Greene's fascination with the lush and decadent outposts of colonization.
Twelve years after his conversion, Greene published Brighton Rock (1938), a novel with a highly melodramatic plot full of sexual and violent imagery that explored the interplay between abnormal behavior and morality.
The entertainment The Confidential Agent was published in 1939, as was the work The Lawless Roads, a journal of Greene's travels in Mexico in 1938. Here he had seen widespread persecution of Catholic priests, which he documented in his journal along with a description of a drunken priest's execution. The incident made such an impression upon him that this victim became the hero of The Power and the Glory, the novel considered by Greene to be his best.
During the years of World War II Greene slipped out of England and went to West Africa to do some clandestine intelligence work for the British Government. The result, a novel called The Heart of the Matter appeared in 1948, and greatly appealed to American readers.
Steadily, Greene produced a succession of works that received both praise and crtiticism. He was considered for the Nobel Prize but failed to become a candidate. Still, many other honors were bestowed upon him, including a 1966 accolade from Queen Elizabeth as a Companion of Honor, and the Order of Merit, a much higher honor, in 1986.
In 1979 Greene underwent surgery for intestinal cancer, but had no lasting ill-effects. However, in 1990, he was stricken with an unspecified blood disease so debilitating that he decided to move from his home in Antibes, the South of France, to Vevey, Switzerland, so that he could be closer to his daughter. He lingered until the beginning of spring, then died on April 3rd, 1991, in La Povidence Hospital.
Full-length studies of Greene include John A. Atkins, Graham Greene (1957; rev. ed. 1966); Francis L. Kunkel, The Labyrinthine Ways of Graham Greene (1959); Lynette Kohn, Graham Greene, The Major Novels (1961); A. A. De Vitis, Graham Greene (1964); and David Lodge, Graham Greene (1966). For a variety of opinions on Greene's work see Robert O. Evans, ed., Graham Greene: Some Critical Considerations (1963). François Mauriac, Men I Hold Great (1951), discusses Greene.
Shelden, Michael, Graham Greene: The Enemy Within, Random House, 1994.
New York Times, (April 4, 1991). □
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The works of the English writer Graham Greene explore issues of right and wrong in modern society, and often feature exotic settings in different parts of the world.
Graham Greene was born on October 2, 1904, in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, in England. He was one of six children born to Charles Henry Greene, headmaster of Berkhamsted School, and Marion R. Greene, whose first cousin was the famed writer Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894). He did not enjoy his childhood, and often skipped classes in order to avoid the constant bullying by his fellow classmates. At one point Greene even ran away from home.
When Greene began suffering from mental and emotional problems, his parents sent him to London for psychotherapy (the treatment of a mentally or emotionally disturbed person through verbal communication) by a student of the famous Sigmund Freud (1856–1939). While he was living there, Greene developed his love for literature and began to write poetry. Writers Ezra Pound (1885–1972) and Gertrude Stein (1874–1946) became lifelong mentors (teachers) to him before he returned to high school.
After graduating in 1922, Greene went on to Oxford University's Balliol College. There, Greene amused himself with travel as well as spending six weeks as a member of the Communist Party, a political party that supports communism, a system of government in which the goods and services of a country are owned and distributed by the government. Though he quickly abandoned his Communist beliefs, Greene later wrote sympathetic profiles of Communist leaders Fidel Castro (1926–) and Ho Chi Minh (1890–1969). Despite all these efforts to distract himself from his studies, he graduated from Oxford in 1925 with a second-class pass in history, and a poorly received volume of poetry with the title Babbling April.
In 1926 he began his professional writing career as an unpaid apprentice (working in order to learn a trade) for the Nottingham Journal, moving on later to the London Times. The experience was a positive one for him, and he held his position as an assistant editor until the publication of his first novel, The Man Within (1929). Here he began to develop the characteristic themes he later pursued so effectively: betrayal, pursuit, and death.
His next works, Name of Action (1931) and Rumour at Nightfall (1931), were not well received by critics, but Greene regained their respect with the first book he classed as an entertainment piece. Called Stamboul Train in England, it was published in 1932 in the United States as Orient Express. The story revolves around a group of travellers on a train, the Orient Express, a mysterious setting that allowed the author to develop his strange characters with drama and suspense.
Twelve years after Greene converted from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism, he published Brighton Rock (1938), a novel with a highly dramatic and suspenseful plot full of sexual and violent imagery that explored the interplay between abnormal behavior and morality, the quality of good conduct. The Confidential Agent was published in 1939, as was the work The Lawless Roads, a journal of Greene's travels in Mexico in 1938. Here he had seen widespread persecution (poor treatment) of Catholic priests, which he documented in his journal along with a description of a drunken priest's execution (public killing). The incident made such an impression upon him that this victim became the hero of The Power and the Glory, the novel Greene considers to be his best.
During the years of World War II (1939–45: when Germany, Italy, and Japan fought against France, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and the United States [from 1941 until the end of the war]) Greene slipped out of England and went to West Africa as a secret intelligence (gathering secret information) officer for the British government. The result, a novel called The Heart of the Matter, appeared in 1948, and was well received by American readers.
Steadily, Greene produced a series of works that received both praise and criticism. He was considered for the Nobel Prize for Literature but never won the award. Still, many other honors were given to him, including the Companion of Honor award by Queen Elizabeth in 1966, and the Order of Merit, a much higher honor, in 1986.
In 1990 Greene was stricken with an unspecified blood disease, which weakened him so much that he moved from his home in Antibes, the South of France, to Vevey, Switzerland, to be closer to his daughter. He lingered until the beginning of spring, then died on April 3, 1991, in La Povidence Hospital in Vevey, Switzerland.
For More Information
Greene, Graham. Graham Greene: Man of Paradox. Edited by A. F. Cassis. Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1994.
Shelden, Michael. Graham Greene: The Enemy Within. New York: Random House, 1994.
Sherry, Norman. The Life of Graham Greene. New York: Viking, 1989.
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A film actor who has found success in both Canada and the United States, Graham Greene (born 1952) is a full-blood Oneida, born on the Six Nations Reserve in southwestern Ontario in the early 1950s.
Graham Greene, one of the most visible Native American actors working on the stage and in film today, is probably best known for his roles in the popular films Dances with Wolves and Thunderheart. Greene was the second of six children born on the Six Nations reserve near Brantford, Ontario, to John, an ambulance driver and maintenance man, and Lillian Greene. At the age of 16, Greene dropped out of school and went to Rochester, New York, where he worked at a carpet warehouse. Two years later he studied welding at George Brown College in Toronto, then worked at a Hamilton factory, building railway cars. In the 1970s Greene worked as a roadie and sound man for Toronto rock bands and ran a recording studio in Ancaster, Ontario. He has also worked as a high-steelworker, landscape gardener, factory laborer, carpenter, and bartender.
Greene took his first acting role (a Native American) in 1974 as part of the now-defunct Toronto theater company, Ne'er-Do-Well Thespians. In 1980 he played a Native American alcoholic in The Crackwalker by Judith Thompson, and in the 1982 theater production of Jessica, co-authored by Linda Griffiths, he played the role of The Crow. In the 1980s Greene worked with the Theatre Passe Muraille, acting in an "irreverent set of plays, The History of the Village of the Small Huts." When not acting, he welded sets and worked lights.
The first film role Greene took came in 1982 in the movie Running Brave; he played a friend of Native American track star Billy Mills. Two years later, in 1984, Greene played a Huron extra in Revolution, a movie about the U.S. War of Independence which was shot in England and starred Al Pacino. In the meantime, Greene had a daughter by Toronto actress Carol Lazare in 1981. The death of his father in 1984, however, started what Greene described in a Maclean's interview with Brian D. Johnson as a "period of fast cars and guns." Moving to the country around the same time, Greene found himself out of work and selling hand-painted t-shirts in Toronto by 1988.
Events took another upward turn in 1989 when Greene played a cameo role as Jimmy, an emotionally disturbed Lakota Vietnam veteran, in PowWow Highway. That same year he received the Dora Mavor Moore Award of Toronto for Best Actor in his role as Pierre St. Pierre in Cree author Tomson Highway's play Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing.
Lands Key Role in Dances with Wolves
Greene's largest film success came with the 1990 production of Dances with Wolves; the role of Kicking Bird, a Lakota holy man who befriends Kevin Costner, brought Greene an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in 1991. And Greene's personal life moved forward at the same time. While shooting Dances with Wolves, he married Hilary Blackmore, a Toronto stage manager. As his film career took off, Greene continued his theater work, playing "a toothless, beer-guzzling Indian buffoon" in an all-native cast of Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing. Television also came into the picture in 1990 when Greene played a Navajo lawyer in "L.A. Law," and Leonard, a Native American shaman, on the series "Northern Exposure."
Apart from his supporting role in Dances with Wolves, and his brief cameo appearance in PowWow Highway, Greene is probably most popular for his role as the mystical, murderous, Native activist Arthur in the 1991 Canadian movie Clearcut, based on Toronto writer M. T. Kelly's novel A Dream Like Mine. Two other movie roles that display Greene's acting talents were undertaken by the actor in 1992: the role of Ishi, the last Native American in California to live completely apart from U.S.-Anglo culture, in the made-for-television movie The Last of His Tribe; and the role of Lakota tribal policeman Walter Crow Horse in Thunderheart, a drama loosely based on events in Oglala, South Dakota, in which two FBI agents were shot and killed.
Also among Greene's more recent works is the 1991 adventure movie Lost in the Barrens; the role of a baseball catcher in the 1992 TNT movie Cooperstown with Alan Arkin; the role of an Anishinabe/Ojibway grandfather living on the reservation in the made-for-television children's movie Wonder Works Spirit Rider; the Native mentor in Huck and the King of Hearts-a loose and modern adaptation of the adventures of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn; a local sheriff in the movie Benefit of the Doubt with Donald Sutherland; and a role in the film Maverick with Mel Gibson, Jody Foster, and James Garner.
Greene's future is also full. He appears in the movie of Thomas King's Green Grass, Running Water, and in the television movie The Broken Chain with other Native actors Wes Studi, Eric Schweig, and Floyd Red Crow Westerman. Overall, Greene has had roles in over 13 stage performances and more than 30 movie and television productions. □
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Graham Greene (Henry Graham Greene), 1904–91, English novelist and playwright. Although most of his works combine elements of the detective story, the spy thriller, and the psychological drama, his novels are essentially parables of the damned. Greene's heroes realize their sins and achieve salvation only through great pain and soul-searching agony. A Roman Catholic convert (1926), he was intensely concerned with the moral problems of humans in relation to God. Some of his 26 novels have been ranked as thrillers, and Greene himself called such works as Stamboul Train (1932; U.S. title, Orient Express) and The Ministry of Fear (1943)
to distinguish them from his more serious efforts. His major works, which include Brighton Rock (1938), The Power and the Glory (1940), The Heart of the Matter (1948), and The End of the Affair (1951), mark him as a novelist of high distinction.
Greene was a superb journalist, a sometime British spy, and a world traveler, often courting danger in various international wars and revolutions and participating in local high and low life in dozens of famous and obscure corners of Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Many of his novels are set in locations with which he had personal experience, sites often of topical journalistic interest: The Quiet American (1955) a prescient account of early American involvement in Vietnam; Our Man in Havana (1958), set in Cuba; A Burnt-Out Case (1961), in the Belgian Congo just before its independence; The Comedians (1966), in François Duvalier's Haiti; and The Captain and the Enemy (1980), in Panama. His fine sense of comedy is displayed in the short-story collection May We Borrow Your Husband? (1967) and the novel Travels with My Aunt (1969). Greene also wrote several plays, including The Living Room (1953) and The Potting Shed (1957), both thinly disguised religious dramas, and The Complaisant Lover (1959), a witty and intelligent play about marriage and infidelity. He also is noted for his essays, travel books, film criticism, and film scripts, including the mystery melodrama The Third Man (1950).
See his autobiographies (1971, 1980) and his posthumously published A World of My Own: A Dream Diary (1995); S. Hazzard, Greene on Capri: A Memoir (2000); R. Greene, ed., Graham Greene: A Life in Letters (2008); biographies by M. Shelden (1994) and N. Sherry (3 vol., 1989–2004); studies by H. J. Donaghy (1983), A. A. De Vitis (1986), and J. Meyers, ed. (1990).
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J. A. Cannon
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Greene, (Henry) Graham
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Novelist; b. Berkhamsted, England, Oct. 2, 1904; d. Vevey, Switzerland, April 3, 1991.
After completing public school Greene was sent to Balliol College at Oxford in 1922, where he studied modern history. In 1925, he began a career in journalism, first with the Nottingham Journal for six months and then as subeditor with the Times of London, where he stayed until 1930. His efforts at getting published were ineffectual until his third novel, The Man Within (1929), which proved a success with both readers and critics.
Among Greene's early successes were Stamboul Train (1932; American title, Orient Express ), A Gun for Sale (1936; American title, This Gun for Hire ), and The Confidential Agent (1939). During this early period Greene experienced two important changes: his conversion to Roman Catholicism and his marriage. The events were linked by the fact that his future wife, Vivien Dayrell-Browning, was Catholic. He took instructions from Father Trollope at the cathedral in Nottingham and was accepted into the Church in 1926. The next year he married Vivien, and from that marriage came a daughter, Lucy Caroline (m. Bourget), and a son, Francis. By the close of 1939, however, the marriage had begun to disintegrate, and after the war Greene and his wife separated permanently.
The publication and reception of Brighton Rock in 1938 pointed the way toward Greene's strengthening grip on stories that brought issues of faith and politics to bear on each other. Brighton Rock was followed by The Power and the Glory (1940), The Heart of the Matter (1948), and The End of the Affair (1951). In each of these novels Greene depicts a character whose actions and beliefs force the reader to question the nature of the life of faith, of the ways in which saint and sinner are two halves of one being, and the difficulties that lie in the way of defining goodness and evil in conventional moral terms. In Brighton Rock that character is the malevolent teenage hoodlum Pinkie; in The Power and the Glory, the deeply flawed but committed whisky priest; in The Heart of the
Matter, the excruciatingly conscientious Major Scobie; and in The End of the Affair, the emotionally trapped and burdened Sarah Miles. In these protagonists and in others in his later fiction Greene created personalities that speak to readers of all faiths about abiding issues of religious belief and commitment.
During World War II Greene was an air-raid warden and later an agent in MI6, the counterintelligence arm of the British Secret Service. From 1941 to 1943 he served in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and from 1943 to 1944 he served in London in the Iberian section under the notorious Kim Philby. Greene remained a friend and staunch defender of Philby after the latter's defection to the Soviet Union in 1963. Greene's career in intelligence came to an end in 1944, but his fascination with it found voice in several novels, most notably The Ministry of Fear (1943), The Third Man (1950), The Quiet American (1955), Our Man in Havana (1958), and The Human Factor (1966).
In the 1950s and 1960s Greene continued to produce novels and short stories, plays, children's books, and essays. He also wrote two remarkable film scripts (The Third Man and The Fallen Idol ), and accounts of journeys to areas of political and social crisis, such as Malaya, Kenya, Indochina, Haiti, Cuba, and the Congo. He reported on events for Life, Paris-Match, the Sunday Times, Le Figaro, and the Sunday Telegraph, and conducted a soberer but no less distinguished career as a director of the publishing firm the Bodley Head. His retirement from the business side of publishing came in 1968, but his writing career continued unabated until 1985, when he experienced a waning of his writing powers. Most of his last years were spent in residence in a small flat in Antibes, France, writing and giving occasional interviews. To the time of his death from complications caused by a blood disease at age 86, Greene remained a dedicated writer, producing late in life one of his finest books, The Honorary Consul (1973), in which he blends his usual concerns with both politics and religion in a tale of terrorism. Greene considered it his best work, though many readers continue to prefer the earlier novels of faith and disillusionment.
Although Greene came to detest the epithet "Catholic novelist," it is difficult not to think of him as one of the preeminent Catholic novelists of the twentieth century. Like his fellow authors Georges Bernanos, Ignazio Silone, and François Mauriac, Greene brought issues of faith and creed to bear powerfully on the lives of his characters. In his writings he raised important questions about the nature of evil, of God, of sin, and the relationship between conventional moral imperatives and the deeper, more profound question of the reality of evil. Although his fictional techniques strike many critics today as conventional and "high modern," it is no secret that his works continue to draw large readerships and to increase yearly in stature.
Bibliography: j. adamson, Graham Greene and Cinema (Norman, OK 1984). m. f. allain, The Other Man: Conversations with Graham Greene, g. waldeman, trans. (New York 1983); originally published in French as L'autre et son double (Paris 1981). m. couto, Graham Greene: On the Frontier (New York 1988). a. a. devitis, Graham Greene (rev. ed.; Boston 1986). s. hynes, ed., Graham Greene: A Collection of Critical Essays (Englewood Cliffs, NJ 1973). r. h. miller, Understanding Graham Greene (Columbia, SC 1990). r. sharrock, Saints, Sinners, and Comedians: The Novels of Graham Greene (Notre Dame, IN 1984). n. sherry, The Life of Graham Greene, Vol. I (London and New York 1989). p. stratford, Faith and Fiction: Creative Process in Greene and Mauriac (Notre Dame 1964).
[r. h. miller]
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BORN: 1904, Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, England
DIED: 1991, Vevey, Switzerland
GENRE: Travel, nonfiction, fiction
The Power and the Glory (1940)
The Heart of the Matter (1948)
The End of the Affair (1951)
The Quiet American (1955)
Ways of Escape (1980)
Graham Greene's life and literature were played out on a global stage; he traveled widely and wrote works set in locales as disparate as Hanoi and Havana, Liberia and Lithuania, Mexico and Malaysia. His works focused on the borders and conflicts between the European world and
the “other” world abroad. During Greene's lifetime— which spanned two world wars and the advent of the nuclear age—he documented the changes that affected both strong empires and struggling nations.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
A Restless Youth Born in Berkhamsted, England, in 1904, Greene as a child was a passionate reader of books. His father was headmaster of a local school, and his mother was a first cousin of noted author Robert Louis Stevenson.
Greene entered his father's school in 1915 and left in 1921, when he was seventeen. Greene continued his education at Oxford, where he received a BA from Balliol College in 1925. His restlessness and sense of adventure, however, had already taken hold. While still a student, he made a long walking trip in Ireland, and, in the same year that he took his degree at Oxford, his first book was published: a collection of poetry, Babbling April, which critics saw as imitative.
Greene met his future wife, Vivien Dayrell-Browning, shortly before leaving Oxford in 1925, and he began an intense courtship that precipitated his conversion to her religion, Catholicism, a year before their marriage in 1927. This conversion proved to be more than a matter of expedience. Greene's Catholicism deeply influenced his work. Many of his novels, including Brighton Rock (1938), The Power and the Glory, The End of the
Affair (1951), and others, center around religious faith and morality.
Writer and Spy Greene held jobs at the British American Tobacco Company and the Nottingham Journal (both of which he found tedious) before landing a subeditor's position at the Times of London. At the Times he advanced steadily from 1926 until the success of his first novel in 1929, at which point he became a full-time writer. Greene also wrote film criticism for Night and Day and the Spectator in the 1930s.
Greene went to Mexico in the late winter of 1937– 1938. He had been commissioned by a London publishing house, Longmans, Green, to study the plight of the Mexican Catholic Church, which had for over a decade been engaged in a running feud with the revolutionary government—the government having decided to enforce a clause in the revolutionary constitution that would prevent clergymen from voting or commenting on public affairs. His experiences in Mexico inspired one of his greatest novels, The Power and the Glory. Then, during World War II, Greene again found himself in the thick of things, if also on the periphery; he worked several months with the Ministry of Information and later served with the British Foreign Office in Sierra Leone and Nigeria, experiences that inform his spy thrillers and adventure stories, including the 1948 novel The Heart of the Matter.
Success in Print and on Screen Greene and his wife permanently separated in 1947 after she discovered he had a mistress, an American woman named Catherine Walston. Though his private life was troubled, Greene's career was taking flight. He wrote the screenplay for director Orson Welles's classic film noir The Third Man, which won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival in 1949. Greene's affair with Walston inspired his 1950 novel The End of the Affair (in fact, the novel was dedicated to her). This acclaimed work was adapted for film in 1955 and again in 1999.
Prescient Novels of International Intrigue World travel was an integral part of Greene's life and work. His impressions and experiences during his trips, recorded in his nonfiction, contributed to the authenticity of detail and setting in his novels. Greene traveled to Cuba, the Belgian Congo, Russia, Brazil, Tunisia, Romania, East Germany, and Haiti.
Greene's increasingly international political enthusiasms provided the background to many of his postwar novels, from The Quiet American (1955), set in Vietnam, to The Human Factor (1978), which explains Cold War espionage. The Quiet American, in particular, offers a realistic picture of how American involvement in the French war to retain control over what was at the time the French colony of Indochina (and what is now called Vietnam) might eventually lead to a full-scale American military commitment in the region. Indeed it did: within ten years America found itself increasingly involved in what became the Vietnam War.
Greene's 1958 novel Our Man in Havana is a comic spy story about British intelligence agents working to uncover information on a secret Cuban military installation. The novels seems in some ways to predict the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.
A Citizen of the World Dies in Switzerland In the 1960s and 1970s Greene's popularity continued to grow with the success of such works of fiction as The Comedians (1966), Travels with My Aunt: A Novel (1969), and The Honorary Consul (1973). Although he also produced two volumes of memoirs, A Sort of Life in 1971 and Ways of Escape in 1980, Greene undertook no further travel narratives as such, but he did write one extended “biography-travel book escapist yarn memoir,” as J. D. Reed, the reviewer for Time magazine, jokingly called it. Published in 1984, Getting to Know the General, Greene's account of his friendship with Panamanian strongman Omar Torrijos, once again took Greene to the borderland between privilege and squalor, and idealism and cynicism that he had encountered in West Africa and Mexico.
LITERARY AND HISTORICAL CONTEMPORARIES
Greene's famous contemporaries include:
Robert Graves (1895–1985): an English poet, novelist, and scholar best known for his First World War memoir and his historical fiction.
Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961): an American novelist and journalist whose economical writing style had a significant influence on twentieth-century fiction.
Evelyn Waugh (1903–1966): an English writer best known for his satirical novels, he was widely popular with both readers and critics.
W. H. Auden (1907–1973): an Anglo-American poet, widely regarded as one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century because of his stylistic and technical achievements along with his engagement with moral and political issues.
Fidel Castro (1926–): Castro led the Cuban Revolution and ruled the country from 1959 until 2008.
Greene died in Vevey, Switzerland, on April 3, 1991.
Works in Literary Context
Greene's work is as paradoxical as the man himself. He is repeatedly ranked among the great serious novelists of the twentieth century, yet his books have had enormous success in mass culture as well. He is one of the twentieth-century novelists most frequently and successfully adapted for film. Yet, in spite of its modern cinematic nature, his prose owes virtually nothing to the modern and the experimental, and in fact has more in common with the best nineteenth-century models. Greene more than any modern writer has mixed genres, so that his “entertainments” often seem relatively serious and his religious and political books sometimes resemble spy or mystery stories.
The Thoughtful Thriller Greene frequently wrote what might be termed “thoughtful thrillers.” While The Quiet American, The Heart of the Matter, and The Human Factor are all gripping in their various ways, they also are all thought-provoking, prompting readers to consider more deeply the meanings and dynamics of international politics, and the intersections between the personal and the political. The reader of Greene's political thrillers may leave satisfied that the roller-coaster of espionage and drama has arrived at a safe conclusion (sometimes), but he or she also leaves more concerned than ever about the state of the world itself. What, Greene challenges us to ask long after we have put down the book, is really going on—around us and within us?
Works in Critical Context
Critical response to Greene's novels has been favorable, with several exceptions. Some critics fault Greene's prose style for not developing beyond straightforward journalism, for avoiding the experimental modes of twentieth-century literature. Other naysayers argue that Greene's characters are little more than two-dimensional vehicles for Greene's Catholic ideology. Most commentators, however, would agree with Richard Hoggart's assessment: “In Greene's novels we do not ‘explore experience’; we meet Graham Greene. We enter continual reservations about what is being done to experience, but we find the novels up to a point arresting because they are forceful, melodramatic presentations of an obsessed and imaginative personality.” When he died in 1991, Greene was eulogized widely as one of the most important novelists of the twentieth century.
The Quiet American Responses to The Quiet American have frequently focused on the 1958 Joseph Mankiewicz film adaptation, an important cinematic effort, but also limited because Cold War politics had prevented the filmmaker from fully following Greene's critical attitudes toward United States involvement in Vietnam. For instance, Kevin Lewis notes that “although the 1958 film is artistically compromised, full of evasions and half-truths, it is fascinating as a barometer of liberal American political opinion during the height of the Cold War.” In a similar vein, film critic Paula Willoquet-Maricondi considers the film adaptation's influence on later Hollywood treatments of Vietnam, suggesting that in Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket (1987), for example, “We are taken back to the origins of American involvement in Vietnam evoked in The Quiet American and thus to the myths that motivated that involvement.” For all that, some critics do still focus their attentions on the book itself—even then, though, the tendency is to treat it as a sort of history-prophecy combination, even more than as a piece of literature. In the words of Peter McInerny, “Readers have recognized that the novel is a visionary or proleptic history of what would happen to Americans in Vietnam. ‘He had always understood what was going to happen there,’ Gloria Emerson writes in her account of an interview with Greene, ‘and in that small and quiet novel, told us nearly everything.”’
COMMON HUMAN EXPERIENCE
Greene's protagonists typically struggle to emerge from the darkness of human suffering into the light of redemption. This redemption is usually preceded by an instance of felix culpa— the “fortunate fall” that strips the characters of human pride, enabling them to perceive God's grace. Here are some other works that consider the theme of the fortunate fall:
Paradise Lost (1667), an epic poem by John Milton. This work, Milton's effort to “justify the works of God to man,” retells the biblical story of Adam and Eve's temptation by Satan and subsequent expulsion from the Garden of Eden.
The Marble Faun (1860), a novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne. This novel is an unusual romance that explores the idea of guilt and the Fall of Man by focusing on the transformations of four characters living in Italy.
The Fortunate Fall (1996), a science-fiction novel by Raphael Carter. This novel deals with the consequences of a highly computerized and networked society.
Whatever his ultimate ranking as an artist, Greene will surely be remembered as one of the most articulate spokesmen of his time. Greene has called his method journalistic, but he has been a journalist of political motive and religious doubt, of alienation and commitment, recording the lives of both the underground agent and the teenage tough. His work, a history of our paradoxical and turbulent times, fathers the principle of moral uncertainty that underlies so much of modern spy and political fiction: the individual in conflict with himself.
Responses to Literature
- Greene explored the borders between the European world and the world of its former colonies, exploring realms that had been brought closer together during his lifetime. With the Internet and e-mail, these worlds are even closer today, and travel to distant locations can be accomplished while maintaining much greater contact with the world back home. Do you think the kinds of experiences Greene's characters had would be different in today's world? Are the kinds of novels and travel books that Greene wrote a relic of the past, or is there a place for this kind of writing in today's world?
- Greene has been criticized for using his writings to further Catholic ideology. Does Catholicism play a central role in his works? If so, does it make them less or more worthy of study and reflection, or does it have no effect? Why?
- Greene wrote about the modern world in prose that was neither modern nor experimental and has been likened to the style of nineteenth-century writers. What are the strengths of this choice of prose style, and what aspects of modern life was Greene unable to convey adequately because he chose to use a style borrowed from a previous century?
- Much of Greene's work was based on his personal travels to exotic and faraway lands, but he was also able to turn his journeys closer to home into widely read travel essays. Write an essay about one of your own journeys, even one that did not take you far from home.
Adamson, Judith. Graham Greene: The Dangerous Edge: Where Art and Politics Meet. New York: St. Martin's, 1990.
Boardman, Gwenn R. Graham Greene: The Aesthetics of Exploration. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1971.
Duran, Leopoldo. Graham Greene: Friend and Brother. Trans. Evan Cameron. London: HarperCollins, 1994.
Meyers, Jeffrey. “Graham Greene: The Decline of the Colonial Novel.” In Fiction and the Colonial Experience. Totowa, N.J.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1973.
———. “Greene's Travel Books.” In Graham Greene: A Revaluation; New Essays. New York: St. Martin's, 1990.
Mockler, Anthony. Graham Greene: Three Lives. New York: Hunter Mackay, 1995.
Shelden, Michael. Graham Greene: The Enemy Within. New York: Random House, 1995.
Sherry, Norman. The Life of Graham Greene. 2 vols. New York: Viking, 1989–1994.
Spurling, John. Graham Greene London: Methuen, 1983.
"Greene, Graham." Gale Contextual Encyclopedia of World Literature. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 10, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/greene-graham
"Greene, Graham." Gale Contextual Encyclopedia of World Literature. . Retrieved September 10, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/greene-graham
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
Born October 2, 1904, in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, England; died of a blood disease, April 3, 1991, in Vevey, Switzerland; son of Charles Henry (a school headmaster) and Marion (Raymond) Greene; married Vivien Dayrell Browning, 1927 (deceased, 2003); children: one son, one daughter. Education: Attended Berkhamsted School; Balliol College, Oxford, B.A., 1925. Religion: Roman Catholic.
Writer. Times, London, England, sub-editor, 1926-30; film critic for Night and Day c. 1930s; Spectator, London, film critic, 1935-39, literary editor, 1940-41; with British Foreign Office in Africa, 1941-44; Eyre & Spottiswoode Ltd. (publishers), London, director, 1944-48; Indo-China correspondent for New Republic, 1954; Bodley Head (publishers), London, director, 1958-68. Member of Panamanian delegation to Washington for signing of Canal Treaty, 1977.
Hawthornden Prize, 1940, for The Labyrinthine Ways (published in England as The Power and the Glory); James Tait Black Memorial Prize, 1949, for The Heart of the Matter; Academy Award nomination, 1950, for The Fallen Idol; Catholic Literary Award, 1952, for The End of the Affair; Boys' Clubs of America Junior Book Award, 1955, for The Little Horse Bus; Antoinette Perry Award ("Tony Award") nomination for best play, 1957, for The Potting Shed; Pietzak Award (Poland), 1960; D.Litt., Cambridge University, 1962; Balliol College, Oxford, honorary fellow, 1963; made Companion of Honour, 1966; D.Litt., University of Edinburgh, 1967; Shakespeare Prize, 1968; named chevalier, Legion d'Honneur (France), 1969; John Dos Passos Prize, 1980; medal of the City of Madrid, 1980; Jerusalem Prize, 1981; awarded Grand Cross of the Order of Vasco Nunez de Balboa (Panama), 1983; named commander, Order of Arts and Letters (France), 1984; named to British Order of Merit, 1986; named to Order of Ruben Dario (Nicaragua), 1987; Royal Society of Literature Prize; honorary doctorate, Moscow State University, 1988.
FICTION, EXCEPT AS INDICATED
Babbling April (poems), Basil Blackwell (Oxford, England), 1925.
The Man Within, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1929.
The Name of Action, Heinemann (London, England), 1930, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1931.
Rumour at Nightfall, Heinemann (London, England), 1931, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1932.
Orient Express, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1932, published as Stamboul Train, Heinemann (London, England), 1932.
It's a Battlefield, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1934, with new introduction by Greene, Heinemann (London, England), 1970.
The Basement Room, and Other Stories, Cresset (London, England), 1935, title story revised as "The Fallen Idol" and published with The Third Man (also see below), Heinemann (London, England), 1950.
England Made Me, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1935, published as The Shipwrecked, Viking (New York, NY), 1953, published under original title with new introduction by Greene, Heinemann (London, England), 1970.
The Bear Fell Free, Grayson & Grayson (London, England), 1935.
Journey without Maps (travelogue; also see below), Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1936, 2nd edition, Viking (New York, NY), 1961.
This Gun for Hire, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1936, published as A Gun for Sale, Heinemann (London, England), 1936.
Brighton Rock, Viking (New York, NY), 1938, with new introduction by Greene, Heinemann (London, England), 1970.
The Confidential Agent (also see below), Viking (New York, NY), 1939, with new introduction by Greene, Heinemann (London, England), 1971.
Another Mexico, Viking (New York, NY), 1939, reprinted, 1982, published as The Lawless Roads, Longmans, Green (New York, NY), 1939.
The Labyrinthine Ways, Viking (New York, NY), 1940, published as The Power and the Glory, Heinemann (London, England), 1940, reprinted under British title, Viking, 1946, with new introduction by Greene, Heinemann, 1971, Viking, 1982.
British Dramatists (nonfiction), Collins (London, England), 1942, reprinted, Folcroft (Folcroft, PA), 1979.
The Ministry of Fear (also see below), Viking (New York, NY), 1943.
Nineteen Stories, Heinemann (London, England), 1947, Viking (New York, NY), 1949, published with some substitutions and additions as Twenty-one Stories, Heinemann, 1955, Viking, 1962.
The Heart of the Matter, Viking (New York, NY), 1948, with new introduction by Greene, Heinemann (London, England), 1971.
The Third Man (also see below), Viking (New York, NY), 1950, reprinted, 1983.
The Lost Childhood, and Other Essays, Eyre & Spottiswoode (London, England), 1951, Viking (New York, NY), 1952.
The End of the Affair, Viking (New York, NY), 1951.
The Living Room (two-act play; produced in London, England, 1953), Heinemann (London, England), 1953, Viking (New York, NY), 1957.
The Quiet American, Heinemann (London, England), 1955, reprinted, Viking (New York, NY), 1982.
Loser Takes All, Heinemann (London, England), 1955, Viking (New York, NY), 1957.
The Potting Shed (three-act play; produced in New York, NY, 1957; produced in London, England, 1958), Viking (New York, NY), 1957.
Our Man in Havana (also see below), Viking (New York, NY), 1958, with new introduction by Greene, Heinemann (London, England), 1970.
The Complaisant Lover (play; produced in London, England, 1959), Heinemann (London, England), 1959, Viking (New York, NY), 1961.
A Burnt-out Case, Viking (New York, NY), 1961.
In Search of a Character: Two African Journals, Bodley Head (London, England), 1961, Viking (New York, NY), 1962.
Introductions to Three Novels, Norstedt (Stockholm, Sweden), 1962.
The Destructors, and Other Stories, Eihosha Ltd. (Tokyo, Japan), 1962.
A Sense of Reality, Viking (New York, NY), 1963.
Carving a Statue (two-act play; produced in London, England, 1964; produced in New York, 1968), Bodley Head (London, England), 1964.
The Comedians, Viking (New York, NY), 1966.
(With Dorothy Craigie) Victorian Detective Fiction: A Catalogue of the Collection, Bodley Head (London, England), 1966.
May We Borrow Your Husband?, and Other Comedies of the Sexual Life, Viking (New York, NY), 1967.
(With Carol Reed) The Third Man: A Film (annotated filmscript), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1968.
Collected Essays, Viking (New York, NY), 1969.
Travels with My Aunt, Viking (New York, NY), 1969.
(Author of introduction) Al Burt and Bernard Diederich, Papa Doc, McGraw (New York, NY), 1969.
A Sort of Life (autobiography), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1971.
Graham Greene on Film: Collected Film Criticism, 1935-1940, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1972, published as The Pleasure Dome, Secker & Warburg (London, England), 1972.
The Portable Graham Greene (includes expanded text of The Heart of the Matter and The Third Man), Viking (New York, NY), 1972, updated and revised, Penguin (New York, NY), 1994.
The Honorary Consul, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1973.
Collected Stories, Viking (New York, NY), 1973.
Lord Rochester's Monkey, Being the Life of John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester, Viking (New York, NY), 1974.
The Return of A. J. Raffles (three-act comedy based on characters from E. W. Hornung's Amateur Cracksman; produced in London, England, 1975), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1976.
The Human Factor, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1978.
Dr. Fischer of Geneva; or, The Bomb Party, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1980.
Yes and No [and] For Whom the Bell Chimes (comedies; produced together in Leicester, England, 1980), Bodley Head (London, England), 1983.
Ways of Escape, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1981.
Monsignor Quixote, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1982.
J'accuse: The Dark Side of Nice, Bodley Head (London, England), 1982.
Getting to Know the General: The Story of an Involvement, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1984.
The Tenth Man, Bodley Head (London, England), 1985.
(Author of preface) Night and Day (journalism), edited by Christopher Hawtree, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1985.
Collected Short Stories, Penguin (New York, NY), 1988.
The Captain and the Enemy, Viking (New York, NY), 1988.
Yours, etc.: Letters to the Press, 1945-1989, edited by Christopher Hawtree, Reinhardt (London, England), 1989.
Reflections (essays), Viking (New York, NY), 1990.
A World of My Own: A Dream Diary, Reinhardt (London, England), 1992.
The Graham Greene Film Reader: Reviews, Essays, Interviews, and Film Stories, Applause Theatre Book Publishers (New York, NY), 1994.
(With Basil Dean) Twenty-one Days, Columbia, 1937, released as Twenty-one Days Together, 1940.
(With Terence Rattigan) Brighton Rock, Pathe, 1946, released as Young Scarface, Mayer-Kingsley, 1952.
The Fallen Idol, British Lion, 1948.
The Third Man, British Lion, 1949.
(With John Stafford) The Stranger's Hand, British Lion, 1954.
Loser Takes All, British Lion, 1956.
Saint Joan (adapted from George Bernard Shaw's play), United Artists, 1957.
Our Man in Havana, Columbia, 1960.
The Comedians, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1967.
3: This Gun for Hire; The Confidential Agent; The Ministry of Fear, Viking (New York, NY), 1952, published as Three by Graham Greene: This Gun for Hire; The Confidential Agent; The Ministry of Fear, 1958.
Three Plays, Mercury Books (London, England), 1961.
The Travel Books: Journey without Maps [and] The Lawless Roads, Heinemann (London, England), 1963.
Triple Pursuit: A Graham Greene Omnibus (includes This Gun for Hire, The Third Man, and Our Man in Havana), Viking (New York, NY), 1971.
Works also published in additional collections.
The Little Horse Bus, Parrish (London, England), 1952, Lothrop, Lee & Shepard (New York, NY), 1954.
The Little Steamroller, Lothrop, Lee & Shepard (New York, NY), 1955.
The Little Train, Parrish (London, England), 1957, Lothrop, Lee & Shepard (New York, NY), 1958.
The Old School (essays), J. Cape (London, England), 1934.
H. H. Munro, The Best of Saki, 2nd edition, Lane (London, England), 1952.
(With brother, Hugh Greene) The Spy's Bedside Book, Rupert Hart-Davis (London, England), 1957.
(Author of introduction) Marjorie Bowen, The Viper of Milan, Bodley Head (London, England), 1960.
The Bodley Head Ford Madox Ford, Volumes 1 and 2, Bodley Head (London, England), 1962.
(And author of epilogue) An Impossible Woman: The Memories of Dottoressa, Moor of Capri, Viking (New York, NY), 1976.
(With brother, Hugh Greene) Victorian Villainies, Viking (New York, NY), 1984.
Contributor to 24 Short Stories, Cresset (London, England), 1939; Alfred Hitchcock's Fireside Book of Suspense, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1947; andWhy Do I Write?, Percival Marshall (London, England), 1948. Contributor to periodicals, including Esquire, Commonweal, Spectator, Playboy, Saturday Evening Post, New Statesman, Atlantic, London Mercury, New Republic, America, and Life.
The Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, has manuscripts and typescripts of most of Greene's books, plus working drafts and final manuscripts of various short stories and articles, as well as much of the correspondence. There are also holdings of Greene's work at the Lilly Library, Indiana University; the Pennsylvania State University Library; the Library of Congress; and the British Museum Library.
Screenplays based on Greene's books and stories include: Orient Express, 1934; This Gun for Hire, 1942; The Ministry of Fear, 1944; The Confidential Agent, 1945; The Smugglers, 1948; The Heart of the Matter, 1954; The End of the Affair, 1955; The Quiet American, 1958 and 2002; Across the Bridge, 1958; The Power and the Glory, 1962; The Living Room, 1969; The Shipwrecked, 1970; May We Borrow Your Husband?, 1970; The End of the Affair, 1971 and 2000; Travels with My Aunt, 1973; England Made Me, 1973; A Burned-out Case, 1973; The Human Factor, 1980; Beyond the Limit, 1983; Strike It Rich, 1990.
Graham Greene is considered among the most widely read of all major English novelists of the twentieth century. In such works as Brighton Rock, The Power and the Glory, and The Quiet American, Greene wrote critically of the most important facets of human existence: how human beings treat each other and think of their souls. According to Dictionary of Literary Biography contributors Andrew Macdonald and Gina Macdonald, "Greene's most common themes include betrayal and guilt; the complexity of living; the impossibility of finding clear cut answers; man's psychology when on the run; and man's alienation from himself, his environment, and his fellow man."
Greene's enormous popularity and critical recognition is based largely upon his "Catholic" and political novels. Though variously classified as "entertainments" and novels proper, each reflects his serious preoccupation with aspects of spiritual edification, moral turpitude, ideological commitment, and the potential for salvation in the modern world. Drawing upon the narrative conventions of crime and spy fiction, Greene's novels often involve exotic international settings and alluring depiction of murder, adultery, political intrigue, suicide, assassination, and pursuit. The protagonists are typically fallen or hapless characters whose moral failings, both innate and socially conditioned, reflect a broad range of corruption and suffering, especially as caused by extremes of disengagement and orthodoxy. "In his world, in which evil dominates, Greene takes a good-bad man and puts him in a situation where his potentials for evil and good inevitably collide, where what is at stake transcends integrity," remarked Richard Hauer Costa in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. "If the character is really good while seeming bad, nothing will serve him better than his vulnerability. Greene paves hell with heavenly intimations until, finally, innocence—that is, freedom from a controlling guile or cunning—takes over everything, even corruption, and a state that Greene calls grace is reached."
Becoming a Writer
Born in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, England, Greene was one of six children of Charles Henry Greene, headmaster of Berkhamsted School, and Marion R. Greene, a relative of author Robert Louis Stevenson. A precocious introvert and sensitive soul, Greene endured a miserable childhood at the hands of his moralizing father and boarding school brutes. At age sixteen he suffered a nervous breakdown and briefly fled home, leading to a period of psychoanalytic treatment. Greene's unhappy adolescence, punctuated by intense boredom and flirtations with suicide, informed much of his early writing and iconoclastic sentiments.
Upon graduating from Berkhamsted School, Greene attended Balliol College, Oxford, where he studied modern history and earned an undergraduate degree in 1925. While at Oxford, Greene briefly joined the Communist Party and met his future wife, Vivien Dayrell Browning, whom he married in 1927. Shortly before their marriage, he converted from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism.
Greene worked as a sub-editor for the London Times from 1926 until the publication of his first novel, The Man Within, in 1929, after which he became a full-time writer. Weak sales of his next two novels prompted him to write Stamboul Train, the first of Greene's many popular thrillers to be subtitled "entertainments," including A Gun for Sale, The Confidential Agent, The Ministry of Fear, and The Third Man. His first volume of short stories, The Basement Room and Other Stories, appeared in 1936. During the 1930s, Greene wrote film criticism for the Night and Day and the Spectator. He also traveled to Liberia and Mexico to gather experiences for his fiction, recorded in the travelogues Journey without Maps and The Lawless Roads. The novels It's a Battlefield and England Made Me illustrate his lifelong leftist sympathies, which later were distinguished by notorious associations with Soviet spy Kim Philby, Fidel Castro, and Ho Chi Minh. After serving with the British Foreign Office in Sierre Leone during World War II, Greene witnessed political upheavals in Indochina, the Belgian Congo, Haiti, and Cuba as a freelance journalist.
The "Catholic" Novels
Greene produced the first of his "Catholic" novels with Brighton Rock in 1938, followed by The Power and the Glory in 1940, The Heart of the Matter in 1948, and The End of the Affair in 1951. These works offer insight into the theological concepts of mortal sin and atonement, drawing attention to the paradoxical virtues of vice itself. Set in the working-class neighborhood of a seaside resort town, Brighton Rock "deals overtly with the questions of sin, damnation, and salvation," Costa wrote. The work concerns Pinkie Brown, a teenage hoodlum who murders a rival for betraying his gang. Pinkie marries Rose, a naive waitress, to stonewall testimony against him. Ida Arnold, a local matron and unlikely investigator, eventually takes up the case and hounds Pinkie to his death. The religious theme comes to the forefront when Rose consults a priest about Pinkie's damnation. As Costa noted, "When Rose mentions that Pinkie was a Catholic, the priest answers, summing up not only the theme of this novel but a major theme in all of Greene's religion-oriented works: 'Corruptio optimi est pessima. . . . I mean—a Catholic is more capable of evil than anyone. I think perhaps because we believe in him—we are more in touch with the devil than other people.'"
The Power and the Glory "is the most Catholic of Greene's novels and the most accessible of his so-called Catholic novels," Bernard Bergonzi remarked in British Writers. "The abiding themes of his fiction are very apparent: pursuit, suffering, betrayal, the clash of innocence and experience. The Power and the Glory is also a study of sanctity and failure, seeing the two as intimately related." The novel is set
in Mexico during the anticlerical persecutions of the 1930s. The protagonist is a renegade Catholic priest who continues to carry out his ecclesiastic duties despite official sanctions that have driven away all other priests. An unrepentant though self-loathing sinner—he is an alcoholic and father of an illegitimate child—the "whiskey priest" is tracked by a mestizo, or half-caste, and is eventually captured by the police. His martyrdom is complicated by the contradictory facts of his charity and unsaintly indulgence. According to Costa, "The Power and the Glory is Greene's plea for the priest's heroic, or, in religious terms, saintly, status despite constant self-humiliation, a status that allows him to die for his faith despite his impulse for self-preservation. Given the fortification of belief, felix culpa (doctrinally translated as the 'fortunate fall') takes on imperatives no less deterministic than the hamartia ('tragic flaw' or 'error') of classical tragedy. In Greene, the humiliated, like the humble, can inherit the earth."
The Heart of the Matter, which takes place in Sierra Leone, involves Major Scobie, a Catholic policeman and devout husband whose tragic vice—pity—leads him to betray his wife, religion, and profession in an extramarital affair and diamond smuggling scheme that drives him to suicide. As David Punter observed in the Reference Guide to English Literature, "We are left in little doubt of Scobie's essential honesty and goodness; but circumstances are too much for him, and he is impaled on the dilemma of whether to put the love of God or the love of fellow-humans first." Punter added that the novel ends ambiguously: "Is Scobie saved or not? We are drawn to believe that he is; that the pity he has felt for his suffering fellow-mortals is in some way reciprocated by God's final pity for him, even though he dies in a state of damnation. Like all of Greene's work, The
Heart of the Matter is in the last analysis a religious book, but in a special sense in that Greene uses the problems of faith to shed a brilliant light on our everyday worldly actions."
Among Greene's most overt religious novels, The End of the Affair involves an English woman whose passionate love for God is mistaken for an adulterous affair by her jealous husband and her former lover. "In many ways The End of the Affair is one of Greene's best books," stated Bruce Bawer in the New Criterion. "It is exquisitely shaped and paced, the people and their relationships seem real, and both the passion and the bitterness ring true; though plenty of abstractions are brought into play, one does not constantly have the feeling that the characters serve merely as symbolic tokens." Writing in The Vital Tradition: The Catholic Novel in a Period of Convergence, Gene Kellogg remarked that "the theme of The End of the Affair is significant: it is love and loyalty to God over love and loyalty to man; it is trust in God's own responsibility and a placing of final trust in the goodness of creation when one reaches the place beyond which one's own effort cannot prevail."
Political Intrigue and Moral Ambiguity
Post-war novels such as The Quiet American, A Burnt-out Case, The Comedians, and The Honorary Consul reflect Greene's interest in international affairs during the mid-twentieth-century Cold War. The works are set against the backdrop of trouble spots in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Though drawing attention to the sociopolitical circumstances of each locale, the religious concerns of earlier novels persist in his overarching theme of moral ambiguity.
The Quiet American is set in Vietnam during the turbulent 1950s. Noted for its anti-Americanism, Greene juxtaposes the practical hedonism of Thomas Fowler, a cynical English journalist, with the puritanical innocence of Alden Pyle, an idealistic American whose naive and self-righteous assumptions about Indochinese culture lead to his demise. "As Greene builds an image of local intrigue, of beleaguered outposts and perilous ventures behind Communist lines, and finally of murder," wrote Andrew and Gina Macdonald in Dictionary of Literary Biography, "he incorporates methods and conventions from both the spy and the detective story, but exposes a concern of more far-reaching significance than who killed or will kill whom: rash, unthinking political involvement in a complex culture, whatever the motives."
A Burnt-out Case involves a leprosarium in the Congo where Querry, a disillusioned architect, grapples with his lack of compassion for human suffering by engaging in a futile battle with the mutilating disease, drawing parallels between the ravages of leprosy and a life without faith. "Querry, fleeing his reputation, his past sins, and to some extent himself . . . , buries himself alive in a hopeless, depressing labor of self-abnegation," wrote Andrew and Gina Macdonald. "A Burnt-out Case suggests that traditional Christianity is as powerless to aid the spiritual leper as the dedicated doctor is powerless to help end the physical destruction of leprosy until the disease has run its course." "Perhaps what Querry is seeking is a return to usefulness and integrity," observed A. A. DeVitis in Graham Greene. "The doctor and the priests teach him much about genuine compassion and understanding; the lepers teach him much about suffering and unhappiness."
The Comedians takes place in Haiti during the dictatorship of François Duvalier. The story revolves around the experiences of Brown, a lapsed Catholic and hotel owner engaged in a doomed affair with a diplomat's wife, the Smiths, an American couple committed to vegetarianism, and Jones, a con man, as they are drawn into revolutionary activities. Brown's view of God as a "practical joker" underscores his indifference and the absurdity of the appalling violence and exploitation under Duvalier. The Comedians "is Greene's version of contemporary dark comedy, employing farce and sensationalism as aspects of its method," DeVitis remarked. "In his attempt to portray the reluctance of contemporary man to accept divine affiliation, Greene examines, problematically to be sure, human commitment and political engagement in a world menaced by the fear and confusion emanating from a power cult."
Set in Paraguay, The Honorary Consul centers upon Eduardo Plarr, a doctor of English-Paraguayan descent who aids a Paraguayan guerrilla group. Among the rebels is Rivas, Plarr's former classmate and an ex-priest. Plarr becomes entangled in an ethical dilemma when the guerrillas kidnap an elderly ambassador, Charley Fortnum, whom Plarr is called upon to care for. Fortnum's young wife is also Plarr's mistress, further complicating his moral obligations. DeVitis noted: "When Plarr is brought in to check on Fortnum's physical condition after the kidnaping, the stage is set for a series of agonizing decisions of major moral significance: should harmless innocents like Fortnum (his position is merely honorary) be used as pawns to achieve worthy ends? What role should the Church, in the person of the former priest Rivas, play when confronted by the most appalling injustice? What obligations does Dr. Plarr have to Fortnum, to his mistress, to his profession, and to his mixed cultural heritage?"
Not just a novelist, Greene wrote in more than a dozen other genres, including novellas, short stories, plays, radio plays, screenplays, essays, memoirs, biographies, autobiographies, travel books, poetry, and children's literature. Many critics believe that, among serious novelists, Greene had the closest contact with film. More than twenty of his own novels and stories have been filmed. Furthermore, Greene wrote original screenplays, including the
1949 classic The Third Man. Greene also wrote several plays, notably The Living Room, The Potting Shed, and The Complaisant Lover.
Among his many distinctions and honorary degrees, Greene received the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1949 for The Heart of the Matter, garnered an Academy Award nomination in 1950 for his screenplay The Fallen Idol, was named a companion of honour in England in 1966, and received the British Order of Merit in 1986.
Widely praised for his superb narrative abilities, vivid cinematic descriptions, and compelling fusion of religious and political themes, Greene continues to be regarded as a master craftsman and formidable moralist. Critical attention is frequently directed toward his distinct religious perspective, controversial left-wing rhetoric, and recurring themes of pursuit and moral equivocation in his novels. While some of Greene's detractors find fault in his preoccupation with Catholicism, others assert the universal significance of such themes as they relate to problems of moral obligation and political commitment. As many critics note, the sympathetic
sinners, criminals, and double agents in Greene's works symbolize the degradation of the individual and necessity of moral compromise amid the hellish realities of violence, corruption, and poverty in the modern world. His fiction is acclaimed for its entertainment value and provocative examination of sin, moral relativism, and problems associated with spiritual faith in the contemporary world. As Bergonzi noted, Green's novels are "continually on the edge of other literary or dramatic forms: the adventure story, the thriller, the morality play, the gangster film, the dream-fantasy, the fable. He is not so easily categorized as some of his contemporaries. He is, indeed, like a realist of an earlier generation in being popular; whatever else Greene is, he is an outstanding storyteller, and his general reputation seems assured."
If you enjoy the works of Graham Greene
If you enjoy the works of Graham Greene, you may also want to check out the following books:
Henry James, The American, 1877.
Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, 1902.
Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano, 1947.
Biographical and Critical Sources
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Gordon, Hayim, Fighting Evil: Unsung Heroes in the Novels of Graham Greene, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1997.
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"Greene, Graham." Authors and Artists for Young Adults. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 10, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/culture-magazines/greene-graham
"Greene, Graham." Authors and Artists for Young Adults. . Retrieved September 10, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/culture-magazines/greene-graham