Greene, Graham (Vol. 125)
Graham Greene 1904–1991
English novelist, short story writer, essayist, dramatist, screenplay writer, travel writer, autobiographer, and critic.
The following entry presents an overview of Greene's career through 1994. See also, Graham Greene Criticism and volumes 1, 3, 6, 9, 14 and 18.
A prolific and widely popular literary figure, Graham Greene is recognized as one the finest English novelists of the twentieth century. Best known for his engaging thrillers, distinguished for their masterful plotting, moral complexity, and suspenseful themes of pursuit and detection, Greene attained rare prestige as a critical and commercial success. His literary reputation rests primarily on his "Catholic" novels—Brighton Rock (1938), The Power and the Glory (1940), The Heart of the Matter (1948), and The End of the Affair (1951)—and his Cold War political novels, including The Quiet American (1955), A Burnt-Out Case (1961), The Comedians (1966), and The Honorary Consul (1973). A champion of the underdog, the irreverent, and the aggrieved, Greene portrays the human tendency toward corruption and the possibility of redemption. His preoccupation with religious and political topics, colored by his affinity for Catholicism and communism, is a prominent and controversial feature of his fiction. A consummate storyteller noted for his realistic style and idiosyncratic ethical perspective, Greene is considered among the most accomplished writers of his generation.
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 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 Times of London from 1926 until the publication his first novel, The Man Within (1929), after which he became a full-time writer. Weak sales of his next two novels prompted him to write Stamboul Train (1932), the first of many popular thriller's subtitled "entertainments," including A Gun for Sale (1936), The Confidential Agent (1939), The Ministry of Fear (1943), and The Third Man (1950). His first volume of short stories appeared as The Basement Room and Other Stories (1936). During the 1930s, Greene wrote film criticism for Night and Day and Spectator, collected in The Pleasure-Dome (1972). He also travelled to Liberia and Mexico to gather experiences for his fiction, recorded in the travelogues Journey Without Maps (1936) and The Lawless Roads (1939). The novels It's a Battlefield (1934) and England Made Me (1935) illustrate his lifelong leftist sympathies, which later were distinguished by notorious associations with Soviet spy Kim Philby, Fidel Castro, and Ho Chi Minh. Greene produced the first of his "Catholic" novels with Brighton Rock (1938), followed by The Power and the Glory (1940), The Heart of the Matter (1948), and The End of the Affair (1951)—among his best-known works. After serving with the British Foreign Office in Sierre Leone during the Second World War, Greene witnessed political upheavals in Indochina, the Belgian Congo, Haiti, and Cuba as an freelance journalist. The post-war novels The Quiet American (1955), Our Man in Havana (1958), A Burnt-Out Case (1961), and The Comedians (1966) reflect his interest in international affairs during the Cold War. Greene adapted many of his novels and "entertainments" into screenplays. He also published additional volumes of short stories, including Nineteen Stories (1947) and A Sense of Reality (1963). Greene also wrote several plays, notably The Living Room (1953), The Potting Shed (1957), and The Complaisant Lover (1959). His other late novels such as The Honorary Consul (1973), The Human Factor (1978), and The Tenth Man (1985) were well received. Among his many distinctions and honorary degrees, Greene was named Companion of Honour in England (1966), Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in France (1967), Companion of Literature by the Royal Society of Literature (1984), and received the British Order of Merit (1986). Greene died in Vevey, Switzerland, at age eighty-six. His personal experiences are documented in two autobiographies—A Sort of Life (1971) and the sequel Ways of Escape (1980).
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. Greene's four "Catholic" novels—Brighton Rock, The Power and the Glory, The Heart of the Matter, and The End of the Affair—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 features Pinkie Brown, a teenage thug who exacts vengeance on a newspaperman 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 Catholic theme comes to the forefront when Rose consults a priest about Pinkie's damnation. The Power and the Glory is set in Mexico during 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 eventually captured by the police. His martyrdom is complicated by the contradictory facts of his charity and unsaintly indulgence. 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. Among his 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 former lover. Greene's political novels—The Quiet American, A Burnt-Out Case, The Comedians, and The Honorary Consul—are set against the backdrop of contemporary Third World 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 the 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. A Burnt-Out Case involves a leprosarium in the Congo where Querry, a disillusioned doctor, 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. The Comedians takes place in Haiti during the dictatorship of Francois 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. 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. The Human Factor involves an international espionage scandal caused by Castle, a minor British intelligence officer who leaks information to the Soviets to aid black South Africans, among whom is his wife. When the security breach is discovered, another agent is mistakenly murdered before authorities close in on Castle and he flees for Moscow, leaving his wife and child behind.
Greene is considered one of the most outstanding British novelists of the century. Widely praised for his superb narrative abilities, vivid cinematic descriptions, and compelling fusion of religious and political themes, he is regarded as a master craftsman and formidable moralist. Though critics discern the literary influence of Henry James and Joseph Conrad in his work, Greene confesses an equal debt to adventure writers such as H. Rider Haggard, John Buchan, and Stanley Weyman. Credited with redefining the modern suspense novel, most critics contend that Greene's melodramatic plots and sensational depiction of violence and sex belie a complex synthesis of theology, world politics, and existential psychology that elevate his popular thrillers to the level of high literature. Critics agree that Greene's "Catholic" and political novels are his masterpieces and constitute the central achievement of his large oeuvre, particularly Brighton Rock, The Power and the Glory, and The End of the Affair. Critical attention is frequently directed toward Greene's 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, cited as a narrow obsession that confines his novels to sectarian eschatology and Manichean divisions, others assert the universal significance of such themes as they relate to problems of moral obligation and political commitment. As many critics note, Greene's sympathetic sinners, criminals, and double agents symbolize the degradation of the individual and necessity of moral compromise amid the hellish realities of violence, corruption, and poverty in the modern world. An international best-selling author, Greene's fiction is acclaimed for its entertainment value and provocative examination of sin, moral relativism, and problems associated with spiritual faith in the contemporary world.
The Man Within (novel) 1929
The Name of Action (novel) 1930
Rumour at Nightfall (novel) 1931
Stamboul Train [also published as Orient Express, 1933] (novel) 1932
It's a Battlefield (novel) 1934
England Made Me [also published as The Shipwrecked, 1953] (novel) 1935
The Basement Room and Other Stories (short stories) 1936
A Gun for Sale: An Entertainment [also published as This Gun for Hire, 1936] (novel) 1936
Journey Without Maps (travel writing) 1936
Brighton Rock (novel) 1938
The Confidential Agent: An Entertainment (novel) 1939
The Lawless Roads [also published as Another Mexico, 1939] (travel writing) 1939
The Power and the Glory [also published as The Labyrinthine Ways, 1940] (novel) 1940
The Ministry of Fear: An Entertainment (novel) 1943
Brighton Rock (screenplay) 1946
Nineteen Stories [enlarged edition published as Twenty-One Stories, 1955] (short stories) 1947
The Fallen Idol (screenplay) 1948
The Heart of the Matter (novel) 1948
The Third Man (screenplay) 1949
The Third Man: An Entertainment (novel) 1950
The End of the Affair (novel) 1951
The Living Room: A Play in Two Acts (drama) 1953
Loser Takes All (novel) 1955
The Quiet American (novel)...
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SOURCE: "To Choose a Different Loyalty: Greene's Politics in The Human Factor," in Essays in Literature, Vol. 11, No. 1, Spring, 1984, pp. 59-66.
[In the following essay, Storhoff examines Greene's portrayal of the conflicting interests of political action, personal morality, and institutional order in The Human Factor. "For Greene," writes Storhoff, "religion should not take one out of the political world; instead, it should provide one with a coherent moral vision and profound scope that the secular world cannot offer."]
In Graham Greene's story "Under the Garden" (1963), the ancient Javitt, instructing the young protagonist on how to succeed in the world, says, "If you have to earn a living, boy, and the price they make you pay is loyalty, be a double agent—and never let either of the two sides know your real name." Javitt's wisdom is adopted by Maurice Castle, the double agent in The Human Factor, which Greene also wrote in the 1960s but put aside because of the defection of his friend, Kim Philby. The figure of the double agent wreaking confusion in the State places The Human Factor well within the orbit of Greene's preceding political novels—The Quiet American, The Comedians, The Honorary Consul—for like these other books, he sets in motion the interactions between political ideology, social commitment, personal morality, and the moral qualities of the...
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SOURCE: "Comedy and Moral Stasis in Greene's The Comedians," in Renascence: Essays on Value in Literature, Vol. 40, No. 1, Fall, 1987, pp. 53-63.
[In the following essay, D'Cruz identifies the "comedian" as a chameleon-like figure whose emotional disengagement represents an adaptive behavior to cope with reality in a tragic modern world.]
One of the major imperatives in the fiction of Graham Greene is the need to divulge the nightmarish and horrifying quality of reality. Greene depends on sensational and melodramatic detail to authenticate the terrifying excesses of the real world. In his subsequent fiction, having established his universe, Greene studies the screens men create to shelter themselves from reality. The abstract mind proved to be the greatest betrayer of reality. Those with a penchant for abstraction wear the guise of naive idealism, childishness, or an unthinking dogmatism. In The Comedians, as in the earlier novel Our Man in Havana, Greene finds a new disguise for the character so woefully disjoined from his world. He is the comedian, caught in a facile role, a mere cardboard figure on the world's stage. As melodramatic material defined reality for Greene, so comedy indicates the separation from that reality and the consequent emotional sterility.
In Greene's didactic framework the comedian stands in antithesis to the tragic figure. Greene identifies...
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SOURCE: "Graham Cracker," in The New Republic, January 23, 1989, pp. 28-31.
[In the following review, Pryce-Jones criticizes Greene's political loyalties and offers unfavorable assessment of The Captain and the Enemy.]
Within living memory, broad-chested and vigorous John Bull has become the skulking and down-at-heel Englishman who feels sorry for himself. How was it possible to have engineered poverty and called it socialism? How was it possible to have turned one's back on millions of needy people abroad and called it decolonization? Graham Greene is not answerable for developments of this kind, but as the most prestigious and long-living writer of his generation, he did more than his fair share to generate the atmosphere that seemed to justify decay and doom. He has uniquely romanticized failure. A future Gibbon will quarry Greene's collected works for The Decline and Fall of Great Britain.
To feel sorry for oneself is perhaps a natural failing in whoever supposes that he is losing status and power. In Greene's best years, it is true, defeatism stalked the land. Still, it was never necessary to accept this as the one and only reality of the time, appeasing rather than resisting. Self-pity of Greene's variety is objectionable on account of the plea for privilege contained within it; the self-pitier begs for allowance to be made for his circumstances, to be excused the...
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SOURCE: "Graham Greene: The Catholic Novels," in The New Criterion, Vol. 8, No. 2, October, 1989, pp. 24-32.
[In the following essay, Bawer examines Greene's Catholic conversion, his personal faith, and the significance of Catholicism in The Power and the Glory, The Heart of the Matter, The End of the Affair, and A Burnt-Out Case.]
In his long and celebrated literary career—which I began to examine in the last issue of The New Criterion—Graham Greene has written some three dozen novels, "entertainments," plays, essays, memoirs, short story collections, and travel books. But it is those books which, for want of a better term, we may call his Catholic novels (The Power and the Glory, The Heart of the Matter, The End of the Affair, and A Burnt-Out Case) and his later political novels (The Quiet American, The Comedians, The Honorary Consul, and The Human Factor) that are generally acknowledged, for better or worse, to comprise the nucleus of his oeuvre. Though there are other works by Greene that have scattered and enthusiastic support, critics who speak of Greene's literary mastery tend almost exclusively to cite some or all of the books on this list as evidence of that mastery; and it is the Catholic novels that are mentioned most frequently of all. This being the case, it seems necessary to devote special attention to those books, and to ask certain questions...
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SOURCE: "Graham Greene and the Hounds of Brighton Rock," in Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. 37, No. 4, Winter, 1991, pp. 689-703.
[In the following essay, Malamet discusses elements of detection, pursuit, and evasion in Brighton Rock. Contrary to critical interpretations that emphasis the conflict between Ida and Pinkie, Malamet contends that "the metaphysical hunt is the more fundamental tension for Pinkie, and it is centered around his connection to the past, and his relationship with Rose Wilson and the invisible hand of God."]
The narrative of Graham Greene's Brighton Rock gains force through the presentation of two conflicting impulses continually at war with one another. The text describes not only the literal pursuit of Hale, and then the hunt for Pinkie, but also abounds with the metaphoric terminology of detection, containment, and capture, from Rose's yearning to seal Pinkie's words on a recording to the snapshot of an unaware Spicer that hangs outside a photographer's kiosk for all the world to peruse. Yet concurrent with these attempts by characters to "pin down" one another, are the dark pockets of incomprehensibility that stubbornly thwart and even mock human perception. Pinkie best exemplifies this enigma: "You couldn't tell if he was scared; his young ancient poker-face told nothing." Determined to foil any surveillance of his inner being, he has "an air of removing his...
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SOURCE: "The Uncynical Disillusion of Graham Greene," in The Southern Review, Vol. 27, No. 4, Autumn, 1991, pp. 946-48.
[In the following review, Lebowitz discusses Greene's moral and religious vision in The Last Word and Other Stories.]
Many years ago, T. S. Eliot remarked that wisdom consists largely of uncynical disillusion and that uncynical disillusion is essential to religious understanding as well. For Graham Greene, as for Eliot, detective fiction is a parable or paradigm of thoughtful disillusion. In the stories included in this thin volume, reflective of this disillusion is the tone of affective neutrality or realism that has become Greene's trademark. It is distinct from both pessimism and optimism and evokes a sense of reality which is causal and definitive rather than idealistic and emotional. Greene's realism is aseptic in that it is free of both preconceptions and strict implications. Of course, one might reply that objectivity is itself a hypothetical ideal that a writer may approach perhaps but never actually achieve. Nevertheless, in a manner reminiscent of Santayana in The Realm of Matter, Greene appears to champion the objective ideal by identifying God with a type of intellectual perception of matter. Indeed, one might conclude that God in Greene's vision provides an ideal limit of perception rather than a practicable goal.
The best story in the collection is...
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SOURCE: "History Over Theology: The Case for Pinkie in Greene's Brighton Rock," in Studies in the Novel, Vol. 24, No. 1, Spring, 1992, pp. 67-77.
[In the following essay, Williams draws attention to the sociopolitical context and value of Brighton Rock. According to Williams, "Brighton Rock remains one of Greene's most ambitious achievements for its ability to encapsulate an historical movement, namely the collapse of the British economic power in the 1930s with the consequent paralysis and the poverty that crept like a cancer across the normal social boundaries."]
Brighton Rock (1938), reprinted countless times, remains one of Greene's most intriguing novels, eminently teachable in the classroom, mixing as it does the detective novel genre with adolescent sex hang-ups, and complicated by the claims of religion. It is also a period piece, evoking with the starkness of a black and white movie the feel of the 1930s in England, a country already in decline even before World War Two finally pushed it off the center of the world stage. Part of Greene's attraction as a writer always is that, having been in the right place at the right time, he is then able to chronicle with documentary fidelity the fall of some corrupt regime or other. Brighton Rock, a consistently symbolic and allegorical novel, does not, despite its fidelity to the "lower" Brighton of the time, chronicle...
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SOURCE: "Truth and Falsehood in the Metaphors of A Burnt-Out Case," in English Studies. Vol. 74, No. 5, October, 1993, pp. 445-50.
[In the following essay, De Vinne discusses the metaphorical significance of children and childhood in A Burnt-Out Case. According to De Vinne, "childhood corresponds with falsehood while adulthood symbolizes truth" in the novel.]
A Burnt-Out Case is Graham Greene's narrative of a disillusioned architect who seeks spiritual and emotional peace among burnt-out lepers deep in the Congo. There, in a primitive world far removed from the distractions of civilization, its characters confront the essential questions of life. The rhetoric of the novel too is stripped of anything extraneous; Greene makes clear that the story is based on two simple, straightforward metaphors. The first and most obvious establishes leprosy as a symbol of the disillusionment from which Querry suffers. Like a leper whose disease has spent itself after eating away fingers and toes, this afflicted man confesses to Dr. Colin, 'I am one of the mutilated.' Numbed by leprosy both mental and spiritual, he is senseless to joy as well as to pain. The distance he travels to find a home in his suffering suggests Greene's second metaphor, that of journey. The outward journey Querry makes into the heart of Africa, as far as river and road can take him, corresponds to an inward journey of the man's...
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SOURCE: "The Uses of Delay in The Power and the Glory," in Renascence: Essays on Value in Literature, Vol. 46, No. 4, Summer, 1994, pp. 211-23.
[In the following essay, Malamet examines the narrative function and symbolic significance of delay, hesitation, and suspense in The Power and the Glory.]
Just past the midpoint of The Power and the Glory, as the whisky priest is being led to jail, Graham Greene reiterates the feelings of resignation and fear that have hitherto haunted him: "He knew it was the beginning of the end—after all these years…. When would they discover who he really was? When would he meet the half-caste, or the lieutenant who had interrogated him already?" As in a number of Greene's preceding works, such as A Gun for Sale and Brighton Rock, a sense of inevitability hangs over the main pursuit of the novel; the priest broods over the fact that he must eventually be hunted down. In an earlier passage, he nervously awaits in his home village the arrival of the lieutenant and his men: "Was this the end at last, he wondered?… If they were so careful, they must know beyond the shadow of doubt that he was here. It was the end." Yet on both occasions his anxiety is premature; the lieutenant fails to recognize him although they face each other. We are repeatedly invited to share the priest's point of view that there is no way out. The first time he is arrested,...
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Bawer, Bruce. "'Baseless Dreaming': The Novels of Graham Greene." The New Criterion 8, No. 1 (September 1989): 17-33.
Provides an overview of Greene's fiction, literary career, and recent critical studies of his life and work.
Chatman, Seymour. "Who Is the Best Narrator? The Case of The Third Man." Style 23, No. 2 (Summer 1989): 189-96.
Examines the role of the narrator in The Third Man and the significance of Greene's choice to use different narrators in the film and book versions.
Craig, Randall. "Good Places and Promised Lands in The Comedians." Renascence: Essays on Value in Literature 39, No. 1 (Fall 1986): 312-24.
Explores the significance of public and private environments and elements of theatricality in The Comedians.
Diemert, Brian. "The Pursuit of Justice: Graham Greene's Refiguring of the Detective Story in It's a Battlefield." Papers on Language and Literature 30, No. 3 (Summer 1994): 285-308.
Examines Greene's reformulation of popular detective fiction and thriller conventions in It's a Battlefield.
Dogan, James. "Memory and Automythography in Graham Greene's Under...
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