A Sort of Life Essay - Critical Context

Graham Greene

Critical Context

Graham Greene’s literary reputation has been limited by his own unfortunate subdivision of his fiction into “novels” and “entertainments.” He based this distinction on several factors: the entertainments were written with great speed during manic periods, and the novels were written more slowly during depressive periods; the entertainments focus on crime, and the novels treat larger subjects; the entertainments are seen as lay works, and the novels are viewed as Catholic. Many of these distinctions are accurate, but the unfortunate result of this too easy classification has been to encourage critical neglect of Greene’s entertainments. The concurrent publication of A Sort of Life and a collected edition of his works, in which, for the first time, all of his works were labeled novels, marked an invitation for critics to reexamine the body of his work. It cannot, however, be said that his invitation has resulted in a great resurgence of critical interest in Greene’s work.

A Sort of Life is complemented by other autobiographical writings, including essays such as “The Lost Childhood” and “The Revolver in the Corner Cupboard”; travel books such as In Search of a Character: Two African Journals (1961); and Greene’s second book-length autobiography, Ways of Escape (1980), which roughly continues his life from the point in the 1930’s at which A Sort of Life ends. In addition, Greene collaborated with Marie-Francoise Allain to produce L’Autre et son double: Entretiens avec Marie-Francoise Allain (1981; The Other Man: Conversations with Graham Greene, 1983). The relative wealth of autobiographical material and the fact that Greene’s fiction has revealed so much of his character may have discouraged the production of a full-length biography.