Graham Greene Biography

Graham Greene Biography

Graham Greene would likely be the poster boy for “Catholic Espionage” if such a literary genre existed. Both his deep religious convictions and his penchant for international intrigue manifest themselves in his writing. In his novel The End of the Affair, a romance is doomed due to a very Catholic promise made to God in prayer. Conversely, The Quiet American typifies the weary disillusionment that permeated many of his spy stories. In addition to his short fiction and novels, Greene also wrote poetry (though largely unsuccessful) and the screenplay for the silver-screen classic The Third Man. With a terse and economic writing style, Greene captured in very real detail the internal angst that tormented so many of his generation.

Facts and Trivia

  • Despite his later literary career, the primary focus of Greene’s studies as an undergraduate was history.
  • Along with his fiction, Greene wrote journalistic articles and reviews throughout his early career.
  • Greene was reprimanded by the Catholic Church for his novel The Power and the Glory and pressured to change its content. Even after an audience with the Pope, Greene remained resolute and did not change the book.
  • Greene’s fruitful life and prodigious output have been documented in no less than three full-length memoirs by biographer Norman Sherry.
  • Public acclaim came easy to Greene, but his private life was a different matter. The author suffered from bipolar disorder throughout his life.


(History of the World: The 20th Century)

Article abstract: Combining a fascination with the nature of good and evil in the contemporary world and a masterful ability to develop exciting plots about complex yet believable characters caught in real-life situations, Greene created a body of fiction which enjoys a critical and popular appeal unique in twentieth century literature.

Early Life

Graham Greene was born October 2, 1904, in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, England, the fourth of six children in a large upper-middle-class Edwardian household. His father, Charles Henry Greene, was a history and classics master who, in 1910, became the headmaster of the Berkhamsted School. In his memoir, A Sort of Life (1971), Greene recalls his early childhood as pleasant. Although he appears to have seen little of his father and mother, he enjoyed the company of a large number of aunts, uncles, and cousins who lived nearby.

In 1912, Greene was enrolled in Berkhamsted School where he was to spend the next ten years. His adolescence, however, was marked by the passage from a state of security and joy into one of fear and depression. At age thirteen, Greene entered the senior part of his father’s school. Now required to board in the “hated brick barracks” of the English public school with the older boys, he was bitterly unhappy. His manic-depressive tendency became acute during this period. Feeling homesick and betrayed, tormented by conflicting loyalties—the headmaster’s son was cruelly shunned by the other boys—Greene was plagued by nightmares; he developed a terror of birds and bats and an obsessive fear of drowning which survived as a recurrent motif in his fiction. By 1920, Greene’s behavior was so eccentric and suicidal that his father sent him to London for psychoanalysis. The treatment was moderately successful, and Greene returned to Berkhamsted with renewed self-confidence, but his horror of living among strangers and enemies endured, later influencing the characterization of the protagonists of his novels.

In 1922, Greene entered Oxford University to study history. By 1923, his depression had returned, and on six occasions he played a deadly game: Slipping a bullet into his brother’s revolver, he would spin the chamber, point the gun into his right ear and pull the trigger. In this gratuitous gambling with his life, Greene found what he called “an extraordinary sense of jubilation” which assuaged his terrible feeling of emptiness. Although he soon gave up these suicidal experiments, his desperate need to experience danger in his “life-long war against boredom” persisted. His later excursions into Africa, Mexico, and Vietnam in the midst of wars and revolutions may owe something to this compulsion.

After leaving Oxford, Greene embarked on a career in journalism. In 1926, he became an unpaid film reviewer for the Nottingham Journal. He also met Vivien Dayrell-Browning, a Roman Catholic. They were married in 1927 and later had two children. Greene himself was formally received into the Catholic Church in 1926, the same year he left the Nottingham Journal for The Times, where he worked for the next four years as a subeditor. In 1929, the distinguished publisher William Heinemann accepted Greene’s first novel, The Man Within (1929). Although the novel did well in England, selling more than eight thousand copies, a remarkable success for a first novel, it failed in the United States. Still, Heinemann was sufficiently pleased to offer Greene six hundred pounds a year for three years in return for a promise of three more novels. On the strength of this encouragement, Greene gave up his position at The Times to pursue a career as a novelist.

Life’s Work

The first two novels in Greene’s Heinemann contract, The Name of Action (1930) and Rumour at Nightfall (1931), were awkward and undeveloped action stories which Greene later withdrew from his bibliography. In the 1930’s, he began to distinguish between entertainments and novels. The novels were serious works in which the characterization was both complex and ambiguous. The entertainments were conceived as thrillers designed to satisfy his publisher and generate an income for his growing family. Stamboul Train (1932) was just such an entertainment. Published in the United States as Orient Express, the book catapulted Greene to popular success. The English Book Society chose it as a selection, thereby ensuring sales of at least ten thousand copies, and Twentieth Century-Fox purchased the film rights. Most notable among the entertainments that followed were A Gun for Sale (1936), which appeared in the United States as This Gun for Hire; The Confidential Agent (1939); and The Ministry of Fear (1943).

A prolific writer, Greene was already at work on his next book before Stamboul Train had been published. It’s a Battlefield (1934) was not well received. Undaunted, Greene wrote England Made Me (1935), later reissued as The Shipwrecked (1953), a pessimistic portrait of a doomed society. While employed as the film critic for The Spectator from 1935 to 1939, Greene produced books that were heavily influenced by cinematic effects. Indeed, a measure of Greene’s success is the great number of his novels which have been made into films.

A tireless traveler, Greene ranged widely in Africa, Mexico, Asia, and South America during his lifetime. In the winter of 1934-1935, he undertook an arduous walking tour of Liberia with his cousin Barbara Greene; he published an account of this experience as Journey Without Maps: A Travel Book (1936). At about the same time, Greene began work on the novel, Brighton Rock (1938), that was to mark a significant watershed in his career: It...

(The entire section is 2410 words.)

Graham Greene Biography

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Graham Greene was born October 2, 1904, at Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, England, the fourth of six children. His exposure to books at an early...

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Graham Greene Biography

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Graham Greene was born on October 2, 1904, in Berkhamsted, a small town twenty-eight miles northwest of London, and was the fourth of six children. His father, Charles Henry Greene, was a teacher, and later headmaster, at the Berkhamsted School. Being the son of the headmaster created difficulties for the sensitive youngster. He was victimized, or so he believed, by his schoolmates and made the butt of their jokes. His bouts of depression led him, at an early age, to several attempts at suicide, which, in later years, he understood to be merely disguised pleas for attention and understanding rather than serious efforts to end his own life. In his teens, he was determined to be a writer, to demonstrate to his schoolmates and to the...

(The entire section is 1025 words.)

Graham Greene Biography

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Educated at Berkhamsted School and Balliol College, Oxford, Graham Greene served in the Foreign Office, London, from 1941 to 1944. He married Vivien Dayrell-Browning in 1927 and had two children. He was a staff member of the London Times from 1926 to 1930, and he served as movie critic (1937-1940) and literary editor (1940-1941) of The Spectator. He also served as director for Eyre and Spottiswoode, publishers (1944-1948), and for The Bodley Head, publishers (1958-1968). The recipient of numerous awards, Greene received the Hawthornden Prize for The Labyrinthine Ways in 1941; the Black Memorial Prize for The Heart of the Matter in 1949; the Shakespeare Prize, Hamburg, 1968; and the Thomas More...

(The entire section is 196 words.)

Graham Greene Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Henry Graham Greene was born on October 2, 1904, in the town of Berkhamsted, England. The fourth of six children, he was not especially close to his father, perhaps because of his father’s position as headmaster of Berkhamsted School, which Greene attended. Some of the boys took sadistic delight in his ambiguous position, and two in particular caused him such humiliation that they created in him an excessive desire to prove himself. Without them, he claimed, he might never have written a book.

Greene made several attempts at suicide during these unhappy years; he later insisted these were efforts to avoid boredom rather than to kill himself. At Oxford, he tried for a while to avoid boredom by drinking alcohol to...

(The entire section is 909 words.)

Graham Greene Biography

(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Graham Greene was born to a modestly distinguished family on October 2, 1904, in Berkhamsted, England. His parents were Charles Henry Greene and Marion Raymond Greene. His father was the headmaster of a good, if not prestigious, school for boys, Berkhamsted School, and Greene was educated there.

Greene had some serious emotional difficulties as a boy, caused in part by his awkward position as a student in a residential school where his father was in charge. He often experienced isolation and loneliness, feelings that would be common to protagonists of his novels. Bored by school and life, prone to depression, haunted by a sense of evil and religious insecurities, he was eventually obliged to enter psychoanalysis. This...

(The entire section is 534 words.)

Graham Greene Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Graham Greene, born in Berkhamsted, England, on October 2, 1904, was the fourth of six children. His father, Charles Henry Greene, was a history and classics master who, in 1910, became headmaster of Berkhamsted School.

As a highly sensitive, imaginative youth from a respected upper-middle-class family, Greene had the opportunity to develop more exotic emotional problems than are characteristic of children of the lower classes. When he first discovered that he could read, he hid this fact from his parents out of fear that they would then make him enter preparatory school. He began to live a covert life, secretly reading books about adventure and mystery of which his parents would not approve. As a child, Greene also...

(The entire section is 1592 words.)

Graham Greene Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Despite the variety of literary forms that Graham Greene explored, his greatness clearly lies in his fiction. Unlike writers of the 1920’s and 1930’s, he practically ignored the experimental novel. Rather, he followed the loose tradition of such diverse writers as Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Robert Louis Stevenson, H. Rider Haggard, Joseph Conrad, and Marjorie Bowen.

Greene’s main achievements in the novel are twofold. First, he is a master storyteller, one of the chief reasons for his popular success. Second, he has created a unique vision of the world, having turned his personal obsessions into universal works of art. Greene both lived and wrote on the dangerous edge of things, and in the world of his...

(The entire section is 186 words.)

Graham Greene Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Henry Graham Greene, though not innovative stylistically, was a master craftsman in both the fields of the genre novel (which he called an “entertainment”) and the “serious” novel. He was the fourth of six children. His father was headmaster of Berkhamsted School; Robert Louis Stevenson was a first cousin of his mother’s. During his boyhood, Greene made several attempts to take his own life. He continued to be oppressed by ennui during his Oxford University years. Like his contemporary Evelyn Waugh, Greene as a young man became a Roman Catholic convert. Whereas Waugh turned to Catholicism after a failed marriage, Greene came to the Church in 1926 through his marriage to Vivien Dayrell-Browning. The marriage, which created...

(The entire section is 957 words.)

Graham Greene Biography

(Short Stories for Students)
Graham Greene Published by Gale Cengage

Graham Greene was born in Hertfordshire, England, on October 2, 1904, to Marion (first cousin of the writer Robert Louis Stevenson) and...

(The entire section is 313 words.)

Graham Greene Biography

(Novels for Students)

Graham Greene was born in Hertfordshire, England, on October 2, 1904, to Marion Greene (first cousin of the writer Robert Louis Stevenson)...

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Graham Greene Biography

(Native Americans: Historical Biographies)

Article abstract: One of the most visible contemporary Native American actors, Graham Greene is probably best known for his film roles in Dances with Wolves{$I{I}Dances with Wolves{/I}} (1990), Thunderheart (1992), Maverick (1994), and Education of Little Tree (1997) and his television roles in L.A. Law and Northern Exposure.

The second of six children born to working-class parents, Graham Greene dropped out of school at the age of sixteen and worked at various jobs as a laborer, builder of railway cars, rock-band roadie, high-steelworker, landscape gardener, factory laborer, bartender, and carpenter. His first acting role, in 1974, was as part of a Toronto theater company. His first film role cast him...

(The entire section is 296 words.)