Graham Greene

Start Free Trial

Other Literary Forms

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Graham Greene tried his hand at every literary genre. He was poet, reporter, critic, essayist, pamphleteer, dramatist, screenwriter, short-story writer, biographer, and autobiographer. His near compulsion to travel led to published accounts of his numerous journeys. His established place in literature, however, is the result of the worldwide acclaim that has greeted most of his twenty-odd novels. Critics have noted a strong autobiographical element in his fiction and have charted the development of his philosophical, religious, and political thought through his career. Certain themes recur in a recognizable pattern: human beings as aliens at home and abroad, oppressed by evil in a violent world, flirting with suicide as an answer to their despair, seeking salvation, perhaps finding it at last, through the grace of God. Since Brighton Rock, published in 1938, most of the novels are decidedly the work of a confirmed Roman Catholic, but Greene himself rejected the label “Catholic writer.” Acknowledging his Catholicism as a point of reference, Greene, borrowing the title of one of his novels, preferred to think of himself as a writer exploring the human factor.

From 1929 to the early 1960’s, Greene’s works, with few exceptions, were published in Great Britain by William Heinemann. From the mid-1960’s, his British publisher has been the Bodley Head, a firm in which he served as a director from 1958 to 1968. In 1970, the two British publishing houses became jointly involved in issuing a uniform edition of his collected works, for which Greene wrote new introductions. In the United States, his works have been published by the Viking Press and Simon and Schuster.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Graham Greene, most highly regarded for his work as a novelist, was not a distinguished dramatist, nor was he an innovator in dramatic form. His first dramatic work was not even meant for the stage: The Great Jowett, a character study of Benjamin Jowett, the late nineteenth century educator and head of Balliol College, Oxford, was written as a radio play for the British Broadcasting Corporation and broadcast in 1939. One of Greene’s early plays, for which no manuscript survives, was accepted by a theatrical firm but never reached production. Only five of his plays—The Living Room, The Potting Shed, The Complaisant Lover, Carving a Statue, and The Return of A. J. Raffles—have been produced in London. Two later plays, Yes and No, a curtain raiser consisting of a comic dialogue between a director and an actor, and For Whom the Bell Chimes, a black farce in the manner of Joe Orton, have been produced in the provinces.

Greene’s major plays—The Living Room, The Potting Shed, and The Complaisant Lover—suggest the influence of the well-made play as they recall the work of Henrik Ibsen in his realist phase. As in Ibsen’s work, the present dilemma in which the characters find themselves has been dictated by the irrevocable events of the past. Tradition, superstition, and religion all take their toll on characters torn between a sense of duty and the urgings of love. Despite their serviceable structure and moving content, Greene’s plays generally echo his superior fiction without deepening its themes.

Other Literary Forms

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Graham Greene published twenty-six novels including The Power and the Glory (1940; reissued as The Labyrinthine Ways), The Heart of the Matter (1948), Brighton Rock (1938), The End of the Affair (1951), and The Human Factor (1978). In addition to his many novels and short-story collections, Greene published five plays; three collections of poetry of which the last two, After Two Years (1949) and For Christmas (1950), were privately printed; travel books, including two centering on Africa; several books...

(This entire section contains 118 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

of literary essays and film criticism; a biography,Lord Rochester’s Monkey: Being the Life of John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester (1974); and two autobiographical works, A Sort of Life (1971) and Ways of Escape (1980). In addition, Greene published journals, book reviews, and four children’s books.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Although the Nobel Prize eluded Graham Greene, he remains one of the most important novelists of the twentieth century. With more screen adaptations than any other modern author, translations into twenty-seven different languages, and book sales exceeding twenty million dollars, Greene has enjoyed a combination of critical success and popular acclaim not seen since Charles Dickens.

In 1984, Britain made Greene a Companion of Literature, and in 1986, a member of the elite Order of Merit. France bestowed on Greene one of its highest honors, naming him a Commander of Arts and Letters. In addition, Greene’s most famous novels—The Power and the Glory, The End of the Affair, and The Heart of the Matter—have been acknowledged as literary masterpieces. Combining the outer world of political intrigue and the inner world of the human psyche, Greene’s world is one of faith and doubt, honor and betrayal, love and hate. Both the depth and breadth of Greene’s work make him one of Britain’s most prolific and enduring writers.

Other literary forms

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

In addition to his novels, Graham Greene published many collections of short stories, including The Basement Room, and Other Stories (1935), Nineteen Stories (1947), Twenty-one Stories (1954; in which two stories from the previous collection were dropped and four added), A Sense of Reality (1963), May We Borrow Your Husband?, and Other Comedies of the Sexual Life (1967), and Collected Stories (1972). He also wrote plays, including The Living Room (pr., pb. 1953), The Potting Shed (pr., pb. 1957), The Complaisant Lover (pr., pb. 1959), Carving a Statue (pr., pb. 1964), and Yes and No (pr. 1980). With the exception of his first published book, Babbling April: Poems (1925), he did not publish poetry except in two private printings, After Two Years (1949) and For Christmas (1950). He wrote some interesting travel books, two focusing on Africa, Journey Without Maps: A Travel Book (1936) and In Search of a Character: Two African Journals (1961), and one set in Mexico, The Lawless Roads: A Mexican Journal (1939).

Greene published several books of essays and criticism, including British Dramatists (1942), The Lost Childhood, and Other Essays (1951), Essais Catholiques (1953), Collected Essays (1969), and The Pleasure Dome: The Collected Film Criticism, 1935-40, of Graham Greene (1972), edited by John Russell-Taylor. He also wrote a biography, Lord Rochester’s Monkey: Being the Life of John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester (1974), and two autobiographical works, A Sort of Life (1971), carrying the reader up to Greene’s first novel, and Ways of Escape (1980), bringing the reader up to the time of its writing. A biographical-autobiographical work, Getting to Know the General: The Story of an Involvement (1984), spotlights Greene’s relationship with General Omar Torrijos Herrera of Panama. Four children’s books are also among Greene’s works: The Little Train (1946), The Little Fire Engine (1950), The Little Horse Bus (1952), and The Little Steam Roller: A Story of Mystery and Detection (1953).


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Graham Greene’s style has often been singled out for praise. He learned economy and precision while working for The Times of London. More than anything else, he struggled for precision, “truth” as he called it, in form as well as in substance. The Power and the Glory won the Hawthornden Prize in 1941. Additionally, Greene’s experience as a film reviewer seems to have given him a feel for cinematic technique.

What Greene’s reputation will be a century hence is difficult to predict. Readers will certainly find in him more than a religious writer, more—at least—than a Catholic writer. They will find in him a writer who used for his thematic vehicles all the pressing issues of his era: the Vietnam War, Papa Doc Duvalier’s tyranny over Haiti, the struggle between communism and capitalism, apartheid in South Africa, poverty and oppression in Latin America. Will these issues seem too topical for posterity, or will they prove again that only by localizing one’s story in the specifics of a time and place can one appeal to readers of another time, another place?


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Graham Greene’s place in the history of crime drama is one of considerable importance, for he added to the dimensions of the genre in several ways. He was much more than a writer of thrillers. It is not simply a matter of writing other kinds of fiction; it is a matter of his being one of the greatest novelists of the twentieth century. The imposition of his formidable talent on his “entertainments” (as he chose to call them) gave to the thriller a respectability that it had not possessed before his work. Consistent with his ambition to give the action novel artistic texture was his interest in taking the obvious themes of the genre beyond patently oversimplified motivation. He used the realities of the modern political world as a basis for his plots and made the exploration of political issues an integral part of his novels. Questions of religion and ethics surface in his work as well. Indeed, Greene’s sensitive interest in human conduct, particularly in people’s enthusiasm for imposing pain on others even apart from motives of profit and power, affords his crime dramas a complexity that makes them difficult to classify.

It must be acknowledged, too, that Greene was chiefly, if not solely, responsible for the deromanticization of the espionage novel. Grubby, cheeseparing working conditions, disillusion, loneliness, betrayals by one’s own side—all these gloomy trappings of the person on the fringes of normal life, conditions that were to become common motifs in post-World War II thrillers of writers such as Len Deighton and John le Carré, were in Greene’s work from the beginning. If his original intentions for his entertainments were limited, Greene nevertheless showed that the stuff of popular, sensationalistic fiction could be turned into art.

Discussion Topics

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

How did Graham Greene’s recollection of the boys who tormented him when he was young serve him as a writer? Did this obsession damage as well as contribute to his fiction?

How does Greene’s depiction of foreign places differ in his travel books and his novels?

Catholicism is important in many Greene novels, but his books are also “fatalistic and pessimistic.” How can these two elements be compounded?

Were Joseph Conrad’s novels a major influence on Greene?

Consider the theme of self-destructiveness in Greene’s fiction.

Can Greene, or any writer, be his own therapist?


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Bayley, John. “Graham Greene: The Short Stories.” In Graham Greene: A Reevaluation. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990. Basing his comments on his analysis of “The Hint of an Explanation,” Bayley argues that many Greene stories have a hidden subject in a sense that none of his novels does. Claims that by means of almost invisible contrasts and incongruities, the story leads the reader both away from and toward its central revelation.

Couto, Maria. Graham Greene: On the Frontier. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988. A well-rounded approach to Greene criticism, including a discussion of the final novels and a retrospective on Greene’s career. Contains an insightful interview with Greene and a selection of Greene’s letters to the international press from 1953 to 1986.

De Vitis, A. A. Graham Greene. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1986. Most interesting in this volume are an overview of critical opinion about Greene, a chronology, and a chapter on the short stories. Supplemented by a thorough primary bibliography and an annotated bibliography of secondary sources.

Evans, Robert O., ed. Graham Greene: Some Critical Considerations. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1963. Although published before some of Greene’s later works, this collection of critical essays covers the major novels and short stories and contains rare information on Greene’s plays and film criticism. Includes an extremely thorough primary and secondary bibliography covering all Greene’s literary genres.

Falk, Quentin. Travels in Greeneland: The Complete Cinema of Graham Greene. 3d ed. New York: Trafalgar Square, 2000. A guide to Greene’s association with film, as a screenwriter and as a reviewer, as well as the numerous adaptations of his novels to film.

Greene, Richard. Graham Greene: A Life in Letters. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2008. The letters published in this biography reveal much about Greene’s personal life, including his relationship with his estranged wife, his friendships with other writers, his love for travel, and his views on politics and religion. Contains 8 pages of illustrations by Greene.

Hill, William Thomas. Graham Greene’s Wanderers: The Search for Dwelling—Journeying and Wandering in the Novels of Graham Greene. San Francisco: International Scholars, 1999. Examines the motif of the dwelling in Greene’s fiction. Deals with the mother, the father, the nation, and the Church as the “ground” of dwelling.

Hoskins, Robert. Graham Greene: An Approach to the Novels. New York: Garland, 1999. An updated look at Greene’s oeuvre. Includes bibliographical references and an index.

Kelly, Richard. Graham Greene. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1984. A general introduction to Greene and his work. The chapter on the short stories discusses “The Destructors,” “The Hint of an Explanation,” and “The Basement Room” as the best of Greene’s stories.

Kelly, Richard. Graham Greene: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1992. Discusses the influence of Henry James, Guy de Maupassant, and W. Somerset Maugham on Greene’s stories, but also discusses how the stories reflect Greene’s own personal demons. Includes an interview with Greene, his introduction to his Collected Stories, and three previously published essays by other critics.

McEwan, Neil. Graham Greene. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988. Combines criticism and autobiography in the opening chapter, “Greene on Greene,” and adds chapters on the early novels, Catholic influences, and comedy. Includes a bibliography of major works.

Malmet, Elliott. The World Remade: Graham Greene and the Art of Detection. New York: P. Lang, 1998. Focuses on Greene’s genre fiction.

Meyers, Jeffrey, ed. Graham Greene: A Revaluation. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990. These essays by eight scholars offer critical analyses of Greene’s accomplishments, in the shadow of his death.

Miller, R. H. Understanding Graham Greene. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1990. A guide to all of Greene’s writing. The style is concise yet informative and evaluative, but the author runs too quickly through the canon. Bibliography and index.

O’Prey, Paul. A Reader’s Guide to Graham Greene. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1988. A critical overview of Greene’s fiction. The excellent introduction familiarizes the reader with Greene’s major themes. Supplemented by a complete primary bibliography and a brief list of critical works.

Sheldon, Michael. Graham Greene: The Enemy Within. New York: Random House, 1994. In this unauthorized biography, Sheldon takes a much more critical view of Greene’s life, especially of his politics, than does Norman Sherry, the authorized biographer. A lively, opinionated narrative. Notes and bibliography included.

Sherry, Norman. The Life of Graham Greene. 2 vols. New York: Viking Press, 1989-1995. The first two parts of what is certainly the most comprehensive, most authoritative account of Greene’s life yet published, written with complete access to his papers and the full cooperation of family, friends, and the novelist himself. Includes a generous collection of photographs, a bibliography, and an index.

Smith, Grahame. The Achievement of Graham Greene. Sussex, England: Harvester Press, 1986. Includes an excellent introduction, with an overview of themes and biographical data. Contains chapters on “Fiction and Belief” and “Fiction and Politics,” as well as sections titled “The Man of Letters” and “Greene and Cinema.” Augmented by a select bibliography.

West, W. J. The Quest for Graham Greene. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998. Focuses on the more obscure aspects of Greene’s life, including his adolescent nervous breakdown and his involvement with the British Secret Service.


Critical Essays