Graham Greene

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At a Glance

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.

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Biography

(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...

(The entire section is 3,522 words.)