*Greene, Graham

Graham Greene

Graham Greene



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Greene, Graham

British, 1904–1991
Although he failed to win the Nobel Prize for Literature despite his great achievement with over two dozen novels, four collections of short stories, four volumes of travel writing, and eight plays, Graham Greene nevertheless also made his mark in the essay genre with several volumes: British Dramatists (1942), The Lost Childhood and Other Essays (1951), Collected Essays (1969), The Pleasure-Dome (1972), and Reflections (1990). His essays were published in a wide variety of British periodicals, including the New Statesman, the Spectator, Night and Day, the Listener, the Observer, and the Sunday Times.
Greene’s serious work as an essayist (he had written some film criticism as an undergraduate at Oxford) began in 1935 with movie reviews for the Spectator, to which he contributed over 400 reviews in the next four and a half years. In these reviews (over 300 of them published in The Pleasure-Dome, and a selection more recently in Mornings in the Dark, 1993) Greene analyzed most of the major films of the time—Anthony Adverse, Beau Geste, Crime and Punishment, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Intermezzo, Trail of the Lonesome Pine, for example—and the work of major actors, actresses, and directors from Frank Capra, Katharine Hepburn, and Laurence Olivier to Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, and W.C.Fields. In one instance, his review (in Night and Day, October 1937) gave him a great deal of legal trouble when he libeled Shirley Temple and her performance in Wee Willie Winkle; the subsequent suit forced him to flee to Mexico for a time.
As Norman Sherry (1989), his biographer, has written, “Greene’s long fascination with the cinema aroused in him extremes of emotional response and a deeply critical attitude toward films, their makers, and those who appeared in them.” He found a good deal wrong with the films of the 1930s because of their sensationalism in publicity and their falseness to life. All too often, he felt, film failed because it did not fulfill that which should be its object: “the translation of thought back into images.”
British Dramatists is an essay of 48 pages written at sea in December 1941, while Greene was on his way to Africa to serve as a spy for the British Secret Service. In the essay he finds the genesis of British drama in the ritual of the Roman Catholic Church, surveys the theater from the mystery plays down to Noël Coward and Somerset Maugham, and suggests that the theater casts its spell because “the ritual is there—the magic.” His comments on Shakespeare are particularly striking for their insights into the playwright’s verbal power.
Greene’s best work as an essayist is found in Collected Essays, which contains 75 essays written and published over a period of three decades, 39 of them having previously been published in The Lost Childhood and Other Essays. Greene wrote in his note to Collected Essays that in making his selections for the volume, “I have made it a principle to include nothing of which I can say that, if I were writing today, I would write in a different sense. The principle applies as much to my hatreds as to my loves… A man should be judged by his enmities as well as by his friendships.”
The collected essays cover a wide range of topics from the influence of childhood reading to his wartime experiences in Sierra Leone to literature and writers. Among the many writers he deals with are Fielding, Stern, Dickens, Henry James, Ford Madox Ford, G.K.Chesterton, François Mauriac, Edgar Wallace, Beatrix Potter, Anthony à Wood, John Evelyn, Charles Churchill, Francis Parkman, Simone Weil, and George Moore.
Reflections, a final collection of essays selected by Judith Adamson, ranges in time from 1923 (“Impressions of Dublin”) to 1988 (“Out of the Dustbin”) and covers a wide range of topics: criticism, the Russian-Finnish War, the papacy, IndoChina, Catholicism, Adlai Stevenson, secondhand bookstores, Chile, Jorge Luis Borges, Cuba, and Papa Doc Duvalier. Like his other essays, these pieces are lively, highly personal, often controversial, and stylistically polished. Many had their genesis in Greene’s travels as a journalist and later served as quarries for his novels. As Adamson says in her introduction, they let us “see what reality looked like before it was transformed into a unique vision of the world.”
Perhaps Greene’s most enduring essays are those concerning literature. In his brilliant essays on Henry James, for example, Greene’s admiration of James and the influence of James on Greene’s fiction are obvious. In “Henry James: The Private Universe” (1936), “Henry James: The Religious Aspect” (1933), “The Plays of Henry James” (1950), and “The Lesson of the Master” (1951), he praises the writer for his treatment of the struggle between good and evil, his deft handling of point of view and style, and his poetic imagination. His essays on Dickens, Fielding, Sterne, Mauriac, Chesterton, Ford, and Moore are also significant contributions to the history of the criticism of fiction.
Greene’s essays will never overshadow the distinguished achievement of his fiction, but they will continue to reveal a great deal about the workings of the mind of one of the most important British novelists of the 20th century.

Born 2 October 1904 in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire. Studied at Balliol College, Oxford, B.A., 1925. Joined the Roman Catholic Church, 1926. Subeditor, the Times, London, 1926–30. Married Vivien Dayrell-Browning (later separated), 1927: one son and one daughter. Fiction editor, 1932–35, film critic, 1937–40, and literary editor, 1940–41, the Spectator, London. Worked as a spy for the British Secret Service during World War II.
Director, Eyre and Spottiswoode publishers, London, 1944–48, and Bodley Head publishers, London, 1958–68. Contributor to many journals and magazines, including Life, New Republic, Saturday Evening Post, Esquire, Atlantic Monthly, and the London Mercury. Traveled widely. Lived in Antibes, on the French Riviera, from 1966. Awards: many, including the Hawthornden prize, 1941; James Tait Black Memorial Prize, 1949;
Thomas More Medal, 1973; Dos Passos Prize, 1980; Jerusalem Prize, 1981; honorary degrees from four universities. Honorary Fellow, Balliol College, 1963; Honorary Citizen, Anacapri, 1978; Companion of Honor, 1966; Chevalier, Legion of Honor (France), 1967; Grand Cross, Order of Balboa (Panama), 1983; Commandant, Order of Arts and Letters (France), 1984; Companion of Literature, Royal Society of Literature, 1984; Order of Merit, 1986. Died in Geneva, 3 April 1991.
Selected Writings
Essays and Related Prose
British Dramatists, 1942
The Lost Childhood and Other Essays, 1951
Essais catholiques, part translated into French by Marcelle Sibon, 1953
Collected Essays, 1969
The Pleasure-Dome: The Collected Film Criticism, 1935–1940, edited by John Russell Taylor, 1972; as Greene on Film: Collected Film Criticism, 1935–1940, 1972
Reflections, 1923–1988, edited by Judith Adamson, 1990
Mornings in the Dark: The Graham Greene Film Reader, edited by David Parkinson, 1993; as The Graham Greene Film Reader: Reviews, Essays, Interviews, and Film Stories, 1994
Other writings: 28 novels (including Brighton Rock, 1938; The Power and the Glory, 1940; The Heart of the Matter, 1948; The Third Man, 1950; The End of the Affair, 1951;
The Quiet American, 1955; Our Man in Havana, 1958; The Comedians, 1966; Travels with My Aunt, 1969; The Honorary Consul, 1973; Monsignor Quixote, 1982), four volumes of short stories, eight plays, travel books, autobiography, and books for children.
Collected works edition: Graham Greene: The Collected Edition, 1970– (in progress).
Cassis, A.F., Graham Greene: An Annotated Bibliography of Criticism, Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press, 1981
Vann, J.D., Graham Greene: A Checklist of Criticism, Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1970
Wobbe, R.A., Graham Greene: A Bibliography and Guide to Research, New York: Garland, 1979
Further Reading
Davis, Elizabeth, Graham Greene: The Artist as Critic, Fredericton, New Brunswick: York Press, 1984
De Vitis, A.A., Graham Greene, Boston: Twayne, revised edition, 1986
Shelden, Michael, Graham Greene: The Enemy Within, New York: Random House, and London: Heinemann, 1994
Sherry, Norman, The Life of Graham Greene, New York: Viking, and London: Cape, 2 vols., 1989–94 (in progress)
Stratford, Philip, Faith and Fiction: Creative Process in Greene and Mauriac, Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1964: Chapter 5

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