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Graham Greene - a storyteller of genius.

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Mr. Greene is a storyteller of genius. Born in another age, he would still be spinning yarns... His technical mastery has never been better manifested than in his statement of the scene -- the sweat and infection, the ill-built town which is beautiful for a few minutes at sundown, the brothel where all men are equal, the vultures...the snobbery of the second-class public schools, the law which all can evade, the ever-present haunting underworld of gossip, spying, bribery, violence and betrayal...the affinity to the film is everywhere apparent. It is the camera's eye which moves from the hotel balcony to the street below, picks out the policeman, follows him to his office, moves about the room from the handcuffs on the wall to the broken rosary in the drawer, recording significant detail. It is the modern way of telling a story... Evelyn Waugh Graham Greene was in a class by himself...He would be read and remembered as the ultimate twentieth-century chronicler of consciousness and anxiety.

William Golding [Greene] appears to share the idea, which has been floating around ever since Baudelaire, that there is something rather distingue in being damned; Hell is a sort of high-class nightclub, entry to which is reserved for Catholics only. George Orwell ...Catholicism as a public system of laws and dogmas is far from being an adequate key to Greene's fiction. There is a good deal of evidence, internal and external, that in Greene's fiction Catholicism is not a body of belief requiring exposition and demanding categorical assent or dissent, but a system of concepts, a source of situations, and a reservoir of symbols with which he can order and dramatize certain intuitions about the nature of human experience intuitions which were gained prior to and independently of his formal adoption of the Catholic faith. Regarded in this light, Greene's Catholicism may be seen not as a crippling burden on his artistic freedom, but as a positive artistic asset.

David Lodge It is, in fact, the ultimate strength of Greene's books that he shows us the hazards of compassion. We all know, from works like Hamlet, how analysis is paralysis and the ability to see every side of every issue prevents us from taking any side at all.

The tragic import of Greene's work is that understanding can do the same: he could so easily see the pain of the people he was supposed to punish that he could not bear to come down hard on them. He became hostage to his own sympathies and railed at pity with the fury of one who was its captive.

The most sobering lesson of Greene's fiction is that sleeping with the enemy is most with us when we're sleeping alone; and that even God, faced with a wounded murderer, might sometimes feel himself agnostic. Pico Iyer In one book at least, The Power and the Glory, he transcends his perverse and morbid tendencies and presents a whole and memorable human being; this wholeness is exceptional, for Greene is generally an impressionist, or rather a cutter of mosaics. We expect from incisive talents some kind of diagnosis, some instinctive knowledge of the human situation, which we have not attended to; this Greene has had.

His subjects are the contemporary loneliness, ugliness, and transience. V. S. Pritchett The three novels...Brighton Rock, The Heart of the Matter, and The End of the Affair...all have claims to greatness; they are as intense and penetrating and disturbing as an inquisitor's gaze. After his modest start as a novelist under the influence of Joseph Conrad and John Buchan, Greene's masterly facility at concocting thriller plots and his rather blithely morbid sensibility had come together, at a high level of intelligence and passion, with the strict terms of an inner religious debate that had not yet wearied him.

John Updike In most of my novels I can remember passages, even chapters, which gave me at the time I wrote them a sense of satisfaction 'this at least has come off.' So I felt, however mistakenly, with the trial scene in The Man Within, and later with Querry's voyage in a Burnt-Out Case, with the three-cornered love scene in The Quiet American, the chess game in Our Man in Havana, the prison dialogue in The Power and the Glory, the intrusion of Miss Paterson in the Boulogne chapters of Travels with My Aunt I don't think a single book of mine failed to give me at least once a momentary illusion of success except The Name of the Action. From A Sort of Life, p.198 In most of my books, however well I might know the scene, there is one lay figure who obstinately refuses to live, who is there only for the sake of the story Krogh in England Made Me, Smyth in The End of the Affair, Wilson in The Heart of the Matter, the journalist Parkinson in A Burnt-Out Case. The sad truth is that a story hasn't got room for more than a limited number of created characters.

One more successful creation and like an overloaded boat the story lists. From Ways of Escape, p.250 Excitement is simple: excitement is a situation, a single event. It mustn't be wrapped up in thoughts, similes, and metaphors. A simile is a form of reflection, but excitement is of the moment when there is no time to reflect. Action can only be expressed by a subject, a verb and an object, perhaps a rhythm little else. Even an adjective slows the pace or tranquilizes the nerve. From A Sort of Life, pp.198-199 The main character in a novel must necessarily have some kinship to the author, they come out of his body as a child comes from the womb, then the umbilical cord is cut, and they grow into independence.

The more the author knows of his own character the more he can distance himself from his invented characters and the more room they have to grow in. From Ways of Escape, p.8 there are, I think, a few points of academic interest in Stamboul Train. The young dancer Coral Musker had surely appeared at the Theatre Royal in Nottwich, like Anne, a character in a later book, A Gun for Sale, and I can detect in both books the influence of my early passion for playwrighting, which has never quite died. In those days I thought in terms of a key scene I would even chart its position on a sheet of paper before I began to write. "Chapter 3. So-and-so comes alive." Often these scenes consisted of isolating two characters hiding in a railway shed in Stamboul Train, in an empty house in A Gun for Sale. It was as though I wanted to escape from the vast liquidity of the novel and to play out the most important situation on a narrow stage where I could direct every movement of my characters. A scene like that halts the progress of the novel with dramatic emphasis just as in a film a close-up makes the moving picture momentarily pause. I can watch myself following this method even in so late a book as The Comedians. I had long abandoned that sheet of paper otherwise perhaps I would have written on it, "Scene: Cemetery. Jones and Brown come alive." It might even be said that I reached the logical climax of the method in The Honorary Consul where almost the whole story is contained in the hut in which the kidnappers have hidden their victim. From Ways of Escape, p.19 T.S. Eliot and Herbert Read were the two great figures of my young manhood (they meant more to me than Joyce, and as for Pound he was somehow always a very long way off an explorer of whose survival at any particular moment one could never be quite certain.) I had not the courage to approach Eliot or Read myself. What interest could they feel for a young and unsuccessful novelist? So it must have been chance, which led to my first encounter with Read, and I was proud, surprised and a little daunted when I received a letter from him inviting me to dinner. "Eliot is coming, but no one else, and everything very informal." To me it was a little like receiving an invitation from Coleridge "Wordsworth is coming, but no one else."(At that dinner with Eliot we had talked of Arsene Lupin a subject, which always helped Eliot to unbutton perhaps for a moment it made him feel safe from ladies going to and fro, talking of Michelangelo.)

From Ways of Escape, p.28 When my novel was eventually noticed in the New Yorker the reviewer condemned me for accusing my "best friends" (the Americans) of murder since I had attributed to them the responsibility for the great explosion -- far worse than the trivial bicycle bombs -- in the main square of Saigon when many people lost their lives. But what are the facts, of which the reviewer needless to say was ignorant? The Life photographer at the moment of the explosion was so well placed that he was able to take an astonishing and horrifying photograph which showed the body of a trishaw driver still upright after his legs had been blown off. This photograph was reproduced in an American propaganda magazine published in Manila over the title "the work of Ho Chi Minh" although General they had promptly and proudly claimed the bomb as his own. Who had supplied the material to a bandit who was fighting French, Caodaists and Communists? Perhaps there is more direct reportage in the The Quiet American than in any other novel I have written. I had determined to employ again the experience I had gained with The End of the Affair in the use of the first person and the time shift, and my choice of a journalist, as the "I" seemed to me to justify the use of reportage. The Press conference is not the only example of direct reporting. I was in the dive bomber (the pilot had broken an order of General de Lattre by taking me), which attacked the Viet Minh post, and I was on the patrol of the Foreign Legion pares outside Phat Diem. I still retain the sharp image of the dead child couched in the ditch beside his dead mother. The very neatness of their bullet wounds made their death more disturbing than the indiscriminate massacre in the canals around. A Not So Brief Biography "Childhood is life under a dictatorship." Graham Greene was born on October 2, 1904 to Charles Henry and Marion Raymond Greene, the fourth of six children. Charles was the Head Master of Berkhamsted School.

Graham's brothers included Hugh, who went on to become a Director General of the BBC, and Raymond, an accomplished mountaineer involved in the 1931 Kamet and 1933 Everest expeditions. One of Marion's distant cousins happened to be a person called R. L. Stevenson. Greene studied at the Berkhamstead School and Oxford (in Balliol) By all accounts, he had a pretty torrid time in Berkhamstead, having to balance all the time between his father and his schoolmates. He wrote quite regularly in Student Magazines, and was an editor of The Oxford Outlook.

His first work, a collection of apparently forgettable poems, Babbling April, was published during his last year at Oxford. After graduation, he worked briefly for the Nottingham Journal. He was baptized a Catholic in February 1926. In March, he returned to London, as the Sub Editor for The Times. Greene married Vivienne (later Vivien) Dayrell-Browning in October 1927. He had met her in early '25, after she had written correcting a small mistake (Greene had talked of 'worshipping' the Virgin Mary, and Vivienne felt he ought to have used the word 'venerated' ) in one of his Outlook articles. His first novel, The Man Within, came out in 1929, to public and critical acclaim. A lucrative contract with Heinemann followed, for his next three novels, enabling him to resign from The Times, and devote more time to his novels. The Name of Action and Rumour at Nightfall, his next two books, did not do very well. The Greenes moved to the Cotswolds in 1931, and he had begun work on what was to establish him as a significant literary figure. Stamboul Train (also known as Orient Express) went on to become a commercial success, and a film (by Twentieth Century Fox). "The Critic, as much as the film, is supposed to entertain ... "

 Around this time, Greene started reviewing for The Spectator. His film criticism career actually stretched back to his Oxford days, with an Outlook article in 1925. He also had written a few essays on films for The Times. He remained an avid filmgoer for a long time, so much so that he reworked the character of, after watching Anna Sten in The Crime of Dmitri Karamazov (by Feodor Ozep).

In 1935, he added films to his book reviewing work at The Spectator. He continued to review films for over a decade, and is widely regarded one of the finest critics of his time, the Shirley Temple fiasco notwithstanding (His review of a 1937 film, Wee Willie Winkie, contained disparaging remarks about Ms. Temple's precocious body and it's alleged exploitation by Hollywood movie moguls. The review led to a messy lawsuit, and possibly the closing down of Night and Day, for which Greene had written the piece).

Vivien Greene gave birth to a daughter in December 1933, six months after they had moved again, this time to Oxford. "Ways of Escape" It's a Battlefield was published in early 1934. Greene started traveling extensively in 1934 - brief trips to Germany, Latvia and Estonia preceding an arduous journey overland through Liberia, in the company of his cousin Barbara, which was chronicled in Journey without Maps.

He returned in April 1937; England made Me, written before he had left, was published soon after. A Gun for Sale came next, in 1936. Francis Greene was born in September 1936. In 1938, Brighton Rock came out. In the same year, Greene made a trip to Mexico, to investigate into alleged atrocities against the Catholics. The result of the journey was two books, The Lawless Roads in March 1939, and The Power And The Glory, perhaps his finest book, in September 1939. The latter won for him his first major literary prize, The Hawthorne; the term Greenland first appeared, at around this time, as a description of the atmosphere in his novels, in an Arthur Calder-Marshall article for The Horizon. The outbreak of the Second World War led to Vivien and the children evacuating to Crowborough, and later Oxford. Greene worked for the Ministry of Information, and then volunteered for the Air Raid Precautions Squad during the London Blitz. He wrote four children’s' stories during this time, illustrated by a friend, Dorothy Glover; the books were published after the War. Greene also managed to have The Confidential Agent published in September 1939. The novel was an unusual Greene offering in that it's ending was unambiguously happy.

In August 1941, Greene joined the SIS, and was assigned to Freetown, Sierra Leone, in December. The job was by and large boring, and Greene livened it up by coming up with some innovative plans to recruit spies; one proposed a traveling brothel and another involved tricking a Left Wing official into escaping form Freetown prison with British agents, letting them cross over into Vichy Territory, and then luring him back to blackmail him into becoming a double agent. Unfortunately he did not obtain approval for these schemes.

In early 1943, Greene returned to London, to a job in Section V. He was assigned to Counter Intelligence, Portugal, and reported to Kim Philby, who was then in charge of the area. They became good friends - after Philby's defection to the erstwhile USSR, his memoirs, My Silent War, contained laudatory references to Greene and Greene wrote it's Introduction. An interesting sidelight of Greene's tenure in the SIS is the story of 'Garcia'. A double agent in Lisbon, he fed the Germans disinformation, pretending to control a ring of agents all over England, while all he was doing was inventing armed forces movements and operations from maps, guides and standard military references. Garcia was the inspiration for Wormold a character in Our Man in Havana. Greene left the Service in May 1944, and joined the Political Warfare Executive, editing a literary magazine intended for France. After the War, Greene was commissioned to write a film treatment based on Vienna, a city occupied by the Four Powers at the time. He collaborated with Carol Reed in writing The Third Man, a skillful tale of deception and drug trafficking. The film went on to win the First Prize at Cannes in 1949.


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