Henry Graham Greene,
||October 2, 1904
Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, England
April 3, 1991
||Author and English Literature
OM, CH (October 2, 1904 – April 3, 1991) wasa great English playwright, novelist, short story writer, travel writer and critic whose works explore the ambivalent moral and political issues of the modern world. Greene combined serious literary acclaim with wide popularity. Although Greene objected strongly to being described as a "Catholic novelist" rather than as a "novelist who happened to be Catholic", Catholic religious themes are at the root of many of his novels, including Brighton Rock, The Heart of the Matter, The End of the Affair, Monsignor Quixote, A Burnt-Out Case, and his famous work The Power and the Glory. Works such as The Quiet American also show an avid interest in the workings of internationl politics.
Life and work-childhood
Greene was born in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, the fourth of six children — his younger brother Hugh became the Director-General of the BBC, and older brother Raymond an eminent doctor and mountaineer. Their parents, Charles Henry Greene and Marion née Raymond, were first cousins and members of a large and influential family that included the owners of the Greene King brewery, and various bankers and businessmen. Charles Greene was "second master" at Berkhamsted School, where the headmaster was Dr Thomas Fry (who was married to another cousin of Charles).
In 1910 Charles Greene succeeded Dr Fry as headmaster, and Graham attended the school as a pupil. Bullied and profoundly unhappy as a boarder, Greene made several attempts at suicide (some of them, Greene claimed, by playing Russian roulette — though Michael Shelden's biography of Greene discredits the truth of these incidents), and in 1921 at the age of 17 he underwent six months of psychoanalysis in London to deal with depression. After this he returned to the school as a day boy, living with his family. Schoolfriends included Claud Cockburn and Peter Quennell.
He went to Balliol College, Oxford, and his first work (a volume of poetry) was published in 1925, while he was an undergraduate, but it was not widely praised.
After graduation, Greene took up a career in journalism but he was very unsuccessful, firstly in Nottingham (a city which recurs in his novels as an epitome of mean provincial life), and then as a subeditor on The Times. While in Nottingham he started a correspondence with Vivien Dayrell-Browning, a Roman Catholic (by conversion) who had written to correct him on a point of Catholic doctrine. Greene converted to the faith in 1926 (he described it in A Sort of Life). He was baptised in February the same year, and the couple were married in 1927. They had two children, Lucy (born 1933) and Francis (born 1936; died 1987). In 1948 Greene left Vivien for Catherine Walston, but they remained married.
Novels and other works
Greene's first published novel was The Man Within in 1929, and its reception emboldened him to give up his job at The Times and work full-time as a novelist. However, the following two books were not successful (Greene disowned them in later life), and his first real success was Stamboul Train in 1932 — as with several of his books, this was also adapted as a film (Orient Express, 1934).
His income from novels was supplemented by freelance journalism, including book and film reviews for The Spectator, and co-editing the magazine Night and Day, which closed down in 1937 shortly after Greene's review of the film Wee Willie Winkie, starring a nine-year-old Shirley Temple, caused the magazine to lose a libel case. Greene's review claimed that Temple displayed "a certain adroit coquetry which appealed to middle-aged men", and is now seen as one of the first criticisms of the sexualisation of young children by the entertainment industry.
His fiction was originally divided into two genres: thrillers or mystery/suspense books, such as Our Man in Havana, that he himself cast as "entertainments" but which often included a notable philosophical edge, and literary works such as The Power and the Glory, on which his reputation was thought to be based.
As his career lengthened, however, Greene and his readers both found the "entertainments" to be of nearly as high a value as the literary efforts, and Greene's later efforts such as The Human Factor, The Comedians, Our Man in Havana and The Quiet American, combine these modes into works of remarkable insight and compression.
Greene also wrote many short stories and several plays, which were also, on the whole, well-received, although he was always first and foremost a novelist.
Greene's long, successful career and very large readership (for a serious literary novelist) led his fans to hope that he would be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. However, although he was apparently seriously considered in 1974, he never received the prize. His broad popularity may have counted against him among the scholarly elite, while the centrality of religious themes in his work may have alienated some of the judges.
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