Some Notes on Graham Greene

January 1, 2009

posted by Caroline Picard; Graham Greene is another author claiming to be a spy, though that’s not why I started reading him. A friend of mine had recommended The End of an Affair, and I picked it up with great relish. As is so often the case, I then learned a little about his life. The most curious rumor I’d heard is that Greene hired a biographer to follow him around the world. Accordingly, he would play games with the biographer, sending him down false trails and trying, regularly, to vanish. The biographer, supposedly, was paid to do everything that Greene did. Anyway, I’ve posted a segment of his biography, (with a link to it’s entirety), a section of an interview published in 1953 by the Paris Review (you can again, follow the provided link to read the whole interview), and a book review from the New York Times about said biography.

O yes, and most importantly, Happy New Year~

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Graham Greene (1904-1991)

Henry Graham Greene was born on October 2, 1904 in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire. The fourth of six children, Greene was a shy and sensitive youth. He disliked sports and was often truant from school in order to read adventure stories by authors such as Rider Haggard and R. M. Ballantyne. These novels had a deep influence on him and helped shape his writing style.

The recurring themes of treachery and betrayal in Greene’s writing stem from his troubled school years where he was often tormented for being the headmaster’s son. After several suicide attempts, Greene left school one day and wrote to his parents that he did not wish to return. This culminated in his being sent to a therapist in London at age fifteen. His analyst, Kenneth Richmond, encouraged him to write and introduced him to his circle of literary friends which included the poet Walter de la Mare.

Follow this link to read the rest of the biography-

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The Art of Fiction: an Interview

Interviewed by Simon Raven & Martin Shuttleworth

INTERVIEWER Many of your most memorable characters, Raven for instance, are from low life. Have you ever had any experience of low life? . . . What did you know about poverty?

GREENEI have never known it. I was “short,” yes, in the sense that I had to be careful for the first eight years of my adult life but I have never been any closer.

INTERVIEWER Then you don’t draw your characters from life?

GREENE

No, one never knows enough about characters in real life to put them into novels. One gets started and then, suddenly, one cannot remember what toothpaste they use, what are their views on interior decoration, and one is stuck utterly. No, major characters emerge: minor ones may be photographed.

continue on to this site, to read the rest of the interview….

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Graham Greene Biography, Heavy on Sex, Draws Some Outrage

By DINITIA SMITH

Published: November 4, 2004

published by the NY Times here.

The final volume of Norman Sherry’s three-part, 2,251-page biography of Graham Greene was supposed to be the capstone of an obsessive 30-year undertaking, one that would build on the widespread critical success of the first two volumes and take full measure of the man and his achievements.

Instead, members of Greene’s family are furious that Mr. Sherry – who had exclusive access to many of the author’s papers – chose to highlight Greene’s fondness for prostitutes and his sordid sexual pursuits. The new volume has received widespread praise in the United States, but critics in England have condemned its unconventional style and are livid. Mr. Sherry has interjected himself into the narrative, dropped in bits of his own poetry, even included a picture of himself riding on a donkey in Mexico as he retraced Greene’s research for the novel “The Power and the Glory.”

Volume III of “The Life of Graham Greene,” published in the United States last month by Viking, covers the last years of the life of the author of “Brighton Rock,” “The Heart of the Matter,” “The Quiet American” and many other novels. It describes Greene’s life as a British agent, his travels through Cuba and Congo, his friendships with Hemingway, Eliot and Evelyn Waugh. But it also portrays a darker side of Greene, who once wrote a list of 47 prostitutes with whom he had had sex, along with coded details of the encounters.

“This book is not about Graham Greene, but about Sherry,” Greene’s son and literary executor, Francis, 67, said in a recent telephone interview from his home in the south of England.

“His obsession with brothels far surpasses that of his supposed subject,” Mr. Greene, a retired documentary filmmaker, wrote in a separate e-mail message. He particularly objected to the “egregious” portrayal of his mother, Vivien Dayrell-Browning, to whom Greene, a Roman Catholic, remained married even while having a succession of mistresses. Greene’s daughter, Lucy Caroline, who lives in Switzerland, was unavailable for comment.

Greene’s niece, Amanda Saunders, who was her uncle’s assistant, called the book “a deeply embarrassing biography because it’s so poorly written, poorly researched.”

“It’s a total misrepresentation,” she added.

Though the book received some highly favorable reviews in the United States, it was savaged by many British critics. The Spectator of London found it a “truly appalling” work. The Observer derided the book’s “flights of vulgar hagiography.”

“Sherry indulges in some truly awful writing,” the reviewer wrote, quoting a passage about Greene’s death: ” ‘Worms breed, and the handsome man with stunning blue eyes is host to a thousand sliding lascivious creatures, eating our flesh, turning us gradually into a sort of human jam.’ ”

In a recent interview during a visit to New York, Mr. Sherry, an Englishman who is a literature professor at Trinity University in San Antonio, dismissed the British reviews as “poppycock, piffle, balderdash.”

As for bringing himself into the biography, Mr. Sherry said, “Especially when Greene died, I was very moved by his death, so inevitably I had to put myself into it.”

“I often felt I must be him,” Mr. Sherry continued. “I lived within him.”

The men met in 1974. Mr. Sherry said Greene had admired the thoroughness of his biography of Joseph Conrad, and at London’s Savile Club asked him to write his own. The author gave Mr. Sherry unfettered access to his papers, diaries and correspondence, including his passionate letters to Catherine Walston, a mistress who was the basis for the character of Sarah in “The End of the Affair.”

“He told his friends they could speak to me but to no one else,” said Mr. Sherry, 69, a small, intense man who speaks in a rush of words. “He said he would never lie to me, but there were some questions he might not answer.”

As for the sexual content of the biography, “He told me to be honest,” Mr. Sherry said. “The last thing he said to me was: ‘The truth, Norman. Else I shall haunt you!’ ”

“You can’t allow the family to dictate to you what you write,” he continued. “If you are going to write about a man who is highly sexed, you can’t change that.”

Besides, Mr. Sherry said, “you can’t help but admire him for having sex with everything in sight.”

In his attempt to research every aspect of his subject’s life, Mr. Sherry said, he ruined his health and alienated his family. He is twice divorced.

Mr. Sherry said he got tropical diabetes in Liberia while recreating Greene’s research for “Journey Without Maps.” He caught dysentery in Mexico following Greene’s path in “The Power and the Glory.” He risked getting shot in Haiti, where Greene set the anti-Duvalier novel “Comedians,” because he carried a copy of the book with him. While researching Greene’s writing of “The Honorary Consul” in Paraguay, he developed intestinal gangrene.

“I almost destroyed myself,” he said. “By the time I had finished, my life had been taken from me.”

In contrast to the British reviews, the critical reception in the United States has been largely positive. Paul Theroux wrote in The New York Times Book Review that the biography was “incomparable; as an intellectual and political history of the 20th century it is invaluable.” He called it “masterly,” and Publishers Weekly called it “magnificent.”

Mr. Sherry blamed Greene’s relatives for the bad reviews in Britain. “I think the family got in touch with them,” he said, though he added, “I can’t prove that.”

Greene’s family has also faulted Mr. Sherry for factual errors, including his belittling of Greene’s relationship with Yvonne Cloetta, his last mistress, of more than 30 years, and the emphasizing of his love for Catherine Walston. (Like many of his mistresses, both lived with their husbands while involved with Greene.) They say Mr. Sherry implies that Greene loved Cloetta because she wasn’t an intellectual challenge to him.

“She was an important part of Graham’s life,” Ms. Saunders said. Cloetta herself was disappointed at the emphasis on Greene’s sex life in the first two volumes. Before she died in 2001, she wrote Mr. Sherry, “You have betrayed Graham and you have betrayed your craft.”

A major source of contention among the family, scholars and Mr. Sherry is a note Greene wrote to Mr. Sherry in 1991, while on his deathbed: “I, Graham Greene grant permission to Norman Sherry, my Authorized Biographer, excluding any other, to quote from my copyright material published or unpublished.”

Mr. Sherry interpreted the note as giving him sole access to Greene’s archives. Greene’s family and other scholars disagreed. They contended that the comma between “other” and “to” meant that people not actually writing biographies of Greene could have access to the papers. The Lauinger Library at Georgetown University, for one, interpreted Greene’s wishes to be that part of its collection was embargoed to all but Mr. Sherry. But other libraries, including the Henry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin, allowed scholars into their collections.

Family members were furious, however, that scholars were still being kept out of some of Greene’s archives. “There is absolutely no question of the fact that Graham intended for his archives to be available,” said Louise Dennys, a niece of Greene who has published and edited some of her uncle’s books, including his autobiography, “Ways of Escape.”

One scholar affected by the embargo was Richard Greene (no relation), a professor at the University of Toronto at Mississauga and editor of “The Selected Letters of Edith Sitwell,” who was seeking access to Sitwell’s correspondence with Greene at Georgetown. Graham Greene’s papers are now open to all scholars. Richard Greene is editing a new book, Greene’s own correspondence, “A Life in Letters.”

“It seems to be the overwhelming opinion at the end of the day that the three-volume biography hasn’t succeeded,” he said.

Mr. Greene said the heart of the problem was Mr. Sherry’s overidentification with his subject. He cited the passages about Greene’s death.

“His account of Greene’s relationship to his son, Francis, isn’t much more than a paragraph,” Mr. Greene said. “He’s erased the actual son and inserted himself as filial.”

Greene has been depicted as a neglectful father. Mr. Sherry recalled the author as saying: ” ‘I know my son doesn’t much like me. He’ll try to correct you. And it’s my job to protect my chosen biographer.’ ”

Mr. Sherry said, “I was the nearest thing to being a son to him as could possibly be.”

As for the comma, Mr. Sherry said, “I simply went by what Graham said in the letter.”

“The damn comma,” he said. “It has nothing to do with me.”

There is another interesting article, “A Life in Letters,” published in the Sunday Herald here.

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One Response to “Some Notes on Graham Greene”

  1. urbesque Says:

    I’ve been thinking all day about the part in the first segment of this post – in the description of G.G.’s life, it says that after his first two books wouldn’t sell, he started writing books for entertainment purposes.

    I realized that I’ve always excluded good literature from “entertainment,” but I think that is a gross misunderstanding on my part. I think some of the best writers were/are entertaining: Shakespeare, Dickens, Flannery O’Conner, Noel Coward etc., In fact, I might actually get published if I considered my audience a little more, and made delight a serious intention.


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