English novelist, short-story writer, playwright and journalist, whose novels treat moral issues in the context of political settings. Greene is one of the most widely read novelist of the 20th-century, a superb storyteller. Adventure and suspense are constant elements in his novels and many of his books have been made into successful films. Although Greene was a candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature several times, he never received the award.
"The main characters 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." (Graham Greene in Ways of Escape, 1980)
Graham Greene was born in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, as the son of Charles Greene and Marion Raymond Greene, a first cousin of the author Robert Louis Stevenson. Greene's father had a poor academic record but became the headmaster of Berkhamsted School, following Dr. Thomas Fry. Charles Greene had a brilliant intellect. Originally he had intended to become a barrister. However, he found that he had liking for teaching and he decided to stay at Berkhamsted. Often his history lessons were less lessons than comments on the crack-up of Liberalism. His brother Graham ended his career as Permanent Secretary at the Admiralty.
Greene was educated at Berkhamstead School and Balliol College, Oxford. He had a natural talent for writing, and during his three years at Balliol, he published more than sixty poems, stories, articles and reviews, most of which appeared in the student magazine Oxford Outlook and in the Weekly Westminster Gazette. In 1926 he converted to Roman Catholicism, later explaining that "I hand to find a religion... to measure my evil against." When critics started to study the religious faith in his work, Greene complained that he hated the term 'Catholic novelist'.
In 1926 Geene moved to London. He worked for the Times of London (1926-30), and for the Spectator, where he was a film critic and a literary editor until 1940. In 1927 he married Vivien Dayrell-Browning. After the collapse of their marriage, he had several relationships, among others in the 1950s with the Swedish actress Anita Björk, whose husband writer Stig Dagerman had committed suicide. During the 1920s and 1930s Greene had, according to his own private reckoning, some sort of of relationship with no less than forty-seven prostitutes. In 1938 Greene began an affair with Dorothy Glover, a theatre costume designer; they were closely involved with each other until the late 1940s. She started a career as a book illustrator under the name 'Dorothy Craigie' and wrote children's books of her own, among them Nicky and Nigger and the Pirate (1960).
During World War II Greene worked "in a silly useless job" as he later said, in an intelligence capacity for the Foreign Office in London, directly under Kim Philby, a future defector to the Soviet Union. One mission took Greene to West Africa, but he did not find much excitement in his remote posting - "This is not a government house, and there is no larder: there is also a plague of house-flies which come from the African bush lavatories round the house," he wrote to London. Greene returned to England in 1942. After the war he travelled widely as a free-lance journalist, and lived long periods in Nice, on the French Riviera. With his anti-American comments, Greene gained access to such Communist leaders as Fidel Castro and Ho Chi Minh, but the English writer Evelyn Waugh, who knew Greene well, assured in a letter to his friend that the author "is a secret agent on our side and all his buttering up of the Russians is 'cover'."
Greene's agent novels were partly based on his own experiences in the British foreign office in the 1940s and his lifelong ties with SIS. As an agent and a writer Greene is a link in the long tradition from Christopher Marlowe, Ben Johnson and Daniel Defoe to the modern day writers John Le Carré, John Dickson Carr, Somerset Maugham, Alec Waugh and Ted Allbeury. Greene's uncle Sir William Graham Greene helped to establish the Naval Intelligence Department, and his oldest brother, Herbert, served as a spy for the Imperial Japanese Navy in the 1930s. Graham's younger sister, Elisabeth, joined MI6, and recruited his Graham into the regular ranks of the service. His old friend, Philby, Greene met again in the late 1980s in Moscow.
Greene received numerous honours from around the world, and published two volumes of autobiography, A SORT OF LIFE (1971), WAYS OF ESCAPE (1980), and the story of his friendship with Panamanian dictator General Omar Torrijos. - Greene died in Vevey, Switzerland, on April 3, 1991. In the service the priest declared, "My faith tells me that he is now with God, or on the way there." Two days before his death Greene signed a note that gave his approval to Norman Sherry to complete an authorized biography. The first part of the book appeared in 1989.
As a writer Greene was very prolific and versatile. He wrote five dramas and screenplays for several films based on his novels. The Third Man (1949) was developed from a single sentence: "I had paid my last farewell to Harry a week ago, when his coffin was lowered into the frozen February ground, so that it was incredulity that I saw him pass by, without a sign of recognition, among the host of strangers in the Strand." To do research for the film, Greene went to Vienna, where a reported told him about the black market trade in watered-down penicillin. With the £9,000 he had received from Alexander Korda, he bough a yacht and a villa in Anacapri. Later he portryed Korda in LOSER TAKES ALL (1955) - he was Dreuther, the business tycoon.
In the 1930s and early 1940s he wrote over five hundred reviews of books, films, and plays, mainly for The Spectator. Greene's film reviews are still worth reading and often better than the films he praised or slashed. Hitchcock's "inadequate sense of reality" irritated Greene, he compared Greta Garbo to a beautiful Arab mare, and gave a warm welcome to a new star, Ingrid Bergman. When Hitchcock had troubles with the screenplay of I Confess (1953), Greene refused to help the director, saying he was interested in adapting only his own stories for the screen. In the story a priest is wrongfully accused of a murder. Although Greene knew that some critics considered his novels entertainment, his own models were Henry James, Joseph Conrad, and Ford Madox Ford. In his personal library was a large collection of James's work.
Greene's first published book was BABBLING APRIL (1925), a collection of poetry. It was followed by two novels in the style of Joseph Conrad. The title for THE MAN WITHIN (1929) was taken from Sir Thomas Browne's (1605-1682) "There's another man within me that's angry with me." Greene started to write it after an operation for appending on his sick leave from The Times. The film version of the book, starring Michael Redgrave and Richard Attenborough, was made in 1947. Greene received a letter from Istanbul in which the film was praised for its daring homosexuality.
"In Stamboul Train for the first and last time in my life I deliberately set out to write a book to please, one which with luck might be made into a film. The devil looks after his own and I succeeded in both aims, though the film rights seemed at the time an unlikely dream, for before I had completed the book, Marlene Dietrich had appeared in Shanghai Express, the English had made Rome Express, and even the Russians had produced their railway film, Turksib. My film came last and was far and away the worst, though not so bad as a later television production by the BBC." (from Introduction, in Stamboul Train, 1974)
After the unsuccessful attempts as a novelist, Greene was about to abandon writing. His first popular success was STAMBOUL TRAIN (1932), a thriller with a topical and political flavour. Greene wrote it deliberately to please his readers and to attract filmmakers. One of its characters, Quin Savory, was said to be a parody of J.B. Priestley - Greene depicted nastily the writer as a sex offender. Priestley had just published a novel, which led some reviewers to compare him with Dickens. In Greene's story Savory was a popular novelist in the manner of Dickens. Next year he attacked another well-loved writer, Beatric Potter, in an article called 'Beatrix Potter: A Critical Estimate'. Also the American actress, Shirley Temple, aged nine, got her share when Greene wrote in the magazine Night and Day that "her admirers - middle-aged men and clergymen - respond to her dubious coquetry, to the sight of her well-shaped and desirable little body, packed with enormous vitality..." This time Greene had to pay for his remark.
THE CONFIDENTIAL AGENT (1939) is a problematic work. In it the mysterious Forbes/Furstein, a rich Jew, plans to destroy traditional English culture from within. However, in 1981 the author was invited to Israel and awarded the Jerusalem Prize. He had visited Israel in 1967 for the first time, and spent some of the time lying against a sand dune under Egyptian fire, and thinking that the Six Day War "was a bit of misnomer. The war was too evidently still in progress." Greene's religious convictions did not become overtly apparent in his fiction until THE BRIGHTON ROCK (1938), which depicted a teenage gangster Pinkie with a kind of demonic spirituality. Religious themes were explicit in the novels THE POWER AND THE GLORY (1940), THE HEART OF THE MATTER (1948), which Greene characterized as "a success in the great vulgar sense of that term," and THE END OF THE AFFAIR (1951), which established Greene's international reputation. The story, partly based on Greene's own experiences, was about a lover, who is afraid of loving and being loved. These novels were compared with the works of such French Catholic writers as Georges Bernanos and François Mauriac. "At a stroke I found myself regarded as a Catholic author in England, Europe and America - the last title to which I had ever aspired," Greene later complained.