Graham Greene

Journalist / Novelist / Playwright

Portrait of G.Greene by Margaret Wood
Graham Green's home 14 Clapham Common, North side London
Plaque on Birthplace
Berkhamsted School, Headforshire
Balloli College
Achill Head.
Achill Island, Co. Mayo
Antibes, France.
Vevey Switzerland
Filming at graveside for Documentary Dangerous Edge.
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This interesting character acquired quite early in life a reputation as a great writer with widespread popularity during his sixty seven years of penning material.  He was one of the foremost of the 20th century. He was a Novelist, Short – Story writer, Playwright, Journalist.   He explored the ambivalent moral and political issue of the modern world plus he had an avid interest in the workings and intrigue of international politics and espionage. [i]

Early Years

Graham Greene’s parents were members of well known brewers the Greene King family amongst them many bankers plus statesmen.  His parents were actually first cousins. His mother was a cousin of Robert Lewis Stevenson.  Henry Graham Greene was born into this distinguished family on October 2nd 1904.  He was the fourth child of six children. His father, Charles Henry Greene was a teacher later held the position of headmaster during 1910 of the Berkhamsted School, Headforshire, England.  His mother was Marion Raymond Greene. [ii]   As a young child he spent several summers with his uncle, Sir William at Harston House.  He described his delight when he found he could read! “It was at Harston I found quite suddenly I could read – the book was Dixon Brett, Detective. I didn’t want anyone to know of my discovery, so I read only in secret, in a remote attic, but my mother must have spotted what I was at all the time, for she gave me Ballanlyna’s The Coral Island for the train journey home…”  He boarded at Berkhamsted School until age sixteen when he became a day pupil.  He graduated from Balliol College, Oxford with a second class Degree in History during 1925. Aged fifteen he visited Ireland with a cousin.  They witnessed first hand the effects of The Civil War plus The War of Independence as they walked from Waterford to Dublin.  One quote from him was “In human relationships, kindness and lies are worth a thousand truths.”


He converted to Catholicism after he met his future wife, Vivian Daydell – Browning on February 26th 1926. He observed that, as he penned in “A Sort of Life” I ought to at least learn the notions and limits of her beliefs.”  They were married at St. Mary’s Church, Hamstead in London on October 15th 1927.  They had a son Francis plus daughter Lucy Caroline. He found domestic life very tedious as he wished to travel and broaden his horizons. Vivian refused to divorce so he remained estranged from his family.  He remarked in later years that “I think my books are my children.”   [iii] 


Graham Greene was recruited during W.W.2 into the Foreign Office – M16 – he started at Freetown by his sister Elizabeth who worked for the Organization.  He was posted to Sierra Leone.  He travelled to Liberia during 1935 then Mexico in 1938, followed by Haiti.  [iv]


First Greene was employed as a private tutor prior to a journalistic career with the Nottingham Journal. He then acted as sub-editor of The Times newspaper from 1926 to 1930.  He was a film critic plus journalist for The Spectator up to 1940 he also co – edited the magazine Night and Day.  He supplemented his income with film and books reviews.  As a journalist he covered many dangerous events including Kenya’s Mau Mau Rebellion, The Vietnam War, Haiti’s “Nightmare Republic,” the rise of Castro plus the Fall of Soviet Russia.  Greene penned his “Collected Edition” (published in twenty–two volumes 1970–1982) the distinction between novels or entertainments that were no longer maintained as all were just novels!  His stories were more often set in poor, hot, dusty lands we perceive to be Mexico, West Africa, Cuba, Haiti, Argentina, his characters with their inner lives were his forte, this in turn led to the coining of the expression “Greenland” to describe those settings.


Greene’s works included four children’s books, twenty–six novels, four travel books, eight plays, ten screen plays, fifteen non fiction works plus two poetry volumes.  His first novel “The Man Within” was published in 1929.  He disowned his next books as they were unsuccessful, “The Man of Action” (1930) plus “Rumour at Nightfall” (1931)!!  During 1932 the “Stamboul Train” was his first major achievement; it also was called “Orient Express” in the U.S. Greene wrote two autobiographies “A Sort of Life” (two editions 1925 plus 1983) plus “Ways to Escape.”   His “Power and Glory” was published as Labyrinthine Way during 1940.  His first play “The Living Room” debuted during 1953.  He wrote the Intro to Kim Philip’s 1968 Memoir “My Silent War.” While in Switzerland during 1980 he penned “Doctor Fischer of Geneva or the Bomb Party” that based his themes on a combined philosophic and geographic influence.  One quote from him was “In human relationships, kindness and lies are worth a thousand truths.”  Other titles included; “The Quite American” 1958, “Our Man in Havana” set in Cubaduring 1958, The “Comedians” 1966.  His last four novels were “The Honoury Consul” 1973, “The Human Facto” 1978, “Monsignor Quixote” 1982 plus the Tenth Man in 1985.


During 1949 when the New Statesman had a contest for parodies of Greene’s writing style, he submitted an entry as N. Wilkinson, he won second prize!  His entry “The Stranger’s Hand; Entertainment” comprised of the first two paragraphs of a novel, apparently set in Italy.  His friend, Mario Soldati novelist and film critic, believed it had the makings of a suspense film about spies in Yugoslavia in post war Venice.  Greene continued writing but eventually abandon the project.  He left it as a substantial fragment that was published posthumously in “The Graham Greene Reader” of 1993 plus No Man’s Land” in 2005.  During 1965 he entered a similar competition then won an honourable mention. [v]

Achill Island

From 1946 to 1957 Graham Greene had an affair that lasted thirteen years with the wife of a millionaire farmer plus M.P. Lord Henry Walston.  He lived with Catherine Walston and her five small children in a traditional stone cottage at Dooagh Achill.  It was very basic with no electricity, an outside tap for water plus a corrugated iron roof.  As they were friends of Ernie O’Malley they spent time also at Burrishoole.  Greene once commented that “I long for somewhere like Achill or Capri who have no telephones.”  Achill was a hugely symbolic place for him, as he put it the “opening of a door” into a new world.  It offered him a peaceful sanctuary that allowed his creative imagination to work.  He was enamoured with the islands scenery. Another favourite place was the Old Head Hotel at Louisburgh across Clew Bay from Achill.


Graham Greene collected many Literary Awards for novels, including the Hawk London Prize in 1941 for “The Power and the Glory,” the 1948 James Tait Memorial Prize for “The Heart of the Matter,” the Shakespeare Prize in Hamburg during 1968, during 1976 the Edgar Grand Master Award, the 1980 Dos Passos Prize plus the 1981 Jerusalem Prize for his works with the themes of human freedom in Society.  He was awarded Britain’s Order of Merit as an author in 1986 for his contribution to Literature.

Later Years

Greene lived in Antibes France from 1966.  During 1973 he had an accredited cameo appearance as an insurance company representative in the François Truffaunt’s Day and Night.  During 1989 he presented John Banville with the GPA Book Award, he received a Standing Ovation that moved him to tears he said “It was far better than a Nobel Prize.”  On his 80th birthday the family Brewery (founded by his Great Grandfather during 1799) presented him with a special edition of its “St. Edmund’s” ale also with a special Label. His final years were spent at Vevey Switzerland with companion Yvonne Cloella  [vi]


Turtle Bunbury has written that Greene maintained his Irish links until his demise.  During the 1970’s he visited Joyce’s Martello Tower with Sean O ‘Faolain a writer he admired as well as Flann O ‘Brien and George Birmingham.  He met with the SDLP leader Gerry Fitt in Antrim to consider the Irish Question, years later Greene refused to attend any Literary Award in Dublin without Gerry Fitt in attendance!  He stayed at the Russel Hotel and with Katherine Tynan while in Dublin.  [vii]

Michael Konda –a lifelong friend – observed Graham Greene at work as he wrote in small leather black notebook with a black pen, he would write approximately 500 words, then put pen away for the day.  John Irving described Greene as “the most accomplished living novelist in the English Language as he had acquired a reputation by 1943 of being “the leading English Novelist of his generation “also that at the time of his death he had a reputation as a great writer of deeply serious novels “on the theme of Catholicism and of suspense – filled stories of detection.”   Sir William Golding observed that “Graham Greene was in a class by himself…he would be read and remembered as the ultimate chronicler of twentieth century man’s consciousness and anxiety.”   Richard Jones wrote a review in The Virginia Quarterly that nothing deflected Greene from the main business of holding the reader’s attention because his novels often had religious themes at their centre.  V. S. Prichette described Green as the last English novelist since Henry James to present and grapple with the reality of evil.  According to Ernest Mandel in his “Delightful Murder”; a Social History of the Crime Scene that Graham Greene was a conservative agent of the British Intelligence Service, upholding such reactionary causes on the struggle of the Catholic Church against the Mexican Revolution, also arguing the necessary merciful function of religion in a context of misery.”  The British Library produced his “The Spoken Word” a recording of Greene in the form of a CD with Booklet During 2002.  [viii]

Time Magazine dated October 29th 1951 provided the picture of Graham Greene on its front cover.  It also chose “The Power and the Glory” in 2005 as one of the best 100 English Language novels since 1923. [ix]   That same year The Strand magazine began to serialize the publication of a newly discovered Greene novel “The Empty Chair.” [x]   Wise and Mike Hill have written ”The Works of Graham Greene: A reader’s Bibliography and Guide” 2012 A & C Books. [xi]

Greene was honoured at the 2011 Henireich Böll weekend on Achill Island with discussions and talks.  During 2013 he was the subject of a Documentary film, Dangerous Edge; a Life of G. Greene.  The film was made in 2009 with Director Thomas .P. O’ Connor and videographer Allan Moore including a scene at his grave in Corseaux.  The Graham Greene Birthplace Trust hosts an annual four day Festival in his honour.  They hold Lectures, Conference Papers, informal talks, Q + A Sessions, Films, dramatized readings, music, creative writing workshops plus many social events.  The Trust presents a travel through Berkhamsted that highlights places connected with the author.  A portrait of Graham Greene is hung within Berkhamsted Town Hall.  [xii]

Graham Greene died on April 3rd 1991 with Leukemia he is buried in Corseaux Switzerland. [xiii]
















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