This Day In Writing History
On October 2nd, 1904, the famous British writer Graham Greene was born. He was born in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, England. The fourth of six children, his younger brother Hugh would become Director-General of the BBC. Greene's father, Charles, was Second Master at Berkhamsted School. In 1910, when Graham was six years old, his father became the new Headmaster, and Graham attended the school. He hated it.
Bullied by his classmates and severely depressed, Graham attempted suicide several times. When he was 16, he was sent to London for six months of psychoanalysis, after which, he returned to Berkhamsted. Later, in 1925, while attending Balliol College, Oxford, his first book was published. It was a collection of poetry called Babbling April. It was poorly received, so after graduating with a second-class degree in history, Greene became a journalist, first for the Nottingham Journal, then as a sub-editor for The Times.
While in Nottingham, Greene began a correspondence with Vivien Dayrell-Browning, a Catholic convert who had written him to correct a point on Catholic doctrine in one of his articles. The relationship led Greene to convert to Catholicism in 1926. He married Vivien a year later, and she bore him two children. The couple would separate in 1948, yet remain married although Greene had numerous affairs.
Graham Greene's first novel, The Man Within, was published in 1929. It told the story of Francis Andrews, a reluctant smuggler who, after being prodded by Elizabeth, a woman he has come to love, agrees to testify against his comrades after the gang's battle with Customs results in the murder of an agent. Andrews' decision to do the right thing backfires when the gang is acquitted in court and takes revenge by killing Elizabeth. The novel was successful and enabled Greene to quit his job and write full time.
Unfortunately, Greene's next two novels, The Name Of Action (1930) and Rumour At Nightfall (1932) were unsuccessful, so he disowned them. His fourth book, Stamboul Train (1932) would be adapted in 1934 as a feature film called Orient Express - the novel's U.S. title. To supplement his income, Greene worked as a freelance journalist, writing book and movie reviews. He co-edited the magazine Night and Day, but it folded in 1937 after Greene's review of the Shirley Temple film Wee Willie Winkie resulted in a libel suit. In his review, Greene claimed that Temple displayed "an obvious coquetry" which appealed to "middle-aged men and clergymen."
Since the UK's dubious libel laws placed the accused at great legal disadvantage and could result in imprisonment in addition to the awarding of monetary damages, Graham Greene left England and went to Mexico, which did not have an extradition treaty with the UK at that time. Greene's time in Mexico would inspire him to write what many consider to be his greatest novel, The Power And The Glory (1940). It would be the first in a trilogy of Catholic-themed novels, including The Heart Of The Matter (1948) and The End Of The Affair (1951), that would raise controversy with their meditations on the natures of sin and spirituality.
The Power And The Glory is set in 1930s Mexico - a time when the Mexican government sought to repress the Catholic Church and its influence in the country. The main character is an unnamed Catholic priest in the state of Tabasco. The alcoholic "whiskey priest" wanders about Tabasco trying to minister to people as best he can. He is haunted by his past indiscretions; he once had an affair with a parishioner which resulted in her pregnancy. When he is reunited with his daughter, the priest finds that he can feel no remorse for his affair with her mother. But he comes to love Brigitta, the strange, evil-looking little girl he fathered.
The priest is being pursued by an unnamed police Lieutenant whose job is to arrest him. The Lieutenant is a man of great contradiction and inner turmoil. An idealist who believes in justice, equality, and education for the poor, the Lieutenant is capable of great kindness - and great cruelty as well. Thanks to bad experiences he had in his youth, the Lieutenant believes that the Church is corrupt and all of its clergy are fundamentally evil. He has no problem hunting, arresting, and executing priests.
Although his latest quarry manages to escape, the Lieutenant, with the help of a Judas-like mestizo, lures the whiskey priest into a trap. The priest is asked to hear the confession of a dying man. Although he suspects he's walking into a trap, the priest feels compelled to do his duty. He does find a dying man, but performing his priestly duty results in his capture. On the eve of the priest's execution, the Lieutenant attempts to enlist an ex-priest to hear the condemned man's confession. After the execution, the Lieutenant becomes convinced that he has "cleared the province of priests," but then, another one arrives in town.
Due to their criticisms of Catholic orthodoxy and their Quietist themes, (looking within oneself through meditation to find God) in 1953, Cardinal Bernard Griffin of Westminster wrote a pastoral letter condemning Graham Greene's trilogy of Catholic-themed novels, especially The Power And The Glory, the text of which he demanded that Greene make changes to. However, when Greene later met Pope Paul VI, the pontiff told him, "Mr. Greene, some aspects of your books are certain to offend some Catholics, but you should pay no attention to that."
Throughout his life, Graham Greene traveled to the far corners of the world, to what he called its wild and remote places. This led to him being recruited as an agent for M16 - the British Secret Intelligence Service. He was recruited by his older sister, Elisabeth, who worked for the organization. During World War 2, he served as an M16 agent and was posted to Sierra Leone. His supervisor and friend at M16 was Kim Philby, who turned out to be a double agent for the Soviet Union.
Graham Greene used his experiences as an M16 agent to write spy-themed suspense thrillers in addition to his literary works. The most famous of his thrillers is The Third Man (1949), a novella set in postwar Vienna. American writer Holly Martins arrives in Vienna, where his old friend Harry Lime has offered him work. He soon finds that Lime is dead, having been run over by a truck while crossing the street. But nothing is as it seems. Martins discovers that Lime faked his death - he's a wanted man, a psychopathic criminal who ran a racket during the war where he would steal penicillin from military hospitals, then dilute it and sell it on the black market. The diluted antibiotics resulted in children being crippled both mentally and physically from meningitis. After the police take Martins to a hospital to see Lime's victims for himself, he agrees to help them take Lime down.
The Third Man was adapted as an acclaimed feature film, for which Greene wrote the screenplay himself. The movie was directed by Carol Reed and starred Joseph Cotten as Holly Martins and Orson Welles as Harry Lime.
Greene's 1955 novel, The Quiet American, would be adapted as an acclaimed feature film in 2002. When it was first published, the novel was denounced as anti-American. It told the story of Thomas Fowler, a 50-something year old British journalist in Saigon covering the war between the French and the Vietcong in Vietnam. Fowler meets Alden Pyle, the "quiet American" of the title. Pyle is a brilliant American scholar and professor who opposes the war being waged by the French and their American cronies. Fowler dismisses Pyle as naive. After Pyle steals away Fowler's Vietnamese mistress, the Englishman helps engineer the American's murder on the pretext of helping the Vietnamese people.
Graham Greene would write more great novels including Our Man In Havana (1958), which was criticized as being pro-Castro, The Comedians (1966), a tale set in Haiti, under the rule of the murderous, U.S. backed dictator, "Papa Doc" Duvalier and his secret police, the Tonton Macoute, and Travels With My Aunt (1969), which would be adapted as a film and Broadway play. During the last years of his life, Greene lived on Lake Geneva in Switzerland, where he met and became close friends with legendary film actor and director Charlie Chaplin.
Graham Greene died in 1991, at the age of 86.
Quote Of The Day
"A petty reason perhaps why novelists more and more try to keep a distance from journalists is that novelists are trying to write the truth and journalists are trying to write fiction." - Graham Greene
Today's video features the original theatrical trailer for the 1949 film version of Graham Greene's novella, The Third Man. Enjoy!