I dislike very much the title 'best selling author,' which is more applicable to Harold Robbins
October 3, 2004 7:45 AM   Subscribe

Forever Greene. One hundred years after Graham Greene’s birth, the literary mosaic of books like Our Man in Havana and Brighton Rock is still riveting. But the author "carried anguish” with him: a moralist and, therefore, controversial, Greene’s clearly-worded works of suspenseful, or ethical ambivalence, border on a delicate balance — of both gloom and salvation. His novels are replete with a sense of foreboding, and scrutinise self-deception, sin, failure. George Orwell sneered that Greene thinks "there is something rather distingué in being damned; Hell is a sort of high-class nightclub, entry to which is reserved for Catholics only". And what remains is also, of course, the -- de riguer -- problem of the biographies: caring father, fervent brothelgoer, helluva guy? Anyway, among the institutions celebrating Greene's centenary: the British Library, the Barbican Centre (scroll down the page). And the Guardian just re-printed "The funeral of Graham Greene", reported in the Guardian, April 9 1991. (more inside, with Shirley Temple)
posted by matteo (15 comments total)
Michael Korda, Greene's publisher, wrote in 1996 that

Since Graham was such a careful writer, he hardly needed editing in the conventional sense of the word. Most of my work consisted of placating him, and although we were friends, I was not spared an occasional sharp rap on the knuckles. A message complaining about flap copy read, "I hate the word 'stunning.' " He added, "I also dislike very much the title 'best selling author,' which is more applicable to Harold Robbins." When I made the mistake of informing him of grandiose plans the company had for a paperback advertising campaign, this was his comment: "They filled me with dismay. Thank God I don't live in the United States." On refusing a series of proposed interviews: "Sorry, but save me from Michiko Kakutani!" Sometimes an outburst was downright curmudgeonly. After we sent him a harmless list of questions from Simon & Schuster's libel lawyer, he had his secretary write me a note dismissing the questions as "complete nonsense," and he added a sharp warning that if we were afraid to publish his book we should let his agent know, so that she could find him a more courageous American publisher. No matter was too small to claim his attention, whether it was getting the exact shade of red for the English telephone booth (later removed altogether) on the dust jacket of "The Human Factor" or the need to respond to William F. Buckley, Jr.,'s allegation that Graham had said "America" was the word he hated most in the English language: "A complete lie," Graham wrote to me. He was outraged not only by misprints in his own books but also by misprints in other Simon & Schuster books.


Movie trivia:
Twentieth Century Fox sued him for his attacks on Shirley Temple
posted by matteo at 7:48 AM on October 3, 2004

Graham Greene’s religious realism.
(from the New Yorker)
posted by matteo at 8:03 AM on October 3, 2004

My favorite Greene: Our Man in Havana, and his adulatory introduction to British spy-for-Stalin and defector Kim Philby's My Silent War.
posted by jfuller at 8:27 AM on October 3, 2004

I-spy in Harry Lime's Vienna
To mark the centenary of Graham Greene's birth, Paul Gogarty takes a trip through the locations of The Third Man.
posted by matteo at 9:02 AM on October 3, 2004

When I was about 16, an older/wiser friend loaned me his copy of Travels with my Aunt to read as I manned the door of our local multiplex and so began my obsession with Greene. Such an amazing, fascinating, complex and distinctly British fellow. I'm partial to his short stories, though I've read almost a dozen of his novels, of which I particularly enjoyed Honorary Consul, Quiet American, End of the Affair, and Heart of the Matter. For a while I was reading a Greene novel per year as a way to pace myself, as the man's ouevre generally occupies an entire shelf, or two at any quality bookstore/bibliotheque.

Great post, as always, Matteo. You might enjoy Travels Without my Aunt. It's a little on the fluff side, but can be interesting at times, particularly if you liked Travels with My Aunt.
posted by shoepal at 9:11 AM on October 3, 2004

In one of my college papers, I compared Greene's "The Destructors" to the Sex Pistols "God Save The Queen." I don't think the prof had any clue about the Pistols, but after reading the quotes she got the gist. I got a B.
posted by jonmc at 9:34 AM on October 3, 2004

if we're mentioning faves, the quiet american is mine (although heart of the matter is fascinating to this atheist) - and still, depressingly, relevant.
posted by andrew cooke at 9:47 AM on October 3, 2004

I compared Greene's "The Destructors" to the Sex Pistols "God Save The Queen."

Donnie Darko:

...it was at the emergency PTA meeting that gym teacher and dance coach Kitty Farmer accused English teacher Karen Pomeroy of teaching pornography in the form of a Graham Greene short story, The Destructors, a story in which children vandalize a house by breaking a water main and then burn down another house.

posted by matteo at 9:50 AM on October 3, 2004

No kidding? I've never seen Donnie Darko, now I might have to check it out. Mine was more comparing the sentiments of the kids in the ravaged postwar England to the kids living in Johnny Rotten's world of "No Future in England's Dreaming."

It seemed like a very punk rock story to me at 19.
posted by jonmc at 9:55 AM on October 3, 2004

Damn! I was going to post the darko reference, but got distracted.
posted by shoepal at 9:55 AM on October 3, 2004

...it was at the emergency PTA meeting that gym teacher and dance coach Kitty Farmer accused English teacher Karen Pomeroy of teaching pornography in the form of a Graham Greene short story, The Destructors...
... and when asked if she even knows who Greene is, Kitty harumphs "I think we've all seen Bonanza!"
posted by jeffj at 11:39 AM on October 3, 2004

If it were possible to like Greene even more than I did already, I would do so for the quote "Sorry, but save me from Michiko Kakutani!" (which I intend to steal and use shamelessly). Another great post (and put me down as another Quiet American fan -- I spent years recommending it to anyone who wanted to understand the American Indochina debacle).
posted by languagehat at 5:21 PM on October 3, 2004

This may sound illogical, but some books make you feel like a better person after reading them. Greene's 'Power & Glory' was one for me.
posted by of strange foe at 7:25 PM on October 3, 2004


posted by matteo at 3:25 AM on October 4, 2004

I can't find a reference to it now, but I seem to recall that when the US was deciding whether it could legally send back Haitian boat people without a hearing(during the first coup against Aristide, I think), and the US attorney was minimizing the suffering and political persecution in Haiti, the judge requested that she go home and read Graham Greene's The Comedians.
posted by boo at 11:31 AM on October 5, 2004

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