October 2nd – Graham Greene

“Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.”

Graham Greene, Ways of Escape (1980)

Graham Greene was born October 2nd, 1904, at Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, England. The fourth of six children, he was born and raised in a boarding house where his father was housemaster. Greene attended his father’s school and was bullied by classmates because of his father’s position. As a teen, he was profoundly depressed and attempted suicide multiple times. At the age of sixteen, he was sent to London for psychoanalysis for six months, a rarity at the time. Yet, Greene loved London and reflected that it was one of the happiest times of his life. 

During his college years, he continued to suffer from depression and was later diagnosed as manic depressive (bipolar). In 1925 he graduated from Balliol College, Oxford, working as a private tutor briefly before becoming a journalist. 

While working as a journalist in 1925, he began a correspondence with Vivien Dayrell-Browning, a writer who initially turned down Greene’s advances because he was not Catholic. He converted to Catholicism in 1926 and married Vivien in 1927. They had two children, but the marriage was unhappy. After about ten years, their marriage was over, and Greene had numerous and often clandestine affairs, but Vivien would not grant him a divorce because of her religious beliefs. 

Greene’s first published work was a book of verse, Babbling April, published in 1925. His first novel, The Man Within (1929), was modestly successful, and Greene was able to quit his day job and focus on writing, supplementing his income with freelance journalism as well as book and film reviews.

His next two books, The Name of Action (1930) and Rumour at Nightfall (1932), were unsuccessful; and he later disowned them, preventing them from being reprinted. His first true success was Stamboul Train (1932), filmed as Orient Express in 1934.

Greene took his first of many trips out of Europe in 1935, when he was thirty years old. The four-week trip around Liberia was released as Journey Without Maps (1936). 

In 1937 his review of “Wee Willie Winkie” starring Shirley Temple led Twentieth Century Fox to sue Graham for his provoking remarks about the sexuality of the nine-year-old child star – after which he left the country for Mexico. While in Mexico, he began what’s considered his finest novel, The Power and the Glory, about a weak and alcoholic priest struggling against a revolutionary government in Mexico.

Greene traveled widely for much of the following three decades as a freelance journalist, often to remote places in conflict, searching out locations for his novels in the process. His books were set in Sierra Leon – The Heart of the Matter, 1948, A leper colony on the Congo river – A Burnt-Out Case (1960), Haiti – The Comedians, 1966, and Cuba – Our Man in Havana (1958), among others.

Greene continued to battle the highs and lows of his depressive disorder and self-medicated with drinking, opium, women, and religion. After his marriage failed and his lover Catherine Walston wouldn’t leave her husband, his therapist Eric Strauss instructed Greene to continue to put his pen to paper rather than undergo Electric Shock therapy that was popular at the time. Greene’s 1951 book, The End of the Affair, is based on his relationship with Walston. In the book, novelist Maurice Bendrix, becomes obsessed after his lover, who refuses to divorce her husband, ends the affair. He only finds out after her death that a pledge she made to God after his flat got bombed during the Blitz is why she left. The End of the Affair is considered the fourth and last book of Greene’s “Catholic” novels. 

First edition of The End of the Affair for sale by Burnside Rare Books on Biblio.com

Considered one of the leading English novelists of the 20th century. His fiction is generally divided into two genres – the thrillers or entertainments, and the literary novels. The literary novels are made up of the Catholic novels: The Power and the GloryThe Heart of the MatterThe End of the Affair, and A Burnt-Out Case, and the political novels are The Quiet American, The Comedians, The Honorary Consul, and The Human Factor

Greene also wrote about five hundred book reviews and six hundred movie reviews. His passion for movies was evident in his books, which are very cinematic in nature. Many of his novels were made into films – some several times. 

Graham Greene died of leukemia on April 3rd, 1991, in Switzerland. He was 86 years old.

Lesson from Greene:

Greene used writing as therapy to alleviate his depression. He was reckless with travel, drinking, drugs, and women, but those experiences added depth to his work, an attempt at living life both holy and human. 

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