Was Graham Greene a bah humbug about Christmas? He certainly seemed to want to avoid the festive season in the UK if he could, going abroad to what was then Indo-China, to his hideaway on the island of Capri etc.
We are given a rare insight into his thoughts over Christmas in a journal he kept while voyaging to Freetown in 1941-42 on an Elder Dempster cargo-ship. This was first published in The Mint (1946) and later as an accompaniment to his better-known ‘Congo Journal’, In Search of a Character: Two African Journals (1961). How did the passengers and crew, strangers all, cope with being so far away from home with the ever-present threat of being blown to smithereens by a torpedo from a German U-Boat? A good deal of alcohol for a start and then to a party on Christmas Night in the Stewards’ Mess. Greene tells us that ‘French letters (were) blown up the size of balloons and hung over the captain’s chair’. Christmas Day started at 11.00 am with champagne and the writer reflects, ‘One was less homesick than one had expected’.
Greene spent Christmas 1956 on the remote ranch he had bought for his daughter Caroline (Bourget) in Alberta, Canada. Richard Greene, in his biography, Russian Roulette: The Life and Times of Graham Greene (2020), recounts that, ‘The beauty of the place astonished him’ with its view over a valley and distant vista of the Rocky Mountains. And, of course, Caroline was also present when the seeds of what became Dr. Fischer of Geneva or The Bomb Party (1980) emerged from his imagination. ‘To my daughter, Caroline Bourget, at whose Christmas table at Jongny this story first came to me’. (Right: Caroline Bourget about to enter the sewers in Vienna on the Trust’s Third Man expedition in October 2018.)
So Christmas Bah Humbug, Mr. Greene? As with so many aspects of this writer, there lies a conundrum.
Wishing all those who read this website season’s greetings and sincere wishes for a happier and better 2021.