The purpose of the Current Research page is to highlight ongoing research into the life and works of Graham Greene and his contemporaries as well as to give notice of relevant exhibitions and lectures. If you are engaged in study of this kind in a professional capacity, as a doctoral or post-graduate student, or for any other reason, please do get in touch.
GRAHAM GREENE’S VISIT TO CHINA
Graham Greene visited two major Communist states in 1957. He took his son Francis to Moscow in August of that year as a 21st birthday present, and in April spent a month in China. Nearly thirty years later, in 1985, he wrote about the latter experience in an article for The Times newspaper entitled ‘A Weed Among the Flowers’.
Greene had expected to make the journey in the company of his friend Margaret Lane and her husband but was disappointed to find that they had been assigned to another group under the terms of the strict chaperoning system in force for foreigners visiting China. The writer’s account suggested that while he greatly admired and enjoyed the sites he was taken to, he behaved irresponsibly, indeed ‘abominably’ (to quote Greene himself), towards one member of the party in particular, whose excessive verbosity infuriated him.
Greene also managed to pick a quarrel with the unofficial leader of the group, the socialist lawyer Lord Chorley. He found the peer’s defence of the Chinese authority’s treatment of the dissident writer Hu Feng intolerable. The disagreement extended beyond the duration of trip itself, continuing in the letter pages on The Daily Telegraph. To add further embarrassment, Lord Chorley had been the first to apologise.
This may account for why it took Graham Greene nearly three decades to give his account of this episode. Indeed on the first page of ‘A Weed Among the Flowers’ he writes, ‘I was even to behave abominably to the innocent Lord Chorley, but Lord Chorley is dead and he will not be hurt by anything I write’. ¹ By 1985, the other person to invoke the writer’s ire, the over-loquacious professor of Comparative Education Joseph Laurweys, had also died.
Greene’s foreign travel has inevitably involved conjecture regarding his possible involvement with MI6 activities. His 1957 visit to China is no exception. His official biographer, Norman Sherry, states unequivocally that, ‘Greene went to China with at least one specific purpose: to spy’. ² His evidence is based on files he was shown at Greene’s sister’s house together with a measure of conjecture.
But did Greene also manage to enjoy China? His biographer claims he did not. Citing his letters home to his lover Catherine Walston, Sherry refers to his boredom and general indifference to the places he was visiting. However, this ignores the fact that Greene’s motives would have been driven by the person he was addressing at a time when their relationship was beginning to loosen. In stark contrast, immediately after he returned from China, Greene wrote to his old college friend Harold Acton. He was enthusiastic about the Yangtze River and the Great Wall, both of which he described as ‘superb’. An unrenovated tomb from the Ming Dynasty was ‘the loveliest thing I saw in China’. While he was disappointed with the Forbidden City, Greene enjoyed the old restaurants the most as they ‘served wonderful food.’³ Moreover, anyone reading ‘A Weed Among the Flowers’ in 1985 would immediately assume that, after all those years, the writer’s memories of China as a place were positive despite the deficiencies of the company he was forced to endure.
After 1985, the same article was re-printed twice in 1990. Firstly it took the form of a ‘miniature book’, just under three inches square, with a green silk cover and gilt label. It was presented in a green silk case with ivory clasp. The edition carried an afterword by the poet Stephen Spender and was illustrated by Vance Garry. It was published in Los Angeles by Sylvester and Orphanos. The same year, ‘A Weed Among the Flowers’ was included in Reflections, a collection of the writer’s essays which he compiled with the aid of Professor Judith Adamson, who also wrote the introduction.
‘A Weed Among the Flowers’ proved to be the last of three, ‘special collectors’ editions‘ of Greene’s work. The first, ‘How Father Quixote Became a Monsignor’ (1980), comprised the opening chapter of Monsignor Quixote, the novel published in 1982. In 1983, Sylvester and Orphanos produced A Quick Look Behind: Footnotes to an Autobiography. This limited and signed edition of Greene’ poetry in its blue embossed cloth cover and stylish white slipcase is far from a vanity product; by contrast it offers interesting insights into the writer’s life which have been largely neglected hitherto.
After the publication of ‘A Weed Among the Flowers’ Stathis Orphanos wrote to Greene in May 1990 seeking further collaborations. The ailing author protested that he was too tired to engage in another project but agreed to produce a short appreciation of the Sylvester and Orphanos publications for a forthcoming exhibition. Subsequently he wrote, ‘Their editions of tiny volumes are almost jewel like and I am very proud that A Weed Among the Flowers is included among them’. 4
Observers of Greene will find this remark deeply ironic. For much of his working life, the writer had fought ‘tooth and nail’ to ensure that his dust-jackets in particular were plain and unadorned – a battle he customarily won.
I am much indebted to Dr. Fang of Hangzhow, China for drawing my attention to this article by Greene and subsequently for providing me with important, related information. In the opening paragraph of ‘A Weed Among the Flowers’, Greene remarks that his visit, ‘… was during that deceptively hopeful season of the Hundred Flowers …’.5 The Hundred Flowers Campaign, or Hundred Flowers Movement, was the period when citizens, and particularly intellectuals, were encouraged to express openly their opinions of the communist regime. Officially it was designed to promote a flourishing of the arts and progress in science. It was followed immediately by a crackdown on those opposed to the Communist regime suggesting that the whole initiative had been engineered to re-impose Maoist orthodoxy.
The historical significance of the ‘hundred flowers’, as well as providing context to Greene’s aside, also serves to explain, at least in part, the somewhat enigmatic title. I had always assumed ‘A Weed Among the Flowers’ referred only to the writer’s awkward presence amid a group of left wing enthusiasts. Clearly not.
1. Graham Greene, Reflections: Selected and Introduced by Judith Adamson. London, Vintage Books, (2014), 394.
2. Norman Sherry, The Life of Graham Greene, Volume 3: 1955-1991. London, Jonathan Cape, (2004), 76.
3. Letter: Graham Greene to Harold Acton, 9 May 1957. John J. Burns Library, Boston College, Massachusetts, Graham Greene Papers. Correspondence: Harold Acton.
4. Letter: Graham Greene to Stathis Orphanos, 5 June 1990. John J. Burns Library, Boston College, Massachusetts, Graham Greene Papers, ‘A Weed Among the Flowers’ (1985-90).
5. Greene, Reflections, op.cit, 394.
ERIC AMBLER’S BORROWED LANDSCAPE
In Eric Ambler’s novel Passage of Arms, Arlene, Dorothy and Greg are enjoying the sights of Saigon with a local guide who promises to show them, ‘where Quiet American made bomb explosion’. A rather bemused Greg replies that The Quiet American was just fiction.
The three discuss the driver’s comment and Arlene remembers that Graham Greene was supposed to have been in the city at the time of the explosion described in the novel. The driver instantly recognizes the author’s name and promises also to show his party the bridge where, ‘Fowler found dead body of correspondent’ and ‘restaurant where they talk’.
This blurring of fact and fiction seems decidedly modern yet Eric Ambler’s novel was published in 1960, just four years after The Quiet American itself. One can only speculate on his reasons for including this amusing example of intertextuality. Was it an in-joke between the two writers? Was it a ‘homage’ from Ambler in recognition of Greene’s consummate skills in describing ‘place’ so accurately that reality could overcome fiction in the mind of the reader? Greene was equally admiring too, claiming Ambler to be, ‘the greatest living writer of the novel of suspense’. In a telegram he addressed him as ‘the master’ while describing himself as ‘the pupil’.
And yet, there is no evidence to suggest that they were anything other than quite distant acquaintances. Only a paltry amount of correspondence has survived. The salutations are formal. ‘Dear Mr Ambler’ later softens ever so slightly to ‘Dear Ambler’, in the manner of the times. The letters that do exist are limited to the summer of 1961 when Greene, unhappy at the treatment by Heinemann of his great friend and mentor A.S. Frere, was on the verge of leaving the company which had published his books for over thirty years.
Ambler, also a Heinemann author, asked Greene for a meeting as he had got wind of the disquiet at the publisher. It was clear that Greene, who was by that time also close to the influential Max Reinhardt, took the lead in initiating a strategy to deal with the threatened restructuring at the top of the Heinemann hierarchy which would adversely affect the career of A.S. Frere. In a letter dated 21 August, he was able to reassure Ambler that although, ‘the war continues’ he had heard, ‘it is going our way’. However, he added cautiously, ‘but if we lose the fight I am determined to carry out my bluff and leave Heinemann’.
In the event, Greene was indeed forced to carry out his bluff. He joined The Bodley Head under the chairmanship of Max Reinhardt who gained not only an eminent novelist but also an energetic Board member. In her book Max Reinhardt: A Life in Publishing, Judith Adamson records that Greene ‘brought with him Eric Ambler’.
RICHEY, ENDŌ & GREENE
Georgetown University, Washington D.C. has recently produced two interesting online exhibitions. The first is called, ‘Navigating the War: A Centenary Exhibition of the Richey Archives’ and the other, ‘Martin Scorsese, Shūsaku Endō and Graham Greene’.
Both exhibitions can be viewed at the Georgetown University Library website. Navigate to the ‘Past Exhibitions’ page and then ‘Browse by Date’. The online exhibitions will be found under the titles given above. They are beautifully documented and both include a number of references to Greene including examples of correspondence and other items of interest.
A GOOD READ
A very interesting article entitled Early Graham Greene by Leo Mellor can be accessed via the OXFORD HANDBOOKS ONLINE (www.oxfordhandbooks.com) website. Just visit the website and access the article for free by typing the author’s name Leo Mellor in the appropriate search box.
NEWS OF A DOCTORAL THESIS BY OSCAR JANSSON OF LUND UNIVERSITY SWEDEN
I’m writing a doctoral thesis on dominant modes of explanation and interpretation in the international reception and historiography of Graham Greene’s writing, ranging roughly from the end of WW2 to 2010. I’m mainly focusing on Britain, North America, France and Sweden, but I also deal with a bit of German and Spanish material. As I’m working in Sweden and as such am once removed from much of the Greene-community, I greatly appreciate the opportunity to explain my research on this website.
The starting point of the thesis concerns how, why and when Greene’s novels – or rather a handful of them – came to be considered to principal foundation of his œuvre, and specifically what types of mechanisms of literary reception and historiography are indicated by the international dominance of the conception of Greene as a great novelist from a point in his career when this dominance was far from quantitatively certain. In short, the answer lies somewhere between Greene’s extraordinary skill as a writer, the hegemonic position of the novel in 20th century literature, and the transnational academic interest in the concerns of early criticism on Greene (primarily the relation between art and religion, and the ’literariness’ of popular forms).
The thesis then moves on to investigate how the continuous reception and historiography of Greene’s work in other genres (short stories, plays, memoirs and film scripts, as well as journalism, essays and criticism) has been affected by the dominance of the novel. I will investigate, among other things, the significance in historiography of the belated publication of Greene’s short stories in North America; patterns of translation of novels and other works from English to other European languages; functions in historiography based in the localized nature of theatre performances; the complex hierarchies of cultural ownership in film- and television; and the tendencies toward subsuming individual works within a dominant conceptions of an œuvre (e.g. commentators of the world premiere of The Living Room in Stockholm in 1952 confessed a difficulty in discerning whether the standing ovations were directed at Greene the playwright or Greene the novelist).
My main argument is that any attempt at describing the significance of Graham Greene in literary history (i.e. any attempt at writing a literary history of Greene), must widen the conception of Greene as a novelist to that of a 20th century writer, the effect of which, I believe, could to a much higher degree encompass the complexity of his collected œuvre in terms of genre, media and actualized value systems. Such a shift in perception would emphasize Greene’s activities in a wide range of 20th century literature (as writer, critic, publisher, and so forth), and could hopefully bring to the forefront the much neglected aesthetic intricacies of Greene’s short stories, film scripts, and plays, as well as provide fundamental insights into the 20th century literary systems as expressed in his criticism and essays.
PhD-candidate in Comparative Literature
Centre for Languages and Literature
NEWS OF A NEW BOOK ABOUT GREENE & POLITICS
Michael G. Brennan – Graham Greene: Political Writer (Palgrave Macmillan UK) 2016 ISBN: 978-1-137-34395-6
Graham Greene remarked that ‘politics are in the air we breathe, like the presence or absence of a God’ (The Other Man). This study is the first to provide a detailed consideration of the impact of his political thought and involvements on his writings both fictional and factual. It also offers the first detailed consideration of Greene’s involvements in espionage and British intelligence from the 1920s until the late 1980s. It incorporates material, not only from his major fictions but also from his prolific journalism. letters to the press, private correspondence, diaries and working manuscripts and typescripts, as well as consideration of the diverse political involvements and writings of his extended family network. It shows how the full range of Greene’s writings was inspired and underpinned by his fascination with the essential human duality of political action and religious belief, coupled with an insistent need as a write to keep the political personal.
About the author:
Michael G. Brennan is Professor of Renaissance Studies at the University of Leeds where he has taught for over thirty years. He is also the author of Graham Greene: Fictions, Faith and Authorship (Continuum, 2010). His other books include Evelyn Waugh: Fictions, Faith and Family (Bloomsbury, 2013) and George Orwell and Religion (Bloomsbury, forthcoming 2016); and he has published widely on sixteenth and seventeenth century English literature and travel writings.
GREENE & HIS SPANISH PRIEST
In January 1976 Greene wrote to his old friend Victoria Ocampo that he had no particular plans for the coming year but would probably be repeating his travels in Spain ‘with my nice priest, Father Durán’. He told the Argentinean writer and publisher that the previous year they had travelled some 3,500 kilometres in nine days in a tiny car stocked with Silesian wine.
Professor Carlos Villar Flor of the University of La Rioja gave a paper at the 2013 Graham Greene International Festival entitled, ‘Travels with my Priest: Greene’s Spanish Trips, 1976-1989.’ Since then, Carlos has spent two months in Washington DC at the Georgetown University Library examining the Leopoldo Durán Papers. He reports, ‘It was a fascinating task. I thought I might be done in a few weeks, but I kept on working on the Durán files until the very last day.’
Carlos adds: ‘I have two articles on Graham Greene’s Iberian travels due in 2015: one is an adaptation of my 2013 Festival paper, published in the journal The Grove: Working Papers on English Studies, Volume 22 (forthcoming), entitled, “Graham Greene and Leopoldo Durán: Quixotic Companions across Spain and Portugal”. The other one is an extended version dealing with the misfortunes of the Graham Greene Foundation, a summary of which I discussed in the aforementioned festival, “Tras la pista del Murrieta: El origen riojano de la Fundación Graham Greene” (Berceo, 168, pp. 73-102).’
Carlos intends to write a full account of each of Greene’s Spanish holidays from 1976 to 1989, complementing Fr. Durán’s testimonies with other sources. He wants to develop a rounder portrait of Greene’s friend and confidant: his studies, ecclesiastic and academic career, his relationship with Greene, the making of Friend and Brother (Durán’s memoir Graham Greene: Friend and Brother, 1994) and his problems with HarperCollins (his publisher), the sale of his manuscripts, etc.
ANDREW W. MELLON RESEARCH FELLOWSHIP
Mike Hill and Jon Wise were awarded University of Texas Research Fellowships in 2014 which enabled them to undertake research at the Harry Ransom Center (HRC) at Austin, Texas in preparation for their book The Works of Graham Greene Volume 2: The Graham Greene Archives which was published in October 2015. Those who have been awarded fellowships are asked to contribute to the ‘Cultural Compass’ page of the HRC website. To read their report about Greene’s relationship with Bernard Diederich, Michel Lechat, and closer to home his childhood friend Peter Quennell as well his US National Security file, please see:
Why was this Chipping Campden telephone box significant in the life of Graham Greene?
GREENE AND THE CHURCH
Graham Greene’s association with the Roman Catholicism lasted most of his adult life. He was regularly an outspoken critic of the Church’s hierarchy at a time when few Catholics were prepared publicly to question the word of the Vatican.
Rubén Moheno, who gave a paper at the 2014 Graham Greene International Festival entitled ‘Graham Greene in Mexico: A Hint of an Explanation’, has provided a timely reminder of the writer’s modernity with respect to the role of the Church. This has been highlighted recently by Pope Francis’s efforts to demonstrate, at least in some respects, that Roman Catholicism and moral conservatism, in Greene’s words, should be ‘impossible bedfellows’.
In the current (July 2015) edition of La Jornada Semanal, Rubén has included two pieces of writing by Greene: his Open Letter to the Cardinal Archbishop of Paris, entitled ‘Colette’s Funeral Rites’ which was published in Le Figaro littéraire on 4 August 1954, and his foreword to Dermot Keogh’s 1990 book Church and Politics in Latin America, which he called ‘The Social Challenge of the Gospel’. To these Rubén Moheno has added his own article, ‘Colette y el Cardenel’ (Colette and the Cardinal), which provides the background to the decision by Cardinal Feltin to deny religious rites to the first French woman to be accorded a state funeral in recognition of her reputation as a writer of the highest quality. He has also written a brief afterword in which he asserts that with respect to the religious changes occurring in his own country, Mexico, and in Rome, Graham Greene ‘remains a writer for tomorrow.’
An English translation of Greene’s Open Letter is to be found in The Portable Graham Greene (1973), edited by Philip Stratford, who also translated the piece. Greene’s foreword, possibly his last, substantial piece of writing, is a superbly lucid and persuasive argument in favour of what might be termed ‘grass-roots’ Catholicism.
If you want to read Rubén’s collection of articles go to: http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2015/07/12/sem-graham.html
RESEARCH INTO THE DR MICHEL LECHAT ARCHIVE
Those of us who attended the 2014 Festival on the Friday afternoon were privileged to hear Professor Michael Meeuwis’s paper entitled, ’Merriment or Make-believe? Reflections on the Congo Journal, Missionaries, and a Home Video Showing Graham Greene in the Belgian Congo.’ Michael’s research is on-going as he describes below.
Michael Meeuwis, of the Department of African Languages and Cultures of Ghent University, Belgium, is particularly interested in Graham Greene’s experience, however brief, in the Belgian Congo, which he visited in 1959 and which formed the basis for A Burnt-Out Case (1960, UK Edition 1961).
Michael is a specialist of the missionary and colonial history of the Belgian Congo and was also a good friend of Dr Michel Lechat (who died in 2014) and his wife Edith Lechat-Dasnoy, who were Greene’s hosts in the Congo and who in 2014 handed over to Michael copies and some originals of their archives related to Greene and to Norman Sherry’s research into Greene (the other originals being in the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas).
Michael published an online article on a home video showing Greene in the Congo http://rozenbergquarterly.com/?p=6141). He is presently working on two follow-up articles. One intends to provide a more profound contextualization of Greene’s stay in the Congo, with an analysis of the links to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, some of which were made by Greene himself, together with an interpretation of Greene’s exceptionally apolitical gaze while travelling in a country otherwise going through great political trouble. Another projected piece is a textual comparison of the original manuscript of the diary Greene kept in the Congo during his visit in 1959, with the version eventually published in In Search of a Character: Two African Journals (1961), together with all the intermediary versions in between at typescript and galley proof stages. The differences are in some cases major, showing a ‘different Greene’ in each instance.
Greene with Michel Lechat and his children at Coquihatville, near Iyonda in 1959. (Photo courtesy of Edith Lechat)