Our Quarterly Magazine
A Sort of Newsletter: A Quarterly Magazine
The Trust publishes a quarterly magazine, each February, May, August and November, titled A Sort of Newsletter (ASON). Friends of the Trust receive free print copies as part of their membership. Each issue contains a rich mix of articles, reviews, correspondence and news. ASON is not intended to be an academic journal; there is something for everyone with an interest in the writer.
Rarely does a month go by without Graham Greene featuring in the news in some form or other. A Sort of Newsletter will keep you bang up to date with information about the latest Greene-related books, films, reviews and associated news from around the world.
The annual Graham Greene International Festival, held in September each year in Berkhamsted is the principal event in the Birthplace Trust’s calendar. Naturally, it features prominently in the pages of the newsletter with information about forthcoming festival appearing in the May and August issues followed by retrospectives on each event in the November issue.
So, if you are interested in Graham Greene, his life and his books and you are not currently a Friend of the Graham Greene Birthplace Trust, then you are urged to turn to the Members’ page on this website which gives all the details about joining and receiving A Sort of Newsletter.
To give you a flavour of what to expect to find within the pages of the magazine, we regularly publish features from the last four issues :
ISSUE 94 May 2023
Brighton Rock: the US first edition
The extensive coverage in February’s ASON of two variant opening sentences of Brighton Rock (’Hale knew …’) came to the conclusion that the US and the British first editions had different starts: ‘Hale knew that they meant …’ for the US, ‘Hale knew, before he …’ for the British. One reader has since suggested that the US edition went straight to the point about murder, rather than leaving it to the end of the sentence, because that suited the American temperament. Perhaps so; maybe we Brits can wait a few moments for our thrills. One thing to add to that whole debate, though: the US edition was actually published in June 1938, before the British release in July. So you could argue that ‘Hale knew that they meant to murder him before he had been in Brighton three hours’ is the true original version, even though the sub-claused British version now reigns supreme.Leaving aside that whole question of the novel’s opening sentence, that first US edition of Brighton Rock continues to cast a shadow. Lucas Townsend emailed with some questions to ask about his US edition of the book, as follows:
‘… my first copy of Greene’s Brighton Rock I owned I purchased in 2019 in the USA, and it is the 2004 Penguin Centennial Edition (with the watercolor(?) art of presumably Pinkie on the cover. The other centennial editions in this style were Orient Express, The Heart of the Matter, The End of the Affair, The Quiet American, and Travels with My Aunt).
‘Now, on the very last page of the book – not page 269, which contains the closing lines about Rose walking towards “the worst horror of at all” – but rather, page 270, contains the following passages with no detailed explanation of who actually put them there:
‘ “NOTE TO AMERICAN READERS
‘ “During the summer season in England certain popular newspapers organize treasure hunts at the seaside. They publish the photograph of a reporter and print his itinerary at the particular town he is visiting. Anyone who, while carrying a copy of the paper, addresses him, usually under some fantastic name, in a set form of words, receives a money prize; he also distributes along his route cards which can be exchanged for smaller prizes. Next day in the paper the reporter describes the chase. Of course, the character of Hale is not drawn from that of any actual newspaperman. – G.G.
‘ “Brighton Rock is a form of sticky candy as characteristic of English seaside resorts as salt-water taffy is of the American. The word ‘Brighton’ appears on the ends of the stick at no matter what point it is broken off. – E.D. ”
‘Several questions here! Presumably “G.G”. is Greene, but when did he write this? Was this from the first Viking Press edition in America, or sometime later? Why is it in the back of the book, and not the front? Is this in every American edition? And who is “E.D.”? Surely an editor would say “Editor” or “ED.” with no period in between?
‘Presumably this information would be helpful for a first-time reader of the book, and should go on the front page; I certainly had no clue what Brighton Rock (the sweet) was when I first read it in the States and did not understand what Hale’s role was, until I saw this note on the last page…’
I can I hope answer all Lucas’s queries. First, ‘G.G’ is of course Graham Greene, and his note about the ‘treasure hunt’ organised by British newspapers was included in the ‘Note’ in the first US edition in 1938. Presumably US newspapers had not adopted the idea by the late 1930s. ASON readers may be interested if I expand on Greene’s words on the whole business by quoting from Wikipedia’s entry on ‘Lobby Lud’, the original for Greene’s ‘Kolley Kibber’:
Lobby Lud is a fictional character created in August 1927 by the Westminster Gazette, a British newspaper, now defunct. The character was used in readers’ prize competitions during the summer period. Anonymous employees visited seaside resorts and afterwards wrote down a detailed description of the town they visited, without giving away its name. They also described a person they happened to see that day and declared him to be the ’Lobby Lud’ of that issue. Readers were given a pass phrase and had to try to guess both the location and the person described by the reporters. Anyone carrying the newspaper could challenge Lobby Lud with the phrase and receive five pounds (about £320 in 2023).
The competition was created because people on holiday were known to be less likely to buy a newspaper. Some towns and large factories had holiday fortnights (called ‘wakes weeks’ in the north of England); the town or works would all decamp at the same time. Circulation could drop considerably in the summer and proprietors hoped prizes would increase it.
The character’s name was derived from the paper’s telegraphic address, ‘Lobby, Ludgate’.
The British colloquial phrase ‘You are (name) and I claim my five pounds’ is associated with Lobby Lud, despite being based on a similar idea thought up by a different paper.
After the demise of the Gazette in 1928 the competition continued in The Daily News, which became the News Chronicle from 1930, in turn being absorbed into the Daily Mail in 1960. Other newspapers such as the Daily Mirror ran similar schemes. ‘You are (name) and I claim my five pounds’, the most well-known phrase, seems to date from a Daily Mail version after World War II. A train, the Lobby Lud Express, was run to take Londoners to resorts Lobby visited.
In 1983 an original Lobby Lud – William Chinn – was discovered aged 91 in Cardiff, Wales. The Daily Mirror‘s ‘Chalkie White’ continues to visit resorts, and the idea has been taken up by local radio stations and other media, often offering lesser prizes.
It’s perhaps worth adding that Greene’s name ‘Kolley Kibber’ – Fred Hale’s equivalent of Lobby Lud in Brighton Rock – is in turn based on Colley Cibber (1671-1767), an English actor-manager, playwright and, from 1730, Poet Laureate.
But back to Lucas’s queries. He is right of course that ‘E.D’ should be ‘ED’, standing for ‘Editor’ – LibDem leader Ed Davey has not started moonlighting by editing Graham Greene’s novels. The ‘ED’ note was also included in the 1938 Viking Press US first edition of the novel, along with Greene’s own note, and presumably each subsequent US edition of the novel. (In fact, I have a 1997 Folio Society edition of the book, published in the UK, which also contains the ‘Note to American Readers’.) As the accompanying illustration of the US first edition shows, that edition has simply ‘Note’ as the heading, not the ‘Note to American Readers’ that Lucas’s edition has – presumably it was assumed that the 1938 edition would only be read by American readers, so there was no need to specify that, while in the internet age the Centennial Edition would be read worldwide, not just in the USA.
However, I have not been able to establish the name of Greene’s American editor in 1938 – presumably the one who settled on ‘Hale knew they meant to murder him…’ as the opening sentence: can any ASON reader shed any light on the editor’s identity?
As an American reader of Brighton Rock, Lucas is not alone in needing the editor’s help in explaining the very British idea of ‘rock’ as a long, hard, round stick of candy popular at seaside resorts. No doubt the problem for non-Brits partly explains why the 1947 film version of Brighton Rock was given the title Young Scarface in the USA, and also why a French Livre de Poche edition of the novel in the 1960s had the title Les rochers de Brighton, with a cover illustration of a steep rock face.
Finally, I can only agree and sympathise with Lucas’s point about the ‘Note to American Readers’ being placed at the back of the US, Centennial edition he read. Not very helpful. But in the 1938 first Viking edition, the ‘Note’ is at the beginning, as it should be – immediately after the Dedication page.
ISSUE 93 February 2023
Hill knew, before his article had been released three hours, that they meant to respond to it.
A quick recap. In the November ASON [see Issue 92 extract below], I pointed out that the opening sentence of Brighton Rock is ‘Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him.’ Yet in the BBC Arena documentary, shown at last year’s Festival, this is rendered as ‘Hale knew that they meant to murder him before he had been in Brighton three hours.’ – and this rendering was made in the voice of Sir Alec Guinness, no less, with an image of the first paragraph of the novel, complete with this version of the opening. So I asked ASON readers a series of questions about this discrepancy – and they responded.
First, is there any difference of meaning between the two? Colin Garrett points out an ambiguity in the ‘BBC’ rendering: ‘In the Arena version it is not clear whether the three hours refers to the knowing or the murdering. In Greene’s version it is clear that Hale knew within three hours but did not know when the murder would be.’ Zoeb Matin agrees: ‘The modified sentence quoted by Guinness has a flaw in it – is the gang about to kill Hale before he has been in Brighton for three hours or is it the other way around – that Hale realised it, as he did, of his fate at that time? So, without a question, Greene’s original line is what still works today.’ So the ‘non-BBC’ version is to be preferred not least on the grounds of clarity – though in defence of the Arena programme, I have to point out that Guinness’s reading goes up at the end of the quoted sentence in a way that avoids this ambiguity – not something that happens if simply read in one’s own head, as it were.
My next question was, how did this discrepancy between the two versions come about? One possibility is that the Arena version comes from a different edition of the book. David Hawksworth emailed to say that in his collection of Greene books he has two copies of Brighton Rock which start with the Arena first sentence – a US Compass Book Edition from August 1958 (his copy is the tenth printing from November 1965, with a reference to the 1938 US Viking Press edition) and an Invincible Press ‘Rare Australian Pulp issue’, 1944. David sent photographs of the two front covers and first pages, and are shown here (with the Australian cover on the left).
This Australian edition is interesting, since the text omits big chunks of the plot, and seems to be a bastardised version of the novel, probably an unauthorised one, and affected by the wartime paper shortage. Crucially, the text follows the US Viking Press first edition of 1938, rather than the UK first edition of the same year – for instance, in having ‘Drewitt’ rather than ‘Prewitt’ as the name of the dodgy lawyer. Hence, both David’s copies are based on that original 1938 Viking Press, New York US first edition. Was that where the Arena-style first sentence originated? I don’t have a copy of that edition, so I emailed a few booksellers who were advertising such a copy for sale, and the answer came back – yes, that edition does indeed start with ‘Hale knew they meant to murder him before he had been in Brighton three hours.’ That edition is known to vary from the UK first edition in a few respects – not just Drewitt/Prewitt, but in omitting some of the Jewish references, too. And the US first edition was in turn the basis of early Penguin and Bantam paperbacks of the novel, as well as the two editions David Hawksworth owns. But the Collected Edition of Brighton Rock in 1970 followed the UK first edition of 1938 and used ‘Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him’ as its first sentence, and subsequent editions, including the later Penguin and Vintage Classics texts, follow that – including the US Penguin Centennial Edition of 2004. So the copy you are likely to have on your bookshelves, dear reader, has the ‘Hale knew, before…’ opening, not the US 1938 one – but it seems that Arena had a copy based on the latter, and used it in their documentary on Greene. Case solved.
But not so fast. ASON reader David Butler-Groome wrote with another intriguing possibility. David has read and recorded audiobooks semi-professionally for the last few years, and his suggestion is that ‘Alec Guinness probably made the decision to read that sentence in that way in the studio at the point of recording.’
He explains this thought in detail: ’He could deliver the line with less interpretation and less imposition of his own acting technique by putting the sub-clause at the end and keeping the main clause unbroken and therefore make the delivery less about the actor and more about the text. If you try to perform the two versions, the proper one does not scan aurally as easily as the rewritten version – if you have never read the book, which is an important consideration …
‘Whichever way it is written, grammatically the main clause of the sentence is “Hale knew […] that they meant to murder him”. The sub clause could come before or after, or as Greene has it, in the middle.
‘It seems to me that the sentence “Hale knew that they meant to murder him before he had been in Brighton three hours” is rendered without punctuation and aurally scans as one sentence with the meaning derived efficiently, with the main clause first and the sub-clause second.
‘The proper version “Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him” requires the visual punctuation to determine the clause within the middle of the sentence. The commas indicate a cognitive shift in the determination of meaning. With these two pieces of information in one sentence with a broken main clause, the reader has to do more work and this engages the reader actively in the creation of the narrative voice, which is what every writer wants: engaged readers.
‘This is not necessary when you have a voice actor interpreting the narrative voice for the reader. When listening to an audiobook the active “reader” becomes the passive “listener”. The listener has no access to the visual punctuation, they cannot scan the sentence in advance as it looms up on them from the page, they cannot gauge its length visually on the page, they are guided by the voice actor as to the interpretation. They need aural prompts and sometimes this means that listening is a less engaged experience than reading for oneself.
‘In order to deliver the Hale sentence as Greene intended, I would argue that the voice actor has to do a lot of aural signposting, to pause the main clause, introduce the sub-clause and then reintroduce the main clause, as they are written – which can be dispensed with by moving the sub clause after the main clause. I would argue that reading the sentence the way Alec Guinness did, more cleanly conveyed to the listener, with no loss of effect or change in the intended meaning by Greene.’
The only problem with that approach, as David admits, is if viewers of the Arena programme are so familiar with the opening sentence as to feel a mistake has been made: my problem entirely. David also suggests that, Guinness having made the decision to read the opening sentence as he does, it fell to the Arena documentary makers ‘to mock up the opening paragraph to avoid confusion.’
So we have two possible answers to my question about why Arena did what it did:
either they used a Viking Press-based copy of the novel, or Alec Guinness decided to read the sentence in that way. You choose.
My final question was, is the ‘UK’ version of the opening sentence to be preferred to the US/Arena version? Our readers are unanimous that it is, quite apart from the potential ambiguity of the US version, already discussed.
Neil Sinyard has this to say:
‘Greene’s version is much to be preferred to the Arena one. It seems to me that Greene has taken great care with the rhythm, suspense, and the delayed revelation of the sentence, all controlled by the punctuation, so that the full weight will fall on the last phrase and on the word “murder”. You completely lose that in the Arena version which seems to me clumsier in construction and less effective.
‘And incidentally: Greene would undoubtedly have known (he might even have been influenced by the thought) that his hero Joseph Conrad took four days over the composition of the last sentence of Heart of Darkness, weighing the words, controlling the tempo (which gets slower and slower) so that the full impact will fall squarely on the novella’s very last word: “darkness”.’
Lucas Townsend agrees:
‘Greene’s version is simply better. The use of commas enforces effective, narrative-driving pauses in the writing, something that the Guinness BBC version lacks; there is no suspense (even the minuscule amount of suspense a single opening line could offer) in the Guinness BBC version. Greene’s use of commas speaks to what Roland Barthes calls in S/Z the introduction of textual “enigmas.” In other words, books ask questions (“enigmas”), and Greene’s version, through the comma pauses, asks four, and answering the questions only asks more: “Hale knew [1. knew what?], before he had been in Brighton three hours [2. why is he in Brighton only three hours?], that they meant to murder him [Q1. answered. 3. who is they? 4. why are they meaning to murder him?]. The Guinness BBC version, comparatively, seemingly asks one question, and then seemingly answers it in the same sentence [1. Hale knew what? Q1 answered. That they meant to murder him.]; it lacks the suspense that carries us through the remainder of the opening chapter of Brighton Rock. I think we should be very glad that Greene is concerned with the effect of his sentence-structures, and that he wrote it the way he did.’
Zoeb Matin puts his preference this way:
‘I feel that the original line, used by Greene to open the novel, is perfect and ideally it should be quoted in its original form only. There are two simple but essential reasons why – the first, of course, is the technical reason. Greene always adhered to a writing style that, while crisp and succinct, would never compromise on grammar and linearity and thus, by default, the original line, especially in its clear delineation of place and time (“Brighton … three hours”) very clearly defines what is happening and where and when it is happening.
‘But the second reason is that of an equal clarity in storytelling and the significance of an event. The first sentence strikes the reader like a jolt, immediately plunging him or her in the place of Hale, in the throes of danger of certain death. But as the remaining words and sentences of the first chapter begin to trickle in, Greene introduces to us the world of Brighton on a weekend, teeming with holiday crowds and then reveals how Hale is trying to follow his specified path as per his itinerary, from one place to another. It is less than three hours, then, exactly as Hale encounters Pinkie Brown in the bar and the latter’s spare, sinister threats as well as his furious gesture of throwing a glass and thus leaving the bar without negotiating any further with Hale, leaves us and him in no doubt of the intentions to kill him. And thus, the opening line, like a prophecy of what is about to happen, fits in seamlessly. When one reads it aloud, especially the part of “before he had been in Brighton three hours”, one knows exactly what and when has happened and the significance of that incident to what follows in the hours after that.’
So there we have it. The UK first edition version is to be preferred, both on grounds of clarity and for punch and effectiveness, than the US first edition/Arena version. Interestingly, the original manuscript of Brighton Rock seems to have disappeared, so we can’t check what Greene originally wrote in that first sentence. But my strong feeling is that he wrote ‘Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him’, and that’s what was used in the original, UK first edition in 1938 – and thankfully has become the standard rendition now. I’ve always been slightly puzzled that the editor of the US first edition changed ‘Prewitt’ to ‘Drewitt’ (why ever would you do that?), but now we have a bigger mystery. Why did that editor change the opening sentence to something much less effective, and why did Greene agree to the change?
A very final thought on the Arena version. I notice that early on in Brighton Rock Graham Greene writes about Ida Arnold’s ‘smooth Guinness voice’. Perhaps that’s why Arena used Sir Alec.
[Absolutely no excuses are offered for the selection of this month’s extract from A Sort of Newsletter on the same subject of Brighton Rock’s opening sentence. The quotation engendered serious and valuable analysis for both for Greene enthusiasts and scholars]
ISSUE 92 November 2022
Towards the end of the BBC Arena documentary shown at this year’s Festival, the story reaches the publication of Brighton Rock, Greene’s first great novel, published in 1938. The first page of the book appears on screen, and we hear Alec Guinness reading the opening paragraph, beginning with the famous opening sentence: ‘Hale knew that they meant to murder him before he had been in Brighton three hours.’
Jean and I had arrived home from this year’s Greene Festival before I could think about the buzzing in my head from that reading. The first sentence of Brighton Rock isn’t that, is it? Surely it’s ‘Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him.’? I have, I find, five copies of the novel on our bookshelves (I know, I must stop buying stuff), and each of them has this latter opening, not the one quoted in the Arena programme. But perhaps different editions have differing versions of that sentence? I checked on the internet, and could find no version that matched the Arena one – except a chap on Twitter who praised the sentence as the best opening of any novel in the English language, then gave the wrong rendering. The simple truth is that for some reason Arena got it wrong. Perhaps one of the programme-makers simply relied on memory of the sentence, then arranged for Alec Guinness to read that version and had a mock-up of the first page done to show as the reading is heard. Or did they (or even Alec Guinness?) decide that the wrong version sounded better to read?
Am I wrong about what the right version is?? If any ASON reader knows better than I do, I’d like to hear.
More generally, it’s interesting to compare the two versions of that famous first sentence. Graham Greene was a master of clear English prose – the day before he died he famously added a comma to the so-called ‘deathbed letter’ to make clear his precise intention regarding quoting from copyright material. As anyone who has read his works or examined his manuscripts knows, Greene cared enormously about the length and balance and weight of his sentences, and he chose to open Brighton Rock with ‘Hale knew, before he’d been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him.’ So here’s a challenge to ASON readers. Let me know what you think of the two versions of the sentence – what if anything is the difference in meaning between them, and why you think Greene chose the one he did – and whether there is any reader out there who prefers the Arena version. I’ll publish any thoughts in the next ASON.
ISSUE 91 August 2022
I.M. Francis Charles Bartley Greene (1936-2022)
Born just as his father Graham Greene was achieving fame and withdrawing into affairs with Dorothy Glover and others, Francis Greene saw little of him in childhood. He and his elder sister Caroline were raised by their mother Vivien.
Educated by the Benedictines at Ampleforth College, he went up in 1954 to Christ Church, Oxford, where he read physics and began to study the Russian language, as a prelude to a number of journeys behind the Iron Curtain. National Service brought him to the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston just as his father was writing Our Man in Havana. He took a desk job at the Foreign Office but turned down a career in MI6, before moving to the BBC where he worked on the science programme Tomorrow’s World. As a freelance photo-journalist in 1967-8 he came close to being killed in both Israel and Vietnam.
In 1971, he married Anne Cucksey, whom he had met at the BBC, and the two eventually occupied a mediaeval house near Axminster, which Francis, a skilled carpenter, renovated with his own hands.
From the late 1980s, he became intensely involved once more in Russia, financing the publication of works gleaned from KGB archives, which have since been shut down again. As an anonymous donor, he paid for a Russian version of the Booker Prize. He was a great supporter of Memorial, the human rights organization founded by Andrei Sakharov, and of environmental organisations researching nuclear pollution in Russia. He despised Vladimir Putin and assured me almost twenty years ago that the world could expect trouble from him.
Towards the end of his father’s life, Francis took charge of his business affairs, and then, after Graham’s death, continued for three decades as a very active literary executor. Although a patron of the Graham Greene International Festival he did not attend its events as he could not bear being fussed over.
After a period of declining health, Francis died on 13 April 2022, and is survived by Anne Greene. Although I cannot claim to have known him very well, as he was a decidedly reserved man, yet I have to say that I treasured our friendship and will miss him always.
ISSUE 90 May 2022
Richard Challoner met and knew Graham Greene from Greene’s friendship with his father Ronnie, who lived downstairs from him in Antibes. Here Richard writes about something Graham Greene left him – his Roman Missal.
Disbelieving the Unbelief: A Glimpse into the Catholic Faith of Graham Greene
Few writers of the twentieth century have provoked such widespread, intense and divisive debate about their life and work as Graham Greene. Biographers, journalists, friends, acquaintances, critics, theologians – everyone it seems, has their own take on the man, whether it be on the subject of his writing, his personal life or his Catholicism. On this last point, opinions on him cover the whole gamut from the almost demonic to the saintly.
At one end of the spectrum are those who dismiss the genuineness of Greene’s faith, well represented by Michael Shelden who, in his sordid and cynical biography Graham Greene: The Man Within, rather maliciously suggests, among other things, that Greene’s motive in converting to Catholicism was purely to get his prospective wife Vivien Dayrell-Browning into bed and that his Catholic faith was little more than a lifelong joke fuelled by hate. In reality there was no need for Graham Greene to convert to Catholicism in order to marry Vivien (a convert to Catholicism herself), a fact pointed out to him at the time. A dispensation from the Church was all that was required (as indeed was the case with my parents).
In a particularly nasty and subjective review published in the Daily Mail in 2007 and titled ‘The decadent world of Graham Greene – the high priest of darkness’ Michael Thornton discusses Graham Greene: A Life in Letters edited by Professor Richard Greene. Thornton accuses Greene of being cynical in his attitude towards the Church, pours scorn on his Catholicism and at one point accuses Greene of writing a ‘…grovelling letter…to the future Pope Paul VI…’, but vitally and disingenuously omits the facts concerning this letter. The letter, addressed to Monsignor Giovanni Battista Montini, Pro-Secretary of the Vatican State (and the future Pope Paul VI), dated 6 May 1954, was composed by Greene with the advice of his friend Bishop David Matthews, an experienced Church diplomat and therefore framed in the formal and somewhat obsequious language expected by the Vatican Curia. It was also a covering letter to one written by Greene to Cardinal Giuseppe Pizzardo, Secretary to the Holy Office, in which Greene defended his book The Power and the Glory against a charge of offending the Sixth Commandment (adultery). Another point, also mentioned in Professor Greene’s book but deliberately omitted by Thornton, is that Monsignor Montini had already written to Cardinal Pizzardo on 1 October 1953, defending The Power and the Glory; in other words, well before Greene had written to either man.
The other end of this curious spectrum is well represented by Fr Leopoldo Durán, one of Graham Greene’s closest friends in his last two decades, who spent ten summers travelling around Spain with Greene, often staying in monasteries and celebrating Mass together every day. At a reception after Greene’s memorial service Fr Leopoldo made the extraordinary exclamation to my father and myself that ‘to me, Graham is a saint.’ We both felt that Greene himself would never have accepted such an opinion and Fr Leopoldo would qualify the comment to some extent in his memoir of their long friendship. Nevertheless, it demonstrates the strong feelings that Greene could and still does evince, from those who knew and cared for him.
The reality is of course, that Graham Greene was neither the irredeemable caricature of wickedness presented by some, nor a saint. Like most of us he was a complex and flawed human being, who also happened to suffer from bipolar disorder, the source of much of the restlessness and conflict in his life. In another, more objective review of Professor Greene’s book Nicholas Shakespeare writes about Graham Greene in a manner that would be familiar to family, friends and those who actually knew him, describing him as ‘…a modest, mercurial man of loyalty, courage and frankness who knew better than anyone his own flaws and regretted them.’ To that I would add, a man possessed of great kindness and generosity of spirit.
I would argue that no one with any objective knowledge of the evidence would doubt the sincerity of Graham Greene’s conversion to Catholicism, intellectual though it may have been, and the genuine part it played in his life and work. One way to shed a little light on the reality of this is to examine what was to him, perhaps the most personal and precious item in his possession: his Roman Missal.
A Roman Missal is a collection of texts, prayers and instructions for the celebration of Mass throughout the liturgical year and as such, is an important item in the life of a devout Catholic. Graham Greene’s Missal was a Christmas present in 1947 from Catherine Walston (also a Catholic convert and married), with whom Greene had begun an affair earlier that year. Catherine was one of the great loves of Greene’s life and he kept the Missal with him wherever he went, right to the end of his life. Greene’s more cynical critics would no doubt claim that his reason for keeping the book so close was to remind him of that illicit affair and some of the ‘scandalous’ activity in which he and Catherine Walston allegedly indulged. They might even suggest that Walston’s gift was part of some elaborate or malicious mockery of the Church on both their parts. Even a cursory glance at the Missal however, contradicts such views.
If Graham Greene had been the religious dilettante, the frivolous Catholic or secret atheist as some prefer to portray him, then one might expect to see an almost pristine book, barely touched by someone whose interest in the Catholic Church was supposedly limited to how it could be of use to him, either personally or professionally. Instead one is presented with a well-used but carefully maintained volume. That Greene used this Missal to follow and participate in Masses, is not in doubt: he told me that himself; and furthermore, it would not be in the condition it is had the pages never been turned, the texts unfollowed and prayers unsaid. In addition it is well known that he regularly attended Catholic Mass at various periods in his life, not just from his own admissions, but also from the observations of others. In his later years he might be glimpsed most Sundays at the back of his local Catholic Church in Antibes, quietly following the Mass from the shadows. He attended Mass in many of the countries he visited in Africa and South America; and often asked for Masses to be said on behalf of those for whom he cared.
All of this in itself rather belies the image presented by Greene’s disparagers. Yet there is more in this Missal than its pages and it is the additional contents of the Missal which allow a glimpse into more personal and lesser known aspects of Graham Greene’s Catholic faith.
Interspersed among the pages of Graham Greene’s Missal is a small and varied collection of Prayer or Holy cards and other items, collected evidently, over a considerable period of time and carefully preserved. Prayer or Holy Cards are devotional items most associated with the Catholic Church and more popular and widely used in Catholic countries. Several of the Holy Cards are reproductions of religious artworks such as Mantegna’s ‘Calvary’, Carregio’s ‘Holy Night,’ Rafaello’s ‘St Catherine’ and Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Last Supper.’ On the verso of this last are printed eleven of the fourteen Divine Praises. The card was issued at the First National Eucharistic Congress, which took place at Kumasi, Gold Coast, between February 19-26, 1951 and which Greene himself attended. Helpfully for the devout, after the Praises is a note about indulgences: ‘one year for every recital; two years if recited after Mass or Benediction.’ The concept of indulgences is of course, one of the most contentious in the Catholic faith and subject to some of the harshest criticism directed at the Church. This card therefore, is the kind of thing that someone who did not take religion seriously and treated it as game, would more likely cast aside than carefully preserve in a Missal.
Many of the cards feature the Madonna or BVM in one form or another, starting with the Blessed Virgin of the Rosary of Pompeii presenting rosaries to St Catherine of Siena and St Dominic. The painting from which the card is reproduced, is by an unknown artist and hangs by the high altar in the Pontifical Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of Pompeii, located in the modern city. It is a much venerated painting and the Pontifical Cathedral itself has been associated with many miracles and as result, has become a place of pilgrimage.
The next is a reproduction of the famous and beautiful Icon of the Madonna of Nicopeia, taken by the Venetians from Constantinople in 1204 and since housed in Basilico of San Marco in Venice. A number of Greene’s cards originate from Venice, a city for which he seems to have had a great fondness. On the verso of the Madonna of Nicopeia card is a prayer in Italian, seeking continued protection for Venice and her people from the Blessed Virgin which, if repeated once daily, will bring 100 days of indulgence.
Other Madonna themed cards include: a painting by Ghirlandaio that hangs in the Ospizio degli Innocenti in Florence; an ‘Adorazione’ by Fra Filippo Lippi, from the Uffizi; a depiction of the Virgin of Fatima asking her to ‘pray for us’; and a small card featuring a Black Madonna, very probably a version of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, in Poland. The Marian theme is continued with another card featuring a reproduction of an apparently German painting of the Nativity, below which, in German, are printed the first lines from a traditional German Marian carol, which in English reads: ‘Lo, how a rose e’er blooming from tender stem has sprung.’
It would be easy to over-analyse the strong presence of the Virgin Mary in this collection of Holy and Prayer cards, but Marian devotion is common among Catholics and Mariology, the theological study of Mary, would have been a very familiar subject to Graham Greene through his lifelong interest in Catholic theology. This German card however, also had a personal significance for Greene, (as did many others in this collection). On the verso of the card is a handwritten date, ‘2/October 1958’ below which is a message: ‘With all my love to you yours Elisabette.’ Who Elisabette is or was, is not clear, but evidently she and the sentiment behind the card meant something to Greene.
There are other cards which evidently had a personal as well as religious significance. One, featuring Mantegna’s ‘Cavalry’ on the recto, is a memorial card, evidenced by the message on the verso which reads: ‘In Loving Memory of Peadar J. O’Flaherty, who died on 2 December 1952 aged 43 years.’ There follows Psalm CXX (‘I have lifted my eyes to the mountains, from whence help shall come to me…’ etc); and finally a prayer, ‘Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.’ Greene met and knew a great many people in his long and often complex life so it is hard to say what Mr O’Flaherty’s significance might have been; but since this card was kept for almost forty years, he clearly meant something to Greene.
Another memorial card relates to a priest, Father Ivor Daniel, who died on 26 April 1963 ‘in the 80th year of his age, and the 50th of his priesthood.’ Beneath a photograph of Fr Ivor and the inscription, is an excerpt from an entry in the Westminster Hymal, ‘Christ the King’, a piece which was composed by Daniel. On the verso of the card is the ‘Anima Christi’, a well-known Catholic prayer that dates back to the fourteenth century and relates to core concepts in the Catholic Church including the Eucharist, Baptism and the Passion of Christ. The ‘Anima Christi’ is part of a tradition of Catholic spirituality and was used for example, by St Ignatius of Loyola in his ‘Spiritual Exercises’. Graham Greene would have been very familiar with it and its significance, though I have no doubt that he would have been sceptical about the indulgences which the recital of this prayer would provide, ranging from 300 days to 7 years if said after Holy Communion; and even a monthly plenary indulgence if the prayer has been said devoutly every day. Greene knew many Catholic priests throughout his life, taking particular pleasure in discussing Catholic theology with them, a subject on which he was very well read and knowledgeable and which in itself demonstrates the seriousness with which he took matters of faith.
Rather mysterious is a Holy Card from Jerusalem which has a small palm cross and flowers glued to the recto above printed in Latin, indicating that the flowers came from the olive groves of Gethsemane and that either the card or those items attached to it, had ‘Touched the most Holy Sepulchre of Our Lord Jesus Christ.’ On the verso of this card is a handwritten message: ‘To dear Mr Gr. Greene In Our Lord Ivan Chomenko Anacapri, May 29, 60.’ Who Ivan Chomenko was we may never know (although, as with Mr O’Flaherty one could speculate, especially given Greene’s personal and professional history). What is clear however, is that Mr Chomenko had the rare privilege of visiting Graham Greene at his house in Capri and that this card was given by one man of faith to a man who he believed, shared that faith. As it happens there is another card in the Missal which bears dried flowers, this time from Bethlehem; thus Greene had mementos from the two holiest Christian locations.
The very next card in the Missal is the reproduction of an illumination by Fra Angelico (Guido di Pietro, c.1395-1455), of ‘Gruppo Di Angeli Musicanti’ from a manuscript in the Vatican Library. On the verso is a personal dedication to Greene by an unknown author: ‘April 18th For a morning, when you were ill April 14th. God Bless You.’ Those who had the good fortune to know Graham Greene, even slightly, would have been aware of his generosity of spirit and the kindness and solicitousness which he demonstrated, even to strangers. It is no surprise therefore, that those who knew him reciprocated in kind, even those in the priesthood, as witnessed by another card given to Greene by Fr Anthony Bischoff, the Jesuit priest and writer. The card, depicting in silhouette a priest consecrating the Eucharist, with a server kneeling behind him, carries the printed message ‘May the blessing of Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, descend upon you and remain forever’, and is signed by Bischoff. The Jesuits are not known for their naivete or gullibility; therefore, if Greene was indeed, as cynical or frivolous about his Catholic faith as some of his critics would have us believe, then surely a man of the intellect and perspicacity of Fr Bischoff, a Jesuit priest who had been a friend of Greene’s for forty years, would have noted it.
Another card, depicting the Virgin of Fatima (once again, the Marian theme), was presented to Graham Greene by a Danish acquaintance with the handwritten message ‘Mr Graham Greene With best thanks from your Danish admirer. Henry Hansen.’ More personal however, are two items kept together, the first being apparently, an extract from St Paul on Faith, in German. The verso of this card bears a handwritten translation of the extract into English by Greene’s friend and fellow Capri resident, Dottoressa Elisabeth Moor, who gave Greene the card on his birthday (possibly in 1950). The second and related item, is a piece of a receipt addressed to the writer Norman Douglas at Capri and dated 21 September 1950. On the verso of this is a second translation of the purported extract from St Paul on Faith, this time in Douglas’s hand, to which he added in brackets: ‘(Translated from St Paul by Norman Douglas)’. Beneath this Greene himself has written: ‘in his handwriting for a card given me on my birthday in Capri by Dr Elizabeth Moore (sic).’
One of the interesting points about this, is that Douglas, another friend of Greene’s in Capri, was not known for religious interests or sympathies; indeed, he evinced a dislike for ‘all kinds of set forms, including official Christianity’ and was buried in the non-Roman Catholic cemetery in Capri. Nevertheless, either of his own volition or at the request of Greene, he was happy to translate a passage about Faith. The passage itself, as far as I have been able to discern, does not come from St Paul at all, but rather is a mourning quote, an aid to the bereaved at a time when for many, faith and trust in God is most needed. It could be said that Norman Douglas’s translation, copied by Dr Moor, eloquently reaches the heart of Graham Greene’s often conflicted religious life: ‘Leave the world, loosen the hands knotted in cramps, let yourself down [into God] as into the abyss, which nevertheless will always bear you, trust Him even for the impossible: that means Faith.’ It is just that kind of faith that Greene always sought (as many do), and perhaps eventually found.
Graham Greene may have had the above passage in mind whenever he considered another item in the Missal, undoubtedly the most moving in the collection. It is a black and white photograph of a young Goan woman, with dark hair and large, dark eyes, dressed in white robes and looking out at the viewer with a frank gaze. On the back of this photograph is the explanation for its presence in the Missal, written in Greene’s spidery hand: ‘The wife of my Goanese friend. Her sari caught fire & she was so badly burned that she died in great pain. He loved her very much. I told him to pray to her, not for her.’ Even someone who had never met Graham Greene or knew little about him, would surely grasp the compassion and sympathy behind those words and the sincerity of Greene’s feelings, given that he kept this photograph close to him for so many years. For those who knew Greene it would have come as no surprise, as loved ones, friends and even acquaintances have testified to Greene’s compassion for others, especially those suffering in one way or another. Indeed, I myself experienced that compassion.
Of great interest as well is the last line in which Greene reveals that he told his friend to pray to his wife, not for her. That is not the comment of an atheist or someone contemptuous towards religion. Indeed, as any devout Catholic would know prayers offered to an individual are usually intercessory in nature and directed toward a saint or other venerated person; clearly Greene had a very high esteem for this lady and appears to have thought of her in those terms. All of which is consistent with Greene’s views and approach to Catholicism. Throughout his life, whatever his struggles with his faith, Greene evinced a belief in prayer, especially when it was performed by others. He would frequently ask Fr Leopoldo Durán to celebrate Mass and pray for loved ones and friends. Greene’s words on the back of the photograph were not just meant for the comfort of his grieving friend; I believe they were also personal to Greene himself and redolent of his religious sensibilities.
As I have mentioned Graham Greene took a genuine and serious interest in Catholic theology and doctrine and read widely on the subject. I well recall being intrigued to see many theological works on his bookshelves in Antibes. He enjoyed discussing theology with Catholic priests and lay intellectuals and would readily engage with and even challenge anyone who expressed an opinion on Catholic doctrine. My own mother experienced this in a conversation with Greene on the subject of abortion during one summer lunch. To emphasise a point that he had been making Greene concluded by declaring to my mother (who was also Roman Catholic), ‘I should know. I am a Catholic.’
The more determined of Greene’s critics would of course dismiss Greene’s lifelong interest in theology as nothing more than a facade or a tool which he used to establish his credibility as a Catholic. The evidence however, contradicts this and includes some of the contents of Greene’s Missal. One of the Holy Cards bears an illustration of Christ and the Sacred Heart and comes from ‘Università Catollica Del S. Cuore’ (The Catholic University of the Sacred Heart), which is based in Milan but has campuses in Brescia, Rome, Piacenza and Cremona and Campobasso. Founded in 1921, Sacred Heart is the largest private university in Europe and the only Italian university subsidised by the people and not the State, which would have greatly appealed to Greene. Its main goal is to ‘further illuminate and promote Christian culture and civilization around the world’, which of course, includes Christian theology.
A little further along in the missal lies a card that bears a photograph of a medieval statue of ‘Christ Offering His Chalice,’ apparently located either on the portals of, or within, the cathedral of Reims. The significance of the card lies in the French quotation beneath the photograph which reads in English ‘But when God loves, of what will love not be capable of’, and comes from the works of Romano Guardini. As Graham Greene would have been well aware, Guardini, an Italian priest and scholar, is regarded as one of the most important figures in Catholic intellectual life of the 20th century. It is no coincidence that we find a reference to him among Greene’s possessions.
Also in the Missal is a folded and evidently well-used card which is headed ‘Meditation for a Dead Pope.’ The Pontiff in question, whose image graces the card, is unsurprisingly, John XXIII, one of the 20th century’s most revered and admired Popes. Pope John of course, died tragically before the reforming work of the Second Vatican Council (which he had called) could come to full fruition. Nevertheless, he is an extremely important figure for anyone with a genuine interest in Catholic theology. Graham Greene had followed the Second Vatican Council closely and his knowledge of the issues which it sought to deal with was impressive. He admired John XXIII and was aware of and regretted the missed opportunities that resulted from the Pope’s early death after less than five years in office. It is entirely appropriate therefore, that Greene should have such a card in his Missal.
One of the most intriguing aspects of this collection is that no less than four of the cards come from the same place, namely the Franciscan Church and Convent of ‘San Francesco del Deserto’ on the Venetian island that bears the same name. In 1220 Brother Francis of Assisi stayed on the island (then called ‘Isola Delle due Vigne,’) on his way back from a visit to Egypt during the Fifth Crusade. The island was renamed ‘San Francesco’ in 1233, after it was donated to the Franciscan Order by Jacopo Michiel, a Venetian nobleman. The suffix ‘del Deserto’ was added in reference to a period in the 1400s when the island was deserted because of diseases such as bubonic plague and malaria. The Church and Convent of San Francesco are much visited, not least because of the man they are dedicated to. In common with so many Catholics Graham Greene had a particular fondness for St Francis, who is probably the most popular and beloved saint of all, for his humility and compassion as well, of course, as his famous love of animals. The presence of four of these souvenir and prayer cards demonstrates that St Francis had great significance for Graham Greene. I believe the same was true for his wife Vivien and is almost certainly why they named their son Francis.
There is one other point of interest concerning Graham Greene’s Missal and its contents and that is the positioning of the cards and other items within its pages. Far from being haphazardly placed, each one is located between specific pages in the Missal, according to Masses on particular days and feasts in the Roman calendar. These include: Palm Sunday, Good Friday, the Feast of the Sacred Heart, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the Conversion of St Paul, the Feast of the Blessed English Martyrs, the Feast of SS John Fisher and Thomas More; the Transfiguration and the Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King. One would have to be very cynical indeed to imagine that these positions were chosen randomly or alternatively, deliberately in order to give the impression that the owner was sincere in his observance of the Catholic faith. After all, who but Greene himself, would ever have seen the Missal or its contents?
Perhaps most revealing of all is that the photograph of the Goan lady, the wife of Graham Greene’s friend, is positioned in the pages of ‘Sancti Tui’ (‘Thy Saints’), a Mass celebrated for ‘Many Martyrs in Paschaltide.’ Unfortunately the photograph is not dated and we do not know the circumstances in which this lady’s sari so tragically caught fire. It may be that she got caught up in the protests that occurred in the 1950s against the Portuguese government, who still controlled Goa at that time; or perhaps it could have happened during the attempted annexation of Goa by India in December 1961. Whatever the circumstances they evidently made a great impression on Greene and his placing of the photograph suggests that he viewed the lady not only as a saintly person, but even as a martyr. This may seem extreme, especially without knowing the facts concerning the Goan lady’s death; but it is entirely consistent with the admiration and compassion that suffering and courage in the face of adversity evinced in Greene, especially if they occurred in relation to a just cause.
Two more items in Graham Greene’s Missal merit a mention, in both cases a small collection of pressed flowers. One is located at the page where the Palm Sunday Liturgy commences; and the other is taped to the inside of the book’s back cover. There is no indication as to where these flowers came from (perhaps Jerusalem or Bethlehem like the others) or indeed, how they came into the writer’s possession. What is clear however, is that they meant something to Greene and their presence is another highly personal touch.
Graham Greene’s Roman Missal is in my opinion, one factor which, along with his study of theology and interactions with many in the Catholic Church, underline the deep and serious thought he gave to his religion. The kind and intimate messages from those who gave Greene some of these cards indicate their admiration and affection for him and would certainly not have been so expressed if they thought him a fraud in his faith. Like most Christians of all denominations, Greene grappled with the ‘mystery of faith,’ only he did so in a more public way and was quite open about it, once describing himself as a ‘Catholic agnostic.’ In an interview with Marie-Françoise Allain, Greene stated that ‘On the whole I keep my faith while enduring long periods of disbelief’; and in another that ‘The trouble is, I don’t believe my unbelief.’ Greene differentiated between faith and belief, the one, in his opinion, being above the other and these statements illustrate the all too human difficulties Greene had in his spiritual life.
Above all, in his life and work Graham Greene focused on two concepts which sit at the very heart of the Christian faith: the Grace of God and Mercy, which are of course, related. In theological terms the Grace of God is the unconditional love, mercy and forgiveness that God shows especially to those who merit it least: the sinner, the broken the unloved, the stray sheep, even those who have rebelled against Him. It is unearned and undeserved, but freely given and is often the key to redemption. As St Paul in his fifth letter to the Romans wrote ‘…where sin abounded, grace did more abound.’ It is this longing for grace that typifies many of the characters in Greene’s book, most famously perhaps, the whiskey priest in The Power and the Glory, who ultimately finds redemption in an act of Christian sacrifice. It is not hard to see Greene himself in many of the characters he created. In Brighton Rock, while discussing with Rose the concept of hell and damnation, Pinkie Brown, the apparently irredeemable anti-hero refers to an English proverb ‘Between the stirrup and the ground, He mercy asked and mercy found.’ Graham Greene’s Missal I believe, reflects a lifelong journey through the hinterlands of faith in search of grace and the mercy it brings. One can only hope that he reached his destination safely.
Richard Challoner[Richard Challoner’s article included some fine illustrations of Greene’s missal and some of the inscriptions on the prayer cards it contained. It has not been possible to reproduce these here. They are in A Sort of Newsletter Issues 90 & 91.]