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 are publishing some sample features from recent issues:

Issue 80 November 2019


Greene Book Reviews

In February, The Times Literary Supplement published an article by a young American scholar, Michael J. Abolafia. His research had taken him to the BBC Written Archives Centre in Reading, where he tracked down various unsigned book reviews in the Listener magazine in the 1930s. Michael meticulously cross-checked the anonymous reviews against the Listener’s accounting ledgers, and was thus able to identify the reviews’ authors. These, it turned out, included some major literary figures: Stephen Spender, Elizabeth Bowen, Louis MacNeice, Dylan Thomas, Stefan Zweig … and Graham Greene. There were twelve pieces in all by Greene, none of them, until now, credited to him. Here we reprint two of those pieces.

Many thanks to Michael for his research and for making ASON aware of it, and to the Greene literary estate for permission to reprint these pieces.

Edgar Wallace. By Margaret Lane

 Heinemann.  10s. 6d.

 Reading the early pages of this fascinating book, you get an odd impression that you have encountered all this before – the abandoned child brought up by a Billingsgate porter, the adolescent thief who steals money from his foster-sister and only just escapes a reformatory, the boy who runs away to sea and then deserts, who finds himself at last in the Army and shifts to the R.A.M.C. because there’s less work to do. We seem to know beforehand how the story will go – the meeting with Ivy, a missionary’s daughter in South Africa, her innocent and stubborn belief that this orderly is a literary genius on the strength of a few bad poems in the Kipling manner, their engagement (he is already engaged to a Miss Edie Cockle, a girl of his own class in the East End). He leaves the Army, goes back for a holiday to England, and tries to get engaged simultaneously to a third girl; newspaper jobs follow, his marriage to the missionary’s daughter, an uncontrollable extravagance. In this book we see the portraits of himself and his wife – the narrow unreliable orderly’s face, with the black eyebrows, the greased hair, the trimmed moustache and the shrewd vulgarity: and the missionary’s daughter, very young in white, with a weak, steadfast, pretty face, ready for any amount of suffering. Up to that point the story is familiar: we have read it before, we remember, in many criminal biographies – the entanglements with women and the wild extravagance which lead to the dock, sometimes on the most serious charge of all. In this case things went differently, for the extravagance was nearly equalled by the earning power, so that although Wallace died £140,000 in debt, within two years the company formed to deal with his copyrights was paying a dividend. It was all a toss-up – and the coin fell not for the criminal but for the popular writer about criminals.

Miss Lane’s biography could hardly be better: it is fair and vivid, with a magnificent grasp of atmosphere, whether that of the early years, stuffy in the steam of tea-urns, or of the later, with the racecourses and Doris and the new friends (he had dropped the old ones), the heartless energy and the tasteless expenditure. It is not an engaging portrait: it is Ivy Wallace who wins our admiration, living with him through the dark years and then, unable to compete with the noisy social prosperity, going away to die alone of cancer. The man himself – with his extraordinary gift for quick, naïve, exciting story-telling (he wrote ‘On the Spot’, his best play, in four days, and an 80,000-word novel about Charles Peace in sixty hours) – remained intrinsically dishonest. He was the kind of pressman who has made it impossible to defend with any conviction the freedom of the Press – writing the story of his life and including fictitious travels in India and China; describing the attempted assassination of the King of Spain as if he had been an eye witness (‘I saw a bunch of flowers hurtling down…. The moment I saw those flowers my heart nearly stopped beating … I had a glimpse of dying horses … more vivid still is the impression of the King …’) when the truth was he heard the explosion from several streets away; putting into the mouth of Evelyn Thaw, the chorus girl, copy from an old interview with an artist. Without the new popular press Wallace might never have risen from the Army ranks, and in return he helped to form the fatal tradition that truth is less important than a good story.

  The Listener’s Book Chronicle, 22 December 1938

New Writing. Christmas, 1939. 7s. 6d.

 Now that the Criterion and the London Mercury have gone the way of all literary reviews, there is nothing left but New Writing to supply the demand for good prose, good verse and good criticism – as distinct from reviewing. This enlarged number completes a fourth year, and there is a sad hint that we must not expect any regular appearances in future. We can only make rapid notes on some of its three dozen contributors, for there are very few we would wish away. Perhaps the criticism – by Miss Coxhead, Mr Madge and Mr Swingler is not on the level of the creative writing, and an air of pretentiousness always surrounds a ‘work in progress’: Mr Rex Warner follows sentimentally and ideologically a long way after Kafta, and Mr Sackville-West’s rather badly-written fragment is an example of the easiness od experiment (what is difficult in experiment is success). Apart from these authors it seems invidious to divide the praise. One notes Mr George Orwell’s original travel sketch on Marrakesh with its theme: ‘In Northern Europe, where you see a labourer ploughing a filed, you probably give him a second glance. In a hot country, anywhere south of Gibraltar, the chances are that you don’t even see him … In a tropical landscape one’s eye takes in everything except the human beings.… It is only because of this that the starved countries of Asia and Africa are accepted as tourist resorts. No one would think of running cheap trips to the Distressed Areas’. There is a delightful personal note on the Soviet poet Mayakovsky by a woman who knew him well – a piece of unconscious national exposure: ‘As a friend he was exacting, always imagining others were treating him neglectfully or with indifference. During one of his Paris visits, an incident concerning some soap let me in for three days of the dourest silence, and various insulting insinuations.’ The characters are as neatly expressive as if they had been invented by Chekhov: Gorky weeping tears of joy over a poem called ‘The Cloud in Trousers’; ‘Victor Chklovski sobbing with his head on the piano’; ‘a fat gentleman of the utmost respectability’ crawling under a billiard table for a wager; and the poet muttering to himself and pursuing women…. There are poems by Mr Auden and Mr MacNeice which throw a harsh professional light on the ideological verses of Mr Gutteridge; and among the routine stories of poverty and Spain one notes particularly Mr Willy Goldman’s description of an East End Jewish courtship – in which the documentary aspect has been properly subordinated to the human emotion, and a harrowing hour-by-hour account of one day in a woman’s hospital ward by Miss Pauline Lewin. But the contribution which stands out head and shoulders above the rest (there is nothing in this issue by Mr Isherwood) is ‘The Sailor’, by Mr V.S. Pritchett. So many contributors get their effect solely by their honesty and documentary knowledge: they hew words as they may once have hewn coal, winning respect rather than admiration. Mr Pritchett is a born writer and his politics don’t matter: with him alone do we get the sense of really ‘new writing’, of life observed with an uncorrupted eye, from the first sketch of the sailor lost in the Euston Road. ‘He was stepping his knees high and putting his hand up, when I first saw him, as if, crossing the road through that stringing rain, he were breaking through the bead curtain of a Pernambuco bar’.

The Listener’s Book Chronicle, 23 November 1939


Issue 79 August 2019


Book Chat: Graham Greene and the Peter Edwards dust jackets

In 1959 Greene’s publisher Heinemann invited a young artist Peter Edwards to design the dust jackets of a new hardback ‘library’ edition of his works. There had, of course, been several different editions of the novels in the preceding 20 years, but Edwards’ coloured designs were something else.  Unusually, the illustrations cover the whole of the wrapper, not just the front and the spine. Maybe the vivid colours on the spines were to help them stand out on library shelves at a time when wrappers were becoming more attractive. Indeed, it was to the public libraries that most of these new issues went. As a result, most wrappers were soon torn, damaged and eventually discarded. Many good wrappers that did survive have been faded by the sun on the spines over the years. Fine copies have now become very popular with book collectors and are far more scarce than most of the first editions. I first became aware of them as a dealer about 15 years ago, and although a few have passed through my hands, they rarely turn up for sale on Ebay or at book fairs.

I thought I would try and do a bit of research: I Googled Graham Greene and Peter Edwards, and soon discovered a lovely article by Nick Jones which gives far more detail. He established that 13 of the Greene’s books were given these beautiful wrappers and actually illustrates every one of them in full colour for all the world to see. So, Google Greene with Peter Edwards and you can see all the wrappers in their full glory. Peter Edwards (1934–2017) does not warrant a Wikipedia biography. He went on to illustrate the Thomas the Tank Engine series between 1963 and 1972.

Just after I started writing this article, I found a copy of It’s a Battlefield, with possibly the rarest Edwards wrapper, in a Middlesex charity shop with a £1 price sticker solidly stuck to the front cover. What a find, but it was impossible to get the sticker off without damaging the beautiful wrapper!

A few years ago I won on an Ebay auction Graham Greene’s own copy of Brighton Rock with its Peter Edwards wrapper. This book had been acquired from Greene in Antibes before he died by rare book dealer Rick Gekoski, who had provided a letter with it confirming its provenance. The wrapper was a bit chipped and worn. I later sold this at one of the festivals.

Richard Frost


Issue 78 May 2019


Charles Henry Greene

 ASON readers will remember the excellent article Prediction Fulfilled? in our February issue, in which the original Festival Director, Roger Watkins, told us all about the press interest generated by the inaugural event in 1998. One phrase in the article, about Graham Greene’s headmaster father Charles Henry Greene, produced a response from Graham’s nephew and Birthplace Trust Patron Nick Dennys, as follows:

‘I was very surprised to read his comment that Graham’s father was a “deeply unpopular headmaster”. It may be a bit much for a headmaster to be its opposite “popular” let alone “deeply”, but I had never heard such a characterisation of Charles Henry. Greatly respected and sometimes affectionately “the dear old turtle” [a phrase used about him by Peter Quennell] seemed more the mood.’

Nick followed this up with these observations about Graham’s father:

‘One memoirist said there was only one occasion when he saw him chastise a boy, who he clipped around the head in front of the school. The boy was then summoned to his study full of trepidation only to find himself being profusely apologised to. He had a reputation as a liberal headmaster. This included abolishing the right of senior boys to cane other boys. Quite unusual for the time. Though after he left it was probably reinstated fairly quickly and they were still caning when I was a boy there in the 1960s. Certainly there was never a whiff of habitual anger mentioned in the family.’

So, Nick enquired, what was the source of the phrase? Roger responded as follows:

‘This phrase occurs in the article by David Prest in The Independent newspaper of 28 September 1998.  The full paragraph in which it occurs reads as follows:

‘ “The guide text for the Greene walking tour [of Berkhamsted] is the first volume of his autobiography A Sort of Life.  The early chapters give an insight into what it was like growing up as the son of the deeply unpopular headmaster of Berkhamsted School, being cold shouldered and ignored by other boys and making several inept attempts at suicide before running away from school. This alienation and resentment of institutions stayed with Greene for the rest of his life, and inspired many of his characters, from the teenage thugs in Brighton Rock to the authoritarians of The Ministry of Fear.”’

The paragraph produced a reaction from Nick, who believed that Prest was fundamentally wrong in his judgements. Here are Nick’s fascinating thoughts on Prest’s idea:

‘Apart from anything else it alters the nature of Graham’s conflict. As he himself presented it, he was caught between the world of the Headmaster and his family on one side, beyond the green baize door, and the boys on the other side i.e. he was close to both. This led to novels where he found grounds for empathy in opposing places and viewpoints. This was certainly a deep embarrassment, but it enlarged his sympathies.

‘One where he was despised by boys but had to share their view of the “deeply unpopular” headmaster would have been a completely different balance of feeling. It would have produced much more bitter novels I suspect!’

Moreover, Nick later added,

‘One of the things that has always seemed indicative to me, is that we all knew Graham was rapidly responsive, both in comprehension and emotionally, to situations and people. He felt things markedly. Both his younger brother Hugh and older, Raymond, no slouches themselves, were at Berkhamsted also and, though Hugh, I seem to remember, didn’t like being at school, neither of them experienced it as hellish nor even remarked much on the situation of being the headmaster’s son. They seem to have both been confident students – “successful students” someone called them. It was only Graham who felt the divide of the green baize door markedly. It gave him divided loyalties and so [he was] bullyable, as it were, by Carter, and perhaps a nervous breakdown, whatever that means. For Graham much began in Berkhamsted and he quoted Conrad for the epigram of The Human Factor, certainly about divided loyalty, “I only know that he who forms a tie is lost. The germ of corruption has entered into his soul”. My understanding is that it never had anything much to do with the character of Charles Henry. It was a situation that Graham was sensitive to in a way that the others were less so, it seems. He felt a tie, perhaps, on both sides of the green baize door.’

Fundamentally, Nick knew from his ‘own recollection from the family’ that Prest was wrong, and believed that Prest had misinterpreted Greene’s own writing in A Sort of Life:

‘There is nothing in A Sort of Life from my recollection other than a certain wariness of Graham towards a father he only understood later when he was one himself. I think David Prest must have just had a blip and interpreted the intimate bullying of Carter towards Graham as caused by the character of CH rather than by the character of Carter.’

To substantiate his view of Prest’s misreading of A Sort of Life, Nick offered examples from the book giving insights into Charles Greene’s character, and his son’s relationship to him. For readers who wish to follow up the full references, I have included Nick’s own page references:

‘(p.43) The story of the gardener who let the heater die in the greenhouse and destroyed the orchids and Greene’s response.

‘(p.46) GG’s comment that his father, unlike his mother, was “quite without social prejudice”.

‘(p.72) His reason for not siding with the boys against his father and brother Raymond, by then head of house, was the desire not to betray them. It was a balanced conflict not a one-sided one against authority.

‘(p.90) After being brought home from his flight to the common, “…. my father sitting on the bed and interrogating me seriously and tenderly,..”

‘(p.111-114) There is a rather nice description of his father’s teaching by GG, Cockburn and Quennell from CH’s habit of talking while lying on his back with his mortarboard over his eyes. Their shared love of Browning, GG’s favourite poet.’

To give further substance to his argument, Nick then quoted from several other sources on Charles Henry Greene:

From Richard Greene, A Life in Letters:

‘(p. 121) GG to his mother on CH’s death: “I can’t write about how sorry and sad I feel: he was a very good person in a way we don’t seem to be able to produce in our generation…”

‘(p.123) Letter to Raymond on CH’s death “… his rather noble old liberalism was always inclined to make one bring out one’s cynicism stronger than need have been.”

‘(p.386) Letter to Road Dahl on reading the horrors of school reported in Boy: “I was shocked too by all the beatings and I realize now even more what an advanced man my father was as Headmaster of Berkhamsted. No prefects or fagging there.”’ Nick re-emphasises, on this point: ‘Charles got rid of these on taking over but these practices were immediately restored by the next headmaster in 1927 and fagging and beatings by prefects were still in place when I was there from 1963 to 1969.’

From Michael Tracey, A Variety of Lives:

‘(p.10): Cecil Parrott on Berkhamsted School – criticising CH’s unworldly innocence (also commented on by Raymond), “It was supposed to be an extremely clean school – the whole atmosphere was a very gentle one. The tone of the school was extremely good compared with other public schools and in a way I do not think one was encouraged to wake up to the facts of life … at least I was not.” ’

From Jeremy Lewis, Shades of Greene:

‘(p.35) Reports Hugh’s recollection of a misunderstanding which was the only occasion his father, “a kind and liberal though often, I think, bewildered man, ever beat me.”

‘Chapter 4 gives a wonderful view of the character of CH and several views by Cockburn (there is a fuller picture of CH in Cockburn’s autobiography I Claud), Quennell and others and is perhaps the clearest antidote to the view that he was “deeply unpopular”.

‘Lewis’s anthology of views is on the powerful idiosyncrasy of CH is corroborated by the Patrick Cockburn piece [referred to in ASON 77, February 2019, with a link on the Trust website].’

Finally, Nick refers to A History of Berkhamsted School by Basil Garnons Williams (Nick’s own headmaster when he was there) and its ’thorough chapter on Greene’:

‘There is no hint of the “deeply unpopular” and his summary of the years of the 1st WW is: “… he emerged from the nightmare years with enhanced reputation. No one thought of him now as Fry’s hardly adequate successor. He was very much in charge of things, an object to many of affection, to everybody of respect”. He quotes an ex-schoolboy’s memoir that “liberalism was his outstanding characteristic …. His conception of government in a school was to reduce regulations to a minimum – to rule by personality, example, and the creation of ‘tone’.” ’

Williams’s summary of Charles Greene at the end of the chapter is, Nick pointed out, ‘incompatible with a deeply unpopular figure’:

‘ “He was a competent administrator; … he was an effective leader; … but as a teacher he was much more. He was inspiring and inspired … R.S. Stanier [a former pupil under CH] remarked … ‘Through his learning, taste, insight and enthusiasm he opened doors to us, and invited, not compelled us to pass through.’ ” ’

Many thanks to Nick Dennys for getting in touch, for his insights, and for his conscientious research on Charles Henry Greene.


Issue 77 February 2019


Graham Greene’s The Third Man has over the years generated many spin-offs, and we have one such here. Hollins College in Virginia (now called Hollins University) published the following literary spoof in its magazine The Hollins Critic in March 1975. Many thanks to Hollins for granting permission to reprint it here, and to the children of Lewis O. Thompson for permission to include the original illustration. Thanks too to Colin Garrett for drawing the article to my (Magazine Editor) attention.

‘The Critic’ has been publishing continuously and can be found on this websitehttps://www.hollins.edu/who-we-are/news-media/hollins-critic/


The Fictions of Holly Martins

Holly Martins has at last delivered himself of his long-awaited ‘big book,’ and a truly big book it is too. Over 250,000 words in length, more than 500 pages in extent, fully 8” by 15” in size, in excess of seven inches in width, more than twelve dollars in price, The Abilene Snake-Charmer is by every major critical standard a huge work. It is more. It is an enormous work, a monument to the imagination, a monolith of American literature, a monograph on American history – it is all these and still more.

Surely by now, to every truly literate reader – I mean, that is, every truly literate reader, or at least every truly literate reader – the name of Holly Martins must be as familiar as those of Grey or Ernest Haycox as one of the major influences which have transformed the once despised and enormously popular ‘pulp’ western into a respectable genre of literature enjoying the same high degree of respect and attention as other contemporary American literature. Millions of readers read the cheap softcover editions of his three novels, The Oklahoma Kid (1941), Death at Double-X Ranch (1941), and The Lone Rider of Santa Fe (1941), as nothing more than thrilling adventure stories, which, of course, they were. But to those few discerning readers who possess one of the precious remaining copies of the early Martins (the publisher, Wow Publications of Lompoc, Cal., unforgivably shredded its entire unsold stock of Martins in 1967 when it shifted its focus to hard-core pornography) have found in them a gripping allegory of American history and morals. That Martins intended to stress these themes – lost innocence, conflict with the self, the closing of the range, the dangers of smoking loco weed – is demonstrated by the fact that all three novels tell the same story: the story of a man who hunts down a corrupt sheriff victimizing his best friend.

The point is even more strongly made by the fact that in all three novels Martins employs the same characters and settings. Perhaps his most subtle and inventive trick was the device of employing in all three novels, with insignificant typographical variations, the same wording throughout. And though some obtuse critics have protested that the result is simply the same novel under three different names (notably Norman Podhoretz, in his essay, ‘What Kind of Dumb Ripoff is Going on Here, Anyway?’ Commentary), truly discerning readers have in recent years come to see that the result is actually a trilogy which expands our perception of fiction by showing that the same story, printed in different typefaces and with different margin widths, can be an entirely different experience.

The Abilene Snake-Charmer (Tarzana, Zip Publications, 537pp., $12.95) carries on Martins’ earlier experiments in point of view. The book tells the story of the last day on earth of an itinerant herpetologist and pistolero named Cigarro Garcia y Vega, who is unjustly hanged as a horsethief by a vigilante group in Abilene on a hot Sunday in 1877. A detailed plot summary is impossible. Suffice it to say that in the tortured, feeble brain of Cigarro as he mounts the scaffold, we are given a panorama of the American people and land at the end of the era of westward exploration.

The book includes a number of vivid vignettes illustrating the personalities of leading figures of American history at the time, including James G. Blaine, General Lew Wallace, P.T. Barnum, Booker T. Washington, Abner Doubleday, and many others. These segments in particular show the results of Martins’ painstaking research, for, since they are imagined by Cigarro, who has never met any of them, they are inaccurate in every detail. I, for one, will often think of the outlaw’s imagined meeting with the great Samuel J. Tilden, in which the famous Democrat appears in a green moustache and pince-nez, and intones in a sepulchral voice, ‘Labor, like His road, has many sorrows. Its women weep for their fallen, and they lament for the future of the children of the race. It ill behooves one who has supped at Labor’s table, and who has been sheltered in Labor’s house, to curse with equal fervor and fine impartiality, both Labor and its adversary when they become locked in deadly embrace.’

Though the landscape drawn by Martins is a bleak one, it is not without the promise of grace and redemption. These themes are contained in the description of Dr. Harry Lime, a flamboyant, semi-miraculous patent medicine peddler who, like God himself, may or may not be a product of Cigarro’s wishful thinking. Lime, who travels with a raven and a four-hundred pound Samoan attorney named Dr. Gonzo, neatly exemplifies the central religious, social, and literary concerns of the American imagination. These themes are brilliantly summed up in his brief appearance, in a dream or vision which Cigarro experiences during his pre-lynching siesta: ‘Call me Fishmeal. Call me Rosebud. Call me irresponsible, but don’t call me late for dinner. The Gods look down at us and laugh. This would be a better world for children if the parents had to eat the spinach. If I owned hell and Texas, I’d rent out Texas and live in hell. Honk if you know Jesus. I’ll stay a week or two, I’ll stay the summer through, but I am telling you I must be going.’

What more can be said about this rollicking huge masterpiece? Very little. Buy it if you must, rent it if you choose, steal it if you can, but read Holly Martins. Only thus can a great new addition to our heritage be saved from the shredder.

Z.B.D. James