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 81 February 2020
An Old Man’s Memory: The Strange Case of The Tenth Man
In March 1985 Graham Greene’s short novel The Tenth Man was published in the UK, to a great fanfare. Here was a new work from the Grand Old Man of English Literature, now eighty years old – and remarkably, a work actually written in the 1940s and, it was reported, newly-discovered. Greene wrote a short introduction to the published novel, relating how he had heard of the sale of the story in 1983, and remembered only ‘an outline’ he had written for the film company MGM towards the end of the Second World War: an outline of ‘two pages of typescript’. When sent the complete typescript, Greene found to his amazement ‘not two pages of outline but a complete short novel of about thirty thousand words.’ Moreover, Greene wrote, he found ‘this forgotten story very readable – indeed I prefer it in many ways to The Third Man’. No wonder The Tenth Man became something of a publishing sensation in 1985.
The idea that Greene had simply forgotten about the novel – that it was the victim of ‘An Old Man’s Memory’, to use the title of one of Greene’s own short stories – has been questioned. In particular, Michael Shelden, in his 1994 biography Graham Greene: The Man Within, as ever led the case for the prosecution against Greene. ‘There was nothing wrong with Greene’s memory, and the novel had not been lost’, Shelden wrote, quoting some evidence to this effect; ‘The “discovery” of The Tenth Man allowed Greene to have some fun at the expense of journalists who think only in terms of headlines. And, of course, there was always the added benefit of increased sales from the publicity.’ In turn, Shelden’s account has been challenged by W.J. West, in his 1997 book The Quest for Graham Greene. ‘Greene’s papers at Boston College’, West wrote, ‘demonstrate beyond doubt’ that Shelden’s version of the case was untrue. The Tenth Man, West asserted, was simply an ‘astonishing example of Greene’s very weak memory of his own work’.
Where is the truth in all this? The natural instinct in researching such matters relating to Greene’s life and work is to refer to the late Norman Sherry’s monumental three-volume biography, at least as a starting point. In this case, no help is forthcoming. Astonishingly, Sherry makes absolutely no reference to The Tenth Man – its writing in 1944, its ‘discovery’ in the early 1980s or its publication in 1985. There is no reference to the novel anywhere in the three volumes, in the index, not even in the listing of Greene’s work. If Greene was guilty of forgetting about the novel for very many years, his biographer went one better.
For guidance we must instead look at the various archives containing Greene material, in particular the one at Boston, referred to by West. It is worth pointing out at the outset that Michael Shelden did not visit the archives at Boston College, for the simple reason that Boston had not yet then (1994, when Shelden’s work was published) acquired its Greene material.
The Boston archive gives some detail of Greene’s original writing of The Tenth Man. There is a typescript of the novel, sent by Greene’s literary agent Laurence Pollinger to MGM’s man in London, Ben Goetz, on 19 December 1944. This was in part fulfilment of what Greene later described as ‘an almost slave contract’ with MGM to provide story ideas for two years. Greene had returned to England from service with the Secret Intelligence Service in West Africa in 1943, and resigned from the service altogether in June 1944. He was aware of the need to generate some income. He started work at the publisher Eyre & Spottiswoode in summer 1944, and in February 1944 he had signed a contract with MGM. Greene would produce ideas for stories which might become films, and the stories would then become MGM’s copyright – hence perhaps his reference to a ‘slave contract’. Under the contract, MGM would pay him £250 per week for not less than ten consecutive weeks in two years. (And rather bizarrely, the contract specified that Greene would not be called upon to ‘work on the script of WAR AND PEACE by Leo Tolstoy’.)
Nothing seems to have come of this contract by the time Greene left the SIS in June 1944, but in that month, V-1 flying bombs began to fall on London, where Greene was living most of the time. His wife and children were safe in Oxford, but Greene seems to have been genuinely concerned that he might die at any moment with his family unprovided for. ‘All our expectations of life these days are a little uncertain’, Greene wrote to Laurence Pollinger in July 1944 (the letter is in the David Higham files at Austin, Texas), and he suggested ways his family might be provided for ‘in the event of death’, by various reissuings of Greene’s existing writings. But the MGM contract represented another way of making money, by Greene writing something new.
What might he write? In a fragmentary diary he kept in the 1930s, Greene had recorded this: ‘December 26 [Greene puts the year as 1937, but it is actually 1936]. Discussed film with Menzies [an American film director]. Two notions for future films. One: a political situation like that in Spain. A decimation order. Ten men in prison draw lots with matches. A rich man draws the longest match. Offers all his money to anyone who will take his place. One, for the sake of his family, agrees. Later, when he is released, the former rich man visits anonymously the family who possess his money, he himself now with nothing but his life…’ Here, of course, is essentially the plot of The Tenth Man, originally conceived in the context of the Spanish Civil War, but nothing had come of it in the 1930s. Now, in the summer of 1944, in need of ideas for possible films, the story came out from what Greene called ‘the dark cave of the unconscious’. Following D-Day, France was being swiftly liberated – the German garrison in Paris surrendered on 25 August – and Greene now conceived his story based in France and in the context of the Second World War. By August 1944 Greene was writing to Ian Dalrymple at MGM’s London office, suggesting that he might be able to write ‘a long short story’ of about 20,000 to 25,000 words, to be written in around three months. By 6 November a new contract was signed to cover the story, with Greene being paid £1500 and copyright in the story assigned to MGM. By that date Greene was within 7,000 words of finishing the story (having gone through ‘a very sticky phase’ with it, as he wrote). He seems to have been put under pressure by MGM to get the story finished and sent off, and there is evidence that some of the writing was rushed – the character Thérèse is sometimes called Pauline; Greene had no time for revision, it seems. By December the story was at last finished, copies were made, and it was on its way to MGM in Hollywood.
MGM never made The Tenth Man into a film, and Greene’s contract with the company finally came to an end. Greene moved on to pastures new, and the typescript of The Tenth Man gathered dust in the MGM archives in Hollywood. Then in 1981, a man called Sam Marx discovered the manuscript at MGM. In January 1983, Greene received a letter (now in the Boston archive) from Professor David Leon Higdon, a fellow Conradian with whom he corresponded. Higdon reported that the work had been discovered, that it was to be published in England later that year, and that a film studio had secured the rights. Interestingly, Greene’s secretary replied in April that rumours about the work had been heard – but tantalisingly, with no details. Greene heard in May that the British publisher Anthony Blond had bought the publication rights for £12,000, and Greene’s agent Gerald Pollinger gave him details of his 1944 contract with MGM. Greene did not want the book to be published, but in November 1983 he read the story, provided for him by Blond. Greene’s publisher Max Reinhardt became involved, and by January 1984 it was agreed that it would be jointly published by The Bodley Head and Anthony Blond. This is what happened in 1985. In the meantime, Greene had heard from Sam Marx, telling his tale of the discovery, and inviting Greene to write the screenplay for a film version. Greene turned him down.
And so the ‘discovered’ book was published in 1985, alongside two ‘film sketches’ of other Greene stories, Jim Braddon and the War Criminal and Nobody to Blame. Greene wrote a brief introduction, recording his surprise at learning that what he had remembered as ‘an outline’ covering ‘two pages of typescript’ was in fact a substantial novella. The publication, and the tale of the discovery, caused quite a stir in literary circles. Keith Waterhouse wrote, ‘I was struggling over a half-cooked novel when I read that someone had turned up a 60,000-word [sic] manuscript that Graham Greene had written years ago and forgotten about. I thought briefly about doing away with myself. To me, forgetting having written a book is like forgetting having had heart surgery.’ For Michael Shelden, as we have seen, Waterhouse’s incredulity was well-founded. To forget a very substantial story, even after a gap of almost forty years, was inconceivable, he believed.
In the Greene archives in Boston and Texas is evidence that might seem to support Shelden’s scepticism. A manuscript copy of The Tenth Man at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas was sold to the university in June 1967, so the idea that the story simply gathered dust at MGM until 1981 is certainly untrue. As Shelden points out, a bibliography of Greene’s work by R.A. Wobbe published in 1979 included a reference to the unpublished work The Tenth Man, and it seems certain that Wobbe had seen the manuscript in the Austin archive. There is no evidence to show that Graham Greene himself knew of the bibliography’s reference to The Tenth Man, and more frustratingly, no evidence that he knew of the sale of the manuscript to the Harry Ransom Center in 1967. That sale was a single-item purchase, and there is no record of where the copy came from. The sale was brokered through Lew Feldman’s House of El Dieff in New York, which in itself is suggestive: from 1964 onwards, Greene sold a series of manuscripts of his novels via Sotheby’s Auction House in London and El Dieff. But did Greene use this route again for the sale of a single manuscript of The Tenth Man in 1967? The answer is that we simply do not know.
However, we do have clear evidence that Greene became aware of The Tenth Man as a substantial story in the mid-1960s. In April 1966, a man called Charles Morris wrote to Greene from Stepney in London (this and the subsequent exchange of letters is in the Boston archive). Morris reported that ‘some time ago’ he had found a manuscript of The Tenth Man, inscribed ‘by Graham Greene’. ‘Until recently I am afraid you were not known to me’, Morris wrote, in a blow to Greene’s self-esteem, but now he had become aware of the novelist, and Morris offered to send him the manuscript. ‘The whole thing is rather a mystery’, Greene replied in May 1966, asking him to send it on to him in Antibes. After some delay, Morris sent Greene the manuscript in October, referring in his letter to an ‘East End stall’ – apparently, where he had first purchased the manuscript; it is not the least of the mysteries surrounding The Tenth Man as to how the story came to be on the stall where Charles Morris found it. Greene sent Morris a copy of his most recent novel, The Comedians, by way of thanks, and in his cover letter referred to ‘the strange missing manuscript’, adding, ‘I don’t ever remember having copies of this made [interestingly, he didn’t say he couldn’t remember having written such a long story] and I am certainly glad to be able to destroy one!’ There is no record in the archives of whether Greene actually destroyed this copy. However, there is a handwritten note on Greene’s reply to Morris saying ‘Found by E.D. [presumably Elisabeth Dennys, Greene’s sister and by then, secretary] in 1985 in an old and irrelevant file!’, as if the whole Charles Morris episode had by then been long forgotten.
Hard on the heels of the Morris discovery, another copy of The Tenth Man came to Greene’s attention. A Mrs Jill Phillips of Camberwell, London, wrote to Greene in February 1967, saying that she had a manuscript copy of The Tenth Man; perhaps she too bought it on an East End stall, but since her original letter has not survived, we do not know. What we do have is a reply to Mrs Phillips in March 1967 from Greene’s agent Laurence Pollinger (in the Texas files), informing her that the copyright in the story rested with MGM and that ‘you should take no action with your typescript copy without first having obtained permission from MGM.’ Pollinger’s letter added that ‘this is the second time the subject of a typescript outside the possession of MGM has come up in the last twelve months’ – clearly, a reference to Charles Morris’s earlier purchase. Sadly, there is no further evidence of what Mrs Phillips did with her copy. There is no indication that Graham Greene came in possession of it, but the exchange again clearly made Greene aware of the existence of the story.
What did Greene do with the copy he received from Charles Morris? Destroyed it, as he said he would? Sell it the following year to the archive in Texas? We do not know, but there is another piece of evidence, hitherto never remarked on in this mystery. In Yvonne Cloetta’s memoir, In Search of a Beginning: My Life with Graham Greene, published in 2004, Cloetta writes about the winter of 1970. She looked in the bedroom of his flat in Antibes, on the top of some cupboards, in search of some radiators. On finding ‘a whole lot of papers’ behind the radiators, she brought them down. ‘I started to pull out the papers and handed them to him’, Cloetta writes. ‘What were they? Well, he had a vague memory of some pages that he had completely forgotten from The Tenth Man. He thought it was only the synopsis. In fact, he discovered the entire manuscript.’ No more is made of this discovery in Cloetta’s book – she continues the story by talking about a dozen or so pages of an early draft of what eventually became The Human Factor, which were also found on top of the cupboard: it was these pages that caught Greene’s attention, not the typescript of The Tenth Man. There is no sense in Cloetta’s book of her story undermining the idea of Greene being surprised at the ‘discovery’ of The Tenth Man in 1983, merely a mention in passing that Greene had a copy of the manuscript, which he had clearly forgotten about. Was this the Charles Morris copy, which Greene had neglected to destroy? If so, it could not be the copy sold to the archive in Austin, Texas in 1967. And what did Greene do with this copy, newly-discovered on the top of the cupboard? Given his apparently greater interest in the discovery of some pages of the future novel The Human Factor, perhaps The Tenth Man was simply stuffed back up on top of the cupboard and again forgotten about? Again as so often in this story, we do not know.
There is, therefore, a considerable body of material dating from the mid-1960s that suggests that Graham Greene knew perfectly well that a complete story of The Tenth Man existed, indeed that there was one copy in Greene’s own possession. He received a copy from Charles Morris; he heard of another copy in Jill Phillips’s possession; he had a copy in his Antibes flat in 1970; and he may even have sold a copy to Texas in 1967. There are many references in the foregoing to Greene’s hazy memory of the story (‘the whole thing is rather a mystery’ … ‘a vague memory of some pages that he had completely forgotten’), but more than one occasion when Greene’s memory had been jogged. Surely Shelden is right? Graham Greene was feigning ignorance in 1983 when The Tenth Man was discovered, wasn’t he?
And yet, and yet. There is first the question of why Greene sat on his copy of The Tenth Man and didn’t try to get it published long before 1983. If he did not think much of it and thought it was not publishable, why did he later profess to thinking rather highly of it – as he wrote, ‘I prefer it in many ways to The Third Man’. Or perhaps we should merely join Shelden in his cynicism, assuming that Greene realised that since MGM held the copyright, he had himself no financial interest in seeing the novella published? Perhaps.
But there is another consideration. As mentioned earlier, W.J. West’s defence of Greene over The Tenth Man is based on his research in the archives in Boston – archives Shelden never had access to. There is at Boston College a considerable collection of correspondence from 1983 to 1985 concerning The Tenth Man – its ‘discovery’, the developments leading to its publication, and material relating to rights, serialisation and a possible film version. There is in all this correspondence not a single item where Greene admits to anyone that he already knew about the completed story The Tenth Man. More positively, when reading through this correspondence, there is an overwhelming feeling of Greene being genuinely puzzled by the gradual revelation of the existence of a finished novella. Professor Higdon’s letter of January 1983, reporting the discovery of the story, has a scribbled note ‘write and ask any more info?’, and this tone of Greene needing to be reminded of matters continues through the file. Greene’s agent Gerald Pollinger was asked to investigate, and in May Greene was told ‘It seems MGM bought this in 1944 in manuscript’. Later that month, Pollinger was able to give Greene fuller information about his 1944 contracts with MGM. In reply, in June, Greene wrote to Pollinger, ‘I am completely puzzled by all this. I seem to remember writing a short possible outline for a film but which would not have had the length which I should have thought would be publishable.’ As he learnt of Anthony Blond’s financial interest and intention to publish the story, Greene wrote to Blond in October, stating his opposition to having the novella published and asking him to send a photocopy of the story ‘to refresh my memory’. There is no indication that Greene believed he had had, or still had, a copy of the story on top of a cupboard in his Antibes flat.
This general tone of bafflement and vagueness could of course all have been bluff on Greene’s part, though that then invites the question as to why Greene might act in this way, and requires acceptance that Greene was willing to mislead not only the likes of Anthony Blond, but his own agent, Gerald Pollinger. Perhaps most tellingly, Greene’s amazement carried into other letters with personal friends. To Michael Meyer in November 1983, Greene wrote that Blond had sent him a copy of the story ‘which to my embarrassment seems to be rather good’. Greene continued, ‘In my memory it was just a sketch of an idea for a film of a few pages, but it proves to be 100 pages of typescript and I think rather better than its successor The Third Man but not so filmable.’ And in a letter to his Swiss lawyer and friend Jean-Felix Paschoud in February 1984, Greene referred to ‘a story of mine of which I had forgotten the existence called THE TENTH MAN!’ Greene added ‘I apparently wrote it somewhere around 1945 under contract to MGM’ – a misdating of the writing of the story even after Pollinger had made clear the details to Greene. This misdating continued in the first draft of Greene’s introduction to the novella, written probably in 1984 and held at Georgetown University, in which Greene wrote that the story had been written ‘just after the war’, changed in the published introduction to ‘towards the end of the war’. Greene was genuinely unsure about the genesis of the story, and his letters continually reveal his surprise that a complete story actually existed.
We have therefore a conundrum in relation to The Tenth Man. To accept Greene’s version of events we have to accept that his attention was more than once drawn to the existence of a finished story in the 1960s, and that indeed for a time he had a copy of the story in his Antibes flat – and yet that he managed not to realise all this in the early 1980s when the manuscript was discovered in the MGM archives. Yet the consistent tone of his letters of 1983-4 to a range of people is that this is precisely what happened. To believe otherwise is to assume an extraordinary level of deceit by Greene towards all those he corresponded with, for reasons that are not at all clear. Greene had a notoriously fallible memory for his own writings, and he seems in this case to have suffered from a persistent false memory of what work he had done on the Tenth Man story, which he stubbornly clung on to in the face of contradictory evidence. It may be hard to credit, but ‘An Old Man’s Memory’ is perhaps the likeliest explanation after all.
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.
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.