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 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.]
ISSUE 89 February 2022
James Greene is a son of Hugh Greene, Graham’s younger brother. He read French and Russian at Oxford and has published several books of poems and translations. Here James reflects on his relationship with his famous uncle.
On (not) getting to know Graham
My first remembered contact with my uncle Graham occurred by letter, and our connection continued mainly in this way, the regular correspondence between us (1977 to 1989) now belonging to Georgetown University in Washington. In 1960, when I was twenty-two and planning a trip to Oslo, Stockholm, Copenhagen and Helsinki, Graham sent me Anita Björk’s address and I met her in Stockholm on the set of her current film. Perhaps he was being less than gallant to end his letter: ‘For women, Copenhagen is best’. But I assumed he meant: women of the streets. Since then, Graham has been immortalised by the OED, not – as I would have guessed – for ‘seedy’, but for ‘tarts’: “A woman policeman kept an eye on the tarts at the corner” (A Gun for Sale).
In 1963 or so, by now working in psychiatric institutions and beginning to be curious about the oddities of the Greene family, I wrote to Graham again. This time his response, which I mistakenly registered as snide, took me aback: ‘Not being qualified to act as your psychiatrist, and therefore unable to charge you a fee, I’m far too busy…’ I didn’t of course know then that Graham himself had benefited from fee-paying sessions with Dr Eric Strauss, who encouraged his despairing patient to embark on the description of our (? anomalous) family, later published as A Sort of Life.
Richard Greene points out that, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM4), letter-writing can be a symptom of manic-depression. More relevantly, dissociation – and its degrees of fracture and of unification – is definitely implicated. Graham, we know, was full of angry men within and, in his case, the grounds for bi-polar diagnosis are far from merely paper-thin. There is also genetic eligibility: both grandfathers manic-depressive, his mother’s father so much so that he defrocked himself in a field, stripping naked in front of his parishioners; one uncle sectioned in the same asylum, another drowned (? suicide) in the Lake of Geneva.
In 1977 when an attempt of mine to uproot poems by Osip Mandelshtam and re-plant them in English soil came out rather than came to nothing, I despatched to France my bunch of let’s-say-bluebells-but-mostly-weeds and Graham wrote back: ‘…[W]hat I like so much in your versions is something which Ezra Pound demanded of poetry – that it should be good prose.’ But, if a necessary condition, this is certainly not a sufficient one. (If it were, Babbling April, his own book of poems, would be more readable than he knew it was.) ‘[M]ay the Nobel Prize – for what it’s worth – come to you one day’. As a ‘pledge of good faith’, he specified particular poems ‘up to page 42: tomorrow after a bottle of wine I shall go on reading’. Such remarks were, needless to say, extravagantly generous and wonderfully nepotistic. Actually, as I told him, ‘The extent of my literary ambitions is to be translated into Norwegian and to eat fresh salmon on the proceeds, in the mountains. London is very sordid at this time of year’. Neither of these ambitions has been fulfilled. Graham, in contrast, did have a Norwegian publisher, and a Swedish ex-lover to boot. He preferred sausages to salmon.
Introduced to him at a reception, Jon Halliday mentioned to me what a thrill it was to look into the eyes that had seen the inside of a thousand brothels. (Even the indefatigable Norman Sherry, an identical twin who photographed Graham’s brothels in Mexico, Cuba, Haiti, Africa and Argentina, was far from exhaustive in haunting his doppelgänger’s houses of reputation.) My own wish to gaze into those eyes – whose owner’s merchandised shaggings had been, it seemed, so notorious, prodigal and prodigious and which no doubt might have reflected the joie de vivre of his anges de joie – didn’t really begin to take shape until 1982, at my uncle Raymond’s funeral, when Graham was already seventy-eight and presumably past it, less feverish, less excitable. As he walked alone into the church, he struck me as grave and self-contained, as though experiencing his older brother’s death very deeply. And, exchanging a few words with him, I was moved to tears by his resemblance to my dead grandmother.
A year or so later Graham and I did manage to meet, only a bit less glancingly. During incessant rain in Antibes, the chambermaid of the Royal Hotel, who might well have appealed to both uncle and nephew, was balancing on balconies to clean its windows, one dark-stockinged leg stretched like an invitation – or very acute accent. At seventy-nine still effervescent and not all that pasteurised, it must have been a joke for him to live in Avenue Pasteur, where he welcomed me at ‘La Résidence des Fleurs’: du mal, I sometimes added when writing to him later on. (He never commented.) His apartment: astonishingly small – he wasn’t, it appeared, one of those ‘shits in their châteaux’ envied by Larkin and Amis. The only French words I remember him utter were ‘décaféiné’ (mispronounced or slurred) and ‘Calvados’.
In the same year, on a journey by train to Crowborough for a family wedding, my father, turning up late, attempted to kidnap his older brother to join him in another carriage. But Graham stayed put with my cousins and myself, and he and Hugh fell back on fraternal banter about food and drink. To Graham’s fondness for pork sausages and their delicious though carcinogenic properties one must, I suppose, attribute not only the loss of his £100,000 investment in the ‘Royal Victoria Sausage Company’, an outfit that turned out to be a scam, but also, in 1979, of part of his colon: in pigs he failed to smell a rat. My father, endowed with a passion for beer by no means purely professional, was by now Chairman of Greene King, the family brewery.
My connection with Graham continued, at a distance. It was probably only by letter that, though we could never have played an equal music (for us no Festival or Feast of Trumpets), odd chords could be struck, some dissonances sounded. Beside obvious imbalances, his evasive bi-polar temperament would have got in the way, not to mention his talent for treachery: he never realised that ‘Wheeler’ and ‘Carter’ and, later, Philby were aspects of himself. Mostly he came across as agreeably benign, a magnanimous travelling-companion, though clearly irritated in 1987 when, for instance, I teased him about his account of a recent trip with Yvonne to Siberia. Hosted ‘like royalty’, they visited ‘oil drillings’ (his novels are gum-full of dentists, even so…) and ‘the deepest lake in the world, 2 kilometres at the deepest point and only one river leaving it’ (Graham as uninspired geography teacher?). ‘We loved Siberia’. Siberia lovable? – Is he being provocative or senile? My riposte: ‘It’s no doubt easy enough to love Siberia if one’s a V.I.P. and/or not in any danger of being sent to a labour-camp there. I expect I’m as anti-American as you. Nevertheless…’ I mentioned writers bamboozled by régimes: Knut Hamsun, Ezra Pound, P.G. Wodehouse. (Fascist régimes, because I couldn’t be bothered to check on the too-numerous worshippers of the god that failed and the one who failed the god: André Gide.) Graham retorted: ‘No, I wasn’t shown any labour camps in Siberia, naturally. Have you been to any in England?’
Writing this now, it’s obvious I failed to take into account how old he was – and how exhausted. From February 5 1989: ‘Yes, I still exist – though half drowned in a sea of letters – 230 in January’. And in January 1985 – 167 letters. Graham’s father might have awarded him full marks – at least for ‘application’, ‘diligence’, and arithmetic.
He was more hospitable when discussing, say, Rembrandt’s 1626 etching of the circumcision of the baby Jesus, though puzzled that the rabbi should be wearing what looks like a Catholic archbishop’s hat: ‘I am told that surgeons are not to be trusted and it is much better to have a Jewish rabbi who does it with a long finger-nail in a second, very neatly and correctly’. Me: ‘No sign of a finger-nail. Technology must have progressed by 1626. The rabbi, if that’s what he is – to my ignorant eye he looks more like a Pope or cardinal, but you will be more expert on the millinery of the Vatican – is using a stick or scalpel or piece of cutlery’. Graham, though genitally mutilated like many male members of his class and era, hadn’t actually experienced the fingernail himself. Personally, I’d choose the surgeon any day.
He seemed intrigued by a newspaper cutting I sent about the antics of the chubby, blind, alcoholic Gregorio XVII, a so-called ‘Pope’ wearing silken robes who strolled from bar to bar in Seville. ‘Next time I’m in Spain I must pay a visit to his Church’. To which I responded: ‘I wish you well in your meeting, if it ever comes off, with Pope Gregorio XVII. Perhaps – despite your virtues – he’ll canonize you’.
Graham and I didn’t always see eye to eye on his guilt-edged scriptures, his profane miracles: ‘I agree with you that The Honorary Consul is your best book. Would you agree with me that The End of the Affair is, of your “serious” ones, the worst?’ With Getting to Know the General, he didn’t like it when I pointed out the evidence, provided by himself, of the unsavoury, thuggish and macho aspects of Torrijos, this ‘hero’ of what I considered to be, and called, a ‘novel’, one of his most delightful, not least for its unwittingly comic self-portrait as besotted observer, his gullibility reminiscent of the Royal Victoria Sausage Company scam. He looks here at times as innocent as Charley Fortnum, the honorary consul, or his own father: another unworldly ‘Charley’. (No other male member of the family is commemorated by name.) Blinded by anti-American sentiments and rhetoric, Graham needs to believe that Omar Torrijos is entirely admirable, while at the same time showing, without apparently knowing it, that he isn’t. In this respect, however dazzled and self-deceiving, Graham is more honest, despite himself, than the left-wing fellow-travellers of the 1930s who idealised Stalin’s Soviet Union.
In 1957, during a holiday in Martinique with Anita Björk, Graham was working on A House of Reputation. A play set in South America in a happy house of ill repute. I’m reminded of the fact that his father admonished one school-leaver to ‘remember to be faithful to your future wife’ (sic), warned another against the ‘army of women who live on the lusts of men’, and that Graham himself had had to suffer, in the school chapel, my grandfather’s fulminations against ‘filthiness’. We also know that Graham, for whom at the age of seven ‘cleanliness’ had been women’s most admired attribute, made sure, aged 21, of enlisting in the regiments of lustful men, rose rapidly through the ranks, and deserves – if anyone does – medals for distinguished service. A House of Reputation is his own sermon in praise of impurity, to counter what he saw as the paternal itch of prudery. I leave it to those who are without sin – or less nepotistic – to fling the first stone. Or does the House, in spite of its paradoxical premise, merit an unequivocally clean bill of health? To be sure, it’s not what Dr Bowdler called ‘family reading’. But nor is much of the Bible.
Because A House of Reputation was never performed (not for want of trying, at least in America), Graham was deprived of the opportunity of being prosecuted for offences against public morals. Ten years later he consented to become a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur. Of other writers resident in France and considered to be scandalous or obscene, Flaubert and Baudelaire and Genet were rather more successful in failing to achieve this distinction.
The honourable consul, our man in Bordello: a monk manqué – lecherous, naturally. Priests in the confessional-box, merciful versions of his father, remind him that the Virgin Mary is a woman as well, which it doesn’t take him very long to forget. Or is he also remembering: give to the poor? And, too, that religions and prostitution tend to hang together, joined at the hip.
We all know about the (questionable) splinter of ice in the heart of a writer; clearly this chilliness didn’t extend to every organ or every part of Graham’s anatomy. But why is it that, before Yvonne (they met when he was 54), he couldn’t have enjoyed, instead of the ‘thousand brothels’, a thousand paramours or flings, or some well-chosen mistress without a price-tag who didn’t insist on either propagation or co-habitation? (Anita Björk? – But Sweden: too sordidly clean and wholesome.) And it may be that brothel-induced, tortured states of mind, such as those listed by Shakespeare in sonnet 129 (“Th’ expence of Spirit in a waste of shame/ Is lust in action…”), precisely by impaling him impelled his writing: a thousand brothels as the necessary condition to launch his thousand ships – and Helen’s face as well. And also cure him, for a time, of the manic extreme of his bi-polar propensities. Who knows? I don’t. He comes into focus not much more clearly than the blurred outlines of the face on the Turin shroud.
All that can be known, ‘for certain’, is contained uncertainly within his writings. The difficulty, as always, resides in reading: exactly what is it that novels show at the very same time that they don’t tell? In a glass, darkly. And to each, a glass of his own prescription – illuminated of course by means of the Zeiss-sharp lenses of forensic, if not talmudic, biography.