Author Graham Greene: Biography, Books & Short Stories

Instructor: Ian Matthews

Ian teaches college writing and has a Master's in Writing and Publishing

British author Graham Greene had a chaotic life. His literary works were both serious or entertaining - let's dive in to see how Greene's life influenced his work, and the other way around.

A Chaotic Life

Author, journalist, Nobel Prize nominee, and British spy Graham Greene stands among the best British writers of the 20th century. He traveled all over, cheated on his wife, and still held on to some aspects of his Catholic faith. His life directly influenced his work in all kinds of ways, and many of his works have been adapted into films.

Early Life

Greene was born in 1904 in England. His father was the headmaster of a boarding school, which Greene attended. Greene suffered from bipolar disorder, was severely bullied and even attempted suicide a few times. He ran away from school and was sent to live with a psychoanalyst in London for schooling and treatment.

Greene later attended Balliol College at Oxford, where he started writing. His first book, a book of poems called Babbling April, was published during his time there, but after its poor reception, Greene decided to focus on journalism for a while.

The Times and Beyond

Greene made his way to London after graduating and became a lower-level editor at The Times (basically London's version of the New York Times). He wrote his first novel, The Man Within, while he worked there, and its success let him leave that job to write novels full-time, supplementing his income by writing film reviews and literary criticism for a weekly magazine called The Spectator.

Greene's love of film influenced his writing for his whole life; many of his novels use cinematic techniques and genres. Many of his novels have also been adapted into films, some of them multiple times.

Finding Catholicism

Early in his journalism career, Greene got a letter from a Catholic woman named Vivien Dayrell-Browning. She wrote him to correct him on a point of Catholic theology. They continued their correspondence, which sparked Greene's interest in two things: Catholicism, and Browning herself.

Greene argued back and forth with both Browning and a Catholic priest until he eventually converted to the faith in 1926, and Greene and Browning got married a year later. They eventually had two kids, Lucy and Francis.

Greene always rejected being labeled as a 'Catholic Novelist,' and even sometimes rejected being labeled as a Catholic at all, but his worldview was definitely inspired and colored by Catholicism, and many of his books -- such as his magnum opus, The Power and the Glory -- have Catholic themes throughout.

Spying and Traveling

Greene spent most of the 1930s and 40s away from England, in various countries. A movie review he wrote in 1937 criticizing the sexualization of young star Shirley Temple, resulting in a lawsuit for which he lived in Mexico for the duration. Here he started forming the ideas that led to The Power and the Glory, about an alcoholic priest in a faith-free Mexico.

During World War II, Greene was recruited into MI6 (yep, the MI6 that employs the fictional James Bond). He was sent to Sierra Leone, where, again, he collected experiences and characters he'd use in later novels. Greene was a frequent traveler for the rest of his life, visiting Haiti, Cuba, and various African countries. As a result, much of his work deals with political turmoil and its effects on everyday people in third-world countries.

Complicated Love Life

Greene left Vivien in 1948 to begin an affair with a married woman named Catherine Walston. As a devout Catholic, though, Vivien wouldn't grant him a divorce -- they remained married until Greene's death. This experience influenced Greene's novel The End of the Affair.

Greene continued traveling the globe until finally settling down in Switzerland, where he became friends with actor Charlie Chaplin. He also returned to Catholicism in his last few years. Greene died of leukemia in 1991.

Greene's Works

Greene divided his own works into two categories. His first several novels (and others throughout his career) were influenced by thrillers and mystery and suspense films -- he called these books entertainments. Readers loved them, but Greene wasn't as fond of the entertainments as he was of his more serious, artful, literary works like The Power and the Glory or The End of the Affair.

Greene was incredibly prolific in both genres, as well as in writing short fiction, so here's a brief overview of the highlights of Greene's writing career.

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