Sunday, December 03, 2006

Graham Greene

A busy week of work and the death of our laptop's monitor conspired to make last week a light blogging week. So this week might be a bit disjointed, like a whole week of notes rather than separate entries.

And tonight's topic is Graham Greene. It seems like anywhere Greene the man turns up, he's interesting or entertaining. Julian MacLaren-Ross, in Memoirs of the Forties (1965), tells of meeting Greene for the first time at Greene's apartment. Late in the evening, they are taken into the nursery by Vivien Greene to say goodnight to the children. On returning to the parlor:
"Lovely children," I said, "charming," in the hearty voice used by my father when he'd survived a social ordeal, and I was further relieved to see Greene had a brandy bottle in his hand.

He said: "Who was it complained that not enough children get murdered in detective stories?"

Evelyn Waugh tells a good story in a letter to Nancy Mitford, dated October 4, 1948 and collected in The Letters of Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh (1996):
So my friend Graham Greene whose books you won't read was sitting in a New York hotel feeling quite well when he felt very wet & sticking in the lap & hurried to the lavatory & found that his penis was pouring with blood. So he fainted & and was taken to a hospital and the doctors said "It may be caused by five diseases two of which are not immediately fatal, the others are." Then they chloroformed him & he woke up two days later & they said: "Well, we can't find anything wrong at all. What have you been up to? Too much womanizing?" "No, not for weeks since I left my home in England." "Ah" they said "That's it." What a terrible warning. No wonder his books are sad.

And from a October 19, 1954 letter:
Graham Green prefers spirits to wine and was not happy. As we started [a trip to Reims] he saw the name [Alan] Pryce-Jones (a harmless gentle Welsh journalist) on the list and said: "I can't go. I won't meet Pryce-Jones. He's too negative." Well, he came. That evening we all went to bed at about midnight--Lord Long haranguing the night porter--"Don't tell me all brothels are closed. I'll wake them up"--Next morning we met again at ten Graham looking ghastly. "I didn't get to bed until after four." "What were you doing?" "Drinking marc." "Who with?" "Pryce-Jones."

Then there's this, from Anthony Powell, who got along well enough with Greene but didn't like his books. In his journal (available in Journals: 1990-1992 (1997)), Powell wrote, on April 3, 1991, the day of Greene's death:
There was always an element of deviousness, indeed humbug, about all Graham's public utterances and behaviour. I think he was completely cynical, really only liking sex and money and his own particular form of publicity. I always go on pretty well with him, chiefly just before the war. We had the only colossal row after the war when he was my publisher. He would go white with rage on such occasions, admitting that he had to have rows from time to time for his health.

The occasion for the white-with-rage row was that Greene, who was at the time the managing director of Eyre & Spottiswode, was delaying the publication of Powell's book on John Aubrey, during which argument he let slip that he found the book "bloody boring."

Then there's Barbara Pym, in a letter to Philip Larkin of July 14, 1974, taking inspiration from Greene:
The sun is coming out again and I will turn to my novel. They say Graham Greene writes only 250 words a day, so I should be able to manage that!

I don't think those 250 words included the writing he did in his two journals, one real and one false, of which I learned from reviews of Norman Sherry's enormous, three-volume biography. That fact alone may force me to read the whole biography someday after all.

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