Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Shirley Hazzard on Graham Greene . . . and, unexpectedly, on another old favorite!

Still beset by the busy-ness of business at work, I was casting about this evening for something brief to share, when Shirley Hazzard unexpectedly came through with a passage comparing someone to Sydney Greenstreet--another entry for my slowly growing collection!

In her book about the friendship she and her husband, Francis Steegmuller, shared with Graham Greene in his last decades, Greene on Capri (2000), Hazzard introduces an English friend of Greene thus:
Ian Greenlees, a cultivated and independent mind, had left Capri for Florence, where he long directed the British Institute, but retained, and regularly visited, his picturesque old Anacapri house, Villa Fraita, acquired from the writer Francis Brett Young in the late 1940s. In appearance, manner, and pallor, a ringer for Sydney Greenstreet, Ian had a long past in Italy.
Though not as playful as Donald E. Westlake's Greenstreet comparisons, the description makes clear what a useful figure he can be to a writer, instantly conjuring up, entire, both an appearance and an affect.

Because I never tire of Graham Greene anecdotes, I'll also pass along this unforgettable account of an eruption of Greene's antipathy for Robert Louis Stevenson's wife, whom Greene--displaying his not infrequent lack of sympathy for a woman's perspective or position--blamed for Stevenson's peripatetic search for a climate that would agree with his poor health:
Graham's close feeling for Robert Louis Stevenson led him to high resentment against Stevenson's wife--in his view a predatory and destructive influence on Stevenson's short life. When Francis once protested that Mrs. S. herself, while an undoubted oddity, had had much to bear, Graham would have none of it: "No, no. She ran him to ground, and she ruled him. She got him out there"--to California, and, later, to the South Seas--"and she"--unforgettable grappling gesture, hands outstretched across the table with fingers crooked--"got the hooks in him." Eyes wild, blue, unblinking.
That image of Greene--hands clutching cruelly at air--could itself slide nicely into one of Stevenson's more macabre tales.

1 comment:

  1. Greene on Capri is one of my favorite biographies, and rathr funny in that I do believe that Shirley Hazzard may have been satirizing him in some of her passages based upon the writing style that she used inthat book. My research on Stevenson, which I conducted prior to my novel "SILVER" being published (see http://silverpirate.com), seemed to show thta his wife, Fanny, had the opposite effect on Stevenson. She was an excellent editor and invigorated him.