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October 2, 1904
Graham Greene   (1904 - 1991)
 
Graham Greene, "Greeneland"
 
by Steve King

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On this day in 1904 Graham Greene was born. Greene's approach to Charles Dickens has been used as an approach to him: "the creative writer perceives his world once and for all in childhood and adolescence, and his whole career is an effort to illustrate his private world in terms of the great public world we all share." In Greene's case, the early worldview for the long writing career was formed primarily at his boarding school in Berkhamsted. He was a shy, sensitive, unathletic boy going in, and son of the headmaster; the sneering and scoffing led to such torment that he ran away, attempted suicide, and entered psychoanalysis. The "Greeneland" in which his fictional fringe-dwellers, wanderers and tortured souls struggle to live -- one 1991 obituary said that "If Greene's key characters had been animals one cannot help feeling that they would have been compassionately put down" -- seems to have been created from such experiences.

In order to research his authorized three-volume biography of Greene, Norman Sherry went to Berkhamsted School, and to Malaysia to interview Greene's former school-mates, and to the Congo. Equipped with a map sent to him by Greene, on which Greene had underlined his world travels in red, Sherry went to virtually every other place Greene went, too -- in Mexico, "I contracted dysentery in exactly the same mountain village, living in the same boarding house he had done." Ironically, some of the most intriguing clues to his enigmatic, intensely private subject were to be found at home, in Greene's personal library. Robert McCrum, novelist and Literary Editor at London's Observer newspaper, was one of those who examined the books in Greene's library prior to their sale after his death (they are now in Boston College). He thinks that "the key that unlocks the heart of Graham Greene . . . is the cornucopia of personal annotation, reflecting a long life of writing, politics, travel and sex, that's scattered along the margins and jotted on the endpapers of the books he was reading." Some of these annotations are by others, notably Catherine Walston, the American wife of the Labour peer Henry 'Harry' Walston -- the mysterious 'C,' with whom Greene had a long, passionate affair. Greene worked for the British Secret Service for years, and as McCrum puts it, "Catherine Walston also seems to have acquired Greene's taste for subterfuge":
    In a copy of Wilde's De Profundis ("with love, Ritz December 2-4, 1949") she concludes a long dedication with this coded message: "1. PTMP 2.ILYB 3. SIMB 4.ROF 5. LLEOFE 6. ILY 7. IHGOOTB." Other inscriptions recall ocean nights, Armagnac on villa patios, and opium smoked in the hotels of the East. In one of Greene's volumes of Kierkegaard there's a set of Scrabble scores for C and G. A dedication, dated Christmas, 1949, in The Life of Benvenuto Cellini gives a tantalising snapshot of their relationship: "How happy I was today in Cambridge buying roller skates and drinking Irish whiskey...."
Greene's relationship with Ralston became source material for his The End of the Affair; when their real affair was ending, says McCrum, Greene began another with the Swedish actress Anita Bjork:
    On the endpapers of William Sansom's The Loving Eye Greene provides a window onto his emotional state of mind at the end of the affair with 'C'. In a fine, spidery but legible hand, he writes: "Stockholm (Rather drunk after a solitary supper, waiting for a curtain to go down. Feb. 9, 1957)... Women like war, periods of waiting. Waiting while a car is late, a dentist's appointment, a curtain to fall. For everyone one has ever loved one has waited."

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