Graham Greene



"The more the author knows of his own character the more he can distance himself from his invented characters and the more room they have to grow in."


Hertfordshire, England


Balliol College, Oxford (modern history); Greene says he spent his time drunk and debt-ridden, but he found time to publish a book of verse, Babbling April (1925).

Other jobs

Sub-editor at the Times from 1926 to 1930 before leaving to make his living from writing; the Secret Intelligence Service sent him to Sierra Leone during the second world war (see The Heart of the Matter) and he later worked under Kim Philby.

Did you know?

He was sued by Twentieth Century Fox for criticising Shirley Temple.

Critical verdict

Perhaps the ultimate moralist thriller-writer, Greene had a facility for combining literary observation with populist plot, and himself divided his books into serious fiction (The Heart of the Matter, The Quiet American) and "entertainments" (Brighton Rock, Our Man in Havana). Evelyn Waugh singled out for praise the new coolly cinematic quality of his style, but he is now most known for a sort of atheistic Catholicism (George Orwell sneers that Greene thinks "there is something rather distingué in being damned; Hell is a sort of high-class nightclub, entry to which is reserved for Catholics only"). However, when the Vatican condemned The Power and the Glory and demanded revisions, Greene merely referred the Pope to his publisher.

Recommended works

Our Man in Havana is quintessential Greene; the delightfully slight and seedy Brighton Rock "began as a detective story and continued, I am sometimes tempted to think, as an error of judgment".


Greene adored TS Eliot and Herbert Read; as a young man, his analyst introduced him to a literary circle which included Walter de la Mare. Erskine Childers is another antecedent.

Now read on

RK Narayan was mentored by Greene; Shusaku Endo - Catholic, comic and complex - is often described as the Japanese Graham Greene. Anthony Burgess addresses some similarly Catholic questions on the nature of free will, positive evil and negative good, while John Le Carré provides Greene-lite.


Of the many adaptations, Carol Reed's The Third Man (1949), with Orson Welles, conceived as a screenplay by Greene, is the must-see movie. Neil Jordan's The End of the Affair (1999), with Ralph Fiennes, Julianne Moore and Stephen Rea, was pooh-poohed by critics but cropped up on many awards shortlists.

Recommended biography

He published two volumes of autobiography: A Sort of Life (1971), about his youth, and Ways of Escape (1980), detailing his wanderlust. Norman Sherry was given access to diaries and papers and spent two decades retracing Greene's steps for his magisterial critical biography, The World of Graham Greene. Michael Shelden's controversial The Man Within paints Greene as a satanic figure, while WG West's The Quest for Graham Greene reinvents biography as Greene-tinted detective thriller.

Useful links and work online

Work online
· Excerpt: The Quiet American
· Excerpt: Brighton Rock
· Excerpt: The End of the Affair
· Excerpt: Our Man in Havana
· Excerpt: The Power and the Glory

· Greeneland: fan site
· Graham Greene Birthplace Trust

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