English writer and journalist, Henry Graham Green (1904-1991), was born in Herefordshire on this day 2 October 1904, regarded by many as one of the leading English novelists of the 20th century. Greene acquired a reputation early in his lifetime as a major writer, both of serious Catholic novels, and of thrillers and was shortlisted, in 1966 and 1967, for the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Greene spent his childhood summers with his uncle, Sir Graham Greene, at Harston House in Cambridgeshire. In Greene’s description of his childhood, he describes his learning to read there: “It was at Harston I found quite suddenly I could read—the book was Dixon Brett, Detective. I didn’t want anyone to know of my discovery, so I read only in secret, in a remote attic, but my mother must have spotted what I was at all the same, for she gave me Ballantyne’s The Coral Island for the train journey home”.
In 1910 his father became headmaster of Berkhamsted, Greene attended the school as a boarder. However he was bullied, became depressed and made several suicide attempts. In 1920, aged 16, in what was a revolutionary step for the time, he was sent for psychoanalysis to London for six months, afterwards he returned to as a day student. Greene contributed several stories to the school magazine, one of which was published by a London evening newspaper in January 1921.
After school Greene attended Balliol College, Oxford, studying history. For a short time in 1922 he became a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain. In 1925, while he was an undergraduate at Balliol College, Oxford, his first work, a volume of poetry titled Babbling April, was published.
A first edition of this book was sold at Bonham’s Auction House for £4000 in November 2015
Greene suffered from periodic bouts of depression while at Oxford, and largely kept to himself. After leaving Oxford, Greene worked for a short time as a private tutor and then turned to journalism; first on the Nottingham Journal, and then as a sub-editor on The Times. After corresponding he met Vivien Dayrell-Browning, Greene was an agnostic and she a devote Catholic. He decided to get baptised in 1926 and they married on 15 October 1927.
He published his first novel, The Man Within, in 1929, its success enabled him to work full-time as a novelist. By the 1950s, Greene had become known as one of the finest writers of his generation, Brighton Rock (1938) was one famously made into a film but perhaps The Power and the Glory (1940), was his best piece, a moving story of a priest on the run in Mexico . The last book Greene termed an entertainment novel was the popular Our Man in Havana in 1958. He also wrote short stories and plays, which were well received, although he was always first and foremost a novelist. The Third Man (1950) is a short novella that Greene wrote in preparation for a screenplay, the film is considered to be one of the greatest film noir movies ever made.
Greene liked to travel to remote places and in 1941, his travels led to his being recruited into MI6 by his sister, Elisabeth, who worked for the agency. He was posted to Sierra Leone during the Second World War. Kim Philby, (later revealed as a Soviet agent), was Greene’s supervisor at MI6. Greene resigned from MI6 in 1944. Greene later wrote an introduction to Philby’s 1968 memoir, My Silent War. As a novelist Greene wove the characters he met and the places where he lived into the fabric of his novels.
Greene lived with depression (bipolar disorder) this had a profound effect on his writing and personal life. After falling victim to a financial swindler, Greene chose to leave Britain in 1966, moving to France and then later Switzerland, living the last years of his life in Vevey, on Lake Geneva, the same town Charlie Chaplin was living in at this time and the two became good friends. In 1986, Greene was awarded Britain’s Order of Merit. He died of leukaemia in 1991 at age 86 and was buried in Corseaux cemetery Switzerland.