Engl 4300
Recent British and American WritersLuke Whisnant

Graham Greene and The Quiet American

"The main character in a novel must necessarily have some kinship to the author,
they come out of his body as a child comes from the womb, then the umbilical cord
is cut, and they grow into independence." --Greene


Graham Greene (1904-1991) Biographical Timeline

  • Born Henry Graham Greene on 2 October 1904, Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, England.
  • Grows up as shy, sensitive boy who likes reading better than sports.
  • Several suicide attempts at school; goes into therapy at age 15.
  • Attends Balliol College, "drunk and debt-ridden" as he later recalls. During college edits school paper, becomes political (even joining the Communist Party for fun (he said); and finished a novel, Anthony Sant, before he graduated (B.A. in Modern History, 1925).
  • Works on newspapers as subeditor, 1925-28. Is urged by Vivian Dayrell-Browning to join Catholic church; does so in 1926.
  • Marries Vivian in 1927; they have a daughter, Lucy, and a son, Francis.
  • Quits job at London Times to become full-time writer; struggles until the popular success of Stamboul Train, "an escapist novel that was deliberately intended to please the public," (Yiu) the first of Greene's "entertainments."
  • Begins traveling all over the world, gathering material for his books.
  • Works for the British Secret Intelligence Service in Sierra Leone during WWII.
  • Is separated (but never divorced) from Vivian in 1948.
  • Publishes his major works: Brighton Rock (1938); The Power and the Glory (1940); The Heart of the Matter, based on his time in Sierra Leone (1948); The End of the Affair (1951); The Quiet American, set in Vietnam just as American involvement began (1955); and The Human Factor (1978).
  • Dies in Vevey, Switzerland, on 3 April 1991.

Graham Greene and Autobiographical Realism

According to Melody Yiu, Greene achieved notoriety in his personal life. . . . He had many extra-marital affairs, and confessed he was a bad husband and a fickle lover, although he never revealed his affairs in his two autobiographies. In 1951, the public's reaction to The End of the Affair put Greene on the cover of Time magazine over the caption "Adultery can lead to sainthood." Yiu says that Greene "took little pains to disguise the fact that the novel was based on his own affair with Lady Catherine Walston, who also did not appear disturbed by the book. The British edition of the novel is dedicated to 'C' while the American version is made out to 'Catherine'." In his autobiography, Greene says, "The main character in a novel must necessarily have some kinship to the author, they come out of his body as a child comes from the womb, then the umbilical cord is cut, and they grow into independence. 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" (Ways of Escape, 8).

Graham Greene on The Quiet American

When my novel was eventually noticed in the New Yorker the reviewer condemned me for accusing my "best friends" (the Americans) of murder since I had attributed to them the responsibility for the great explosion -- far worse than the trivial bicycle bombs -- in the main square of Saigon when many people lost their lives. But what are the facts, of which the reviewer needless to say was ignorant? The Life photographer at the moment of the explosion was so well placed that he was able to take an astonishing and horrifying photograph which showed the body of a trishaw driver still upright after his legs had been blown off. This photograph was reproduced in an American propaganda magazine published in Manila over the title "the work of Ho Chi Minh" although General Thé had promptly and proudly claimed the bomb as his own. Who had supplied the material to a bandit who was fighting French, Caodaists and Communists?

…Perhaps there is more direct rapportage in the The Quiet American than in any other novel I have written. I had determined to employ again the experience I had gained with The End of the Affair in the use of the first person and the time shift, and my choice of a journalist as the "I" seemed to me to justify the use of rapportage. The Press conference is not the only example of direct reporting. I was in the dive bomber (the pilot had broken an order of General de Lattre by taking me) which attacked the Viet Minh post and I was on the patrol of the Foreign Legion paras outside Phat Diem. I still retain the sharp image of the dead child couched in the ditch beside his dead mother. The very neatness of their bullet wounds made their death more disturbing than the indiscriminate massacre in the canals around.

--from Ways of Escape, pp.139-140.

Material for this webpage was taken from Melody Yiu's excellent Graham Greene website Greeneland, found at http://www.tripod.members/~greenland.index.htm; from Greene's autobiography Ways of Escape; and from the Concise Columbia Encyclopedia.


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