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Graham Greene: A Life in Letters


This absorbing autobiography in letters offers a remarkable window into the life of one of the greatest novelists of our time. "The Best Book of the Year." —David Lodge, The Guardian [UK]
One of the undisputed masters of twentieth-century English prose, Graham Greene (1904-1991) wrote tens of thousands of personal letters. This exemplary volume presents a new and engrossing account of his life constructed out of his own words. Impeccably edited by scholar Richard Greene, the ...

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This absorbing autobiography in letters offers a remarkable window into the life of one of the greatest novelists of our time. "The Best Book of the Year." —David Lodge, The Guardian [UK]
One of the undisputed masters of twentieth-century English prose, Graham Greene (1904-1991) wrote tens of thousands of personal letters. This exemplary volume presents a new and engrossing account of his life constructed out of his own words. Impeccably edited by scholar Richard Greene, the letters—including many unavailable even to his official biographer—give a new perspective on a life that combined literary achievement, political action, espionage, travel, and romantic entanglement. The letters describe his travels in such places as Mexico, Vietnam, and Cuba, where he observed the struggles of mankind with a compassionate and truthful eye. Letters to friends such as Evelyn Waugh and Muriel Spark offer a glimpse into the literary culture in which he wrote, while others reveal the agonies of his heart. The sheer range of experience contained in Greene's correspondence defies comparison.

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Editorial Reviews

Dwight Garner
In Graham Greene: A Life in Letters, tens of thousands of his letters have been pared down to a tidy 400 or so by Richard Greene (not related)…As good as these letters can be—Graham Greene is, by turns, fond, cranky, depressive, mischievous—one trusts this book's editor when he suggests that a complete edition of them would be overkill, "valuable for scholars but otherwise forbidding and essentially unreadable." Like the best books of literary letters, this volume reads like brisk, epistolary biography.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Richard Greene (an associate professor at the University of Toronto and no relation of the novelist's) provides an incisive introduction, narrative and annotations to his selection of Graham Greene's letters from 1921 to 1991, which appear together for the first time. Perennially shortlisted for the Nobel Prize in Literature but never a recipient, Greene is presented in these letters through the five main preoccupations of his life: Roman Catholicism, politics, love, travel and, certainly not least, the processes of writing and publishing. As a publisher at Eyre & Spottiswoode, and as an author in disputes with Heinemann's and Viking ("Would rather change publisher than title"), Greene gained an unusually rounded view of the business side of his profession. In love and through several intense and long-lasting affairs, Greene remains something of a tortured exhibitionist. His writing career led to correspondence with a range of authors and personalities, including Evelyn Waugh, Muriel Spark, Kurt Vonnegut, Ralph Richardson, Michael Korda, Anthony Burgess, the future Pope Paul VI and radical Swiss theologian Hans Küng. Points of travel famously include such hot spots as Vietnam, Sierra Leone, Haiti, Cuba and Israel. In all, this well-thought-out collection newly reveals a remarkable activist-writer. 8 pages of illus. (Dec.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

As editor Greene (Mary Leapor: A Study in Eighteenth-Century Women's Poetry) writes in his introduction to this study of Graham Greene, to whom he is not related, "A life in letters has a crucial advantage over a conventional biography: it is chiefly in the subject's own voice and in his words." These letters offer a fascinating glimpse into the 20th-century English writer's sense of humor; for instance, a letter written to his younger sister observes, "Have you ever noticed how useful numbers are in filling up a letter?" He then gives an example of filling up a lukewarm letter to a friend with a large, if nonsensical, equation. The selected letters (only Greene's letters are used in this work) deal with "Greene's personal, literary, religious and political concerns," explains editor Greene, and are arranged chronologically around his major works. There are numerous biographies on Graham Green, most notably Norman Sherry's three-volume The Life of Graham Greene. This collection gives the reader access to some material previously unavailable even to Greene's official biographer. Recommended for medium to large academic libraries; an optional purchase for others. [See Prepub Alert, LJ8/08.]
—Felicity D. Walsh

Kirkus Reviews

A revealing portrait of a fascinating life emerges gradually from nearly 70 years' worth of the great British author's letters to family members, lovers, literary peers, readers and others.

Greene (1904–91) was a highly educated and ultra-sophisticated literary artist who dabbled compulsively in political engagement and thrill-seeking; a thoughtful Catholic communicant with a pronounced agnostic strain and a querulous skepticism; and a frequently overemotional romantic too easily tempted away from the theoretical ideal of fidelity. He worked irregularly as a film reviewer, publisher's executive, journalist and, briefly, for the British Secret Intelligence Service in wartime. At the same time he produced a impressive enormity of work, including classic novels (The Heart of the Matter, The Power and the Glory), memorable film scripts ("The Third Man," "The Fallen Idol"), superlative political commentary (including a heartfelt memoir of his friendship with Panamanian strongman Omar Torrijos) and thousands of letters, from which British scholar Richard Greene (English/Univ. of Toronto)—no relation—has chosen wisely. Few writers since Marco Polo have written so incisively about countless faraway places visited: Europe, Africa, the Far East, "Papa Doc" Duvalier's Haiti, Vietnam during the war he rigorously opposed, Central and South America in his later years. Letters to his first wife Vivien and his primary (and favorite) mistress Catherine Walston evince a moral instability for which it seems Greene tried to atone by putting himself in perpetual danger. Generous exchanges with contemporary writers—notably Evelyn Waugh, Muriel Spark and R.K. Narayan—show that he never lost his keeninterest in the more rarefied air of the literary world. As Greene grew older and increasingly enfeebled by leukemia, he still maintained the energy to take up a cause (e.g., the Soviet Union's mistreatment of dissident intellectuals), lambaste America's global naïveté during the Reagan years or put an overweening biographer in his place.

A key addition to Greene's matchless oeuvre.

From the Publisher
"Graham Greene: A Life in Letters, edited by University of Toronto English professor and poet Richard Greene (unrelated), provides a rich tapestry of insight, revelation and discovery that will satisfy the curiosity of the fan as well as that of the scholar. Drawing selectively on a wide range of his correspondence — publishers, lovers, family members, writers, clerics, film directors and political figures — Richard Greene allows Graham Greene to unfold warts and all." -

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393066425
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 12/8/2008
  • Pages: 480
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Greene (no relation) was educated at Oxford University and is now an associate professor at the University of Toronto. His next book is a biography of British poet Edith Sitwell. He lives in Cobourg, Ontario.

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Table of Contents

Over the Border: The Letters of Graham Greene
1 The Early Years 1
2 The Man Within 31
3 The Power and the Glory 77
4 The Heart of the Matter 111
5 The End of the Affair 165
6 A Burnt-Out Case 230
7 The Comedians 268
8 The Honorary Consul 294
9 The Human Factor 336
10 The Last Word 387 Abbreviations 424 App The Comma and the Applecart 428 Index 433
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  • Posted March 16, 2009

    Insight into an author

    This book of non-fiction is a series of letters written by the novelist, Graham Greene and documented by the author, Richard Greene who, incidentally, is no relation. If you are a lover of facts and history, as well as literature, you will enjoy these letters which give a wonderful insight into the man, Graham Greene. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the letters and the notes, which accompanied each letter, written by Richard Greene, added a fascinating dimension to the book.

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