Graham Greene, was an English novelist, short-story writer, playwright, and journalist whose novels treat life’s moral ambiguities in the context of contemporary political settings.
Following the modest success of his first novel The Man Within (1929), Greene quit his job as copy editor for The Times and worked as film critic and literary editor of The Spectator. He travelled widely as a freelance journalist until the 1950s and used his trips to scout locations for novels.
His 1932 thriller, Stamboul Train was the first of his ‘entertainments’ books which combined with spare, tough language and suspenseful plots with moral complexity and depth. Stamboul Trian was the first of Greene’s novels to be made into a film in 1934 and his fifth ‘entertainment’ The Third Man (1949) was originally written as a screenplay for the Director Carol Reed.
Brighton Rock (1938, films 1947 and 2010) shares some of the characteristics of his pacy thrillers – the protagonist is a hunted criminal roaming the underworld of Brighton, but Greene explores the moral attitudes of the main characters with a new depth, including the violent teenage criminal, whose tragic situation is intensified by a Roman Catholic upbringing.
I read Brighton Rock when I was about thirteen. One of the first lessons I took from it was that a serious novel could be an exciting novel – that the novel of adventure could also be the novel of ideas.Ian McEwan
Catholicism became the dominant theme of his finest novel, The Power and the Glory (1940; also published as The Labyrinthine Ways; adapted as the film The Fugitive, 1947). The book follows a weak and alcoholic Priest who tries to fulfil his duties in rural Mexico despite the despite the constant threat of death at the hands of a revolutionary government.
Greene worked for the Foreign Office during World War II and was stationed at Freetown, Sierra Leone, the setting for The Heart of the Matter (1948; film 1953), a novel which traces the decline of a well-meaning British Officer, whose pity for his wife and mistress leads him to commit suicide.
The Quiet American (1956; films 1958 and 2002) chronicles the doings of a well-intentioned American government agent in Vietnam in the midst of the anti-French uprising there in the early 1950s. Our Man in Havana (1958; film 1959) is set in Cuba just before the communist revolution there, while The Comedians (1966; film 1967) is set in Haiti during the rule of François Duvalier.
Throughout his long career Greene’s novels share a preoccupation with sin and moral failure against a backdrop or setting wrought with danger, violence, and physical decay. Despite the downbeat tone of his books, Greene was in fact one of the most widely read British novelists of the 20th century, due to his superb gifts as a storyteller, especially his masterful selection of detail and his use of realistic dialogue in a fast-paced narrative. Throughout his career, Greene was fascinated by film, and he often emulated cinematic techniques in his writing. No other British writer of this period was as aware as Greene of the power and influence of cinema.
Throughout his career he also published several selections of short stories, essays a collection of film criticism.