From “The Writer’s Almanac”

On a favorite writer of mine:

Today is the birthday of English writer Graham Greene(books by this author), who was born in Hertfordshire in 1904 to Protestant Canon Charles Greene and his wife, Marion, first cousin of Robert Louis Stevenson. Graham, like his three brothers, was educated at the Berkhamsted School, where their father was headmaster, and found essentially his whole childhood, and especially his schooldays, unhappy. In his 1939 travel account, The Lawless Roads, Greene would write, “One met for the first time characters, adult and adolescent, who bore about them the genuine character of evil,” and was so tormented by their bullying that Graham’s parents sent him for psychoanalysis, which only served to set him in a feeling of terrible, pessimistic boredom — of which he notoriously tried to relieve himself by playing Russian roulette.

At Balliol College, Oxford, Greene studied history, began contributing to literary journals, and produced a volume of poetry, Babbling April, which in his adulthood he would anxiously try to suppress. After graduating, Greene became a journalist, got married, and as a result of his marriage was received into the Roman Catholic Church. He later described his conversion as “a purely intellectual one,” but it was certainly a change that had a profound effect upon his work. Greene thought of his work as being divided into two categories: serious, literary novels, which included his epic Catholic books like The Power and the Glory and The End of the Affair; and “entertainments” —Brighton Rock, Our Man in HavanaThe Third Man — thrillers, spy novels, and books of suspense and intrigue. His writing was considered among the most cinematic of 20th-century writers, and most of his novels and many of his plays and short stories would eventually be adapted to film or television.

John Updike considered Greene’s 1939 The Power and the Glory his finest novel, one in which Greene’s particular vision of corruption, his “Greeneland,” is fully realized in its paradoxical ethics and almost heretical fascination with sin and evil. Fourteen years after its publication, on November 17, 1953, Italian Cardinal Giuseppe Pizzardo wrote to the Archbishop of Westminster denouncing the book. The eminences of the Holy Office made clear that Greene had failed “to bring out the victory of the power and the glory of the Lord in spite of man’s wretchedness,” that human wretchedness had carried the day in The Power and the Glory to an extent that it injured “priestly characters and even the priesthood itself.” As a result, the Holy Office begged the Archbishop of Westminster, who was a friend of Greene’s, to use his “accustomed tact” — presumably a diplomatic way of asking the Archbishop to lean on the novelist a little — to exhort the writer to “be more constructive from a Catholic point of view in all his writings, as all good people expect him to be,” and to make major changes to the book in all future editions or translations.

The Archbishop duly corresponded with Greene and a week later the novelist wrote back to say that his friend, the novelist Evelyn Waugh, was indignantly angry on his behalf — saying that Greene had not requested an imprimatur, and so if the Catholic Church wanted detailed alterations then it was their responsibility to make themselves ridiculous by doing so. Waugh concluded in disgust that, since the Church had taken 14 years to react to the book, Greene should take 14 more to respond to their request.

The matter was deeply upsetting for Greene, and while he shared the Holy Office’s correspondence with other members of the priesthood — including Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini, who would become Pope Paul VI — asking for other comments and opinions, Greene answered the letter from Cardinal Pizzardo with an explanation that all he could do, so long after publication, was give them the list of publishers who held the rights and assure them of the profound respect that he felt for “any communication that emanates from the Sacred Congregation.”

Many years later, in a letter to a fan who’d written to tell Greene of the attack of scruples she’d felt while reading The Power and the Gloryback in the 1950s, Greene replied affectionately, “Thank you for what you have to say about my books, and I am sorry that twenty years ago you had scruples! … Perhaps I ought to tell you what Pope Paul said to me in a private interview when I pointed out to him that among the books of mine he had read was The Power and the Glory, which had been condemned by the Holy Office. His reply, was: ‘Parts of all your books will always offend some Catholics and you shouldn’t pay any attention to that.'”

About smkelly8

writer, teacher, movie lover, traveler, reader View all posts by smkelly8

2 responses to “From “The Writer’s Almanac”

  • Part Explanation, Part Rant « Xingu, Volume 2

    […] From “The Writer’s Almanac” ( […]

  • From the Writer’s Almanac « Xingu, Volume 2

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