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 keen interest 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.