Graham Greene: An Approach to the Novels

By Robert Hoskins | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO

Letters and Diaries

LETTERS TO VIVIEN

While it is always necessary to be cautious in reading backwards from the works to the life of any author, it is impossible not to see powerful elements of Greene's life and personality in the novels of the first phase. The obsessive themes of betrayal, divided loyalties, the terror of life have long been noted by critics who, with some encouragement from the author, have traced the roots of those themes to Greene's childhood unhappiness and the Berkhamsted School. Yet the very frequency with which these elements have been observed and the ease with which Greene talked about them may have served as a kind of smokescreen behind which other details have passed unobserved. The familiar themes of self-division and the insistent dichotomy between sexual and spiritual love in the early works, for example, have roots not only in the literary sources emphasized by Allott and Farris in their excellent early study of Greene, and not only in what is in some respects a familiar quality of youthful experience, but also in the circumstances of the author's own courtship and marriage.

The sense of self-division was rooted in part in Greene's own uncertainty, ambivalence, and lack of self-understanding. On the one hand he longed for marriage, even a highly spiritualized one, with intense coziness and the superaddition of Catholic mystery; on the other he desired travel, excitement, adventure, the ever-needful escape from

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