Robert Murray DavisJune 1, 2009 - 10:45am0 comments
A Life in Letters
Edited by Richard Greene
W. W. Norton, $35, 480 pp.
The popular view of Graham Greene (1904-91) holds that he was, as a person, enigmatic, elusive, or, as editor Richard Greene (no relation) writes, “a fugitive from our inquiries.” Therefore, the editor says, he has selected these letters from thousands “to clear the stage and to give the life back to its subject.”
The person or persona that emerges from the letters is not markedly different, however, from that implied in various biographical sources or for that matter from the authorial voice in the novels and nonfiction. Greene consistently demonstrates sporadic anhedonia, expressed in phrases like “the rather degraded love of success,” the desire to escape “the complacency, ignorance, and well-being” of wartime Sierra Leone “to get back to decent austerity again and at least the possibility of air raids.”
From an early age, Graham Greene needed danger and conflict to stimulate him, as when he said in his twenties, “There’s nothing like a fight to cure depression.” Writing the same year to a friend in France, he promised that “if the riots come on, I’ll be over. I want a few days holiday badly.” This desire to take risks persisted for most of his life.
Richard Greene traces much of his subject’s less attractive behavior to the bipolar disorder that “can lead to suicidal depression, drinking, risk-taking, thrill-seeking, promiscuity, and a desire to seduce and...