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The Quiet American  
1st edition
Author Graham Greene
Cover artist Brian Cronin
Country England
Language English
Genre(s) War novel
Publisher William Heinemann London
Publication date December 1955
Media type Print

The Quiet American (1955) is a novel by British author Graham Greene. It was adapted into films in 1958 and 2002.



The Quiet American is one of Greene's later books, published in 1955, and draws on his experiences as a SIS agent spying for Britain in World War II in Sierra Leone in the early 1940s and on winters spent from 1951 to 1954 in Saigon reporting on the French colonial war for The Times and Le Figaro. He was apparently inspired to write The Quiet American in October 1951 while driving back to Saigon from the Ben Tre province. He was accompanied by an American aid worker who lectured him about finding a “third force in Vietnam”. Greene spent three years writing it.

Thomas Fowler is a British journalist in his fifties who has been covering the French war in Viet Nam for over two years. He meets a young American idealist named Alden Pyle, who is a student of York Harding. Harding's theory is that neither Communism nor colonialism are the answer in foreign lands like Viet Nam, but rather a "Third Force," usually a combination of traditions, works best. Unlike most Americans, Pyle is thoughtful and soft-spoken. Fowler finds him naïve.

The two men meet accidentally at the Continental, a popular Saigon hotel. Pyle dances with Fowler's live-in lover, Phuong. Only twenty years old, Phuong is considered the most beautiful girl in Saigon. Her sister's goal in life is to marry Phuong off to a rich European; she does not like Fowler because he is married. Fowler and Pyle meet again at the Continental. Some vulgar Americans and Brits who have been drinking too much go off to the House of Five Hundred Women. Pyle goes with them, but cannot handle himself among the prostitutes because he is too naïve. Fowler rescues him. Later that night Pyle seems protective of Phuong.

Fowler goes to the city of Phat Diem to cover a battle there. Pyle travels there to tell him that he has been in love with Phuong since the first night he saw her, and that he wants to marry her. They make a toast to nothing and Pyle leaves the next day. Fowler gets a letter from Pyle thanking him for being so nice about Phuong. The letter is annoying because of Pyle's complete confidence that Phuong will choose to marry him. Meanwhile, Fowler's editor wants him to transfer back to England.

Pyle comes to Fowler's place and they ask her to choose between them. She chooses Fowler, her lover of two years. She does not know that he is up for a transfer. Fowler writes his wife to ask for a divorce in front of Phuong.

Fowler and Pyle meet again in a war zone. They end up captive in a tower, and spend an extraordinary night talking about everything from sex to God. As they escape, Pyle saves Fowler's life. Fowler goes back to Saigon where he lies to Phuong that his wife will divorce him. Pyle exposes the lie and Phuong moves in with Pyle. Fowler investigates Pyle's activities more closely and finds out that Pyle is importing military supplies into Viet Nam from the United States. Fowler goes into the war zone and does some serious reporting.

When Fowler returns to Saigon, he goes to Pyle's office to confront him but Pyle is out. Pyle comes over later for drinks and they talk about his upcoming marriage to Phuong. Later that week there is a terrible explosion and many innocents are killed. Fowler puts the pieces together and realizes that Pyle is behind the bombing. Fowler decides that Pyle must be eliminated. His naïve theories and interference are causing innocent people to die. Fowler takes part in a murder plot against Pyle. Although the police believe that Fowler is involved, they cannot prove anything. Fowler goes back to Phuong as if nothing had ever happened.

Major characters

Thomas Fowler is a British journalist in his fifties who has been covering the French war in Vietnam for over two years. He has become a very jaded and cynical man. He meets Alden Pyle and finds him naïve.

Alden Pyle is the "quiet American" of the title. Pyle is thoughtful, soft-spoken, intellectual, serious, and idealistic. He comes from a privileged East Coast background. His father is a renowned professor of underwater erosion who has appeared on the cover of Time magazine; his mother is well respected in their community. Pyle is a brilliant graduate of Harvard University. He has studied theories of government and society, and is particularly devoted to a scholar named York Harding. Harding's theory is that neither Communism nor colonialism is the answer in foreign lands like Vietnam, but rather a "Third Force", usually a combination of traditions, works best. Pyle has read Harding's numerous books many times and has absorbed Harding's thinking as his own.

Phuong, Fowler’s lover at the beginning of the novel, is a beautiful young Vietnamese girl who stays with him for security and protection, and leaves him for the same reason. She is viewed by Fowler as a companion to be taken for granted and by Pyle as a delicate flower to be protected, but Greene never makes clear which, if either, of these views is actually the truth. Pyle's desire for Phuong was largely interpreted by critics to parallel his desire for a non-communist south Vietnam. Her character is never fully developed or revealed. She is never able to show her emotions, as her older sister makes decisions for her. She is named after, but not based on, a Vietnamese friend of Greene’s.

Vigot, a French inspector at the Sûreté, investigates Pyle's death. He is a man torn between doing his duty (pursuing Pyle's death and questioning Fowler) and doing what is best for the country (letting the matter go). He and Fowler are oddly akin in some ways, both faintly cynical and weary of the world; hence their discussion of Blaise Pascal. But they are divided by the differences in their faith: Vigot is a Roman Catholic and Fowler an atheist.

Literary significance and reception

After its publication in the U.S. in 1956, the novel was widely condemned as anti-American. It was criticized by The New Yorker for portraying Americans as murderers, largely based on one scene in which a bomb explodes in a crowd of people. According to critic Philip Stratford, “American readers were incensed, perhaps not so much because of the biased portrait of obtuse and destructive American innocence and idealism in Alden Pyle, but because in this case it was drawn with such acid pleasure by a middle-class English snob like Thomas Fowler whom they were all too ready to identify with Greene himself”.[1] However, it was popular in England and over the years has achieved notable status, being adapted into films in 1958 and most recently in 2002 by Miramax, starring Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser and earning the former a Best Actor nomination.

Allusions and references

Blaise Pascal's Pensées, specifically "The Wager" - “Let us weigh the gain and the loss, in wagering that God is, let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing.”

Fowler claims that he is not a Berkeleian, a reference to the ideas of George Berkeley.

Fowler quotes part of Arthur Hugh Clough's poem "Spectator Ab Extra"[2] to Pyle, and Clough's "Amours de Voyage"[3] is included in the preface.


Allusions to history, geography and social conditions

The novel is set during the First Indochina War and lists cities such as Saigon, Haiphong, and Hanoi. Though fiction, it mentions and involves actual people and groups, such as the Vietminh and Trinh Minh The. The book contains a detailed description of the syncretic Cao Dai religion of Tay Ninh province.

Publication history

This novel was first published in Great Britain in 1955 by William Heinemann Ltd. It was first published in the United States in 1956 by the Viking Press, Inc. The ISBN of the American edition is 0-09-947839-0.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations


External links

  • This book was quoted by George W. Bush in a speech before the Veterans of Foreign Wars Bush's Quiet Americans

Graham Greene
Born Henry Graham Greene
2 October 1904(1904-10-02)
Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, England
Died 3 April 1991 (aged 86)
Vevey, Switzerland
Occupation Novelist
Short story writer
Nationality British
Period 1925–1991
Genres Literary fiction, thriller

Henry Graham Greene, OM, CH (2 October 1904 – 3 April 1991) was an English author, playwright and literary critic. His works explore the ambivalent moral and political issues of the modern world. Greene was notable for his ability to combine serious literary acclaim with widespread popularity.

Although Greene objected strongly to being described as a Roman Catholic novelist rather than as a novelist who happened to be Catholic, Catholic religious themes are at the root of much of his writing, especially the four major Catholic novels: Brighton Rock, The Power and the Glory, The Heart of the Matter and The End of the Affair.[1] Several works such as The Confidential Agent, The Third Man, The Quiet American, Our Man in Havana and The Human Factor also show an avid interest in the workings of international politics and espionage.

Greene suffered from bipolar disorder,[2] which had a profound effect on his writing and personal life. In a letter to his wife Vivien he told her that he had "a character profoundly antagonistic to ordinary domestic life", and that "unfortunately, the disease is also one's material".[3]



A stranger with no shortage of calling cards: devout Catholic, lifelong adulterer, pulpy hack, canonical novelist; self-destructive, meticulously disciplined, deliriously romantic, bitterly cynical; moral relativist, strict theologian, salon communist, closet monarchist; civilized to a stuffy fault and louche to drugged-out distraction, anti-imperialist crusader and postcolonial parasite, self-excoriating and self-aggrandizing, to name just a few.

The Nation, describing the many facets of Graham Greene [4]

Early years

Greene was born Henry Graham Greene in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, the fourth of six children. His younger brother, Hugh, became Director-General of the BBC, his elder brother, Raymond, an eminent physician and mountaineer.

His parents, Charles Henry Greene and Marion Raymond Greene, were first cousins, members of a large, influential family, that included the Greene King brewery owners, bankers, and businessmen. Charles Greene was Second Master at Berkhamsted School, the headmaster of which was Dr Thomas Fry, who was married to a cousin of Charles. Another cousin was the right-wing pacifist Ben Greene, whose politics led to his internment during World War II.

In 1910 Charles Greene succeeded Dr. Fry as headmaster. Graham attended the school. Bullied, and profoundly depressed as a boarder, he made several suicide attempts, some, as he claimed in his autobiography, by Russian roulette. In 1920 at age 16 he was psychoanalysed for six months in London, afterwards returning to school as a day boy. School friends included Claud Cockburn the satirist, and Peter Quennell the historian.

In 1925, while an undergraduate at Balliol College, Oxford, his first work, a poorly received volume of poetry entitled Babbling April, was published.[5]


After graduating with a second-class degree in history,[5] Greene took up journalism, first on the Nottingham Journal,[6] and then as a sub-editor on The Times. While in Nottingham he started corresponding with Vivien Dayrell-Browning, a Catholic convert, who had written to him to correct him on a point of Catholic doctrine. Greene converted to Catholicism in 1926 (described in A Sort of Life) when he was baptised in February of that year.[7] He married Vivien in 1927; and they had two children, Lucy Caroline (b. 1933) and Francis (b. 1936). In 1948 Greene separated from Vivien. Although he had other relationships, he never divorced or remarried.

Novels and other works

Greene's first published novel was The Man Within (1929). Favourable reception emboldened him to quit his sub-editor job at The Times and work as a full-time novelist. However, the next two books, The Name of Action (1930) and Rumour at Nightfall (1932), were unsuccessful; and he later disowned them. His first true success was Stamboul Train (1932), adapted as the film Orient Express (1934). Most of his novels would be so adapted.

He supplemented his novelist's income with freelance journalism, book and film reviews for The Spectator, and co-editing the magazine Night and Day, which folded in 1937. Greene's film review of Wee Willie Winkie, featuring nine-year-old Shirley Temple, cost the magazine a lost libel lawsuit. Greene's review stated that Temple displayed "a dubious coquetry" which appealed to "middle-aged men and clergymen".[8] It is now considered one of the first criticisms of the sexualisation of children for entertainment.

In 1973, Greene had an uncredited cameo appearance as an insurance company representative in François Truffaut's film Day for Night. On the DVD of the movie, it was reported that Greene was a big admirer of Truffaut, and had always wanted to meet him, so as it turned out, when the small part came up where he actually talks to the director, he was delighted to have the opportunity. Truffaut was apparently unhappy not to have been told at the time that the actor playing the insurance company representative was Greene, as he would have liked to say hello, being an admirer of Greene's work.

Greene originally divided his fiction into two genres: thrillers (mystery and suspense books), such as The Ministry of Fear, which he described as entertainments, often with notable philosophic edges, and literary works, such as The Power and the Glory, which he described as novels, on which he thought his literary reputation was to be based.[9]

As his career lengthened, both Greene and his readers found the distinction between entertainments and novels increasingly problematic. The last book Greene termed an entertainment was Our Man in Havana in 1958. When Travels with My Aunt was published eleven years later, many reviewers noted that Greene had designated it a novel, even though, as a work decidedly comic in tone, it appeared closer to his last two entertainments, Loser Takes All and Our Man in Havana, than to any of the novels. Greene, they speculated, seemed to have dropped the category of entertainment. This was soon confirmed. In the Collected Edition of Greene's works published in 22 volumes between 1970 and 1982, the distinction between novels and entertainments is no longer maintained. All are novels.

Greene also wrote short stories and plays, which were well-received, although he was always first and foremost a novelist. He collected the 1948 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for The Heart of the Matter.

Greene was awarded Britain's Order of Merit in 1986.

In 2009 The Strand Magazine began to publish in serial form a newly discovered Greene novel entitled The Empty Chair. The manuscript was written in longhand when Greene was 22 and newly converted to Catholicism.


Throughout his life Greene travelled far from England, to what he called the world's wild and remote places. The travels led to him being recruited into MI6 by his sister, Elisabeth, who worked for the organisation; and he was posted to Sierra Leone during the Second World War. Kim Philby, who would later be revealed as a Soviet double agent, was Greene's supervisor and friend at MI6.[10][11] As a novelist he wove the characters he met and the places where he lived into the fabric of his novels.

Greene first left Europe at 30 years of age in 1935 on a trip to Liberia that produced the travel book Journey Without Maps. His 1938 trip to Mexico, to see the effects of the government's campaign of forced anti-Catholic secularisation, was paid for by Longman's, thanks to his friendship with Tom Burns.[12] That voyage produced two books, the factual The Lawless Roads (published as Another Mexico in the U.S.) and the novel The Power and the Glory. In 1953 the Holy Office informed Greene that The Power and the Glory was damaging to the reputation of the priesthood; but later, in a private audience with Greene, Pope Paul VI told him that, although parts of his novels would offend some Catholics, he should not pay attention to the criticism.[13] Greene travelled to the Haiti of François Duvalier, alias "Papa Doc", where occurred the story of The Comedians (1966). The owner of the Hotel Oloffson in Port-au-Prince, where Greene frequently stayed, named a room in his honour.

There is so much weariness and disappointment in travel that people have to open up — in railway trains, over a fire, on the decks of steamers, and in the palm courts of hotels on a rainy day. They have to pass the time somehow, and they can pass it only with themselves. Like the characters in Chekhov, they have no reserves — you learn the most intimate secrets. You get an impression of a world peopled by eccentrics, of odd professions, almost incredible stupidities, and, to balance them, amazing endurances.

Graham Greene

Final years

After his apparently benign involvement in a financial scandal, Greene chose to leave Britain in 1966, moving to Antibes, to be close to Yvonne Cloetta, whom he had known since 1959, a relationship that endured until his death. In 1981 he was awarded the Jerusalem Prize, awarded to writers concerned with the freedom of the individual in society. One of his final works, the pamphlet J'Accuse — The Dark Side of Nice (1982), concerns a legal matter embroiling him and his extended family in Nice. He declared that organized crime flourished in Nice, because the city's upper levels of civic government had protected judicial and police corruption. The accusation provoked a libel lawsuit that he lost.[14] In 1994, after his death, he was vindicated, when the former mayor of Nice, Jacques Médecin, was imprisoned for corruption and associated crimes.

He lived the last years of his life in Vevey, on Lake Geneva, in Switzerland, the same town Charlie Chaplin was living in at this time. He visited Chaplin often, and the two were good friends.[15] His book Doctor Fischer of Geneva or the Bomb Party (1980) bases its themes on combined philosophic and geographic influences. He had ceased going to mass and confession in the 1950s, but in his final years began to receive the sacraments again from Father Leopoldo Durán, a Spanish priest, who became a friend. He died at age 86 of a blood disease in 1991 and was buried in Corsier-sur-Vevey cemetery.

Greene's literary agent was Jean LeRoy of Pearn, Pollinger & Higham.

Writing style and themes

The literary style of Graham Greene was described by Evelyn Waugh in Commonweal as "not a specifically literary style at all. The words are functional, devoid of sensuous attraction, of ancestry, and of independent life". Commenting on this lean, realistic prose and its readability, Richard Jones wrote in the Virginia Quarterly Review that "nothing deflects Greene from the main business of holding the reader's attention."[16] His cinematic visual sense led to most of his novels being made into films,[17] such as Brighton Rock in 1947, The End of the Affair in 1955 and 1999, and The Quiet American in 1958 and 2002. He also wrote several original screenplays. In 1949, after writing the novella as "raw material", he wrote the screenplay for the classic film noir, The Third Man, featuring Orson Welles. In 1983 Greene's novel, The Honorary Consul, published ten years earlier, was made into a famous Hollywood movie, entitled Beyond the Limit in the U.S., featuring Michael Caine and Richard Gere. Michael Korda, the famous author and Hollywood script-writer, contributed the foreword and introduction to this novel in a commemorative edition. Greene concentrated on portraying the characters' internal lives – their mental, emotional, and spiritual depths. His stories often occurred in poor, hot, and dusty tropical backwaters, such as Mexico, West Africa, Vietnam, Cuba, Haiti, and Argentina, which led to the coining of the expression "Greeneland" to describe such settings.[18]

His novels often have religious themes at the centre. In his literary criticism he attacked the modernist writers Virginia Woolf and E. M. Forster, for having lost the religious sense, which, he argued, resulted in dull, superficial characters, who "wandered about like cardboard symbols through a world that is paper-thin".[19] Only in recovering the religious element, the awareness of the drama of the struggle in the soul carrying the infinite consequences of salvation and damnation, and of the ultimate metaphysical realities of good and evil, sin and divine grace, could the novel recover its dramatic power. Suffering and unhappiness are omnipresent in the world Greene depicts; and Catholicism is presented against a background of unvarying human evil, sin, and doubt. V. S. Pritchett praised Greene as the first English novelist since Henry James to present, and grapple with, the reality of evil.[20]

The novels often powerfully portray the Christian drama of the struggles within the individual soul from the Catholic perspective. Greene was criticised for certain tendencies in an unorthodox direction — in the world, sin is omnipresent to the degree that the vigilant struggle to avoid sinful conduct is doomed to failure, hence not central to holiness. Friend and fellow Catholic Evelyn Waugh attacked that as a revival of the Quietist heresy. This aspect of his work also was criticised by the theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, as giving sin a mystique.

Greene responded that constructing a vision of pure faith and goodness in the novel was beyond his talents. Praise of Greene from an orthodox Catholic point of view by Edward Short is in Crisis Magazine,[20] and a mainstream Catholic critique is presented by Joseph Pearce.[21]

Catholicism's prominence decreased in the later writings. According to Ernest Mandel in his "Delightful Murder: a Social History of the Crime Story": "Greene started out as a conservative agent of the British intelligence services, upholding such reactionary causes as the struggle of the Catholic Church against the Mexican revolution (The Power and the Glory, 1940), and arguing the necessary merciful function of religion in a context Of human misery (Brighton Rock, 1938; The Heart of the Matter, 1948). However, the better he came to know the socio-political realities of the third world where he was operating, and the more directly he came to be confronted by the rising tide of revolution in those countries, the more his doubts regarding the imperialist cause grew, and the more his novels shifted away from any identification with the latter."[22] The supernatural realities that haunted the earlier work declined and were replaced by a humanistic perspective, a change reflected in his public criticism of orthodox Catholic teaching. Left-wing political critiques assumed greater importance in his novels: for example, years before the Vietnam War, in The Quiet American he prophetically attacked the naive and counterproductive attitudes that were to characterize American policy in Vietnam. The tormented believers he portrayed were more likely to have faith in communism than in Catholicism.

In his later years Greene was a strong critic of American imperialism, and supported the Cuban leader Fidel Castro, whom he had met.[23] For Greene and politics, see also Anthony Burgess' Politics in the Novels of Graham Greene.[24] In Ways of Escape, reflecting on his Mexican trip, he complained that Mexico's government was insufficiently left-wing compared with Cuba's.[25] In Greene's opinion, "Conservatism and Catholicism should be .... impossible bedfellows".[26]

In human relationships, kindness and lies are worth a thousand truths.

—Graham Greene

Despite his seriousness, Graham Greene greatly enjoyed parody, even of himself. In 1949, when the New Statesman held a contest for parodies of Greene's writing style, he submitted an entry under the pen name "N. Wilkinson" and won second prize. His entry comprised the first two paragraphs of a novel, apparently set in Italy, The Stranger's Hand: An Entertainment. Greene's friend, Mario Soldati, a Piedmontese novelist and film director, believed that it had the makings of a suspense film about Yugoslav spies in postwar Venice. Upon Soldati's prompting, Greene continued writing the story as the basis for a film script. Apparently, however, he lost interest in the project, leaving it as a substantial fragment that was published posthumously in The Graham Greene Film Reader (1993) and No Man's Land (2005). The script for The Stranger's Hand was penned by veteran screenwriter Guy Elmes on the basis of Greene's unfinished story, and cinematically rendered by Soldati. In 1965 Greene again entered a similar New Statesman competition pseudonymously, and won an honourable mention.

Graham Greene International Festival

The Graham Greene International Festival is an annual four-day event of conference papers, informal talks, question and answer sessions, films, dramatised readings, music, creative writing workshops and social events. It is organised by the Graham Greene Birthplace Trust, and takes place in the writer's home town of Berkhamsted, on dates as close as possible to the anniversary of his birth. Its purpose is to promote interest in and study of the works of Graham Greene.[27]



  1. ^ Graham Greene, The Major Novels: A Centenary by Kevin McGowin, Eclectica Magazine
  2. ^ Graham Greene: A Life in Letters feature – Times Online[dead link]
  3. ^ "Graham Greene: A Life In Letters – Book Reviews – Books – Entertainment". 2007-11-30. Retrieved 2010-06-02. 
  4. ^ Not Easy Being Greene: Graham Greene's Letters by Michelle Orange, The Nation, 15 April 2009
  5. ^ a b "Graham Greene Biography". Retrieved 2010-06-02. 
  6. ^ "Graham Greene". Retrieved 2010-06-02. 
  7. ^ Greene converted after vigorous arguments with Father Trollope in which he defended atheism. The Power and the Glory New York: Viking, 1990. Introduction by John Updike, p. xiv.
  8. ^ In his review, Greene wrote, "The owners of a child star are like leaseholders—their property diminishes in value every year. Time's chariot is at their back; before them acres of anonymity. Miss Shirley Temple's case, though, has a peculiar interest: infancy is her disguise, her appeal is more secret and more adult. Already two years ago she was a fancy little piece (real childhood, I think, went out after The Littlest Rebel). In Captain January she wore trousers with the mature suggestiveness of a Dietrich: her neat and well-developed rump twisted in the tap-dance: her eyes had a sidelong searching coquetry. Now in Wee Willie Winkie, wearing short kilts, she is completely totsy. Watch her swaggering stride across the Indian barrack-square: hear the gasp of excited expectation from her antique audience when the sergeant's palm is raised: watch the way she measures a man with agile studio eyes, with dimpled depravity. Adult emotions of love and grief glissade across the mask of childhood, a childhood that is only skin-deep. It is clever, but it cannot last. Her admirers—middle-aged men and clergymen—respond to her dubious coquetry, to the sight of her well-shaped and desirable little body, packed with enormous vitality, only because the safety curtain of story and dialogue drops between their intelligence and their desire. See Atkinson, Michael (August 21, 2009 ) "Our Man in London." Moving Image Source.
  9. ^ "Greene, Graham | Authors | Books". 2008-07-22.,,-78,00.html. Retrieved 2010-06-02. 
  10. ^ Robert Royal. "A Journal of Religion, Culture, and Public Life". First Things. Retrieved 2010-06-02. 
  11. ^ "BBC – BBC Four Documentaries – Arena: Graham Greene". 2004-10-03. Retrieved 2010-06-02. 
  12. ^ Graham Greene, Uneasy Catholic Times Literary Supplement, 22 August 2006.
  13. ^ "EUROPE | Vatican's bid to censure Graham Greene". BBC News. 2000-11-03. Retrieved 2010-06-02. 
  14. ^ On the Riviera, A Morality Tale by Graham Greene
  15. ^ "Graham Greene finds no Swiss cuckoo clocks". 2006-05-19. Retrieved 2010-06-02. 
  16. ^ "The Improbable Spy". Retrieved 2010-06-02. 
  17. ^ "Series Details". Retrieved 2010-06-02. 
  18. ^ "Regions of the Mind: The Exoticism of Greeneland". Retrieved 2010-06-02. 
  19. ^ "First Things". 2004-10-09. Retrieved 2010-06-02. 
  20. ^ a b The Catholic Novels of Graham Greene, Crisis Magazine, May 2005.
  21. ^ "Graham Greene –". Retrieved 2010-06-02. 
  22. ^ [1]
  23. ^ Kirjasto.
  24. ^ in Journal of Contemporary History Vol. 2, No. 2, (Apr. 1967), pp. 93–99.
  25. ^ P.xii of John Updike's introduction to The Power and the Glory New York: Viking, 1990.
  26. ^ As cited on p. xii of John Updike's introduction to The Power and the Glory New York: Viking, 1990.
  27. ^

Further reading

  • Allain, Marie-Françoise, 1983. The Other Man: Conversations with Graham Greene. Bodley Head.
  • Bergonzi, Bernard, 2006. A Study in Greene: Graham Greene and the Art of the Novel. Oxford University Press.
  • Bosco, Mark, 2005. Graham Greene's Catholic Imagination. Oxford University Press.
  • Brennan, Michael G. Graham Greene: Fictions, Faith, and Authorship (Continuum; 2010) 173 pages; focuses on Catholicism as a pervasive influence on G's creative imagination.
  • Cassis, A. F. (ed.), 1994. Graham Greene: Man of Paradox. Loyola University Press.
  • Cloetta, Yvonne, 2004. In Search of a Beginning: My Life with Graham Greene, translated by Euan Cameron. Bloomsbury.
  • Diemert, Brian, 1996. Graham Greene's Thrillers and the 1930s. McGill-Queen's University Press.
  • Duran, Leopoldo, 1994. Graham Greene: Friend and Brother, translated by Euan Cameron. HarperCollins.
  • Greene, Richard (ed.), 2007. Graham Greene: A Life in Letters. Little, Brown.
  • Hazzard, Shirley, 2000. Greene on Capri. Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
  • Kelly, Richard Michael, 1984. Graham Greene. Ungar.
  • --------, 1992. Graham Greene: A Study of the Short Fiction. Twayne.
  • Lewis, Jeremy, 2010. Shades of Greene: One Generation of an English Family. Jonathan Cape.
  • O'Prey, Paul, 1988. 'A Reader's Guide to Graham Greene. Thames and Hudson.
  • Shelden, Michael, 1994. Graham Greene: The Man Within. William Heinemann. Random House ed., 1995, ISBN 0-679-42883-6
  • Sherry, Norman, 1989. The Life of Graham Greene: Vol. 1, 1904–1939. Random House UK, ISBN 0-224-02654-2. Viking, ISBN 0-670-81376-1. Penguin reprint 2004, ISBN 0-14-200420-0
  • --------, 1994. The Life of Graham Greene: Vol. 2, 1939–1955. Viking. ISBN 0-670-86056-5. Penguin reprint 2004: ISBN 0-14-200421-9
  • --------, 2004. The Life of Graham Greene: Vol. 3, 1955–1991. Viking. ISBN 0-670-03142-9
  • Watts, Cedric, 1996. A Preface to Greene. Longman.
  • West, W. J., 1997. The Quest for Graham Greene. Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Graham Greene article)

From Wikiquote

It is impossible to go through life without trust: that is to be imprisoned in the worst cell of all, oneself.

Henry Graham Greene, OM, CH (October 2, 1904April 3, 1991) was a prolific English novelist, playwright, short story writer, travel writer and critic whose works explore the ambivalent moral and political issues of the modern world.

See also separate novel page The Heart of the Matter, and see Greene quoted in Donnie Darko.



  • Have you seen a room from which faith has gone?...Like a marriage from which love has gone...And patience, patience everywhere like a fog.
    • The Potting Shed (1957)
  • The economy of a novelist is a little like that of a careful housewife who is unwilling to throw away anything that might perhaps serve its turn. Perhaps the comparison is closer to the Chinese cook who leaves hardly any part of a duck unserved.
  • It is the story-teller's task to elicit sympathy and a measure of understanding for those who lie outside the boundaries of State approval.
    • Speech on receiving the Shakespeare Prize awarded by the University of Hamburg, Germany (1969)
  • Morality comes with the sad wisdom of age, when the sense of curiosity has withered.
    • A Sort of Life, ch. 7, sct. 1 (1971)
  • My two fingers on a typewriter have never connected with my brain. My hand on a pen does. A fountain pen, of course. Ball-point pens are only good for filling out forms on a plane.
    • International Herald Tribune (October 7, 1977)
  • A petty reason perhaps why novelists more and more try to keep a distance from journalists is that novelists are trying to write the truth and journalists are trying to write fiction.
    • Letter to critic Stephen Pile, Sunday Times (London) (January 18, 1981)
  • The world is not black and white. More like black and grey.
    • London Observer (January 2, 1983)
  • That instinct for human character that is perhaps inherent in an imaginative writer.
    • Getting to know the General (1984)
  • A major character has to come somehow out of the unconscious.
  • The moment comes when a character does or says something you hadn't thought about. At that moment he's alive and you leave it to him.
  • You think it more difficult to turn air into wine than to turn wine into blood?
  • Success is more dangerous than failure, the ripples break over a wider coastline.
    • Independent (London, April 4, 1991)

Brighton Rock (1938)

  • You can’t conceive, nor can I, the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God.
    • Part 7, Chapter 11

The Lawless Roads (1939)

  • Perhaps his laughter saved them — it must be difficult to shoot a laughing man: you have to feel important to kill.
  • Its typical of Mexico, of the whole human race perhaps — violence in favour of an ideal and then the ideal lost but the violence just going on.
  • The old lady knelt, saying her 'Hail Mary'; She didn't believe — but among Catholics even the sceptical are courteous.
  • But the great moment was over — here in Orizaba it was like Galilee between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection — all the enthusiasm had been spent.
  • I suppose the love of life which periodically deserts most men was returning: like sexual desire, it moves in cycles.

The Power and the Glory (1940)

  • There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.
    • Pt. I, ch. 1
  • When you visualized a man or woman carefully, you could always begin to feel pity— that was a quality God's image carried with it.
  • Why, after all, should we expect God to punish the innocent with more life?

The Ministry of Fear (1943)

  • It is impossible to go through life without trust: that is to be imprisoned in the worst cell of all, oneself.
    • Bk. 1, ch. 3, sct. 2
  • Thrillers are like life—more like life than you are ... it’s what we’ve all made of the world.
    • Bk. 1, ch. 5
  • A murderer is regarded by the conventional world as something almost monstrous, but a murderer to himself is only an ordinary man.... It is only if the murderer is a good man that he can be regarded as monstrous.
    • Bk. 1, ch. 7, sct. 1
  • Behind the complicated details of the world stand the simplicities: God is good, the grown-up man or woman knows the answer to every question, there is such a thing as truth, and justice is as measured and faultless as a clock. Our heroes are simple: they are brave, they tell the truth, they are good swordsmen and they are never in the long run really defeated. That is why no later books satisfy us like those which were read to us in childhood—for those promised a world of great simplicity of which we knew the rules, but the later books are complicated and contradictory with experience; they are formed out of our own disappointing memories.
    • Bk. 1, ch. 7, sct. 1
  • People don't like reality, they don't like common sense, until age forces it on them.
There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.

The Third Man (1949)

  • The hands of the guilty don't necessarily tremble; only in stories does a dropped glass betray agitation. Tension is more often shown in the studied action.
  • We never get accustomed to being less important to other people than they are to us — Martins felt the little jab of dispensability.
  • No danger anywhere, it seemed to Rollo Martins of that sudden reckless moment when the scent of hair or a hand against the side alters life.
  • We do not choose our concerns.

The End of the Affair (1951)

  • If we had not been taught how to interpret the story of the Passion, would we have been able to say from their actions alone whether it was jealous Judas or the cowardly Peter who loved Christ?
  • I sat on my bed and I said to God: You've taken her, but you haven't got me yet. I know Your cunning. It's You who take us up to a high place and offer us the whole universe. You're a devil, God, tempting us to leap. But I don't want Your peace and I don't want Your love. I wanted something very simple and very easy: I wanted Sarah for a lifetime and You took her away. With Your great schemes You ruin our happiness like a harvester ruins a mouse's nest: I hate You, God, I hate You as though You existed.
  • A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment from which to look back or from which to look ahead.
    • Bk. 1, ch. 1
  • To me comfort is like the wrong memory at the wrong place or time: if one is lonely one prefers discomfort.
    • Bk. 1, ch. 1
  • Sometimes I see myself reflected too closely in other men for comfort, and then I have an enormous wish to believe in the saints, in heroic virtue.
    • Bk. 1, ch. 1
  • I was trying to write a book that simply would not come. I did my daily five hundred words, but the characters never began to live. So much in writing depends on the superficiality of one’s days. One may be preoccupied with shopping and income tax returns and change conversations, but the stream of the unconscious continues to flow undisturbed, solving problems, planning ahead: one sits down sterile and dispirited at the desk, and suddenly the words come as though from the air: the situations that seemed blocked in a hopeless impasse move forward: the work has been done while one slept or shopped or talked with friends. But this hate and suspicion, this passion to destroy went deeper than the book – the unconscious worked on it instead…
    • Bk. 1, ch. 2
  • And all that time I couldn’t work. So much of a novelist’s writing, as I have said, takes place in the unconscious: in those depths the last word is written before the first word appears on the paper. We remember details of our story, we do not invent them. War didn’t trouble those deep sea-caves, but not there was something of infinitely greater importance to me than war, than my novel – the end of love. That was being worked out not, like a story: the pointed word that sent her crying, that seemed to have come so spontaneously to the lips, had been sharpened in those underwater caverns. My novel lagged, but my love hurried like inspiration to the end.
    • Bk. 1, ch. 6
  • The sense of unhappiness is so much easier to convey than that of happiness. In misery we seem aware of our own existence, even though it may be in the form of a monstrous egotism: this pain of mine is individual, this nerve that winces belong to me and to no other. But happiness annihilates us: we lose our identity.
    • Bk. 2, ch. 1

The Quiet American (1955)

  • "God save us always," I said, "from the innocent and the good."
    • Pt. I, ch. 1, pg 15
  • Innocence always calls mutely for protection when we would be so much wiser to guard ourselves against it: innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm.
    • Pt. I, ch. 3, sect. 3
  • “Oh, I’m not a Berkeleian. I believe my back’s against this wall. I believe there’s a sten gun over there.”
    • Pt. II, ch. 2, pg 123
  • The hurt is in the act of possession; we are too small in mind and body to possess another person without pride or to be possessed without humiliation. In a way I was glad my wife had struck out at me again – I had forgotten her pain for too long, and this was the only kind of recompense I could give her. Unfortunately the innocent are always involved in any conflict. Always, everywhere, there is some voice crying from a tower.
    • Pt. II, ch. 3
  • He’ll always be innocent, you can’t blame the innocent, they are always guiltless. All you can do is control them or eliminate them. Innocence is a kind of insanity.
    • Pt. III, ch. 2, pg 216
  • Sooner or has to take sides – if one is to remain human.
    • Pt. IV, ch. 2, pg 230
  • What right had I to value her less than the bodies in the square? Suffering is not increased by numbers; one body can contain all the suffering the world can feel. I had judged like a journalist, in terms of quantity, and I had betrayed my own principles; I had become as engage as Pyle, and it seemed to me that no decision would ever be simple again.
    • Pt. IV, ch. 2, pg 242

Our Man in Havana (1958)

  • In a mad world it always seems simpler to obey.
  • Reality in our century is not something to be faced.
    • Pt. 1, ch. 1, sct. 1
  • Childhood was the germ of all mistrust. You were cruelly joked upon and then you cruelly joked. You lost the remembrance of pain through inflicting it.
    • Pt. 1, ch. 3, sct. 3

A Burnt-Out Case (1960)

  • Those who marry God can become domesticated too—it’s just as hum-drum a marriage as all the others. The word “Love” means a formal touch of the lips as in the ceremony of the Mass, and “Ave Maria” like “dearest” is a phrase to open a letter. This marriage like the world’s marriages was held together by habits and tastes shared in common between God and themselves—it was God’s taste to be worshipped and their taste to worship, but only at stated hours like a suburban embrace on a Saturday night.
    • Pt. 1, ch. 1, sct. 2

The Comedians (1966)

  • Cynicism is cheap—you can buy it at any Monoprix store—it’s built into all poor-quality goods.
    • Pt. 1, ch. 1, sct. 3
  • However great a man’s fear of life, suicide remains the courageous act, the clear-headed act of a mathematician. The suicide has judged by the laws of chance—so many odds against one that to live will be more miserable than to die. His sense of mathematics is greater than his sense of survival. But think how a sense of survival must clamour to be heard at the last moment, what excuses it must present of a totally unscientific nature.
    • Pt. 1, ch. 4, sct. 1
  • I have often noticed that a bribe...has that effect — it changes a relation. The man who offers a bribe gives away a little of his own importance; the bribe once accepted, he becomes the inferior, like a man who has paid for a woman.
    • Pt. 1, ch. 4, sct. 3
  • We mustn’t complain too much of being comedians—it’s an honourable profession. If only we could be good ones the world might gain at least a sense of style. We have failed—that’s all. We are bad comedians, we aren’t bad men.
    • Pt. 1, ch. 5, sct. 2
  • Communism, my friend, is more than Marxism, just as Catholicism ... is more than the Roman Curia. There is a mystique as well as a politique....Catholics and communists have commited great crimes, but at least they have not stood aside, like an established society, and been indifferent. I would rather have blood on my hands than water like Pilate...if you have abandoned one faith, do not abandon all faith. There is always an alternative to the faith we lose. Or is it the same faith under another mask?
    • Pt. 2, ch. 4, sct. 4
  • There is a point of no return, unremarked at the time, in most lives.

Travels with My Aunt (1969)

  • Champagne, if you are seeking the truth, is better than a lie detector. It encourages a man to be expansive, even reckless, while lie detectors are only a challenge to tell lies successfully.
  • I had very good dentures once. Some magnificent gold work. It’s the only form of jewelry a man can wear that women fully appreciate.
    • Pt. 2, ch. 7
  • God...created a number of possibilities in case some of his prototypes failed — that is the meaning of evolution.
    • Pt. 2, ch. 7

The Honorary Consul (1973)

  • It was an evening which, by some mysterious combination of failing light and the smell of an unrecognised plant, brings back to some men the sense of childhood and of future hope and to others the sense of something which has been lost and almost forgotten.
  • Simplicity belonged by right to those who were native-born, those who could take the conditions of life, however bizarre, for granted.
  • Death will come in any case, and there is a long afterwards if the priests are right and nothing to fear if they are wrong.
  • It was not the kind of surroundings in which any one with free will — if such a man existed — would have chosen to await death.

The Human Factor (1978)

  • Our worst enemies here are not the ignorant and the simple, however cruel; our worst enemies are the intelligent and corrupt.
    • Pt. III, ch. 3 (1978)

Monsignor Quixote (1982)

  • "There's a virtue in slowness, which we have lost"
  • "Under my cloak, a fig for the King!"

Short Stories

  • At the end of what is called the "sexual life" the only love which has lasted is the love which has everything, every disappointment, every failure and every betrayal, which has accepted even the sad fact that in the end there is no desire so deep as the simple desire for companionship.
    • May We Borrow Your Husband?

About Graham Greene

  • Barbara wrote that his brain frightened her. It was sharp and clear and cruel. She admired him for being always unsentimental, but noted 'always remember to rely on yourself ... if you are in a sticky place he will be so interested in noting your reactions that he will probably forget to rescue you.'
    • Norman Sherry in his biography The Life of Graham Greene, page 513, reporting Greene's cousin Barbara Greene who travelled to Liberia with him.

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