Ways of Escape, p.1Graham Greene
About the Book
About the Author
Also by Graham Greene
About the Book
‘Marvellously rich’ William Trevor, Guardian
With superb skill and feeling, Graham Greene retraces the experiences and encounters of his extraordinary life. His restlessness is legendary; as if seeking out danger, Greene travelled to Haiti during the nightmare rule of Papa Doc, Vietnam in the last days of the French, Kenya during the Mau Mau rebellion. With ironic delight he recalls his time in the British Secret Service in Africa, and his brief involvement in Hollywood. He writes, as only he can, about people and places, about faith, doubt, fear and, not least, the trials and craft of writing.
About the Author
Graham Greene was born in 1904. On coming down from Balliol College, Oxford, he worked for four years as sub-editor on The Times. He established his reputation with his fourth novel, Stamboul Train. In 1935 he made a journey across Liberia, described in Journey Without Maps, and on his return was appointed film critic of the Spectator. In 1926 he was received into the Roman Catholic Church and visited Mexico in 1938 to report on the religious persecution there. As a result he wrote The Lawless Roads and, later, his famous novel The Power and the Glory. Brighton Rock was published in 1938 and in 1940 he became literary editor of the Spectator. The next year he undertook work for the Foreign Office and was stationed in Sierra Leone from 1941 to 1943. This later produced the novel, The Heart of the Matter, set in West Africa.
As well as his many novels, Graham Greene wrote several collections of short stories, four travel books, six plays, three books of autobiography – A Sort of Life, Ways of Escape and A World of My Own (published posthumously) – two of biography and four books for children. He also contributed hundreds of essays, and film and book reviews, some of which appear in the collections Reflections and Mornings in the Dark. Many of his novels and short stories have been filmed and The Third Man was written as a film treatment. Graham Greene was a member of the Order of Merit and a Companion of Honour. He died in April 1991.
ALSO BY GRAHAM GREENE
The Man Within
It’s a Battlefield
A Gun for Sale
The Confidential Agent
The Ministry of Fear
The Third Man
The End of the Affair
The Quiet American
A Burnt-out Case
Dr Fischer of Geneva or The Bomb Party
The Tenth Man
England Made Me
The Power and the Glory
The Heart of the Matter
The Fallen Idol
Loser Takes All
Our Man in Havana
Travels with my Aunt
The Human Factor
The Honorary Consul
The Captain and the Enemy
The Last Word and Other Stories
May We Borrow Your Husband?
Journey Without Maps
The Lawless Roads
In Search of a Character
Getting to Know the General
Mornings in the Dark
A Sort of Life
Fragments of an Autobiography
A World of my Own
Lord Rochester’s Monkey
An Impossible Woman
The Little Train
The Little Horse-Bus
The Little Steamroller
The Little Fire Engine
Ways of Escape
As my body continues on its journey,
my thoughts keep turning back and bury
themselves in days past.
to his mother,
November 23, 1849
When I wrote a fragment of autobiography under the title A Sort of Life I closed the record at the age of about twenty-seven. I felt then that the future years belonged as much to others as to myself. I couldn’t infringe their copyright.… They had a right to privacy, and it was impossible to deal with my private life without involving theirs. All the same I had tasted the pleasure – often enough a sad pleasure – of remembering and so I began a series of introductions to the Collected Edition of my books, looking back on the circumstances in which the books were conceived and written. They too were after all ‘a sort of life’.
I have added essays which I have written occasionally on episodes in my life and on some of the troubled places in the world where I have found myself involved for no good reason, though I can see now that my travels, as much as the act of writing, were ways of escape. As I have written elsewhere in this book, ‘Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear which is inherent in the human situation.’ Auden noted: ‘Man needs escape as he needs food and deep sleep.’
More rarely than might be supposed the places I visited proved sources for my novels. I wasn’t seeking sources, I stumbled on them, though perhaps a writer’s instinct may have been at work when I bought my return ticket to Saigon or Port-au-Prince or Asunción. So here is what I wrote of Haiti before I thought of The Comedians, of Paraguay which was to form a chapter in Travels with my Aunt. Yet the Emergency in Malaya produced no novel, nor did the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya. Not even a short story emerged from the occasion when I was deported by the American authorities from Puerto Rico or from my experience of the Communist takeover in Prague in 1948. Poland in the Stalinist 1950s left the novelist’s imagination untouched, and yet and yet… Politics since 1933 have taken an increasing place in my novels, and perhaps the Mau Mau prepared me for the more sinister Tontons Macoute and my apprehensions of ambush in Malaya lent an extra dimension to the fears which I sometimes experienced in Vietnam. I have included little from the articles I wrote on the French war there, for the American war made the earlier struggle seem a century away, and no one now can feel interest in such vanished characters as the Emperor Boa-Dai and Prince Buu-Loc.
Those parts of a life most beloved of columnists remain outside the scope of this book. The ‘copyright’ of others’ lives I hope I have continued to observe.
Rather less than half of this book has appeared, though revised, cut and sometimes enlarged, in the introductions to the Collected Edition of my books published by The Bodley Head and William Heinemann and to The Pleasure Dome published by Secker and Warburg. Other portions have appeared in the Sunday Times, The Times, the Sunday Telegraph, the Spectator, the Month, the London Magazine, and Life. I must apologise to readers of A Sort of Life for a little overlapping between the end of that book and the beginning of this.
What a long road it has been. Half a century has passed since I wrote The Man Within, m
Why has the opening line of that story stuck in my head when I have forgotten all the others I have written since? It is not a good line, for it has the ring of verse rather than prose; I have thought of changing it, but it would seem like a betrayal of my young self. ‘He came over the top of the down as the last light failed and could almost have cried with relief at sight of the wood below.’ I can hear my mother at that moment saying, ‘If Miss Norah has the best spare room, we will have to put Mr…’
Perhaps the reason I remember the scene so clearly is that for me it was the last throw of the dice in a game I had practically lost. Two novels had been refused by every publisher I tried. If this book failed too I was determined to abandon the stupid ambition of becoming a writer. I would settle down to the safe and regular life of a sub-editor in Room 2 of The Times – in a year my probation would be over, I would rise to the minimum salary of nine guineas a week, and then I could just afford to marry. It was a career as settled as the Civil Service – no one was ever sacked from The Times, and in the end there would be a pension and I would receive a clock with a plaque carrying my name. As it happened I didn’t have to wait so long for the clock – I got it a year later when I married, and for a long while after I had left The Times I felt a sense of guilt in front of the bold typeface on the mantelpiece which reminded me of the clock hanging over the main entrance in Queen Victoria Street. It always seemed to indicate that four in the afternoon was approaching and I ought to be on my way to join my companions in Room 2.
I hesitated some days before writing that opening sentence – it was a commitment. Hadn’t I embarked twice before on what for months had seemed an interminable toil? It would be so much easier to resign myself, to give up all idea of escape. Why escape in those days? From what? I was happy on The Times.
I had finished my first novel when I was still at Oxford, after the unwise publication of a volume of verse, which is now an expensive curiosity for collectors. The subject, like so many first novels, was childhood and unhappiness. The first chapter described the hero’s birth in an old country house. It seemed to me at the time a piece of rich evocative writing, and so it tried to be, but of the Jacobean rhythms of Walter de la Mare’s prose rather than of personal experience. By a mistaken application of the Mendelian theory I told the story of a black child born of white parents – a throwback to some remote ancestor. (I hadn’t then learned of my great-uncle Charles and the thirteen children he was said to have left behind him in St Kitts when he died of yellow fever at nineteen.) There followed in my novel a hushed-up childhood and a lonely colour-barred life at school, but to me even then the end seemed badly botched, and I can see that it was strangely optimistic for one of my temperament. I made the young man find a kind of content by joining a ship at Cardiff as a Negro deckhand, so escaping from the middle class and his sense of being an outsider. Escape again. I suspect that the word will chime from the title page on throughout this book.
A.D. Peters, a literary agent then new to the game, encouraged me to believe that the book was publishable. The months passed, the tone of his letters changed from enthusiasm to cold second thoughts, finally hope died, but by that time a second novel was under way.
I had been reading Carlyle’s Life of John Sterling, the only work of that great Scottish bore I have ever enjoyed. Carlyle provided the setting – Leicester Square in Victorian London, the haunt of Spanish refugees from the Carlist wars. Another young Englishman, anxious, like the black boy, to escape from his class, becomes involved in plots against the Spanish Government. Walter de la Mare (under the influence of Henry James) gave place to the later Conrad of The Arrow of Gold when he was writing under the same influence. Revolution and a Spanish setting – as a schoolboy I had envied the fate of Wilfred Ewart who had been shot accidentally during the Pancho Villa rising in Mexico. It had seemed to me a glamorous end in a glamorous country. Indeed my love affair with Spanish America and violent death only faded a little when I saw the pistoleros for myself years later during the voyage in Mexico which I described in The Lawless Roads.
I can’t remember now what kind of fate overtook my hero who divided his time between the solid Belgravia house of his parents and the refugee dives of Soho. I know there was a love affair which depended heavily on that unbearable woman, Conrad’s Doña Rita. I don’t think he ever went nearer to Spain than Leicester Square, for I was paying a great deal of attention to unity and ‘the point of view’ after studying Percy Lubbock’s admirable primer, The Craft of Fiction. I called the novel rather drably The Episode and that was all it proved to be. It never found a publisher – A.D. Peters even refused to handle it – and how grateful I was to him later.
So it was I began to plan the third novel, which I expected to be my last.
Lying in a general ward of Westminster Hospital, before returning to my parents’ home to convalesce after the operation, I made a small jump back in time from the days of the Carlist refugees to the days of smugglers in Sussex. Now, if I ask myself why, I have no answer. Was it that I was half consciously aware I knew too little of the contemporary world to treat it? That the past was more accessible because it was contained in books, such as the history of smuggling which I read in my hospital bed?
The Man Within had the temporary success that a first novel sometimes has through the charity of reviewers, and twenty years later a certain Mr Sidney Box made a highly coloured film of it. I had not sold him the rights – I had given them for a token payment to a documentary film director with whom I had once worked on a propaganda film for what was then called Imperial Airways. He told me that with this book he had the chance of making his first feature film. Well, at least he made a profit from the resale to Mr Box, and Mr Box made his film with an extraordinary script which showed torture with branding irons as part of the nineteenth-century legal system. The film unlike the book did not suffer from youth or naïveté, and I received a letter from Istanbul written by a Turk who praised the picture for its daring homosexuality. Had I, he asked, devoted any other novels to this interesting subject? After the experience I added a clause to every film contract forbidding a resale to Mr Box. In a way I was hurt by this treachery to my first-born more than by the later treachery of Mr Joseph Mankiewicz when he made a film of The Quiet American. I was confident that the later book would survive the film, but The Man Within was a more feeble growth. If I had been a publisher’s reader, which I became many years afterwards, I would have turned it down unhesitatingly. Yet a mystery remains. How could Aldous Huxley write of it so kindly in a letter to a friend, absurdly preferring it to Virginia Woolf’s latest novel? Why did it bring me rather frightening friendships with two formidable characters, Lady Ottoline Morrell and Mrs Belloc Lowndes, and why did Jacques Maritain choose to publish it in France in a series which included Julien Green? I agreed at Maritain’s request to delete a few lines from a sexual scene. To be censored by the French seemed to me then like an accolade.
I have another reason for remembering L’Homme et Lui-Même, as the novel was called in French. Writing a novel is a little like putting a message into a bottle and flinging it into the sea – unexpected friends or enemies retrieve it. My French tra
My second and third novels, The Name of Action and Rumour at Nightfall, published in 1930 and 1931, can now be found, I am glad to think, only in secondhand bookshops at an exaggerated price, since some years after their publication I suppressed them. Both books are of a badness beyond the power of criticism properly to evoke – the prose flat and stilted and in the case of Rumour at Nightfall pretentious (the young writer had obviously been reading again and alas! admiring Conrad’s worst novel, The Arrow of Gold), the characterisation non-existent.
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