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Summary Article: Greene, Graham
from Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social, and Military History

Birth Date: October 2, 1904

Death Date: April 3, 1991

British novelist, foreign correspondent, and political activist. Born on October 2, 1904, in Hertfordshire, England, to a well-to-do family, Graham Greene was educated at Baliol College, Oxford. He wrote nine novels between 1929 and 1939. From 1926 to 1930 he was an editor for the Times, and from 1940 to 1941 he was an editor for the Spectator.

During World War II Greene served as an intelligence officer for MI6 in Sierra Leone, an experience with war that provided material for his book The Heart of the Matter (1948). In the immediate postwar years he became increasingly disenchanted with imperialism. From 1944 to 1948 he was director of Eyre and Spottiswoode Publishers, and from 1958 to 1968 he served as director of Bodley Head Publishers.

British novelist Graham Greene (1904-1991) wrote The Quiet American. Published in 1955 and probably his best-known work, it was based on his own observations in Vietnam and chronicled the failures of colonialism. (Bettmann/Corbis)

Greene visited Vietnam four times from 1951 to 1955, filing reports for the Spectator and other magazines. Initially apolitical, Greene’s growing admiration for Ho Chi Minh and his increasing disaffection with General Trinh Minh The, a leader of the Cao Dai army, over his indiscriminate violence in Saigon solidified his disenchantment with colonialism.

Greene’s book The Quiet American (1955), perhaps his best-known work, fictionalizes his observations in Vietnam and chronicles the faults of colonialism. In linking Alden Pyle, a composite character based on Colonel Edward Lansdale and Leo Hochstetter, a member of the American legation in Saigon, with General The, Greene implicated the United States with violent covert operations. Increasingly engaged, the cynical Thomas Fowler, Greene’s alter ego, becomes the novel’s hero when he helps the Viet Minh murder Pyle.

Greene’s attraction to the Third World communism of Ho Chi Minh alienated many American readers. Nevertheless, Greene’s blending of fact into fiction, using a method that he called “rapportage,” greatly influenced American writers such as Michael Herr and Gloria Emerson. Greene’s 1957 book Our Man in Havana was a thinly veiled condemnation of British policies toward the corrupt Fulgencio Batista regime in Cuba and the British refusal to acknowledge the popularity of then-rebel Fidel Castro.

Greene remained engaged in political activism for the rest of his life, and in 1977 he participated in Panama’s delegation to the Canal Treaty negotiations in Washington, D.C. In addition to his novels Greene also penned several screenplays, most notably for the classic film The Third Man (1949). Greene continued to travel and write until his death in Geneva, Switzerland, on April 3, 1991.

See also

Cao Dai; Ho Chi Minh; Lansdale, Edward Geary; Literature and the Vietnam War

  • Adamson, Judith. Graham Greene: The Dangerous Edge. New York: St. Martin’s, 1990.
  • Bergonzi, Bernard. “Graham Greene.” In British Writers, Supplement 1, 1-20. New York: Scribner, 1987.
  • Shelden, Michael. Graham Greene: The Man Within. London: Heinemann, 1994.
  • Sherry, Norman. The Life of Graham Greene. 3 vols. New York: Viking, 2004.
  • Gaspar, Charles J.
    Pierpaoli, Paul G. Jr.
    Copyright 2011 by ABC-CLIO, LLC

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