English novelist, short-story writer, playwright and journalist, whose novels treat moral issues in the context of political settings. Greene is one of the most widely read novelist of the 20th-century, a superb storyteller. Adventure and suspense are constant elements in his novels and many of his books have been made into successful films. Although Greene was a candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature several times, he never received the award.
"The main characters in a novel must necessarily have some kinship to the author, they come out of his body as a child comes from the womb, then the umbilical cord is cut, and they grow into independence. The more the author knows of his own character the more he can distance himself from his invented characters and the more room they have to grow in." (Graham Greene in Ways of Escape, 1980)
Graham Greene was born in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, as the son of Charles Greene and Marion Raymond Greene, a first cousin of the author Robert Louis Stevenson. Greene's father had a poor academic record but became the headmaster of Berkhamsted School, following Dr. Thomas Fry. Charles Greene had a brilliant intellect. Originally he had intended to become a barrister. However, he found that he had liking for teaching and he decided to stay at Berkhamsted. Often his history lessons were less lessons than comments on the crack-up of Liberalism. His brother Graham ended his career as Permanent Secretary at the Admiralty.
Greene was educated at Berkhamstead School and Balliol College, Oxford. He had a natural talent for writing, and during his three years at Balliol, he published more than sixty poems, stories, articles and reviews, most of which appeared in the student magazine Oxford Outlook and in the Weekly Westminster Gazette. In 1926 he converted to Roman Catholicism, later explaining that "I hand to find a religion... to measure my evil against." When critics started to study the religious faith in his work, Greene complained that he hated the term 'Catholic novelist'.
In 1926 Geene moved to London. He worked for the Times of London (1926-30), and for the Spectator, where he was a film critic and a literary editor until 1940. In 1927 he married Vivien Dayrell-Browning. After the collapse of their marriage, he had several relationships, among others in the 1950s with the Swedish actress Anita Björk, whose husband writer Stig Dagerman had committed suicide. During the 1920s and 1930s Greene had, according to his own private reckoning, some sort of of relationship with no less than forty-seven prostitutes. In 1938 Greene began an affair with Dorothy Glover, a theatre costume designer; they were closely involved with each other until the late 1940s. She started a career as a book illustrator under the name 'Dorothy Craigie' and wrote children's books of her own, among them Nicky and Nigger and the Pirate (1960).
During World War II Greene worked "in a silly useless job" as he later said, in an intelligence capacity for the Foreign Office in London, directly under Kim Philby, a future defector to the Soviet Union. One mission took Greene to West Africa, but he did not find much excitement in his remote posting - "This is not a government house, and there is no larder: there is also a plague of house-flies which come from the African bush lavatories round the house," he wrote to London. Greene returned to England in 1942. After the war he travelled widely as a free-lance journalist, and lived long periods in Nice, on the French Riviera. With his anti-American comments, Greene gained access to such Communist leaders as Fidel Castro and Ho Chi Minh, but the English writer Evelyn Waugh, who knew Greene well, assured in a letter to his friend that the author "is a secret agent on our side and all his buttering up of the Russians is 'cover'."
Greene's agent novels were partly based on his own experiences in the British foreign office in the 1940s and his lifelong ties with SIS. As an agent and a writer Greene is a link in the long tradition from Christopher Marlowe, Ben Johnson and Daniel Defoe to the modern day writers John Le Carré, John Dickson Carr, Somerset Maugham, Alec Waugh and Ted Allbeury. Greene's uncle Sir William Graham Greene helped to establish the Naval Intelligence Department, and his oldest brother, Herbert, served as a spy for the Imperial Japanese Navy in the 1930s. Graham's younger sister, Elisabeth, joined MI6, and recruited his Graham into the regular ranks of the service. His old friend, Philby, Greene met again in the late 1980s in Moscow.