Po­lit­i­cal In­ter­ven­tions

The London Magazine - - HOUMAN BAREKAT -

Gra­ham Greene: Po­lit­i­cal Writer, Macmil­lan, 208pp, £58 (hardcover)

In an in­ter­view with the Evening Stan­dard news­pa­per in 1978, the nov­el­ist Gra­ham Greene (1904–1991) spoke of his un­ease on the ques­tion of po­lit­i­cal al­le­giance: ‘If I live in a cap­i­tal­ist coun­try, I feel Com­mu­nist; if I am in a Com­mu­nist coun­try, I feel a cap­i­tal­ist.’ Th­ese re­marks echoed the sen­ti­ments ex­pressed in his fa­mous ad­dress at the Uni­ver­sity of Ham­burg on ‘The Virtue of Dis­loy­alty’, al­most a decade ear­lier. Am­biva­lence, for Greene, was not merely a mat­ter of pref­er­ence or in­cli­na­tion; it was a ques­tion of moral duty. The writer should be able to be ‘a Protes­tant in a Catholic so­ci­ety, a Catholic in a Protes­tant one, to see the virtues of the cap­i­tal­ist in a Com­mu­nist so­ci­ety, of the Com­mu­nist in a cap­i­tal­ist state.’ To­tal loy­alty to the state, in short, com­pro­mises the in­tegrity of the writer. That the speaker of th­ese words was for many decades en­gaged in es­pi­onage on be­half of the Bri­tish govern­ment speaks to the re­mark­able com­plex­ity of Greene’s ex­tra­or­di­nary life. Michael Bren­nan, who is a pro­fes­sor of English Stud­ies at the Uni­ver­sity of Leeds, has writ­ten a thor­oughly re­searched and deeply in­sight­ful ac­count of Greene’s po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ven­tions, both fic­tional and jour­nal­is­tic. What emerges is a fas­ci­nat­ing genealogy of one man’s po­lit­i­cal thought as it de­vel­ops along­side, and re­sponds to, the tu­mul­tuous up­heavals of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury, from the pri­va­tions of the Great De­pres­sion, through the Sec­ond World War, to the in­trigues and com­pro­mises of the Cold War.

Gra­ham Greene: Po­lit­i­cal Writer is ar­ranged chrono­log­i­cally, so we be­gin in the 1920s and 30s. If an en­counter with im­pov­er­ished agri­cul­tural work­ers in Chip­ping Cam­p­den, Glouces­ter­shire (he moved to the Cotswolds with his wife in March 1931) marked the be­gin­ning of a po­lit­i­cal awak­en­ing for Greene, his de­ci­sion to im­bue his fic­tion with so­cial and po­lit­i­cal

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