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