(2 October 1904 – 3 April 1991) was an English author, playwright and
literary critic. His works explore the ambivalent moral and political
issues of the modern world. Greene was notable for his ability to combine
serious literary acclaim with widespread popularity.
Although Greene objected strongly to being described as a Catholic
novelist rather than as a novelist who happened to be Catholic, Catholic
religious themes are at the root of much of his writing, especially the
four major Catholic novels: Brighton Rock, The Power and the
Glory, The Heart of the Matter and The End of the Affair.
Several works such as The Confidential Agent, The Third Man,
The Quiet American, Our Man in Havana and The Human
Factor also show an avid interest in the workings of international
politics and espionage.
Greene suffered from bipolar disorder, which had a profound effect on his
writing and personal life. In a letter to his wife Vivien he told her that
he had "a character profoundly antagonistic to ordinary domestic life",
and that "unfortunately, the disease is also one's material".
His novels often have religious themes at the
centre. In his literary criticism he attacked the modernist writers
Virginia Woolf and E. M. Forster, for having lost the religious sense,
which, he argued, resulted in dull, superficial characters, who "wandered
about like cardboard symbols through a world that is paper-thin". Only in
recovering the religious element, the awareness of the drama of the
struggle in the soul carrying the infinite consequences of salvation and
damnation, and of the ultimate metaphysical realities of good and evil,
sin and grace, could the novel recover its dramatic power. Suffering and
unhappiness are omnipresent in the world Greene depicts; and Catholicism
is presented against a background of unvarying human evil, sin, and doubt.
V. S. Pritchett praised Greene as the first English novelist since Henry
James to present, and grapple with, the reality of evil.
The novels often powerfully portray the Christian drama of the struggles
within the individual soul from the Catholic perspective. Greene was
criticized for certain tendencies in an unorthodox direction — in the
world, sin is omnipresent to the degree that the vigilant struggle to
avoid sinful conduct is doomed to failure, hence not central to holiness.
Friend and fellow Catholic Evelyn Waugh attacked that as a revival of the
Quietist heresy. This aspect of his work also was criticized by the
theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, as giving sin a mystique.
Greene responded that constructing a vision of pure faith and goodness in
the novel was beyond his talents. Praise of Greene from an orthodox
Catholic point of view by Edward Short is in Crisis Magazine, and a
mainstream Catholic critique is presented by Joseph Pearce.
[ Summary - The Power and the Glory ]