'The dangerous third martini': Graham Greene, libel and literary journalism in 1930s Britain

David Finkelstein*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Graham Greene was born on 2 October 1904 at St John’s, Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, to Charles Henry Greene, teacher, and Marion Raymond, a distant relative of Robert Louis Stevenson. Educated at Berkhamsted School, where his father was headmaster, he went on to study history at Balliol College, Oxford. There he met and fell in love with Vivienne (later Vivien) Dayrell-Browning, whom he married in 1927. They were to have two children before separating after the end of the Second World War. On graduating in 1925 with a second-class degree in history, Greene began a career as a journalist, starting as an unpaid sub-editor at the Nottingham Journal, later moving to London and sub-editing at The Times, then working as book and film critic for the Spectator, The Times, Sight and Sound and other publications. He published his first novel, The Man Within, in June 1929. A historical romance set on the Sussex coast in the early 1800s, the swashbuckling work proved a commercial success. It was followed by two less well received works in similar vein. In 1932, however, Greene produced Stamboul Train, a narrative of political intrigue set on the Orient Express. Its critical success would start Greene on a peripatetic literary journey that lasted until his death in 1991, where powerful pieces of film criticism, book reviews, nonfiction and literary journalism – Journeys Without Maps (1936), chronicling a journey through Liberia; The Lawless Roads (1939) set in Mexico; Getting to Know the General (1985) on the Panamanian general Omar Torrijos – were overshadowed by an impressive number of novels including Brighton Rock (1938), The Power and the Glory (1940), The Heart of the Matter (1948), The End of the Affair (1951), Our Man in Havana (1958), Travels with my Aunt (1969) and The Honorary Consul (1973). In all Greene was to produce more than two dozen novels, numerous plays, essays and short stories, two volumes of autobiography, a history of drama and a literary biography of the poet Lord Rochester. He was also to engage actively, though with some feelings of ambiguity, in screenwriting, adapting several of his works for the cinema, including Brighton Rock (1947), The Fallen Idol (1948), The Third Man (1949) and The Comedians (1967). From the 1960s onwards he based himself in Antibes, but spent the last year of his life in the small village of Corseaux, near Vevey, Switzerland, where he died on 3 April 1991.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Journalistic Imagination
Subtitle of host publicationLiterary Journalists from Defoe to Capote and Carter
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9780203939765
ISBN (Print)9780415417235
Publication statusPublished - 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)
  • Social Sciences(all)


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