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Graham Greene

Was as Good as His Word

There are a great number of beautiful and attractive places on the earth well-known not only due to their geographical locations, but because of the outstanding and prominent personalities, literary giants, composers, actors, who once upon a time visited them, lived, and sometimes died there and brought them to spot attention.

Last year I visited Switzerland. On a summer morning I and my friend (a translator from UNESCO) were driving along the shores of the Leman – so the local people call the Lake of Geneva. We passed Lutery, Granavaux, Cully, Rivaz and a few other small villages whose names did not mean anything to us, until we entered Vevey, another tiny settlement, and were taken aback – we ran into Charlie Chaplin’s bronze statue. The inscription on the pedestal read that the sculpture was unveiled on April 16th, 1999 marking Chaplin’s one hundredth year.

Around the monument there was a group of fat American tourists, listening to a guide, a gray haired resident of Vevey, who was telling them about the last years of life of the great actor in Vevey, here he died in 1977.

Тhen the man said: “It would be fair to erect another monument here to Henry Graham Greene, a well-known writer who lived the last day of his life in Vevey. He visited Charlie Chaplin often, and the two were good friends.”

“Was that guy an American?” – someone asked from the crowd.

“No, he was a British subject. Graham Greene died at the age of 85 in 1991 and was buried at Corseaux-sur-Vevey cemetery”, added the guide.

Now I have to turn my memory back over many years to recapture my first vision of Graham Greene.

In summer 1957 I began working as a guide-interpreter with Leningrad Intourist Agency. Once I and two other novices were interviewed by the Intourist authorities about our knowledge of Graham Greene’s literary works. The writer was very popular in Russia and his stories and novels were often translated into Russian.

My two colleagues answered that they had read something but could not recollect the titles of the books.

As for me, I remembered some of his short stories: The End of the Party, I Spy, The Second Death. I also read his popular novel The Heart of the Matter and briefly narrated the plot and mentioned the main character the police officer Scobie, an ardent Catholic, who had committed adultery, and whose conscience and love of God led him to disaster.

The end of the interview was a stroke of luck. I was appointed to be the guide for Graham Greene, who was to arrive in Leningrad the next day.

I met him in the airport. He was a tall man, like Anton Chekhov, but well built with massive features and gray, distinguished hair. He came together with his 21-year-old son, Francis, also a tall man, bearing a great resemblance to his father.

The writer was in the prime of his creative life. His new novel The Quiet American was translated into Russian. He was finishing his new novel Оur Man in Havana.

The guests were in Leningrad for three days and all that time I organized sightseeing tours for them either by car or by foot.

Graham Greene told me about his life which produced many interesting works – both serious novels and books of espionage. He wove the characters he met and places where he lived into the fabric of his novels.

I noticed that Francis was also listening attentively to his father’s narrations. Francis was a student at Cambridge and told me that while being at the university, he only saw his father once in a blue moon, as he was often out of the country.

I did my best to speak correct English with my distinguished tourists, trying to use as many idiomatic expressions as I could remember.

Once, Graham Greene gave me a piece of advice: “You should read English drama plays where you can find good spoken English and enrich your vocabulary.”

I plucked up my courage and asked him whether he could send me оnе of his plays.

“Yes, I can send you The Living Room, the only one which has been published,” promised the writer.

The good time flew fast. I had to say goodbye to my nice acquaintances.

The next day I began to loose heart – I did not give him my home address. The only place Graham Greene could send his play was to Hotel Astoria, where the Intourist office was located.

I was on pins and needles pending the precious parcel.

Graham Greene was as good as his word. He sent The Living Room to the Intourist’s official address and I got it. It was a rather thick book of 125 pages and there was attached a post-card “With Mr. Graham Greene’s Compliments”.

I was fond of the plot and the language of the play and wrote a letter to the author with a request to allow me to translate it into Russian and stage The Living Room with one of the Leningrad theatres.

Soon I received his answer.

Unfortunately, while opening the letter, I tore both a piece of the envelope and the sheet of paper, hence some letters in the text were missing.

C. 6 Albany,

London. W. I.

25th September 1957

Dear Mr. Kunitsin,

I am glad you received the copy of THE LIVING ROOM and have enjoyed it. I too yesterday got your two books from Leningrad. Thank you very much.

Certainly I have no objection to your going ahead with the translation of THE LIVING ROOM into Russian and trying to arrange [for] its performance at whatever is the standard rate of royalty in [Russia] The Authors’ Union already hold certain royalties of mine ... when I come to Russia.

The difficulty about giving you carte blanche with other [plays] is that they are all being considered now by the State Publishing House and also by Mr. Thakovsky of the Foreign Literature Magazine [I don’t] know which (if any) he is publishing, I would suggest that [you contact] him in Moscow and say that you met me and are interested [in the pos]sibility of translating one of my books.

Yours sincerely,

Graham Greene,

Mr. Evgeny Kunitsin

Poste restante



Inspired by his permission I set the wheels in motion. It started immediately. I translated the play within one week and showed the play to Nikolay Akimov, a popular art director and stage manager of the Leningrad Comedy Theatre. He liked The Living Room and asked me to be present during the reading the script of the play by actors. The cast included four male and ten female characters.

I was in a cheerful mood, hoping that the play would be staged for the first time in Russia.

But man proposes, God disposes. Soon the Leningrad City party organization put its foot down, perceiving in the play, propaganda of an alien ideology.

It was a disaster. I wrote to Graham Greene about the situation and asked if possible to send me another play.

C. 6 Albany,

London, W. I.

24th October 1957

Dear Mr. Kunitsin,

I am afraid that THE LIVING ROOM is my only play published to date. My new play THE POTTING SHED comes on in London in February, but it will not be published until the beginning of March. I will send you a copy then.

Yours sincerely,

Graham Greene

Mr. Evgeny Kunitsin,

Poste Restante,

Leningrad 124, U.S.S.R.

I immediately answered his letter and informed him that soon I would go abroad to work for a long period of time and asked the writer not to send me his new play The Potting Shed. In my heart of hearts I was afraid that the performance of the new play would be a failure again.

Soon I got a letter from London, from Graham Greene’s secretary.

C. 6 Albany,

London. W. I.

22nd November 1957

Dear Mr. Kunitsin,

Your letter to Mr. Graham Greene arrived this morning but I am afraid he is out of the country until early in January and unable to reply to it, for the moment. I will see that he gets the letter on his return home, however.

Yours truly,

Secretary to Graham Greene

Mr. Eugeny Kunitsin,

Poste Restante

Leningrad 124, U.S.S.R.

In the following years, I was impatiently waiting for books written by the talented author. Graham Greene turned out to be a very fruitful author. One after another, his Collected Essays, Travel with my Aunt (both 1969), The Hononary Council (1973), The Dark Side of Nice (1981) appeared in which he depicted the organized crime in the city. In 1982, Monsignor Quixot and in 1985, The Tenth Man was published.

In 1981, he was awarded the Jerusalem Prize, awarded to writers concerned with the freedom of the individual in society.

His long successful career and great readership led to hope he would be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. He was nominated for the prize several times, but as Graham Greene believed, he was always one vote short of the prize, withheld by one judge who disliked Graham Greene’s Catholicism and left-wing sympathies. The judge was the Swedish academician and novelist Arthur Lundquist.

Even without the Nobel Prize, Graham Greene ranks as one of the outstanding writers of the 20th century.

What ties did Greene have with Switzerland? What made him live his last years of life there?

Simple questions never have easy answers.

In 1948, Greene abandoned his Catholic wife Vivien Davrell-Browning whom he married in 1927 and under her influence had converted to Catholicism. He had affairs with a number of women, yet remained married. Vivien was the only Mrs. Graham Greene.

After his apparently involvement in a financial scandal, Greene had to leave Britain in 1966 and move to Antibes, a tiny town on Cote D’Azur, on the French Reviera. This was to be close to his sweetheart, Yvonne Cloetta, whom he had known since 1959, a relationship that lasted until his death.

During his life, Greene had changed his views and predilection for many things, including his faith. In 1950, he ceased going to Mass and confession in the 1950s, but, in his final years, began to receive the sacraments again from Father Leopoldo Duran, a Spanish priest. In his final years, Greene was a strong critic of American imperialism, and supported the Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Living on Cote D’Azur, Greene was in the know of the life of ruling circles of Nice. He published in 1982 his pamphlet J’Accuse – The Dark Side of Nice. He declared that organized crime flourished in Nice, because the city’s upper levels of civic government had protected judical and police corruption. The pamphlet provoked a libel lawsuit that he lost. After that, Greene had to stay in Vevey. In 1994, after Greene’s death, he was vindicated, when the former mayor of Nice, Jacques Medecin was imprisoned for corruption and associated crimes.

Graham Greene is a great author. His numerous talented works are worth reading and re-reading, as he depicted the life of people in many parts of our restive globe.

By Yevgeny Kunitsin ,
University of Natalya Nesterova, Moscow