Cataloguing the Output of a Literary Legend: Jon Wise on the Works of Graham Greene

By | June 29, 2012

By 1949 Graham Greene was an internationally renowned writer. The Heart of the Matter had sold over 300,000 copies in its first three years of publication. The iconic The Third Man was about to hit the big screen. The same year, no doubt aware that his literary legacy should be chronicled, the author gave permission to Alan Redway to become his official bibliographer. Sadly, neither Redway nor his later collaborator Neil Brennan lived to see in print the fruits of over sixty years of endeavour. Norman Sherry, Greene’s appointed biographer, mused in writing that the task of finishing his monumental three-volume life of the author would prove too taxing and he would never live to see its completion.

While a personal ‘intimation of mortality’ might be a colourful exaggeration of the truth, I have to admit that I experienced similar misgivings to Sherry about my ability ever to complete a worthwhile bibliographic guide to the writings of this prolific 20th Century author. Once started one realises that the subject is ‘hydra-headed’. I found myself faced with a bewildering number of loose ends. Generous forewords on other writers’ lives or views on liberation theology from an octogenarian with no right still to be so perceptive and so lucid. Short stories subtly altered and re-named and therefore not the forgotten and uncollected gems with which to startle the literary world.  Pre-publication snippets from novels published in in-flight magazines containing minute textual changes. Original and intriguing thoughts on the role of the writer in modern society, written in Spanish and never translated.

Only one comprehensive attempt has been made to capture Greene’s vast output of novels, short stories, plays, poems, essays, letters, film and play reviews, introductions, forewords etc. etc. Roland Wobbe’s 1979 single-volume bibliography, now as rare and expensive as one of his subject’s first editions, is impressively comprehensive and a remarkable achievement in a pre-computer age.  But there are gaps in Wobbe and, as it was never updated, Greene’s output during the last dozen or so years of his life, plus a number of pieces which have appeared posthumously, are missing.

 So I came to this task, which started out as a curious diversion from the day-job, through a sense of frustration and a generous measure of bewilderment. It took several years before a mass of jottings in a series of notebooks took shape as a bibliography. A key moment arrived when Mike Hill agreed to join me and utilise his formidable organisational skills, his drive and his forensic eye for detail. Hercules finally overcame the hydra by cauterising its heads. Having completed this guide to Graham Greene’s published writings Mike and I have realised that there is still a wealth of valuable material relating to this great man of 20th Century letters in archives across the UK and USA waiting to be discovered and publicised. I sense our labours are far from over.

– Jon Wise is the author of The Works of Graham Greene. Jon's book, co-authored with Mike Hill, surveys not only Greene’s literary work – including his fiction, poetry and drama – but also his other published writings. Accessibly organised over five central sections, the book provides the most up-to-date listing available of Greene’s journalism, his published letters and major interviews. It also includes a bibliography of major secondary writings on Greene and a substantial and fully cross-referenced index to aid scholars and researchers working in the field of 20th Century. literature. You can read the Intruction and first chapter by clicking on the preview button to the left.

Jenny Tighe

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