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  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)
Graham Greene

Novelist whose mastery of the traditional skills – such as narrative, suspense, comedy and character – brought to a very wide public his obsessive concerns with failure and moral ambiguity. Two important factors in his own life were his dramatically depressive tendencies (bizarre suicide attempts at school, Russian roulette on several occasions when he was about 20) and his conversion in 1926 to Roman Catholicism. The result was a lifelong compulsion to travel, observe, sympathize, share guilt. He once used a quotation from Robert Browning to describe what interested him – 'the dangerous edge of things, the honest thief, the tender murderer, the superstitious atheist'.

He only needed to travel as far as Brighton to find the seedy underworld of gang warfare for *Brighton Rock (1938), but it was Mexico that gave him The *Power and the Glory (1940); West Africa (Greene worked as an agent for MI6 in Sierra Leone in 1941–3) provided an unspecific background for The Heart of the Matter (1948), while Vietnam is the setting for The Quiet American (1955), Cuba for Our Man in Havana (1958), the Congo for A Burnt-Out Case (1961), Haiti for The Comedians (1966) and Paraguay for The Honorary Consul (1973). Greene divided his novels into 'entertainments' and the rest; some of his most delightful books do fall firmly into the entertainment category (Our Man in Havana, or Travels with my Aunt 1969), but with many the distinction seems blurred because entertainment and deeper relevance is so well mixed.

One of the most successful of those classed as entertainment was The *Third Man, written as a treatment for the film of 1949. In the following decade Greene made a successful diversion into the theatre with three plays (The Living Room 1953, The Potting Shed 1957, The Complaisant Lover 1959). He has often been described as the most distinguished writer not to have been awarded the Nobel prize for literature.

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