Skip over navigation

The Power and the Glory

Graham Greene

Context

Table of Contents

Plot Overview

Henry Graham Greene was born on October 2, 1904 in Berkhamsted, England. He had a difficult childhood, and he attempted suicide on a number of occasions. His therapist suggested that he look to writing as a way to deal with his troubled emotions. At Balliol College, Oxford, he studied modern history, worked as the editor for a campus newspaper and lived a somewhat dissolute lifestyle. After graduation he went to work at The Nottingham Journal, and met his future wife, Vivien Dayrell-Browning. She would be instrumental in his conversion to Catholicism, which took place in February of 1926. Although it is said that initially he only converted in order to win the affection of Vivien, he eventually became very deeply and seriously interested in his adopted religion.

After publishing The Man Within, which was a critical and commercial success, he began writing full time. But his next novels, The Name of Action and Rumour at Night met with failure. Stamboul Train was a commercial success and later became a film. Greene tried his hand at screenwriting, his most well known foray into that medium being the screenplay for the Orson Welles' film, The Third Man, which won first prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1949. During the 1930's, he also wrote film reviews, becoming one of the most highly esteemed film critics of his day. His travels in Mexico in 1938 and his shock at the religious persecution he witnessed there provided the material for The Lawless Roads (1939) and The Power and the Glory (1939). The latter novel was a great critical success, winning The Hawthorn Den award, while earning the fury of the Vatican. Catholic bishops and cardinals who read the book thought it focused too much of its attention on the wretchedness of human beings and painted too negative a picture of the priesthood.

The advent of World War II led to his wife evacuating with his two children to Crowborough and Oxford, and his taking a position with the Ministry of Information and the Air Raid Precautions Squad. In 1939 he published The Confidential Agent and he also wrote children's stories, which were published after the war ended. His novel The Heart of the Matter is based on his experiences in Sierra Leone during the war, where he went to work for the Secret Intelligence Service in 1941. He returned to London in 1943, and worked for Counter Intelligence and left the Service in 1944.

Throughout his life, Greene often visited places of conflict, including Vietnam, Kenya, Poland, Cuba and Haiti, and mined them for material for his novels. His novel The Quiet American (1955) is about American involvement in Indochina, Our Man In Havana (1958) is based on his travels in Cuba, The Comedian (1966) deals with a repressive regime in Haiti, The Honorary Consul (1973) is set in Paraguay and The Human Factor (1978) in South Africa. His interest in Central American politics led to his becoming acquainted with figures such as Fidel Castro and Manuel Noriega, and he became a critic of the United States and of Ronald Reagan in particular. Graham Greene died in Switzerland in 1991.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us