A day or so after my previous post, I took up Norman Sherry's biography of Graham Greene, which I've been reading concurrently as I trek through Greeneland. I was pleased to see that both of my assumptions outlined in that post—that Greene's Liberian journey spawned an indeliable link for him between the acts of writing and traveling, and that the form of writing a travelogue informed his overall skill—were validated through a couple of anecdotal passages. Of the latter assumption, there was this passage:
His letters to his mother, to [his brother] Hugh, and to literary agents, his articles, book and film reviews, after he had established himself in London, all reveal a growing sense of confidence, and one wonders whether this was not in part due to the fact that he had, in Liberia, experienced what few of his contemporaries in London had experienced: he had undertaken a journey into the unknown, come close to the primitive origins of mankind, journeyed without maps and had, like those who had survived the horrors of the First World War, come through—by means of his own determination and grit. Certainly, he now had a surge of creative energy which was nothing short of phenomenal.
Of course it's not difficult to look at a list of Greene's books and see, quite simply, that all of his best-known novels followed right after Journey Without Maps—obviously something happened. But I'm encountering most of Greene's novels in succession; I've read a few of the later novels but I've been trying to put them to the back of my mind as I follow his development. So my experience of Journey was really the sense of "hey, the writer of England Made Me was developing," as opposed to the sense of "here's where the writer of The Quiet American got his shit together"—know what I mean? This passage from Sherry let's me know that I'm not imagining things.
As to the other point—that Greene essentially caught the travel bug and, consciously or not, entwined it with his fiction writing—this anecdote was both entertaining and insightful to that end. To set the scene: Greene at this point was still writing Journey Without Maps and A Gun for Sale, while England Made Me had just come out—to lackluster reception. Greene, with his agent Nancy Pearn, was soliciting numerous magazines with short stories and pitches for stories, and not always meeting with success. He was very close to finishing both his works in progress, but he also had a wife and two children and income was an issue. Pearn suggested giving a pitch for a story to the News Chronicle.
With so much on hand Greene might well have let the suggestion of a synopsis for the News Chronicle sleep awhile. Not so. The day after promising to think abut a story he produced a synopsis called “Miss Mitton in Moscow” and coupled it with the astonishing idea that he should leave for Moscow, almost immediately, his urgent deadlines for his two books notwithstanding: “Here is the synopsis of a 10,000 word story for the News Chronicle. If they feel inclined to commission it, could you hurry up their decision, as I want to get in the background and the satirical description of the tourists, as it were, on the spot. In other words, will they make up their minds so that I can book a seat for Moscow to leave in ten days!”
It is strange that on the suggestion of a commission for a serial Greene was willing to drop everything and go to Moscow. It could not be because the synopsis promised a brilliant story, yet he was prepared to follow his star to Moscow, chasing after background for a story about a bored, disillusioned journalist meeting up with an old lady’s naïvety and excitement in visiting Moscow for the first time; of how her absurdities become a topic of conversation; of how he has to help her out of the country ahead of the other tourists as she had tried the Moscow authorities too much; only to discover, when he finds himself to be a central figure in an advertised Soviet Trial that Miss Mitton was a dye expert and had carried out a smart piece of commercial espionage.
The literary editor of the News Chronicle liked the synopsis and asked the see the first instalment, which Nancy Pearn thought encouraging, but this was not sufficient for Greene: “I explained it was dependent on a definite decision within ten days. The boat’s sailed now & there’s not another till the spring. Besides it’s a costly business & I wouldn’t take the trip without a definite commission. So we’ll have to wait for another story to come to mind.