Topics Graham Greene Quotations
Henry Graham Greene, OM, CH (October 2, 1904 – April 3, 1991) was a prolific English novelist, playwright, short story writer, travel writer and critic whose works explore the ambivalent moral and political issues of the modern world.
- See also separate novel page The Heart of the Matter, and see Greene quoted in Donnie Darko.
- Have you seen a room from which faith has gone?...Like a marriage from which love has gone...And patience, patience everywhere like a fog.
- The Potting Shed (1957)
- The economy of a novelist is a little like that of a careful housewife who is unwilling to throw away anything that might perhaps serve its turn. Perhaps the comparison is closer to the Chinese cook who leaves hardly any part of a duck unserved.
- From journal kept while writing A Burnt-Out Case (1959)
- It is the story-teller's task to elicit sympathy and a measure of understanding for those who lie outside the boundaries of State approval.
- Speech on receiving the Shakespeare Prize awarded by the University of Hamburg, Germany (1969)
- Morality comes with the sad wisdom of age, when the sense of curiosity has withered.
- A Sort of Life, ch. 7, sct. 1 (1971)
- My two fingers on a typewriter have never connected with my brain. My hand on a pen does. A fountain pen, of course. Ball-point pens are only good for filling out forms on a plane.
- International Herald Tribune (October 7, 1977)
- A petty reason perhaps why novelists more and more try to keep a distance from journalists is that novelists are trying to write the truth and journalists are trying to write fiction.
- Letter to critic Stephen Pile, Sunday Times (London) (January 18, 1981)
- The world is not black and white. More like black and grey.
- London Observer (January 2, 1983)
- That instinct for human character that is perhaps inherent in an imaginative writer.
- Getting to know the General (1984)
- A major character has to come somehow out of the unconscious.
- New York Times (October 9, 1985)
- The moment comes when a character does or says something you hadn't thought about. At that moment he's alive and you leave it to him.
- New York Times (October 9, 1985)
- You think it more difficult to turn air into wine than to turn wine into blood?
- On a priest who pantomimes Mass, Monsignor Quixote, PBS TV (February 13, 1987)
- Success is more dangerous than failure, the ripples break over a wider coastline.
- Independent (London, April 4, 1991)
Brighton Rock (1938)
- You can’t conceive, nor can I, the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God.
- Part 7, Chapter 11
The Lawless Roads (1939)
- Perhaps his laughter saved them — it must be difficult to shoot a laughing man: you have to feel important to kill.
- Its typical of Mexico, of the whole human race perhaps — violence in favour of an ideal and then the ideal lost but the violence just going on.
- The old lady knelt, saying her 'Hail Mary'; She didn't believe — but among Catholics even the sceptical are courteous.
- But the great moment was over — here in Orizaba it was like Galilee between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection — all the enthusiasm had been spent.
- I suppose the love of life which periodically deserts most men was returning: like sexual desire, it moves in cycles.
The Power and the Glory (1940)
- There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.
- Pt. I, ch. 1
- When you visualized a man or woman carefully, you could always begin to feel pity— that was a quality God's image carried with it.
The Ministry of Fear (1943)
- It is impossible to go through life without trust: that is to be imprisoned in the worst cell of all, oneself.
- Bk. 1, ch. 3, sct. 2
- Thrillers are like life—more like life than you are ... it’s what we’ve all made of the world.
- Bk. 1, ch. 5
- A murderer is regarded by the conventional world as something almost monstrous, but a murderer to himself is only an ordinary man.... It is only if the murderer is a good man that he can be regarded as monstrous.
- Bk. 1, ch. 7, sct. 1
- Behind the complicated details of the world stand the simplicities: God is good, the grown-up man or woman knows the answer to every question, there is such a thing as truth, and justice is as measured and faultless as a clock. Our heroes are simple: they are brave, they tell the truth, they are good swordsmen and they are never in the long run really defeated. That is why no later books satisfy us like those which were read to us in childhood—for those promised a world of great simplicity of which we knew the rules, but the later books are complicated and contradictory with experience; they are formed out of our own disappointing memories.
- Bk. 1, ch. 7, sct. 1
- People don't like reality, they don't like common sense, until age forces it on them.
The Third Man (1949)
- The hands of the guilty don't necessarily tremble; only in stories does a dropped glass betray agitation. Tension is more often shown in the studied action.
- We never get accustomed to being less important to other people than they are to us — Martins felt the little jab of dispensability.
- No danger anywhere, it seemed to Rollo Martins of that sudden reckless moment when the scent of hair or a hand against the side alters life.
- We do not choose our concerns.
The End of the Affair (1951)
- If we had not been taught how to interpret the story of the Passion, would we have been able to say from their actions alone whether it was jealous Judas or the cowardly Peter who loved Christ?
- I sat on my bed and I said to God: You've taken her, but you haven't got me yet. I know Your cunning. It's You who take us up to a high place and offer us the whole universe. You're a devil, God, tempting us to leap. But I don't want Your peace and I don't want Your love. I wanted something very simple and very easy: I wanted Sarah for a lifetime and You took her away. With Your great schemes You ruin our happiness like a harvester ruins a mouse's nest: I hate You, God, I hate You as though You existed.
- A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment from which to look back or from which to look ahead.
- Bk. 1, ch. 1
- To me comfort is like the wrong memory at the wrong place or time: if one is lonely one prefers discomfort.
- Bk. 1, ch. 1
- Sometimes I see myself reflected too closely in other men for comfort, and then I have an enormous wish to believe in the saints, in heroic virtue.
- Bk. 1, ch. 1
- I was trying to write a book that simply would not come. I did my daily five hundred words, but the characters never began to live. So much in writing depends on the superficiality of one’s days. One may be preoccupied with shopping and income tax returns and change conversations, but the stream of the unconscious continues to flow undisturbed, solving problems, planning ahead: one sits down sterile and dispirited at the desk, and suddenly the words come as though from the air: the situations that seemed blocked in a hopeless impasse move forward: the work has been done while one slept or shopped or talked with friends. But this hate and suspicion, this passion to destroy went deeper than the book – the unconscious worked on it instead…
- Bk. 1, ch. 2
- And all that time I couldn’t work. So much of a novelist’s writing, as I have said, takes place in the unconscious: in those depths the last word is written before the first word appears on the paper. We remember details of our story, we do not invent them. War didn’t trouble those deep sea-caves, but not there was something of infinitely greater importance to me than war, than my novel – the end of love. That was being worked out not, like a story: the pointed word that sent her crying, that seemed to have come so spontaneously to the lips, had been sharpened in those underwater caverns. My novel lagged, but my love hurried like inspiration to the end.
- Bk. 1, ch. 6
- The sense of unhappiness is so much easier to convey than that of happiness. In misery we seem aware of our own existence, even though it may be in the form of a monstrous egotism: this pain of mine is individual, this nerve that winces belong to me and to no other. But happiness annihilates us: we lose our identity.
- Bk. 2, ch. 1
The Quiet American (1955)
- "God save us always," I said, "from the innocent and the good."
- Pt. I, ch. 1, pg 15
- Innocence always calls mutely for protection when we would be so much wiser to guard ourselves against it: innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm.
- Pt. I, ch. 3, sect. 3
- “Oh, I’m not a Berkeleian. I believe my back’s against this wall. I believe there’s a sten gun over there.”
- Pt. II, ch. 2, pg 123
- The hurt is in the act of possession; we are too small in mind and body to possess another person without pride or to be possessed without humiliation. In a way I was glad my wife had struck out at me again – I had forgotten her pain for too long, and this was the only kind of recompense I could give her. Unfortunately the innocent are always involved in any conflict. Always, everywhere, there is some voice crying from a tower.
- Pt. II, ch. 3
- He’ll always be innocent, you can’t blame the innocent, they are always guiltless. All you can do is control them or eliminate them. Innocence is a kind of insanity.
- Pt. III, ch. 2, pg 216
- Sooner or later...one has to take sides – if one is to remain human.
- Pt. IV, ch. 2, pg 230
- What right had I to value her less than the bodies in the square? Suffering is not increased by numbers; one body can contain all the suffering the world can feel. I had judged like a journalist, in terms of quantity, and I had betrayed my own principles; I had become as engage as Pyle, and it seemed to me that no decision would ever be simple again.
- Pt. IV, ch. 2, pg 242
Our Man in Havana (1958)
- In a mad world it always seems simpler to obey.
- Reality in our century is not something to be faced.
- Pt. 1, ch. 1, sct. 1
- Childhood was the germ of all mistrust. You were cruelly joked upon and then you cruelly joked. You lost the remembrance of pain through inflicting it.
- Pt. 1, ch. 3, sct. 3
A Burnt-Out Case (1960)
- Those who marry God can become domesticated too—it’s just as hum-drum a marriage as all the others. The word “Love” means a formal touch of the lips as in the ceremony of the Mass, and “Ave Maria” like “dearest” is a phrase to open a letter. This marriage like the world’s marriages was held together by habits and tastes shared in common between God and themselves—it was God’s taste to be worshipped and their taste to worship, but only at stated hours like a suburban embrace on a Saturday night.
- Pt. 1, ch. 1, sct. 2
The Comedians (1966)
- Cynicism is cheap—you can buy it at any Monoprix store—it’s built into all poor-quality goods.
- Pt. 1, ch. 1, sct. 3
- However great a man’s fear of life, suicide remains the courageous act, the clear-headed act of a mathematician. The suicide has judged by the laws of chance—so many odds against one that to live will be more miserable than to die. His sense of mathematics is greater than his sense of survival. But think how a sense of survival must clamour to be heard at the last moment, what excuses it must present of a totally unscientific nature.
- Pt. 1, ch. 4, sct. 1
- I have often noticed that a bribe...has that effect — it changes a relation. The man who offers a bribe gives away a little of his own importance; the bribe once accepted, he becomes the inferior, like a man who has paid for a woman.
- Pt. 1, ch. 4, sct. 3
- We mustn’t complain too much of being comedians—it’s an honourable profession. If only we could be good ones the world might gain at least a sense of style. We have failed—that’s all. We are bad comedians, we aren’t bad men.
- Pt. 1, ch. 5, sct. 2
- Communism, my friend, is more than Marxism, just as Catholicism ... is more than the Roman Curia. There is a mystique as well as a politique....Catholics and communists have commited great crimes, but at least they have not stood aside, like an established society, and been indifferent. I would rather have blood on my hands than water like Pilate...if you have abandoned one faith, do not abandon all faith. There is always an alternative to the faith we lose. Or is it the same faith under another mask?
- Pt. 2, ch. 4, sct. 4
- There is a point of no return, unremarked at the time, in most lives.
Travels with My Aunt (1969)
- Champagne, if you are seeking the truth, is better than a lie detector. It encourages a man to be expansive, even reckless, while lie detectors are only a challenge to tell lies successfully.
- I had very good dentures once. Some magnificent gold work. It’s the only form of jewelry a man can wear that women fully appreciate.
- Pt. 2, ch. 7
- God...created a number of possibilities in case some of his prototypes failed — that is the meaning of evolution.
- Pt. 2, ch. 7
The Honorary Consul (1973)
- It was an evening which, by some mysterious combination of failing light and the smell of an unrecognised plant, brings back to some men the sense of childhood and of future hope and to others the sense of something which has been lost and almost forgotten.
- Simplicity belonged by right to those who were native-born, those who could take the conditions of life, however bizarre, for granted.
- Death will come in any case, and there is a long afterwards if the priests are right and nothing to fear if they are wrong.
- It was not the kind of surroundings in which any one with free will — if such a man existed — would have chosen to await death.
The Human Factor (1978)
- Our worst enemies here are not the ignorant and the simple, however cruel; our worst enemies are the intelligent and corrupt.
- Pt. III, ch. 3 (1978)
Monsignor Quixote (1982)
- "There's a virtue in slowness, which we have lost"
- "Under my cloak, a fig for the King!"
- At the end of what is called the "sexual life" the only love which has lasted is the love which has everything, every disappointment, every failure and every betrayal, which has accepted even the sad fact that in the end there is no desire so deep as the simple desire for companionship.
- May We Borrow Your Husband?
About Graham Greene
- Barbara wrote that his brain frightened her. It was sharp and clear and cruel. She admired him for being always unsentimental, but noted 'always remember to rely on yourself ... if you are in a sticky place he will be so interested in noting your reactions that he will probably forget to rescue you.'
- Norman Sherry in his biography The Life of Graham Greene, page 513, reporting Greene's cousin Barbara Greene who travelled to Liberia with him.
Silverdale Interactive © 2023. All Rights Reserved.