The Reading Room

Graham Greene’s Relationship with Norman Douglas

Did Graham Greene share Norman Douglas’ attraction to boys?…

ggEver since reading John Banville’s ‘The Untouchable’ in which one of the lead characters (Querell) is depicted as an author with a predilection for sex with underage boys I have been troubled by the suggestion that Graham Greene, who is clearly the inspiration for the Querell character could have been a child abuser. Banville’s fall-out with Greene is well documented but for him to write such a damming character assassination had to be carefully thought through and based on something. So what was it?

Greene led a remarkable lifestyle, he drank heavily, smoked opium, enjoyed extra marital affairs and visits to brothels whilst assuming the role of world travelling author, spy and journalist. His fame granted him audiences with the rich and powerful across the globe, his books sold in the millions and his name found itself on the big screen with, amongst others, Brighton Rock (two versions), The Quiet American (two versions) The End of the Affair (two versions) The Fugitive, The Fallen Idol and many more.

This fame and wealth opened many doors and allowed Greene to enjoy life beyond the English shoreline. His forays into Indochina and Latin America are well documented but it is the trips to his villa in Italy which arouse some considerable amount of debate and gives some credence to Banville’s ‘revenge’.

In Michael Shelden’s biography of Greene ‘The Man Within’ (Heinemann 1994) he paints a vivid account of Greene’s stay at Villa Rosaio in Anacapri, high above the Bay of Naples. It is, as Shelden points out, a difficult place to find and clearly an ideal retreat for a well known author who sought an environment where varying sexual practices were tolerated. It was here that Greene struck up a close friendship with the author Norman Douglas, a man whose fame outstripped his talent as an author and someone who became notorious on the island for not only his homosexuality but also his brazen fondness for young Italian boys.

During the 1940s and 50s Greene and Douglas would often meet up and share drunken dinners together, Greene loved the company of the elder Douglas and following his death in 1952 Greene launched a scathing attack on Richard Aldington’s memoir of Douglas (Pinorman, 1954) two years after his death in which he raised the subject of Douglas’ paedophiliac tendencies. Greene resented the fact that Aldington waited until after Douglas’ death to publish his book but Greene’s review, according to Shelden, was so libellous nobody would publish it until sometime after Aldington’s own death. Greene offered to send Aldington a copy of the review, challenging him not to sue on moral grounds but Aldington refused. Greene was on shaky ground, Douglas was on record for indecent assault on a young boy as far back as 1916 and he courted publicity with poems and limericks which were of an overtly paedophiliac nature yet greatly amused Greene. Had Greene challenged Aldington earlier then who knows what might have come out and Greene must have considered this. In truth, what troubled Greene was how revelations, true or otherwise  could be made after one’s own death and there seems to be more than a degree of self interest in his venomous attack on Aldington.

Shelden writes of testamonies of locals who knew of young Italian boys usually aged between fourteen and sixteen coming to stay with Greene for a night or more before leaving and never returning. Michael Shelden goes on to reveal how Douglas’ doctor of thirty years, Elizabeth Moor who would prove to be the inspiration for Aunt Augusta in Travels with my Aunt by Greene confided in her close friend how Greene enjoyed occasional homosexual encounters and was very close to another known homosexual paedophile friend of Douglas, a certain Baron Ekkehard Von Schack. Greene, who always denied his homosexuality was certainly fascinated by the thought of it and the issue of homosexuality runs through a lot of his work. He was known to be sexually deviant and enjoyed taking risks but his overtly staunch support for Douglas begs a certain amount of questioning. When asked why Douglas always insisted on having a young boy from the slums accompany him on a drive around the town, Greene insisted it was nothing more than a charitable gesture on Douglas’ part and Elizabeth Moor was extremely close to both Douglas and Greene for many years for her revelations not to be taken seriously.

I have read much of Greene’s private life, it was certainly troubled and he sought his escape in a number of ways, whether or not the rumours are enough to truly damage his catalogue of work remains to be seen, I suspect not but it may well dull the affection of his fans. Whilst Norman Sherry’s trilogy of books on Greene’s life is a fascinating catalogue I would certainly recommend Michael Shelden’s excellent work.

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