Graham Greene was born one hundred years ago. I first entered Greeneland over spring break of my first year in college, reading through novel after novel after novel, and more than twenty-five years later, the spines on many of those early Greenes have faded to illegibility. Almost any Greene is a good read—he keeps his plots moving with a deceptive ease, and his style is almost cinematic—when I read him, I tend to "see" what's happening in the book as the unfolding scenes in a film. But I don't read for plot, but for character, and in Graham Greene's characters (and even, perhaps, in Graham Greene the man) I think you begin to learn how it might be possible to love a human being of seemingly unforgivable imperfection. While I'd always been attracted to Greene's complexities and contradictions in a fascinated but uncomprehending way, things snapped into focus once I read this, from Flannery O'Connor's letter to Maryat Lee on January 31, 1957, from The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor:
The best thing I ever read on Greene was written by an English girl named Elizabeth Sewell and was published in Thought. She allowed that his sensibility was different from his convictions, the former being Manichean and the latter Catholic, and of course, you write with the sensibility. Her word for him was Neo-Romantic Decadent. What he does, I think, is try to make religion respectable to the modern unbeliever by making it seedy. He succeeds so well in making it seedy that then he has to save it by the miracle.
And today also marks an occasion of a considerably more modest sort: I started this blog on this day last year. I think that at some point, long ago in the past, when I thought those things were interesting, I knew that Graham Greene and I were both first-decanate Librans, but I'd long since forgotten his actual birthday. What can I say? I'm pleased as punch that this bloggiversary landed on such an illustrious date. And as for this blog one year on, I'm happy to have found myself in this joyful commitment...so much so that I've even sprung for an intuitive URL. You can now find this site at www.bookishgardener.com, and, if I ever figure out how to rejigger whatever's not quite right with the domain mapping (without having to start from square one!), maybe someday soon you'll even be able to get here without the "www".
I plan to celebrate this Greene-letter day by gorging on two concerts of string quartet performances on campus tonight. First, the Pro Arte Quartet performs a program of Haydn's G major string quartet, Op. 77, No. 1, Dvořák's F major string quartet, Op. 96 ("American"), and Mendelssohn's D major string quartet, Op. 44, No. 1. And then the Takács Quartet comes to town, with Bartók's String Quartet No. 3, Borodin's String Quartet No. 2 in D Major, and Beethoven's String Quartet in C-sharp minor, Op. 131. During the intermissions and breaks between the performances, I'll happily while away the time with Graham Greene's Collected Stories in hand.
The picture above is apropos of, well, not much, except for being a photo of a flower whose first name is Graham (the David Austin English rose 'Graham Thomas'), and whose late-summer blooming frenzy has now been ended by last night's first frost (yeah, speaking of anniversaries). When you hear people rave about this rose all the time, you need to understand that they are underexaggerating the wonders of this flower. The buds start in the color of a butterscotch dip-cone, then open to a yellow that transcends the name, in the Platonic ideal of a rose bloom that smells like a rose. The flower tinges pink as it fades, and the thorns are as beautiful as the bloom.