CLOSE

5 Things You Didn't Know About Graham Greene

I'll start with a full disclosure: Graham Greene is one of my very favorite writers. While his work runs the gamut from weighty explorations of human evil like Brighton Rock to genuinely funny farces like Our Man in Havana, there's just something consistently mesmerizing about his crisp prose and ability to work a moral or philosophical dilemma into even his espionage thriller "entertainments." Let's take a look at five things you might not know about the moralist/novelist:

1. He Wasn't Big on School

Going to boarding school can be tough on anyone, but it was particularly rough for Greene, possibly because his father was his headmaster. Greene's status as an introverted misfit at school led to a number of botched suicide attempts, including drinking chemicals, eating nightshade, and attempting to drown himself in the school's pool after eating handfuls of aspirin.

Obviously none of these attempts worked, so Greene resorted to running away in 1920 at the age of 16. He didn't get too far, though, and when his family regained custody of their wayward son, they sent him to live with a London psychoanalyst for six months. Greene later called this period of psychoanalysis one of the happiest stretches of his life, but it didn't cure him of his suicidal tendencies. Just a few years later he would begin playing Russian roulette after the end of a love affair.

2. Shirley Temple Probably Wasn't Buying Up His Books

Getty Images

Even after his novels started selling well, Greene worked as a freelance journalist, often writing film reviews. One of the films Greene reviewed for the magazine Night and Day was the 1937 Shirley Temple vehicle Wee Willie Winkie. Greene cut into the movie and its star with characteristic zeal. At one point in the review he wrote, "Her admirersmiddle-aged men and clergymenrespond to her dubious coquetry, to the sight of her well-shaped and desirable little body, packed with enormous vitality, only because the safety curtain of story and dialogue drops between their intelligence and their desire."

Yes, Greene basically theorized that the nine-year-old Temple's appeal was primarily sexual and accused her fans of being dirty old men. No, that didn't sit too well with Temple's managers or her film company, 20th Century Fox. They sued Greene, Night and Day, and the magazine's printers for libel for suggesting that Temple was being trotted out for prurient reasons.

The case ended up in court in March 1938. Greene was to be tried in absentia while he was on assignment in Mexico. Temple's counsel quickly worked out a settlement with the magazine for around 3500 pounds, but because Greene was in Mexico, the judge couldn't extract any cash from him.

Things didn't turn out so well for Night and Day; the huge financial blow helped force the magazine to fold a few months later. Greene did a bit better for himself; the exile in Mexico helped give him the setting for the masterpiece The Power and the Glory.

3. Caribbean Dictators Weren't Huge Fans, Either

Getty Images

When Greene wasn't grappling with Catholicism, he was usually writing about espionage or some sort of political intrigue. This subject matter didn't always win him friends in the countries in which he set his novels. Fidel Castro didn't like the light comic tone of Our Man in Havana because it downplayed just how repressive his predecessor, Fulgencio Batista, had been.

Castro's whining was nothing compared to Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier's reaction to The Comedians, Greene's scathing 1966 novel about Duvalier's Haitian regime. The book displays the brutality of Duvalier and the Tonton Macoute, the despot's personal secret police, and Duvalier was none too pleased to have his dirty laundry aired by such a well-known novelist.

Duvalier launched an unsuccessful counteroffensive by going on a pamphlet-writing smear campaign against Greene. In his autobiography Ways of Escape, Greene recalled that Duvalier accused him of being, "'A liar, a cretin, a stool-pigeon... unbalanced, sadistic, perverted... a perfect ignoramus... lying to his heart's content... the shame of proud and noble England... a spy... a drug addict... a torturer.' (The last epithet has always a little puzzled me.)"

4. He Had Firsthand Espionage Experience

Getty Images

Greene's novels are set all over the world, from Cuba to Haiti to Vietnam to Africa, and he'd been to all of those places. His reputation as a jet-setting journalist and novelist made it easy for Greene to get in and out of various countries, a trait the British intelligence office prized. MI6 recruited Greene as an agent during World War II and stationed him as an intelligence agent in Freetown, Sierra Leone. The arrangement worked out well, as the British government got intelligence and Greene got the setting for The Heart of the Matter, one of his very best novels.

Interestingly, Greene's spymaster supervisor and close friend within the agency was none other than Kim Philby, the infamous double agent who fed sensitive information to the Soviets for nearly three decades. For a lot of people, finding out their buddy was possibly the most notorious mole in intelligence history would have ruined the friendship. Not for Greene. He kept in touch with Philby after the double agent went into exile in Moscow and even wrote the foreword to Philby's 1968 memoir My Silent War, a show of support that some speculate may have cost Greene a shot at the Nobel Prize.

5. He Wasn't Raised Catholic

iStock

If you've read much Greene, this one's the real shocker. Although he always argued that he was a novelist who engaged Catholic themes rather than a Catholic novelist, Greene's probably the first name that pops into your head if you have to name a Catholic novelist. (In a 1978 interview, Greene said, "I've always found it difficult to believe in God. I suppose I'd now call myself a Catholic atheist.") His most overtly Catholic novels, The Power and the Glory, The End of the Affair, Brighton Rock, and The Heart of the Matter all rank among his best known and strongest works.

Surprisingly, Greene wasn't raised in a Catholic family, though. He didn't convert to Catholicism until the age of 21 in 1926. What made him convert? Well, a woman had a hand in it. Greene's transformation into Catholicism was partly influenced by Vivien Dayrell-Browning, the woman who would become his wife. (Vivien had some writing chops of her own; when she was 16 she had published a book of poetry with an introduction by G.K. Chesterton.)

Greene ended up leaving Vivien and their two children for a mistress in 1947. As strict Catholics, the Greenes never divorced and remained married until Graham's death in 1991.

Vivien didn't just sit around and weep about her departed husband, though. She filled her time by becoming one of the world's foremost authorities on dollhouses.

She began collecting 18th- and 19th-century English dollhouses during the 1940s, and after buying her first house at an auction and toting it home on the bus, she was hooked. Vivien began traveling the world in search of dollhouses and eventually built up a collection of 1500. She also published two scholarly works on the subject, and her collection became so well known that Graham helped subsidize an addition to her Oxford home that she transformed into a dollhouse museum.

'5 Things You Didn't Know About...' appears every Friday. Read the previous installments here.

twitterbanner.jpg

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Getty Images
arrow
History
5 Things You Should Know About Robert Todd Lincoln
Getty Images
Getty Images

Robert Todd Lincoln was Abraham Lincoln's oldest son and the only Lincoln child to survive into adulthood. While he didn't make quite the mark on history that his father did, Robert Lincoln had a pretty interesting life himself. Let's take a look at five things you might not know about him:

1. He Was on Ulysses S. Grant's Personal Staff

Getty Images

Part of Abraham Lincoln's mystique lies in his humble roots as a self-made man who found education where he could. His eldest son didn't have to go through quite as many trials and tribulations to do some learning, though. Robert left Springfield, Illinois, to attend boarding school at New Hampshire's elite Phillips Exeter Academy when he was a young man, and he later graduated from Harvard during his father's presidency.

After completing his undergrad degree, Robert stuck around Cambridge to go to Harvard Law School, but that arrangement didn't last very long. After studying law for just a few months, Lincoln received a commission as a captain in the army. Lincoln's assignment put him on Ulysses S. Grant's personal staff, so he didn't see much fighting. He did get a nice view of history, though; Lincoln was present as part of Grant's junior staff at Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox Courthouse.

After the war ended, Lincoln moved to Chicago with his mother and brother and wrapped up his legal studies.

2. The Booth Family Did Him a Favor

Getty Images

In 1863 or 1864, young Robert Lincoln was traveling by train from New York to Washington during a break from his studies at Harvard. He hopped off the train during a stop at Jersey City, only to find himself on an extremely crowded platform. To be polite, Lincoln stepped back to wait his turn to walk across the platform, his back pressed to one of the train's cars.

This situation probably seemed harmless enough until the train started moving, which whipped Lincoln around and dropped him into the space between the platform and train, an incredibly dangerous place to be.

Lincoln probably would have been dead meat if a stranger hadn't yanked him out of the hole by his collar. That stranger? None other than Edwin Booth, one of the most celebrated actors of the 19th century and brother of eventual Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth.

Lincoln immediately recognized the famous thespian "“ this was sort of like if George Clooney pulled you from a burning car today "“ and thanked him effusively. The actor had no idea whose life he had saved until he received a letter commending him for his bravery in saving the President's son a few months later.

3. He Had a Strange Knack for Being Near Assassinations

Getty Images

Lee's surrender wasn't the only history Lincoln ended up witnessing, although things got a bit grislier for him after Appomattox. As he arrived back in Washington in April 1865 Lincoln's parents invited him to go see Our American Cousin at Ford's Theater with them. The young officer was so exhausted after his journey that he begged off so he could get a good night's sleep. That night, of course, John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln's father, and Robert Todd was with the celebrated president when he passed away the next morning.

By 1881, Lincoln's political lineage and prominence as a lawyer qualified him for a national office, and he became Secretary of War under the newly inaugurated James A. Garfield. That July, Lincoln was scheduled to travel to Elberon, New Jersey, by train with the President, but the trip never took off. Before Lincoln and Garfield's train could leave the station, Charles Guiteau shot the Garfield, who died of complications from the wound two months later.

Oddly, that wasn't all for Lincoln, though. Two decades passed without a presidential assassination, but Lincoln's strange luck reared its head again in 1901. Lincoln traveled to Buffalo at the invitation of President William McKinley to attend the Pan-American Exposition. Although he arrived a bit late to the event, Lincoln was on his way to meet McKinley when anarchist Leon Czolgosz shot the president twice at close range.

Following these three bits of bad luck Lincoln refused to attend any presidential functions. He dryly noted that there was "a certain fatality about the presidential function when I am present."

4. He Realized His Mom Was a Little Nutty

Getty Images

Mary Todd Lincoln is fairly widely renowned today for being mentally ill, but it wasn't quite such an open secret when she was still alive. Robert, however, realized that his mother needed psychiatric help so she didn't become a danger to herself or an embarrassment to her family, so he had her involuntarily committed to a mental hospital in 1875 following a hearing that declared her insane.

Mary Todd was none too pleased about this plan. She not only snuck letters to her lawyer to help her escape from the institution, she also wrote newspaper editors in an effort to convince the public of her sanity. Mary Todd's ploy worked; at a second sanity hearing in 1876 she was declared sane and released from the Batavia, Illinois, sanatorium to which she'd been confined. However, by this point she'd been publicly humiliated and never really patched up her relationship with Robert before her death in 1882.

5. He Made Some Serious Dough on the Railroads

iStock

Once he got his legal practice up and running, Lincoln found a particularly lucrative clientele in the booming railroad industry. He spent most of his career working as a corporate lawyer for various railroads and train-related companies; the only breaks were his four-year stint as Secretary of War under Garfield and successor Chester A. Arthur and a four-year hitch as a minister to Britain under President Benjamin Harrison.

One of Lincoln's major clients was the Pullman Palace Car Company, for which he served as general counsel. When founder George Pullman died in 1897, Lincoln became president of the company, and in 1911 he became chairman of the Pullman Company's board. His lofty position in one of the country's most lucrative companies made him a millionaire and enabled Lincoln to build a sprawling estate, Hildene, in Manchester, Vermont.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
plinko.net
16 404 Pages That Are Worth the Error
plinko.net
plinko.net

The poem above is old, but the sentiment is universal. I first saw the verse at Plinko's error page, but the original author is nowhere to be found, although the verse owes a lot to Edgar Allan Poe. Looking for something on the internet that leads to an error page is frustrating, but there's an art to alleviating the reader's pain. Only this, and nothing more. Some websites make their 404 page entertaining in itself, and a few make it a real treat. You might even be distracted from what you were trying to find in the first place!

The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) is all about movies, so it makes sense that their error page gives you a well-known quote about your situation. There are about a dozen quotes that rotate, with some exact quotes, and some that are altered for the occasion.

BedMap is a hotel finder. They also found a great movie quote to adapt for their error page.

The Association for Computing Machinery's error page talks to you in text. The message goes on way after what you see here, until you feel much sorrier for the poor web server than you feel for yourself.

The error page at the game Brain Chef does the same thing as ACM, but instead of becoming melancholy, it flirts with you! And it keeps on, trying to keep you from navigating elsewhere.

The 404 page at Everlasting Blort acknowledges that the server is just as confused as you are. The page contains a flashing .gif that may trigger reactions if you suffer from photosensitive epilepsy. Those who visit Blort often already know that disorientation is what you go there for in the first place.

NPR's error page looks pretty normal for National Public Radio, but it cleverly contains a list of other things besides your missing destination link that cannot be found. After Amelia Earhart and the erased Watergate tape, they list Jimmy Hoffa, your luggage, Atlantis, and Waldo. Each item links to an article about the subject.

Homestar Runner blames you for the error. Which is just as well- I blame them for not adding anything new for years. Still, if you haven't seen all the cartoons, they are there for your enjoyment. But the other error messages they've used over the years were memorable as well.

Lesson learned: don't ever cram a Swiss cake roll into your disc drive.

This Russian business site 404 page is liable to make you forget what you were looking for, even if you don't understand a word of Russian (or Romanian -thanks, !). Let's all dance! This animation is found at more than one Russian site, so it's probably a feature of the hosting service. Warning: the song might be in your head all day.

Blue Fountain Media would like to develop websites and apps for you, but if you reach their error page instead, they offer on online version of Pac-Man for you to play. That makes everything all better, doesn't it?

Titlest golf equipment knows when you've lost a link, and they'll pitch in to help you look for it. In the rough. They've found a lot of golf balls there, after all.

Joel Veitch composed a song and video for Rathergood's 404 page. As you might guess, it's sung by a kitten.

Oh dear, you've got a 404
This isn't what you came here for
Oh dear, you've got a 404, there's nothing here to see
Oh dear, you've got a 404
This isn't what you came here for
Now that you're here, let's have a 404 party!

It's just as silly as anything you could possibly be looking for in his archives.

Woodland Farmers Market sells fresh produce in Washington state. They are also Star Wars fans and punsters.

Mashable did not find the page you're looking for. But they found your socks, so that's a plus, huh? Hey wait, who's wearing my socks? Oh, that's okay, they've got a hole in them anyway.

Bluegg is a company that designs websites. They also designed a sweet 404 page that says,

Ahhhhhhhhhhh! This page doesn't exist
Not to worry. You can either head back to our homepage, or sit there and listen to a goat scream like a human.

I listened to that goat scream quite a few times while preparing this item.

The Rolling Stones website gives you a video on their error page. A very appropriate video.

To be honest, these error pages came from a list that I've been keeping for seven years now. I just added to the list as I found great 404 pages, but I hadn't stopped to check how long the list was until recently. Over the years, many great error pages were lost because the website went out of business. Others just don't seem that creative anymore. Some error pages were changed or gutted due to copyright violations. To save time, I had kept a few posts that were lists of great error pages. Now I find that those posts no longer exist, and the links redirect to boring, everyday error pages. If you know of a wonderful error page everyone should see, please tell us about it!

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios