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Corbis

How Shirley Temple's Lawyers Launched Graham Greene's Career

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Corbis

In the fall of 1937, the British magazine Night and Day published a review of the Shirley Temple movie Wee Willie Winkie. The author of the review was Graham Greene, a relatively unknown novelist and the magazine’s literary editor.

Greene hated Wee Willie Winkie, a doltish adaptation of a Rudyard Kipling story set at the height of the British Raj. But he saved special enmity for Temple’s fans, whom he described as lecherous “middle-aged men and clergymen.” Temple, then 9 years old, had been trussed up by the producers to look like a “complete totsy.” Witness, Greene suggested, the “sidelong searching coquetry” of her eyes or “her neat and well-developed rump twisted in the tap-dance.”

Just a few weeks later, Greene and Night and Day were slapped with a libel suit for damaging the names of Temple and the film’s studio, Twentieth Century Fox.

Temple “is going to cost me £250 if I’m lucky,” Greene wrote to his brother. She cost him more than that: Night and Day, which had been plagued by financial problems since its inception, crumbled in the face of the libel suit, leaving Greene without a day job. In March, the King’s Bench heard the case. Calling Greene’s libel “a gross outrage,” Chief Justice Gordon Hewart awarded Twentieth Century Fox £3,500 in damages, £3,000 of which was to be paid by Night and Day and the remainder by Greene himself.

But Greene wasn’t around to hear the ruling. Weeks earlier, on January 29, he and his wife, Vivien, had fled London on the hulking cruise liner Normandie. It was the start of a journey that would take Greene from Manhattan to New Orleans to San Antonio and then deep into the jungles of Mexico—and eventually, after much suffering and pain, provide him with the material needed to write The Power and the Glory, his masterpiece.
    
For many of Greene’s readers, it’s surprising to learn that the Catholicism-obsessed writer was actually a late convert. He was raised Anglican in Berkhamsted, a cloistered town in the east of England. In his early twenties, while working as a journalist in Nottingham, Greene met Vivien Dayrell-Browning, a poet of minor acclaim. In order to please his future wife, in 1926 Greene agreed to be baptized in the Nottingham Cathedral.

His decision to travel to Mexico in 1938 was no accident, nor was it spontaneous. The West had fascinated Greene for years—in particular, a pair of states in the Mexican highlands, Tabasco and Chiapas, where a long anti-clerical campaign had left hundreds of priests dead, all but eradicating any trace of Catholicism. Greene wished to chronicle what he called, “the fiercest persecution of religion anywhere since the reign of Elizabeth.”

The shuttering of Night and Day and the libel suit were all the impetus he needed. He convinced his publisher to give him a modest advance for a travelogue, then set about planning his itinerary, a short stay in Mexico City and a tour of Tabasco and Chiapas, ending in the mountain town San Cristóbal de las Casas, where he had heard Catholicism was being practiced in secret. After several weeks, he would return to London, where he could publish his observations.

The first leg of the journey passed uneventfully. Greene left Vivien in New Orleans and crossed the border near Laredo, Texas. He stayed in Mexico City briefly—just long enough to admire the “great bold thighs” of the local dancers—before sailing to Villahermosa, the capital of Tabasco.

Greene found the dirt and heat of Villahermosa unbearable. Everywhere, he was watched by police, who “ambled drearily across in the yard in the great heat with their trousers open.” Greene equated these horrors with the absence of faith. “One felt one was drawing near to the center of something,” he wrote, “if it was only of darkness and abandonment.”

With the help of a few friendly locals, Greene chartered a plane for Salto de Agua, in Chiapas. He remained intent on seeing San Cristóbal de las Casas. But upon landing in Salto de Agua, he found endless expanses of jungle, perforated by rutted and overgrown trail. His only option was to hire a mule and a guide and ride some 100 miles north, to San Cristóbal.

The trip was torturous. His guide spoke little and had a nasty habit of trotting off into the distance without his charge. Greene begged frequently to stop; the guide politely refused. By the time he entered San Cristóbal a few days later, Greene’s entire body was in revolt. He was tick-bitten, sore in his legs and back, and afflicted with terrible stomach pains. Still, he was pleased to be among the faithful again. On his first day in San Cristóbal, he attended mass in a low-slung house on the edge of town. The priest wore a motoring coat, a tweed cap, and amber-tinted glasses.

“Mass was said without the Sanctus bell,” Greene noted. “Silence was a relic of the worst penal days when discovery probably meant death.” Now, Catholicism was practiced quasi-openly—although a complex system of bribes was required to keep police at bay. After the ceremony, Greene hobbled across the plaza and ducked into the Santo Domingo cathedral. At the altar knelt an Indian couple. As Greene watched, the pair sang a slow duet in a language that he did not understand.

“I wondered,” he later wrote, “what prayers they had said and what answers they could hope to get in this world of mountains, hunger and irresponsibility.” That question was still on his mind a year later, as he sat at his London desk to write a novel that would capture what he had witnessed.

The Power and the Glory is Greene’s most deeply Catholic novel and also his most thrilling. On its face, it is a novel of simple contrasts. The hero is a nameless priest who wanders the jungles of Southeast Mexico on muleback, chased by a nameless lieutenant and his henchmen. The relentless lieutenant, a socialist, finds the idea of God repugnant. He has “a complete certainty in the existence of a dying, cooling world, of human beings who had evolved from animals for no purpose at all.”

The priest, on the other hand, believes there is nothing but God: “God was the parent, but He was also the policeman, the criminal, the priest, the maniac, and the judge,” he concludes. The priest knows of what he speaks. He is a criminal himself: a drunkard, the father of an illegitimate child, a coward—afraid of being captured and equally afraid to push onward.

“Let me be caught soon,” he prays.

The allegory—the fallen but steadfast believer versus the vicious atheist—is sustained until the final pages, when the priest is shot dead in a prison yard. He collapses into a “routine heap beside the wall—something unimportant which had to be cleared away.”

But the book also suggests that there was nothing routine about his death. “He was one of the martyrs of the church,” a local woman proclaims after he is gone. In fact, despite the booze on his breath—or perhaps because of it—he may be a “hero of the faith.” Greene likely believed as much himself. In an essay years later, he wrote that the “greatest saints have been men with more than a normal capacity for evil.”

Most writers, if they are exceptionally lucky, produce one good book in a lifetime. In the space of two short years, Graham Greene completed three. The first—the one actually under contract, detailing his Mexican travels—was apparently the easiest to write. Titled The Lawless Roads, Greene finished it in just a few short months. The proofs arrived from the publisher in Christmas of 1938 and were sent back the following March, by which point Europe was enveloped in war. London suddenly took on the appearance of an armed camp. There were trenches dug in the parks and anti-aircraft guns in the squares.

Greene was worried. He’d had to pay out £500 for the Shirley Temple fiasco—not enough to bankrupt him but enough to leave his family in relatively dire straits. To earn some extra money, Greene decided to churn out a thriller, The Confidential Agent, yet he could not lay down a second fiction project, which he was already calling The Power and the Glory. (The title comes from the Lord’s Prayer: “For thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.”) Greene decided that he would simply write both books at the same time.

“I see no further for the next twelve months than the grindstone,” he pronounced. In order to gain a modicum of peace, he rented a studio in Mecklenburgh Square, far from his wife and their two small children. Still, distractions abounded. Chief among them: Dorothy, the daughter of Greene’s new landlady. Dorothy was stout and a little plain—a friend of Greene’s described her cruelly as “absolutely a non-starter” in terms of attractiveness. But Greene was smitten, and he and Dorothy were soon sleeping together. It was an affair that was to last several years, eventually destroying Greene’s marriage. It was his great sin—his own “spot of decay.”

In the evenings, Greene would visit with Dorothy. During the day, he worked on his two books: The Confidential Agent in the morning, sometimes 2,000 words at a stretch, and The Power and the Glory in the afternoon. To keep up the pace, he consumed massive amounts of Benzedrine, a fast-acting form of amphetamine. He finished The Confidential Agent in a stunning six weeks, in an “automatized Blur,” but it was The Power and the Glory, published in 1940, that was to make his name, bringing Greene the kind of recognition he had always craved. It was “his finest novel,” John Updike wrote many years later, “full of energy and grandeur” and “compassion.” It won the prestigious Hawthornden Prize in 1941, and John Ford later adapted it for the silver screen.

Greene himself loved it greatly. In an interview with The Paris Review, he placed it alongside Brighton Rock, The Heart of the Matter, and The End of the Affair—a group of novels that shared, in his reckoning, a Catholic concern. The protagonists in those four books, he told his interviewer, “have all understood in the end.” They are redeemed, in one way or another.

Some in the Catholic Church didn’t see it that way; initially the Church condemned Greene’s book. “Novels which purport to be the vehicle for Catholic doctrine frequently contain passages which by their unrestrained portrayal of immoral conduct prove a source of temptation to many of their readers,” wrote Cardinal Griffin of the Vatican’s Holy Office.

But years later, during an audience with Pope Paul VI, Greene brought up Griffin’s words. The Pope, who had read The Power and the Glory, reportedly smiled.

“Mr. Greene,” he said, “some parts of your books are certain to offend some Catholics, but you should pay no attention to that.”

For Greene, it must have been the ultimate blessing.

This story originally appeared in mental_floss magazine. Subscribe to our print edition here, and our iPad edition here.

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geography
Interactive Map Shows Where Your House Would Have Been 750 Million Years Ago
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Your neighborhood traveled a long way over several hundred million years to reach the spot it occupies today. To trace that journey over the ages, check out Ancient Earth, an interactive digital map spotted by Co.Design.

Ancient Earth, a collaboration between engineer and Google alum Ian Webster and Paleomap Project creator C.R. Scotese, contains geographical information for the past 750 million years. Start at the beginning and you'll see unrecognizable blobs of land. As you progress through the ages, the land mass Pangaea gradually breaks apart to form the world map we're all familiar with.

To make the transition even more personal, you can enter your street address to see where it would have been located in each period. Five hundred million years ago, for example, New York City was a small island in the southern hemisphere isolated from any major land mass. Around the same time, London was still a part of Pangaea, and it was practically on top of the South Pole. You can use the arrows on your keyboard to flip through the eras or jump from event to event, like the first appearance of multicellular life or the dinosaur extinction.

As you can see from the visualization, Pangaea didn't break into the seven continents seamlessly. Many of the long-gone continents that formed in the process even have names.

[h/t Co.Design]

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The Body
11 Facts About the Appendix
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Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock

Despite some 500 years of study, the appendix might be one of the least understood structures in the human body. Here's what we know about this mysterious organ.

1. THE ANCIENT EGYPTIANS CALLED IT THE "WORM" OF THE BOWEL.

The human appendix is small, tube-shaped, and squishy, giving ancient Egyptians, who encountered it when preparing bodies for funerary rites, the impression of a worm. Even today, some medical texts refer to the organ as vermiform—Latin for "worm-like."

2. THE APPENDIX SHOWS UP IN LEONARDO DA VINCI’S DRAWINGS.

The earliest description of a human appendix was written by the Renaissance physician-anatomist Jacopo Berengario da Carpi in 1521. But before that, Leonardo da Vinci is believed to drawn the first depiction of the organ in his anatomical drawings in 1492. Leonardo claimed to have dissected 30 human corpses in his effort to understand the way the body worked from mechanical and physiological perspectives.

3. IT'S ABOUT THE SIZE OF A PINKY FINGER.

The appendix is a small pouch connected to the cecum—the beginning of the large intestine in the lower right-hand corner of your abdomen. The cecum’s job is to receive undigested food from the small intestine, absorb fluids and salts that remain after food is digested, and mix them with mucus for easier elimination; according to Mohamad Abouzeid, M.D., assistant professor and attending surgeon at NYU Langone Medical Center, the cecum and appendix have similar tissue structures.

4. CHARLES DARWIN THOUGHT IT WAS A VESTIGIAL ORGAN …

The appendix has an ill-deserved reputation as a vestigial organ—meaning that it allegedly evolved without a detectable function—and we can blame Charles Darwin for that. In the mid-19th century, the appendix had been identified only in humans and great apes. Darwin thought that our earlier ancestors ate mostly plants, and thus needed a large cecum in which to break down the tough fibers. He hypothesized that over time, apes and humans evolved to eat a more varied and easier-to-digest diet, and the cecum shrank accordingly. The appendix itself, Darwin believed, emerged from the folds of the wizened cecum without its own special purpose.

5. … BUT THE APPENDIX PROBABLY EVOLVED TO HELP IMMUNE FUNCTION.

The proximity and tissue similarities between the cecum and appendix suggest that the latter plays a part in the digestive process. But there’s one noticeable difference in the appendix that you can see only under a microscope. “[The appendix] has a high concentration of the immune cells within its walls,” Abouzeid tells Mental Floss.

Recent research into the appendix's connection to the immune system has suggested a few theories. In a 2015 study in Nature Immunology, Australian researchers discovered that a type of immune cells called innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) proliferate in the appendix and seem to encourage the repopulation of symbiotic bacteria in the gut. This action may help the gut recover from infections, which tend to wipe out fluids, nutrients, and good bacteria.

For a 2013 study examining the evolutionary rationale for the appendix in mammal species, researchers at Midwestern University and Duke University Medical Center concluded that the organ evolved at least 32 times among different lineages, but not in response to dietary or environmental factors.

The same researchers analyzed 533 mammal species for a 2017 study and found that those with appendices had more lymphatic (immune) tissue in the cecum. That suggests that the nearby appendix could serve as "a secondary immune organ," the researchers said in a statement. "Lymphatic tissue can also stimulate growth of some types of beneficial gut bacteria, providing further evidence that the appendix may serve as a 'safe house' for helpful gut bacteria." This good bacteria may help to replenish healthy flora in the gut after infection or illness.

6. ABOUT 7 PERCENT OF AMERICANS WILL GET APPENDICITIS DURING THEIR LIFETIMES.

For such a tiny organ, the appendix gets infected easily. According to Abouzeid, appendicitis occurs when the appendix gets plugged by hardened feces (called a fecalith or appendicolith), too much mucus, or the buildup of immune cells after a viral or bacterial infection. In the United States, the lifetime risk of getting appendicitis is one in 15, and incidence in newly developed countries is rising. It's most common in young adults, and most dangerous in the elderly.

When infected, the appendix swells up as pus fills its interior cavity. It can grow several times larger than its average 3-inch size: One inflamed appendix removed from a British man in 2004 measured just over 8 inches, while another specimen, reported in 2007 in the Journal of Clinical Pathology, measured 8.6 inches. People with appendicitis might feel generalized pain around the bellybutton that localizes on the right side of the abdomen, and experience nausea or vomiting, fever, or body aches. Some people also get diarrhea.

7. APPENDECTOMIES ARE ALMOST 100 PERCENT EFFECTIVE FOR TREATING APPENDICITIS.

Treatment for appendicitis can go two ways: appendectomy, a.k.a. surgical removal of the appendix, or a first line of antibiotics to treat the underlying infection. Appendectomies are more than 99 percent effective against recurring infection, since the organ itself is removed. (There have been cases of "stump appendicitis," where an incompletely removed appendix becomes infected, which often require further surgery.)

Studies show that antibiotics produce about a 72 percent initial success rate. “However, if you follow these patients out for about a year, they often get recurrent appendicitis,” Abouzeid says. One 2017 study in the World Journal of Surgery followed 710 appendicitis patients for a year after antibiotic treatment and found a 26.5 percent recurrence rate for subsequent infections.

8. AN INFECTED APPENDIX DOESN’T ACTUALLY BURST.

You might imagine a ruptured appendix, known formally as a perforation, being akin to the "chestbuster" scene in Alien. Abouzeid says it's not quite that dramatic, though it can be dangerous. When the appendix gets clogged, pressure builds inside the cavity of the appendix, called the lumen. That chokes off blood supply to certain tissues. “The tissue dies off and falls apart, and you get perforation,” Abouzeid says. But rather than exploding, the organ leaks fluids that can infect other tissues.

A burst appendix is a medical emergency. Sometimes the body can contain the infection in an abscess, Abouzeid says, which may be identified through CT scans or X-rays and treated with IV antibiotics. But if the infection is left untreated, it can spread to other parts of the abdomen, a serious condition called peritonitis. At that point, the infection can become life-threatening.

9. SURGEONS CAN REMOVE AN APPENDIX THROUGH A TINY INCISION.

In 1894, Charles McBurney, a surgeon at New York's Roosevelt Hospital, popularized an open-cavity, muscle-splitting technique [PDF] to remove an infected appendix, which is now called an open appendectomy. Surgeons continued to use McBurney's method until the advent of laparoscopic surgery, a less invasive method in which the doctor makes small cuts in the patient's abdomen and threads a thin tube with a camera and surgical tools into the incisions. The appendix is removed through one of those incisions, which are usually less than an inch in length.

The first laparoscopic appendectomies were performed by German physician Kurt Semm in the early 1980s. Since then, laparoscopic appendectomies have become the standard treatment for uncomplicated appendicitis. For more serious infections, open appendectomies are still performed.

10. AN APPENDIX ONCE POSTPONED A ROYAL CORONATION.

When the future King Edward VII of Great Britain came down with appendicitis (or "perityphlitis," as it was called back then) in June 1902, mortality rates for the disease were as high as 26 percent. It was about two weeks before his scheduled coronation on June 26, 1902, and Edward resisted having an appendectomy, which was then a relatively new procedure. But surgeon and appendicitis expert Frederick Treves made clear that Edward would probably die without it. Treves drained Edward's infected abscess, without removing the organ, at Buckingham Palace; Edward recovered and was crowned on August 9, 1902.

11. THE WORLD'S LONGEST APPENDIX MEASURED MORE THAN 10 INCHES.

On August 26, 2006, during an autopsy at a Zagreb, Croatia hospital, surgeons obtained a 10.24-inch appendix from 72-year-old Safranco August. The deceased currently holds the Guinness World Record for "largest appendix removed."

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