Monday, 10 March 2014

How a Communist turned Graham Greene Catholic.

A drinking partner and compatriot of Graham Greene was the journalist Claud Cockburn. The same Claud Cockburn fought in Spain alongside rival George Orwell and operated The Week in the 1930s leading the charge against 'appeasement' of Nazi Germany. He took aim at the pro-Nazi elements within the Conservative establishment and dubbed them "the Cliveden set" as they gathered around Nancy Astor at her stately home in Buckinghamshire. By then Cockburn and Greene had been friends for many years as they had met as students in the incestuous halls of Oxford where the spawn of the elite rubbed shoulder with future radicals. It was at Oxford that the young Greene first decided to convert to Catholicism (in order to marry). This would later become a defining issue for future biographers. Claud Cockburn regarded Green’s conversion in a more mundane light:

“I knew him before Vivien. Quite early on, Graham said to me that he had fallen madly in love with this girl, but she wouldn’t go to bed with him unless he married her. So I said, ‘Well, there are lots of other girls in the world, but still if that’s the way you feel, well go ahead and marry her. What difference does it make?’ And then he came back and said (this went on over quite a number of weeks), ‘The trouble is that she won’t marry me unless I become a Catholic.’ I said, ‘Why not? I you’re really so obsessed with this girl, you’ve got to get it out of your system.’ He was rather shocked, because he said, ‘You of all people, a noted atheist.’ I said, ‘Yes, because you’re the one that’s superstitious, because I don’t think it matters. If you worry about becoming a Catholic, it means you take it seriously, and you think there is something there.’ I said, ‘Go right ahead – take instruction or whatever balderdash they want you to go through if you need this for your fuck, go ahead and do it, and as we both know the whole thing is a bloody nonsense. It’s like Central Africa – some witch doctor says you must do this before you can lay the girl.’ And then to my amazement the whole thing suddenly took off and became serious and he became a Catholic convert. So I felt perhaps I’d done the wrong thing.”

Claud Cockburn was later listed as the 84th most dangerous Communist on earth by Joe McCarthy. What an honour! Though by then Cockburn had left the Communist Party and moved to the Irish Republic where he wrote under an array of pseudonyms to support his growing family. When Cockburn came to adapt his book Beat the Devil (1951) for the silver screen - and a damn fine film it would become! - he was faced with the trouble of his politics. In the end Truman Capote was given the credit for the project. Meanwhile, Graham Greene had grown bored with Vivien, moved onto prostitutes, kept up the drinking pace, then married another woman, and then another.

No comments: