A Russian reader usually starts his acquaintance with Graham Greene from serous novels like The quiet American. or For whom the Bell Chimes. It comes as a surprise when we discover that he dearly loved detective novels. The article reveals some interesting facts about Graham Greene's work.
UNPUBLISHED MANUSCRIPT FOUND BY GRAHAM GREENE SCHOLAR, FRANCOIS GALLIX.
THE EMPTY CHAIR is the first chapter of a detective story written by Graham Greene at the age of 22 and published a year ago for the first time. It is unfinished, but the five chapters in the manuscript are very representative of the author’s future way of writing, including his sense of dialogue, his often daring humorous comparisons, the craft of using the delaying devices of thrillers and the cinematic art of editing the various parts of his stories — not forgetting the detachment of irony.
Greene left quite a few uncompleted texts. About Across the Border one of his unfinished novels written in 1926 and later edited by John Lehman and published in Penguin New Writing in 1947, Greene wrote: “The other day, looking through a drawer, I came on the MS of and unfinished novel, and as I read it, the characters, the scene and the half-unfolded story seemed to me to have more interest than many tales of mine that had appeared fully dressed between covers, Why shouldn’t this book, too, I felt, have its chance?”
The same could be said about the Empty Chair, the unfinished detective story. It was found in the archives of the Humanities Research Center at Austin, Texas. Most of Greenes papers are kept in Austin. There are more than 100 boxes of documents covering 40 linear feet. Box 12 contains a folder with an untitled story by Greene. The Empty Chair is the title of the first chapter. The whole undated manuscript was written on yellowing paper that has now acquired a slightly musty smell. Altogether it contains five chapters respectively entitled: “The Empty Chair,” “The inspector looks aroubd”, “De Mortuis” and Taking Stock”.
Greenes handwriting deteriorated with age — the letters becoming smaller and smaller. Here, it remains quite legible, even if a magnifying glass was sometimes needed to decipher some of the additions he wrote above the lines.
All his life Greene was in the habit of indicating the number of words he had attained after a daily spell of writing, usually at the bottom of a page: here he wrote down 3, 250 for the first chapter and 22,000 for the totality of the manuscript.
Greene most probably wrote The Empty Chair in 1926. This was after his volume of poems, Babbling April, had been published by Basil Blackwell on May 1, 1925, and before the publication in 1929 of his first novel, which he had also started, at age 22: The Man Within.
The year 1926 was a crucial one for the young Greene. In February he was received into the Roman Catholic church; in March, he was accepted on trial as a sub-editor by The Times and he decided he would become a successful author. This resulted in starting several stories and leaving them unfinished. His interest on the genre of a detective story began very early. When he was 7, he confessed that Dixon Brett was his favourite character in fiction. He discovered Conan Doyle as early as the age of 10, and the Sherlock Holmes series stayed indelibly in his memory.
At first, Greene used to divide his texts between those he called “entertainments” — often based on the crime story or the thriller genres,starting with Stamboul Train and A Gun for Sale, and more literary books, such as The Power and the Glory, which he considered as “novels”, but he later abandoned this distinction when his books were republished in collected editions. The Empty Chair is obviously a story which Greene would have subtitled “an entertainment”.