WRITERS ON SCREEN: The End of the Affair (1955) –It’s not easy being Greene- Pt3


He was conscious of the numberless facets of his personality.                                                         – John le Carre on Graham Greene

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Graham Greene & Catherine Walston

Apparently, Graham Greene’s affair with the American, Lady Catherine Walston (nee Crompton) was an embarrassment to the upper-echelons of London society, but the two of them carried on nonetheless right under the nose of Baron Henry Walston (formerly Waldstein) who, although rich, was a Socialist who fought for social justice. The Baron demanded that Lady Catherine stop fooling around with Greene after, The End of the Affair was published in 1951, but the affair dragged on, and not because of Greene if you believe Jocelyn Rickards.

Graham Greene had finished writing The End of the Affair or was just finishing it up when he met a lovely brunette beauty with a pixie hair-cut and a turned-up nose named Jocelyn Rickards. She was from Australia, and her artistry at costume design helped create the distinctive British cinema of the 1960’s (Blow-Up, Look Back in Anger, Morgan, From Russia with Love). When she met Graham Greene and they began carrying on he was already married to Vivien, and was embroiled in a relationship with Lady Catherine. I can’t even imagine the kind of rationale involved in assuaging Catholic guilt over this double layer of fornication. Is there some little head over-ruled the big head dispensation?

 There was no mistake it was a bachelor’s flat, but when you looked at the bed it wasn’t a bachelor bed, it was an enormous bed. – Jocelyn Rickards

 

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Jocelyn Rickards

Jocelyn Rickards, Graham Greene with Lady Catherine in tow, all collided at a party once. After sizing up Ms. Rickards, Lady Catherine said to Greene, “That’s why you don’t want to see me so much anymore” or words to that effect. According to Rickards it took Greene three years to wrest himself completely from the clingy Catherine.

 In the film adaptation of Greene’s novel Bendrix’ writing is constantly being undermined by his fetish for Sarah Miles, he even abandons the novel he meant to write—the same novel whose research lead him to seek out Henry Miles, Sarah’s husband. The same novel that was the reason he and Sarah met in the first place. Bendrix is working on another novel, which he admits is going badly. This is where the Bendrix/Greene comparison veers apart. Graham Greene would have kept on writing.

 One precious insight into the real Graham Greene, we get from the novel and not the film, is a peak into Greene’s process as a writer through the character of Maurice Bendrix: “Over twenty years I have probably averaged five hundred words a day for five days a week. I can produce a novel in a year, and that allows time for revision and the correction of the typescript.” This passage occurs near the end of the novel and goes on for nearly the whole page and into some delicious detail. Based on his own words and the recollection of a young Alex Korda who actually saw Greene working, this was in fact Greene’s modus operandi. The passage from the novel goes on to state that even a love affair would not interrupt his schedule: “a love affair began after lunch.”

 If she were dead, I could be free. – Maurice Bendrix in The End of The Affair

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ca. 1954 — Van Johnson as Maurice Bendrix and Deborah Kerr as Sarah Miles in the 1955 film The End of the Affair. — Image by © John Springer Collection/CORBIS

Maybe it would have seemed too boring and brutal to have Sarah ranting about her religious conversion as Bendrix clatters away unperturbed on his typewriter. Better to have Bendrix going into histrionic fits of jealousy because he thinks Sarah has yet another man, only to find out that the other man is The Almighty. This is the 1955 movie version, but in real life Graham Greene, Bendrix’ alter-ego never let anything get in the way of writing. I can understand that from a process perspective, getting that story down on the page so that you stay in the flow of the story arc, which you have been thinking, and thinking and thinking about. No matter if it’s somewhat untidy and lacking in luster. Making it clean, making it shine–this is what revision, revision and more revision, and even more revision is all about, but it can’t happen unless you have that story down there on the page.

I am grateful to Graham Greene for ripping a tortured love story from his very own soul and laying it down in bare black and white in the form of a novel that is painfully elegant and eloquent. I’m not sure it is the stuff of movies though–that deep internal conflict, that dark night of the soul stuff that is inherent in a tortured relationship not just between two people, but between an individual and their concept of God.

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 Graham Greene’s most enduring relationship was no doubt, with his typewriter. Despite his serial philandering, when he wrote he wrote to the exclusion of all else, prompting his wife Vivien to remark: “He was in some ways a very cold person.” Maybe he had to be or he would never have gotten anything done–what with that enormous bed and all.