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Voices from beyond the grave.

I was sad to see Graham Greene go. He was one of my father's oldest friends. Greene's father, James, was headmaster of Berkhamsted, which both Graham and my father attended. James Greene's powerful denunciations of modern civilization in its downward trend no doubt helped propel both of them toward therapeutic ideologies.

When my mother was on her deathbed in the Mercy Hospital in Cork in the autumn of 1989, 1 read to her portions of Greene's interview with John Cornwell on the subject of his beliefs, published in The Observer for September 24 of that year. She listened keenly, and so did the four other ladies, all of them devout Catholics, in the small ward.

"`And what about Saltan? Do you believe in the devil or in demons? " I kept my voice low, not wishing to upset the rest of the ward.

" No, I don't think so ! "What did Graham say?" my mother asked. "I didn't quite hear."

"He said, No he didn't think sol" I said more loudly.

" Do you believe in hell? I read on.

"I don't believe in hell.'

"I didn't hear that either," my mother said.

"He says he doesn't believe in hell:' There was sepulchral silence in the ward.

"`Do you contemplate God in a pure, disembodied way?

"`I'm afraid I don't.'" I bellowed this, to spare my mother the inconvenience of asking me to repeat it.

Sister Joan came in and sank to her knees. It was the hour for her to lead the ward in reciting Hail Marys. My mother and I kept quiet in our corner of the room.

Later I came across my father's description of Greene's conversion to Catholicism, as tape-recorded in our house in Ardmore by Greene's biographer Norman Sherry in 1977, four years before my father died in St. Finbar's, not so far across town from the Mercy:

  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 ate 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? If you're 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 then to my amazement, the whole thing suddenly
    took off and became serious and he became a Catholic
    convert. So then I felt perhaps I'd done the wrong thing.
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Title Annotation:Beat the Devil; death of Graham Greene
Author:Cockburn, Alexander
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:column
Date:Apr 29, 1991
Previous Article:Maxwell was here.
Next Article:A real civics lesson.

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