twelve o’clock, April 10, 2021 – 10:02

Tour in the literature of the writer-agent with a passion for the blue island

of Cesare de Seta

The life of Graham Greene (1904-1981) was an adventure from wherever you look at it: his biography is a ball of yarn, a “gliommero” as Gadda would say, to untie which a lot of patience is needed because he was a compulsive traveler of his time: from Latin America to Asia up to Anacapri where he bought a house in 1946 when, having arrived with the Fifth Army in Italy, he went to the island for a short vacation and fell in love with it: nevertheless he was one of the greatest English writers of the twentieth century. Richard Greene is the author of the book Russian Roulette. The life and time of Graham Greene, just published by Sellerio, translation by Chiara Rizzuto: the author is only a namesake. Graham Greene’s work is a solid web that unravels along his travels, following the history, the facts, the protagonists, whether they are brutal dictators or characters resulting from his fervent creativity. Valga The honorary consul, 1973 which takes place in Asuciòn, the capital of Argentina, where he arrived by going up the Paranà river in a boat. He was sixty-two and had come there with his great writer friend Victoria Ocampo for a clandestine anti-Peronist meeting. Throughout his life he was always a convinced democrat, he fought against all tyranny, but he harbored sympathy for Fidel Castro. The first novel of the Catholic cycle is The Brighton Rock, 1938, the story of a delinquent boy, with an unhappy and evil-minded childhood: in which an autobiographical note of his difficult childhood shines through.

From his travels to Mexico marked by ferocious religious persecution, he draws the inspiration for one of his masterpieces, The Power and the Glory, 1939. Suicide is the theme of The heart of the matter, which should not be forgotten Greene was a fervent Catholic bond to the Roman Church. Nevertheless he had two wives, many lovers, a life of “dissolute” very little as a believer, but his contradictions are countless: he never separated from his first wife, with the last Ivonne, French, he moved to Antibes on the Costa Azzurra where he lived in winter, while he preferred Anacapri in spring and summer. Revered and respected, he was made an honorary citizen. Our agent in Havana, the last of his entertainment: the one that the writer prefers for the tragicomic tone that is found in the plays that I have never read: but I am not an Angloist just a passionate reader of his fiction. The political novels with A Quiet American, 1955, from which a film was made. Conventional society, sex, gambling and adventure coexist in The Comedians, 1966: Travels to Latin America inspire the hilarious Traveling With Aunt and The Honorary Consul.

In 1978 he wrote the spy story The Human Factor, centered on the betrayal of double agent Kim Philby, who was his superior at the time of the war and who fled to the Soviet Union in 1963. From his move to Switzerland Doctor Fisher was born in Geneva, or the dinner of the bombs is a satire on capitalism. The book I am talking about by Richard is full of information and very enjoyable reading. When Greene went to Moscow after the Gorbachevian thaw, among the few people he wanted to meet was his old friend from the Intelligence Service Anthony Burgess who lived there, honored as a hero. I asked Greene after Anthony Blunt died if he had ever met him: old Graham with his big blue and cold eyes walking down Via Ceselle told me that he knew the code name but that he had never met him in person. Perhaps a lie: Blunt being a close friend of Burgess agent MI16, this statement was not very credible. When the Blunt scandal broke out, who was discovered to be an agent of the KGB, photos of us and the cover of the book, co-written, Architecture and the Baroque City, came out in the newspapers, the result of the seminars at the Courtauld Institut of Art in London where he had often invited me. They also looked for Blunt in Anacapri because I had hosted him sometimes. Greene thus discovered that I was not a “ciamurro”, that is, a villager from Anacapri. I asked him with a bit of malice how he judged him and how he would have behaved if a colleague of his had also been discovered double-agent: “I would have given him briefcase before denouncing him,” he replied. Behavior in perfect oxbridge style.

He asked me what I thought of Blunt and I told him that I considered him a great art historian of the twentieth century. Since then, with their mutual friend Sebastian De Grazia, a great American historian, professor at Princeton of Italian origins – he often hosted Rosario Villari, of whom I was also a friend – we went to the restaurant La Rondinella, to Sebastian’s or his house which were adjacent Ceselle: that of Greene has as its name «Il Rosaio», that of Sebastian «’A sciuscella». The houses had been built by Edwin Cerio, among the many scattered around the island. He went out early in the morning, wandered around the Anacapri market with a straw shopping bag. He wore a Panama hat, with wide brims that almost covered his cold blue eyes, he Agent in Havana. The houses are about a hundred meters from Via Monticello where I have also had a home for half a century: my maternal grandfather had it on the way to Marina Piccola and I spent the summers there until adolescence with my mother and brothers.

The cemetery of Capri is full of illustrious graves from Norman Douglas, the great Scottish writer whom Greene knew well and frequented, to Jacques Fersen, a French poet without talent: he committed suicide with cocaine and champagne after a bacchanal in his magnificent house under Villa Jovis. When I return to visit the cemetery of Capri, I always turn a grateful thought to Frau von Moor, the Viennese pediatrician who treated me as a newborn, during the war years when there was no penicillin. My mother loved her and helped her defend herself from jealous Anacapri women who did not tolerate her libertinage and one evening they were stoning her. Mrs von Moor had arrived in Italy with a Russian prince – true, not a “Viennese operetta” – and they stopped at Positano, but abandoned it, for a more rude sailor, and the prince blew his brains out: after the scandal moved to Capri. I remember her old and limping sipping coffee slushes or more robust whiskeys in a little bar in Anacapri with her friend Graham Greene. The autobiography of von Moor was edited posthumously by Greene, but in vain I asked Leonardo Mondadori who had a house on Via Tragara to republish it, the heirs did not allow it: perhaps they consider it an “operetta” and they are very wrong. Greene didn’t say a word in Italian, although I’m convinced he knew Dante’s language well, but he was born under the British Empire. He did not like to talk about politics, nor about his life as an MI16 agent nonetheless. Shirley Hazzard, Australian writer, married to the American Francis Stigmuller, French expert and Flaubert’s specialist, They were friends of Greene and Sherley dedicated a delightful memorial book to their Capri holidays.

April 10, 2021 | 10:02

© Time.News


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