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Graham Greene on Our Man in Havana:

The first version written in the forties was an outline on a single sheet of paper. The story was laid in 1938, in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, a reasonable enough setting for espionage. The English agent had nothing at this stage in the story to do with vacuum cleaners, and it was the extravagance of his wife and not his daughter which led him to cheat his service.

Working under Kim Philby in the Secret Service, Greene was responsible for keeping track of German agents in Portugal. He became aware of a German agent who offered to develop a spy ring in England for the Nazis. This man gave detailed reports on British defence without ever leaving Lisbon -- with the help of a map, a Blue Guide to England, some military books, and a good imagination. In the meanwhile I had visited Havana several times in the early fifties…Suddenly it struck me that here in this extraordinary city, where every vice was permissible and every trade possible, lay the true background for my comedy. The shadows in 1938 of the war to come had been too dark for comedy; the reader could feel no sympathy for a man who was cheating his country in Hitler's day for the sake of an extravagant wife.
But in fantastic Havana, among the absurdities of the Cold War (for who can accept the survival of Western capitalism as a great cause?) there was a situation allowably comic, all the more if I changed the wife into a daughter.

..The British agent Wormold in Our Man in Havana has no origin that I can recognize, but the elegant Hawthorne owes a little, in his more imaginative flights, to an officer in the same Service who was at one time my chief. C’s black monocle too was not imaginary, though his fashion of cooking from his bed by telephone belongs to his famous predecessor Admiral Sinclair.

from Ways of Escape, pp.206, 214


Melody Yiu
Email me: greeneland -at- gmail . com

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