Graham Greene's Diary: A Few Final Journeys

'restaurant ...hideous ...impossible ...wine' Graham Greene's words are scratched out as if a spider had crawled from a pot of royal blue ink and made its cantankerous way across the page. This graphic is taken from one of two notebooks kept by the author and lugubriously entitled A Few Final Journeys. Greene was famously covert, evasive, mysterious in his movements. His journal is all the more valuable, then, for allowing us an insight into a punishing itinerary (is that the word 'tired' we can discern?) made during the last five years of his life as he travels through Panama, Nicaragua, Russia and Spain. An extraordinary itinerary in which, for example, a meeting with Panama's military leader, Manuel Noriega, is given no more weight than a bad meal in a restaurant.

Chris Fletcher Curator of Manuscripts, The British Library

 

An author's handwriting. Always completely illegible. Faced with a piece of text, my editor's instincts jump into action. What is he trying to say? Is the punctuation correct? I soon realise this is a futile task as the writing is hard to read. The word 'impossible' takes centre stage, and below: is that 'two of wine'?

I stop focusing on the words and start to enjoy it as an image. I turn it sideways and it becomes unusual, vertical script, unrecognisable as English. Greene's pen seems to splutter on the page, filling up the holes in an 'o' or a 'p'. We could typeset this text and all would be legible, but once set, any misreading might go down in history as fact: 'two of wine' or 'two of mine'? As a fragment we can ignore the words and enjoy his incomprehensible design, and as a handwritten diary we cannot be sure what it says.

Georgina Difford Publishing, The British Library

 

This is a select manuscript that arrived on my desk boxed in green leather with a gold trim. I carefully opened it up and extracted the travelogue. A librarian wandered past at regular intervals, throwing me a backward glance every now and then. Inside the front cover '£7500' is written in pencil and I wondered if the diary has been bought by the Library in an auction or donated. Every page of the book is covered in shaky handwriting from a thick-nibbed blue ink pen. The writing is orderly but almost impossible to decipher as if it has been deliberately written in code like Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks. I struggled to read it for over an hour, managing only to pick out single words like 'heat', 'drinking' ,'Havana', 'prostitutes' and 'bed', the words creating an aura of violence and danger in a distant, exotic location. I wondered if his writing is a reflection of inner turmoil or whether he learnt how to write like this during his time as an MI6 spy. Maybe it's a coded form of personal shorthand to protect his writing from someone like me, trying to read his private, unpublished thoughts. It's something I often think about whilst researching in the manuscripts room. Is it morally right for any reader to be able to leaf through the private journals and diaries of those long dead, who almost certainly never intended for these documents to be made public property? Out of a desire to protect his privacy I have decided to photograph a tiny section of his nearly illegible handwriting which transforms into a series of painterly marks. R.L.

 

Taken from: Graham Greene's diary entitled A Few Final Journeys, recording travels to Panama, Nicaragua, Russia and Spain
Author / Creator: Graham Greene
Date: 1986-1987
Copyright: By permission of the British Library Board
Shelfmark: Add. 70931