Graham Greene and Helena

Peter Harrington Books has posted a long list of Waugh rare and first editions which includes several items of interest. A “featured” item is an uncorrected proof of Brideshead Revisited (estimate £15,000). This is not one of the 50 presentation copies, but the contents are probably identical. This would be like the copy that Waugh marked up and sent back to the printer from wartime Yugoslavia that is now archived at Loyola University in Baltimore, Maryland. The are 2 or 3 presentation copies that include messages of interest. For example, in Bob Laycock’s copy of Scoop, Waugh wrote: “No journalist/From Evelyn/Failed in the trade.” In a copy of the first US edition of Officers and Gentlemen, Waugh wrote to an otherwise unidentified Fr Vincent: 

“Dear Fr. Vincent, I hope that bits of this may amuse you. I am sorry to send an American copy. It cost twice as much as the English, so perhaps it is twice as good. I don’t like the wrapper at all. Yours sincerely, Evelyn Waugh”.

The major attraction among these lots is the presentation copy of Helena which Waugh sent to Graham Greene. This is printed on large size hand-made paper and is signed by Waugh with no message. The sellers have produced a video displaying the book and provide what purports to be a description of the correspondence between the writers about it. But they only looked at Waugh’s side of the correspondence. The seller’s video makes two claims about the book which they would not have made had they also read Greene’s letters: they claim (1) that Greene “reviewed” the book; and (2) that he never read it through, citing as evidence the fact that most of the pages were uncut. In fact, there is no record that Greene reviewed the book nor did he tell Waugh that he had done so. He says in a letter dated 26 October 1950 acknowledging receipt and thanking Waugh that he had read a truncated version of the book in The Month with “enormous interest” and now would read the complete version. But he went on to say that he would buy a reading copy because “I can’t mark a limited edition & I never feel I own a book [illegible].” Graham Greene, A Life in Letters, pp. 178-79. Whether he ever read the book from cover to cover is impossible to say from the evidence available. He did, however, in a subsequent letter to Waugh sent before 16 November 1950 write:

I must write a hasty line to say how much I like Helena. The truncated version in The Month didn’t do it justice. It is a magnificent book. I think particularly fine & moving was Helena’s invocation to the three wise men…

Waugh acknowledged that letter on 16 November and thanked him “awfully for writing about Helena,” clearly referring to Greene’s letters, not any review: 

I hardly hoped you would like it. I am hugely exhilarant to hear you do. Most of the reviews I have seen have been peculiarly offensive…(Letters, pp. 340-41)

A bit of research might show whether the passage about the wise men Greene singled out was included in the excerpted version or whether he would only have known about it if he had read the entire book. But his letters do not suggest that Greene “cheated,” as the bookseller’s video claims, by reviewing a book he hadn’t read. The estimate for Greene’s largely uncut copy is £25,000.

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