In a dour Holland Park house with rooms and secrets long shuttered live three unyielding forces for morality: rigidly religious sisters Helen and Teresa, and their brother, a Roman Catholic priest. Into the lives of this insular trio comes their young grandniece, Rose Pemberton, following the death of her mother. To the mortification of her aunts, Rose has also brought her lover, Michael Dennis, who is twenty-five years Rose’s senior, married, and a psychology lecturer dictated by reason, not faith. In a home that reeks of sanctimony, Rose and Michael are as welcome as sin. But it’s the arrival of Michael’s distraught wife—armed with righteous emotional blackmail and worse—that ignites an unexpected fury and makes real the family’s greatest fears.
Premiering in London in 1953 and moving to Broadway one year later, Graham Greene’s debut as a dramatist was hailed by Kenneth Tynan as “the best first play of its generation.”
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About the Author
“The most ingenious, inventive and exciting of our novelists, rich in exactly etched and moving portraits of real human beings . . . A master of storytelling.” —V. S. Pritchett, The Times (London)
“In a class by himself . . . The ultimate chronicler of twentieth-century man’s consciousness and anxiety.” —William Golding
“A superb storyteller with a gift for provoking controversy.” —The New York Times
“Greene had the sharpest eyes for trouble, the finest nose for human weaknesses, and was pitilessly honest in his observations. . . . For experience of a whole century he was the man within.” —Norman Sherry, Independent
“No serious writer of [the twentieth] century has more thoroughly invaded and shaped the public imagination than Graham Greene.” —Time
“One of the finest writers of any language.” —The Washington Post
“A superb storyteller—he had a talent for depicting local colour, a keen sense of the dramatic, an eye for dialogue, and skill in pacing his prose.” —The New York Times
“Graham Greene was a profound and experimental stylist.” —Time Out
“Graham Greene had wit and grace and character and story and a transcendent universal compassion that places him for all time in the ranks of world literature.” —John le Carré
“Greene was a force beyond his books.” —Melvyn Bragg
“Greene’s fictional products are to conventional mystery stories what an Alfred Hitchcock exercise in cinematic suspense is to the ordinary Grade B Whodunit.” —Weekly Book Review
“Mr. Greene’s extraordinary power of plot-making, of suspense and of narration . . . moves continuously both in time and space and in emotion.” —The Times (London)
“Graham Greene taught us to understand the social and economic cripples in our midst. He taught us to look at each other with new eyes. I don’t suppose his influence will ever disappear.” —Auberon Waugh, The Independent
“A masterly storyteller . . . An enormously popular writer who was also one of the most significant novelists of his time.” —Newsweek
Graham Greene (1904–1991) is recognized as one of the most important writers of the twentieth century, achieving both literary acclaim and popular success. His best known works include Brighton Rock, The Heart of the Matter, The Quiet American, and The Power and the Glory. After leaving Oxford, Greene first pursued a career in journalism before dedicating himself full-time to writing with his first big success, Stamboul Train. He became involved in screenwriting and wrote adaptations for the cinema as well as original screenplays, the most successful being The Third Man. Religious, moral, and political themes are at the root of much of his work, and throughout his life he traveled to some of the wildest and most volatile parts of the world, which provided settings for his fiction. Greene was a member of the Order of Merit and a Companion of Honour.
Date of Birth:October 2, 1904
Date of Death:April 3, 1991
Place of Birth:Berkhamsted, England
Place of Death:Vevey, Switzerland
Education:Balliol College, Oxford
Read an Excerpt
The Living Room. An afternoon in January.
At first sight, when the curtain rises, we are aware of something strange about the living room. The house is an ordinary Holland Park house, and there is nothing at first on which we can positively lay a finger and say, 'this is wrong', or 'this is strange'. Through a tall window at the back we see only the tops of the trees outside and the window is oddly barred up half its height. Is it that the furniture — in a fashion difficult to define — doesn't quite fit, as though it had been chosen for a larger room of a different shape? But there are many explanations for that in these days. There are two doors to the room — one is open on to the landing, the other up a small flight of stairs is closed. As the curtain rises, a bell downstairs is ringing.
[MARY comes rapidly in. She is un-uniformed and you could not believe that those heavy, shapeless legs could belong to anyone less independent than a daily woman. She mounts the stairs to the closed door and turns the handle. It is locked.]
MARY [softly]: Miss Teresa ...
[She listens for a moment, and then as the bell rings again, goes out to the landing and we hear her rattling down the stairs.
Almost at the same moment we hear the sound of water pouring away from a basin in a closet, behind the second door. That for a moment seems to focus the oddness, the uneasiness of this room, for who would expect a lavatory to open immediately out of a living-room as though it were — perhaps we are now reaching the heart of the problem — really a bedroom? Voices mount the stairs — a man's voice and MARY'S.]
MARY: Miss Browne will be glad to see you here, Miss Rose, safe and sound.
MICHAEL: I hope she got my wire. Phew! This has been quite a climb.
MARY: It's warm for the time of year, sir.
MICHAEL: Is it? Not in the train. The heating wasn't on.
[MARY shows in MICHAEL DENNIS, a man in the middle forties with a strained, rather sullen face anxious about too many things and too anxious to disguise his anxiety, and ROSE PEMBERTON, a girl of about twenty with a look of being not quite awake, a bewildered tousled-pillow face, a face which depends for its prettiness on youth. It will never again be quite so pretty as this year — or even this month.]
MARY: Miss Browne will be down in a minute, sir. [She goes out.]
MICHAEL: Down? She must live in an attic.
[MICHAEL and ROSE stand stiffly, a little apart, looking round the room.]
Why have a living room on the third floor? Do you think it's to discourage callers? [He moves restlessly around, but comes back to exactly the same spot, three feet away from the girl.] What an odd room! It's the wrong shape. Do you see what I mean? Nothing quite fits. I wonder where that goes to? [He indicates the stairs to the closet door, climbs them, and tries the handle. He returns to the same spot of carpet.] The Browne family's skeleton? Browne with an E. Haven't you anything to say? Some joke? Something to show that we don't really care a damn?
[ROSE shakes her head.]
Well, I've delivered you safely. The reliable family friend. You are only twelve hours late. And we sent the right considerate telegram. The orphan is safe. But they wouldn't have worried. You were in my hands.
[ROSE puts out a hand and touches him. He puts his hand over hers, holding it tightly, but they keep the same distance.]
Be careful! You can always trust me to be very careful. I've reached the careful age. Wasn't my planning perfect? The two rooms at opposite ends of the corridor. And even the Boots was not up when our alarm went. The shoes stood on parade all down the corridor — in the correct positions.
ROSE [imploringly]: Do you have to? Isn't it bad enough, darling?
MICHAEL: Careful, again. Darling is a word we mustn't use. Perhaps 'dear' would be all right, from a man of my age. A safely married man. But when I say dear, remember it means — just that. Dear.
ROSE: We can hear anybody coming up the stairs.
[She kisses him, and at that moment a key turns in the closet door. They leap to their original positions as the door opens and MISS TERESA BROWNE comes out — an old lady who must have passed seventy a long while ago. She closes the door behind her.]
Aunt Helen ...
[TERESA BROWNE pays not the slightest attention. She walks by them as though they were not there and out through the door on to the landing.]
MICHAEL: Why did she go out like that? Why didn't she speak? Do you think she saw us?
ROSE: No. Perhaps she heard something.
MICHAEL: There wasn't much to hear.
[TERESA re-enters. She holds out her hand and smiles with restrained cordiality.]
TERESA: My dear, you must be Rose. Mary never told me you'd arrived.
ROSE [kissing her]: And you are Aunt Helen. Or do I have to call you Great-Aunt?
TERESA: I'm Aunt Teresa, dear.
ROSE: How silly of me!
TERESA: Not silly after all these years. You were only six, weren't you?
ROSE: Only six. This is Mr Dennis, Aunt Teresa.
TERESA: I'm interested to meet you, Mr Dennis. My poor niece mentioned you often in her letters.
ROSE [to MICHAEL]: My mother.
MICHAEL: Of course. I hope you don't think, Miss Browne, that I've let down your trust already.
TERESA: I don't know what you mean, Mr Dennis. Trust?
MICHAEL: We're twelve hours late. It seemed sensible to catch an early morning train instead of travelling after the funeral.
TERESA: I was sorry not to be there, dear. But I couldn't leave your uncle and your Aunt Helen. You found a room in the village, I hope, Mr Dennis?
MICHAEL: Oh, yes. The Red Lion.
TERESA: Mass was said for your mother this morning, dear, by Father Turner.
ROSE: Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't know. I should have been there.
TERESA: We were all there — even my brother — we remembered you with her. Are you a Catholic, Mr Dennis?
MICHAEL [abruptly]: No.
TERESA: How odd that my niece should have left you her executor.
ROSE [with asperity]: Why not? My father wasn't a Catholic.
TERESA: No, dear. Poor man. Would you like a cup of tea, Mr Dennis?
MICHAEL: You mustn't bother. I only came to hand over Rose ...
TERESA: A labourer deserves his hire. Excuse me a moment, Mr Dennis. [She goes to the door and calls' Mary!' No answer. She goes out on to the landing and calls again 'Mary'. From the landing] What time is it, Mr Dennis?
MICHAEL: Just gone five.
TERESA: Mary always leaves so punctually, but she's paid till five-fifteen.
MICHAEL: I'v really got to go.
TERESA: My brother always likes his cup. Mary! [She goes downstairs.]
MICHAEL: Well, we've broken the ice. That's not a good phrase, is it, for a pair of people skating like we are.
ROSE: Darling, what are you worrying about? Me? You don't have to. I swear it. [With a touch of bitterness.] I loved you the night of my mother's funeral. That's an oath, isn't it, like mixing blood. For ever and ever. Amen.
MICHAEL: Oh, it's myself I'm worrying about. I'm afraid you're going to disappear. In a wood of old people. I'm afraid I'm losing you — the minutes are hurrying. What happens tomorrow? [He moves around the room while she stays still, at a loss, in the centre of it.]
ROSE: You don't have to worry — You can't lose me. After all, you're the executer.
MICHAEL: You mean the executor, yes, I suppose I can always see you on business. [Mounting the stairs.] She came from up here. [He opens the closet door.] It just doesn't make sense. The third floor. A bathroom out of the sitting-room. This must have been a bedroom.
[MISS HELEN BROWNE enters.]
HELEN: You're Rose?
My dear little sweetheart, I used to call you. And you are Mr Dennis ?
[They shake hands.]
Oh, you wouldn't believe what a bad little sweetheart she could be sometimes.
[She is a little younger than her sister — a fat woman, with a certain bonhomie. She can steer straight through other people's lives without noticing.]
Teresa told me you'd arrived. She's making tea. The maid left too early, but the clock in the kitchen's fast. Rose, dear, perhaps you'd give her a hand with the bread-and-butter.
ROSE: I'm afraid I don't know where ...
HELEN: Straight down the stairs and into the basement. You'll hear her cluttering around. [To MICHAEL] My poor sister's eyesight's failing. It's to be expected, of course, at seventy-eight.
ROSE [to MICHAEL]: I'll see you ...?
HELEN: Mr Dennis will stay to tea, won't you, Mr Dennis?
[ROSE leaves the room — unwillingly.]
I was so sorry not to have been at the church. But you do understand, don't you, I couldn't leave my brother and sister. Do sit down.
MICHAEL: I hadn't meant to stay.
HELEN: Oh, but there's so much we would like to hear. [She sits firmly down in the most comfortable chair.] The Brownes all have long ears, like the Flopsy Bunnies. You know the Flopsy Bunnies, Mr Dennis?
MICHAEL: I don't think I do.
HELEN: Not dear Beatrix Potter? But, of course, she was my generation. I saw her once shopping at Debenham's. Now I'd expected you — somehow — to be an older man.
MICHAEL: I'm forty-five. [He sits unwillingly.]
HELEN: Catholics are much too clanny sometimes, don't you think? Dear Teresa was quite surprised when my niece chose someone who wasn't a Catholic as a trustee.
MICHAEL: I was her husband's friend, you know — his pupil, too. I owe everything to him. Even my job now — at London University.
HELEN: You'll think us rather bigoted, but we never cared very much for poor John's profession. It would have been so awkward for my niece if it had been — condemned.
MICHAEL: I'm afraid you won't approve of my profession then — but I'm a mere lecturer in psychology. Not a professor.
HELEN: Oh well, of course, it doesn't matter about you, does it, Mr Dennis? We aren't concerned. And the will? We've had no details yet. [Coyly] Long ears again.
MICHAEL: Rose will have about eight hundred a year of her own at the age of twenty-five. Until then, your brother and I are trustees.
HELEN: It might have been better to have kept it in the family instead of troubling you. [Coyly] Now I'm being clanny too.
MICHAEL: You see, her father appointed me a trustee before he died, and Mrs Pemberton just let it stand. His friends were always her friends. I used to visit them every summer after his death.
HELEN [sadly]: She was the first Browne to marry a non-Catholic.
MICHAEL [with a smile]: The first Browne?
HELEN: The first of our Brownes. And you are the executor too, Mr Dennis?
MICHAEL: As I was trustee I suppose the lawyers thought it would make things go more smoothly. I shall resign as trustee as soon as the will's executed. You'll be free of me.
HELEN: Oh, but of course I didn't mean ...
MICHAEL: I don't think I'm quite made to be a trustee, Miss Browne.
HELEN [almost as though she had taken his point]: We were a little anxious about Rose until we got your telegram.
MICHAEL: She was tired by the funeral. It would have been too much to travel all night. I thought the day train —
HELEN: Poor Rose — it must have been lonely in that house all by herself.
MICHAEL: Better than travelling, of course. [Explaining a little too much] I got a room at the Red Lion for myself.
HELEN: So right of you, Mr Dennis. In a village like that there'd have been a lot of silly talk if you'd stayed in the house.
MICHAEL: Even about a man of my age and a girl of hers?
HELEN [cheerfully and inexorably]: Human nature's such a terrible thing, Mr Dennis. Or is that very Roman of me?
MICHAEL: I haven't found it terrible. Complicated, tangled, perhaps unhappy. Needing help.
HELEN: My niece wrote in one of her last letters that you had been very helpful. We are so grateful for that. There was little we could do.
[She notices that MICHAEL is a little absent. The room still puzzles him. He cannot help looking here and there, particularly at the stains on the wall] [Making conversation]. But now we can all help Rose to forget.
MICHAEL: I'm very sorry. What was that? Forget?
HELEN: Her dear mother.
MICHAEL: Is it always a good thing to forget? Of course my job is usually to teach people the importance of remembering.
HELEN: What are you staring at, Mr Dennis?
MICHAEL: Was I staring?
HELEN: I'm afraid it is rather a cluttered room. But you see, it's our only living room.
MICHAEL: It looks quite a big house from outside.
HELEN: A great many of the rooms are closed.
MICHAEL: War damage?
HELEN [guardedly]: For one reason or another.
[As he still looks around] All the rooms need repapering, but one doesn't like to spend
capital, does one?
[Teresa enters, carrying a cake-stand with bread-and-butter on one level and a plum cake on another.]
TERESA: The kettle's boiling, Helen. We shan't be a moment, Mr Dennis. Everything's set.
[In this household she is obviously the anxious Martha; the weaker character intent on carrying out orders. The orders are first thought up somewhere else, presumably behind that mask of bonhomie her slightly younger sister presents to the world.]
MICHAEL: It's good of you, but I hadn't meant to stay.
TERESA: Oh, but you must meet our brother.
HELEN: Don't press Mr Dennis, Teresa. He may have all sorts of things ...
MICHAEL: Perhaps I ought to have a word with — your niece, before I go.
TERESA: With my niece? But she's ... she's ... dead.
HELEN [sharply]: He means Rose, dear.
MICHAEL: There's still a lot of business to be done. About the will. You see, the other executor is abroad.
TERESA: What a good thing you're a careful man, Mr Dennis!
MICHAEL: Am I careful?
TERESA: That's what you were telling Rose, wasn't it? 'You can always trust me,' you said, 'to be very careful.' I thought it was so sweetly put.
MICHAEL [covering up]: Well, an executor has to be careful — or he goes to jail.
HELEN [defining his sphere of interest]: You should really see my brother about all those legal things. Rose is too young to understand. Dear little sweetheart! Teresa, if Rose is tired, tell her to lie down. We can entertain Mr Dennis.
[ROSE returns on that word, carrying the tea-things.]
ROSE: I'm not a bit tired.
HELEN: Well then, if you'll all sit down (do take off your coat, Mr Dennis), I'll push James in. (You know he's been confined to his chair for years.) Start pouring out the tea, dear. [She goes out.]
TERESA [fussing with the tea-things]: Now find yourselves chairs. No, not that one, Rose. That's your Aunt Helen's.
[ROSE and MICHAEL sit down together. They don't look at each other. Constraint keeps their eyes on a mutual object, as if it is only there, where TERESAdeals with the tea-things, that their gaze can meet vicariously.]
Where did you say you went to Mass today, dear?
ROSE: I didn't, Aunt Teresa.
TERESA: But it's a Holiday of Obligation, dear. Oh well, perhaps it doesn't matter if you were travelling.
ROSE: I forgot. I could have gone before the early train. But I slept so sound.
TERESA: One lump, Mr Dennis?
MICHAEL: Thank you.
TERESA: And you, Rose?
ROSE: Yes, please, Aunt.
[TERESA is pouring out the tea as she talks.]
TERESA: I started a novena for you as soon as I heard of your poor mother.
ROSE: Thank you, Aunt Teresa.
TERESA: I expect you'd like to go to Mass tomorrow. It's the second of nine we've arranged for her. Mary doesn't come in till eight-thirty, but we'll wake you ourselves.
ROSE: Thank you.
TERESA: Help yourself to bread-and-butter, Mr Dennis.
[ROSE and MICHAEL both put out their hands, touch each other and recoil over the plate.]
[To ROSE] Has Helen told you about your room?
ROSE: No, but there's no hurry.
TERESA: You see, dear, we are very cramped for space here. So many rooms are closed. We thought perhaps you wouldn't mind sleeping in here. The sofa's very comfortable. And the end lets down.
ROSE: Of course. I don't mind.
MICHAEL: I was saying to your sister, Miss Browne, that it seemed quite a large house from the street.
TERESA: Oh, it was. It was. But many rooms had to be closed.
MICHAEL: War damage?(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Living Room"
Copyright © 1953 Graham Greene Estate.
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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