• Another day, another Robert Birnbaum interview. This time: Uzodinma Iweala.
  • Concerning the Jonathan Ames testicle controversy, it seems that the testicle is ahead of the shadow by a ratio of 5 to 1. Whether this will have any long-term impact on future perceptions of Jonathan Ames books remains to be seen, but there’s a rumor floating around that Augusten Burroughs has been considering “an accidental photo” for his next book. Just remember that Jonathan Ames was the first one there.
  • It seems that only John Freeman is allowed to talk with David Foster Wallace. That’s two articles in seven days. What deal did he cook up with Bonnie Nadell? Or is John Freeman part of the DFW inner circle of “approved” people? (Former Freeman link via Scott)
  • The history of mustard.
  • Believe it or not, Ivan Turgenev’s one and only play, A Month in the Country, is playing in North Carolina. Free Gutenberg text here. Background info here.
  • It started with a harmless exchange of information, but Maud and I have been trying to figure out why the Graham Greene-Anthony Burgess relationship was so strange. I sent Maud an interview with the two authors that I had read in Burgess’ But Do Blondes Prefer Gentlemen?. Jasper Milvain dug up more, pointing out that Greene disowned the interview, claiming that “Burgess put words into my mouth which I had to look up in the dictionary.” The two authors fell out, apparently by 1990, when Burgess published his second autobiographical volume, You’ve Had Your Time. And while I don’t entirely trust Wikipedia, the Anthony Burgess entry notes, “In 1957 Graham Greene asked him to bring some Chinese silk shirts back with him on furlough from Kuala Lumpur. As soon as Burgess handed over the shirts, Greene pulled out a knife and severed the cuffs, into which opium pellets had been sewn.” Now if that latter tidbit can be corroborated, then it’s just possible that the Burgess-Greene relationship might be one of the strangest in literary history. As soon as I get an opportunity to hit the library, I’m going to follow up on all this. Did Burgess and Greene love to hate each other? Or did they hate to love each other? Or was it a little bit of both? Perhaps some bona-fide authorities might have some answers to all this.

[UPDATE: Jasper has an update on the Greene-Burgess contretemps, with some citations. And in the comments to this post, Jenny Davidson offers some materal from the forthcoming Biswell biography, which apparently deals with Graham Greene at great length.]


  1. If you will allow me this bit of braggadocio— I, me, Robert Birnbaum, have ineterviewed David Foster Wallace.

    I will say no more.

  2. I’ve got Biswell’s biography sitting here, will read it in the next week or so I think, but meanwhile the index shows TONS of Greene-related stuff. In short (from Biswell):a theological disagreement (AB thought GG overly preoccupied by evil, i.e. “Augustinian” in AB’s slightly idiosyncratic adaptation of Catholic theology versus AB’s own Pelagianism); Greene getting pissed off at AB publicly dissing him on French television and elsewhere (esp. in misrepresenting GG’s friendship with Kim Philby). Biswell cites a Daily Telegraph piece by AB called “The Sinner at the Heart of the Matter” that gives a personal emmoir of their friendship, and he also wrote the Telegraph’s unsigned obituary of Greene. But there’s a huge list of other writings on Greene, a crazy long footnote on p. 380; and obviously there’s a little bit of Burgess being piqued at Greene as the far more famous British Catholic novelist.

    On the opium-smoking question, Biswell quotes Greene’s account of smoking opium (from Ways of Escape) and then says this (it’s p. 179):

    “Later, in the autumn of 1957, Burgess, who had arranged ot meet Greene for the first time in London, flew from Kuala Lumpur with a bundle of Chinese silk shirts in his luggage. These were a gift for Greene from a mutual friend, Trevor Wilson, a British diplomat stationed in Singaproe and MAlaya. Arriving at Greene’s bachelor flat at the Albany, just off Piccadilly, he handed over the shirts, which Greene immediately attacked with a razor blade. Opium pellets had been sewn into the cuffs. Burgess had been duped into acting, however unwittingly, as Greene’s drug mule. The source for this story is Nigel Lewis, a former radio journalist from the CAnadian Broadcasting Corporation, who knew both Greene and Burgess. . . . Burgess’s own account of his first meeting with Greene elegantly avoids fully admitting or denying the opium-pellet story: ‘A rumour was later to put it about that the silk shirts had opium pellets sewn into the cuffs, but this was not, I think, true.’ Nigel Lewis’s version is rather different: ‘When I asked Burgess if the story was true, he admitted it but begged me not to print it. He looked appalled.’ Wherever the truth of it lies, it would have been impossible for Burgess to makea public admission of his part ina drug-smuggling episode, even thirty years after the event, without inviting trouble from Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise whenever he travelled back to England from Monaco. But it is worth noting that Burgess also told Kingsley Amis that he had smuggled opium for Greene.”

  3. If you’re still chasing, I think I’ve found the remark that (Burgess says) started (what Burgess says was) Greene’s grudge. Have posted it on my blog, because it’s long and potentially dull.

  4. That comment was before I’d seen Jenny’s, which covers it under the heading “a theological disagreement”. Apologies.

    I’d always thought Burgess considered himself an Augustinian; aren’t the Pelagians the brainwashers in A Clockwork Orange?

  5. I guess so, but he is still drawn to Pelagianism, also I think he becomes more intolerant of the whole “original sin” thing later in his life. “The Wanting Seed” is maybe the most extreme one that shows the whole dialectic aspect of the controversy; I think his rebellious/contrarian side dislikes the Augustinian extreme and his Catholic/contrarian side dislikes the Pelagian. A heresy, though, is always more appealing than an orthodoxy to the Burgess mind. (But this is all rather vague on my part, years since I read the stuff.)

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