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Long-lost Graham Greene work to be serialized in the Strand

July 8, 2009 |  1:44 pm

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The first lines Graham Greene uttered in the literary universe are these, from his 1929 novel "The Man Within":

He came over the top of the down as the last light failed and could almost have cried with relief at sight of the wood below. He longed to fling himself down on the short stubbly grass and stare at it, the dark comforting shadow which he had hardly hoped to see...

We're introduced to the character of Andrews, who in the course of the novel attempts to flee smugglers he has betrayed. Future biographies, however, may need to replace those first lines with these:

Alice Lady Perriham had overloaded her piece of toast. She had done so in pure abundance of spirit, because the winter sun streamed in a crisp yellow glow across the breakfast table, and because everyone around her was happy.

This comes from an unpublished, unfinished novel Greene wrote when he was 22. The Strand Magazine is taking the five chapters of the manuscript and will publish them as a serial, starting with its forthcoming July issue.

"To me what is wonderful about all of this is that Greene published a few short stories in the old Strand," said Andrew Gulli, the Strand’s managing editor, "so I feel we’re continuing the tradition."

According to Gulli, the manuscript was discovered by Greene scholar Francois Gallix at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas in Austin.

"Gallix set up a team of people and transcribed the handwritten material," he said.

Gulli gave Jacket Copy a preview of this first chapter, which is titled "The Empty Chair." One’s initial reaction is that the novelist who wrote this is (understandably) a far cry from the one who went on to produce "The Third Man," "The Power and the Glory" and "The Human Factor."

How so? That's after the jump.

The manuscript presents us with a country house mystery, and the first chapter opens as the guests assemble in the morning and notice that one, Richard Groves, whom everyone regards as "a lazy devil," is conspicuously absent. When their irritation at Groves’ absence turns into concern, they go to wake him and break down his locked bedroom door:

Richard Groves lay on the bed, oblivious to their entry. He had flung off the sheets and one arm, with its thick black hair around the wrist, dangled over the edge of the bed. He might have appeared asleep, if his legs had not been hunched up as though he had made an effort to rise. "Get back, Alice," cried Collis, and moved forward to the bed and stood staring with fascination at the brown congealed blood. In Groves’s breast at a crazy angle stood the knife which had slain him.

It's a situation straight out of the Agatha Christie playbook (the large cast of suspects, for instance) with a touch of Chesterton thrown in (theology hovers over much of the table talk; Greene, Gulli notes, converted to Roman Catholicism in the same year that he wrote this story). Gulli -- who acknowledges the support of Gallix and Greene’s ICM agents in allowing the serialization in the Strand -- says his magazine would like to find a writer to finish the manuscript.

"We have several candidates in mind, but in the end I want to respect the decision of Greene’s son and Mr. Gallix," he said, adding that he doesn’t know if there will be plans to eventually publish the manuscript as a book.

Oh, I'd say it's a safe bet that turning the manuscript into a marketable novel will almost certainly happen. You don’t have to look very far in the publishing season to see why. Nabokov’s final, unfinished novel, "The Original of Laura," will be published this fall; as will "The Suicide Run: Five Tales of the Marine Corps," which culls stories from several of William Styron’s abandoned writing projects; there is also Scribner's "A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition" as well as Vintage's "The Original 'Frankenstein' " by Mary Shelley (with Percy Shelley)  -- so, a "new" book by Greene in the future doesn't seem all that unusual.

-- Nick Owchar

Photo: 1978 photo of author Graham Greene. Credit: Karsh.

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