|Posted on October 30, 2014 at 4:20 PM|
Written by Ellie Downs
On Wednesday the 24th of September, the English Literature and English Literature and Language students congregated within the Careers Library to hear the annual Graham Greene Lecture by Martin Jenkins and Dr. Frances Maccormack. As we all know, the word ‘lecture’ tends to come with associations like ‘boredom’ or ‘free food’, but on this occasion the event was not only relevant to our courses and school, but thought provoking too.
Graham Greene, a world renowned writer responsible for his most famous “Brighton Rock”, was originally a student of Berkhamsted school in the early 20th century, and can easily be defined as the most representative Berkhamstedian to date. This definition is not due to his monumental success as a writer, but the path we learnt he took to get there: he epitomises the endurance every student- some more than others- have to face.
Jenkins described Greene to have an “inability to be bored”, which as much as the teachers would dislike to hear us say, is pretty hard to have whilst at school. He was not academic, showed no particularly outstanding sporting ability and had little musical talent to speak of: basically, if CVs and personal statements meant half as much then as they do now, I imagine he would have a very hard time indeed. This struggle throughout school is entirely relatable, and very few Old Berkhamstedians and students likewise would be able to say their run of school was a smooth one, let alone easy. Pressures assault us from every angle, and each is unique to any individual. Greene’s for example, aside from his lack of patience for school, was the fact his father, Charles Greene, was the Headmaster; an unpopular one at that and so posing a significant divide between his life amongst his friends, and his life within the family.
This dual personality is described by Greene himself as similar to the feeling of seeing the Green Baize door (the one still present today, though slightly worn). The door was the physical separation between his two lives: the school of which he barely tolerated and his difficult home. It’s not altogether surprising that this pressure of double expectations led to his running away and resultant psychoanalysis, after all; how many students daily wish they could just walk out of maths and not come back?
Graham Greene therefore was a visibly conflicted, underachieving and pressured teenager, and later has been described as “depressive”. Did that stop him from becoming an international and best-selling author? Not at all. He worked for his title, starting as a subeditor for the lower class newspaper of Nottingham, then took the hugely prestigious step up to subeditor of the London Times and then went on to a huge range of incredibly beloved novels and novellas. Commended for his complex plots and literary brilliancy, becoming a “giant of 20th century literature”, Greene exemplifies the moral we should all learn: talent can come from anywhere as long as you enjoy it, whether it’s a natural gift or not. Therefore, if you don’t enjoy school or don’t think you’re any good at it, or have pressures coming at you from every angle, it’s not the end of the world or the end of your ambition. Like Graham Greene, a Green Baize door posing as all your problems will always be there, it’s just whether you want to push it open or leave it as an obstacle.