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Henry Green, pseudonym of Henry Vincent Yorke Biography

(1905–73), pseudonym of Henry Vincent Yorke, Pack My Bag, Blindness, Living, Party Going, Caught, Loving, Back

British novelist, born in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, educated at Eton and at Magdalen College, Oxford. The third son of a wealthy family descended from the Earls of Hardwicke, he was brought up in a manor house in Gloucestershire, and sent to boarding school at the age of six. He joined the family business, H. Pontifex & Sons, Birmingham, beginning work in the stores, then on the shop-floor as a foundryman, and eventually becoming managing director. He married the Hon. Adelaide Biddulph in 1929. During the Second World War he served in the Auxiliary Fire Service. Green's nine novels and his ‘interim autobiography’, Pack My Bag (1940), are explorations of the English working and propertied classes across three decades. He began writing at school, and published his first novel, Blindness (1926), while still an undergraduate. He left Oxford without a degree, but in possession of a half blue for billiards. While serving his apprenticeship at his father's heavy engineering factory, he wrote to Neville Coghill, ‘Some of the men are magnificent. The words they use even more so.’ He drew on this experience for his second book, Living (1929), which Christopher Isher-wood described as ‘the best proletarian novel ever written’. His close friend Evelyn Waugh likened its style to ‘those aluminium ribbons one stamps out in railway stations’. Green's novels of the war decade are his central achievement, a sequence of fiction which obliquely and movingly captures varied aspects of ordinary existence: Party Going (1939), a fable of social dislocation on the edge of war; Caught (1943), about fire-fighters preparing to cope with the approaching Blitz; Loving (1945), about the tensions above- and below-stairs in an Irish castle during wartime; and Back (1946), describing the traumatic return of prisoners-of-war to an England they do not recognize. Concluding (1948), set at the end of the millenium, is Green's vision of an over-administered future. His two final novels, Nothing (1950) and Doting (1952), depend increasingly on dialogue in the manner of Ivy Compton-Burnett. Surviving (1992) collects his short stories, articles, and interviews. Like Joyce, Green was dismissive of ‘literary influences’, only admitting, provocatively, to an admiration for Céline, and for the prose style of C. M. Doughty's Arabia Deserta (1888). His dialogue is careful of speech effects as inflected by class, and his descriptions are often lyrical and estranging. The reader has to take the measure of each character and situation, as if without any help from an author. Although he appeared to be uninterested in poetry, his statements about writing are those of a poet: ‘Prose is not to be read aloud but to oneself at night, and it is not quick as poetry, but rather a gathering web of insinuations which go further than names however shared can ever go.’ Many of his effects are sharply visual; a note to an exhibition of Matthew Smith's paintings, written in 1953, reveals the novelist's avidly graphic intelligence. Green's rewardingly strange prose ensured that sales of his novels were never very large, except for Loving, which briefly became a bestseller. But as the most genuinely innovative novelist of his generation he was read attentively by contemporaries such as Elizabeth Bowen, W. H. Auden, Angus Wilson, Anthony Powell, and John Betjeman.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Francis Edward Grainger Biography to Thomas Anstey Guthrie Biography