Graham Greene

 at Berkhamsted School

in 1917

Schools

Books

Berkhamsted

Graham Greene, (1904-1991), the writer, playwright and literary critic, was the son of the headmaster of Berkhamsted school. When he was small (before his father became headmaster) the family lived in St John's House.

 

St John's House, Berkhamsted School, PC by Buchanan  

St John's House

Berkhamsted School

Published Buchanan, London Road, Thornton Heath,  No: 44241

 

Birthplace of Graham Greene

Books

 

In his book A Sort of Life (first published by Bodley Head in 1971) Graham describes Berkhamstead as it was when he was a boy, and has the following words to describe the life in St John's House, when he returned to the house as ""just a boarder"

I had passed thirteen and things were worse even than I had foreseen. I lay in bed in the dormitory of St John's, listening to the footsteps clatter down the stone stairs to early prep and breakfast, and when the silence had safely returned I began trying to cut my right leg open with a penknife. But the knife was blunt and my nerve was too weak for the work.

I was back in the house of my early childhood, but the circumstances had changed. The garden across the road, France across the Channel [as he had called the garden on the other side of the road when he was small], was now closed to me: I could no longer set foot in the chintzy drawing-room where my mother had read aloud to us and where I had wept over the story of the children buried by the birds. In those early days I had not even been aware that there existed in the same house such grim rooms as those I lived in now. Even the door by which I entered the house was a different one, a side door like a service entrance, though no servant would have endured the squalor we lived in. There was a schoolroom with ink-stained nibbled desks insufficiently warmed by one cast-iron stove, a changing-room smelling of sweat and stale clothes, stone stairs, worn by generations of feet, leading to a dormitory divided by pitch-pine partitions that gave inadequate privacy - no moment of the night was free from noise, a cough, a snore, a fart. Years later when I read the sermon on hell in Joyce's Portrait of the Artist I recognized the land I had inhabited. I had left civilization behind and entered a savage country of strange customs and inexplicable cruelties: a country in which I was a foreigner and a suspect, quite literally a hunted creature, known to have dubious associates. Was my father not the headmaster? I was like the son of a quisling in a country under occupation. ...

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April 2014   Page created