The greatest living English writer resides in a large and somewhat sparsely furnished apartment on the second floor of a bourgeois building in Paris on the Boulevard Malesherbes. Though he has owned it for years, his name is missing from the inked list of tenants in the concierge's window downstairs. On his telephone, in place of a number, is a blank disk. Like a retired informer or spy or the principal figure in a notorious criminal case, Graham Greene lives in anonymity and quiet. [P] He was 71 last October and is extremely guarded about his personal life. Still, most facts about so famous a man are well-known. He is the son of a schoolmaster and has two grown children, a son and a daughter. He has been separated from his wife for more than 25 years. [P] Through the large windows one can see the bare branches of trees and the celebrated blue of the Paris sky. Greene wears an old cardigan sweater and gray trousers. His eyes, behind horn-rimmed glasses, are a pale, watery blue. Thin hair, the faded color of an old coat, is gray on the sides. From his photographs one recognizes him instantly; he looks like a prisoner long confined. [P] Greene's speech is soft and reserved with a vague scholarly impediment. There is a certain sense of loneliness, especially when he is talking of domestic life: "very desirable, but marriage is a bit tricky," he says. "Yes, one is always looking for a happy couple. It's hard to find a man and woman one liked equally, but marvelous when you do." [P] This season the Royal Shakespeare Company in London put on his new play, The Return of A. J. Raffles. It's a comedy about the famous gentleman thief created by E. W. Hornung, brother-in-law of the man who wrote Sherlock Holmes. Holmes had Dr. Watson, and Raffles also had a devoted chronicler and accomplice with the more appealing name of Bunny. The Raffles stories were enormously popular, in which Hornung wrote a classic line that will probably live as long as his dashing criminal. Of Conan Doyle's master detective, he punned, "Though he might be more humble, there is no police like Holmes." [P] This is Greene's fifth play and was not well received by most of the critics. Among its predecessors are The Living Room, The Potting Shed and The Complaisant Lover. He has had partial success in the theater. Like another great Catholic writer, François Mauriac, he came to it late. He was 49 when The Living Room was first produced in London. It was a sensation, though it failed in New York the following year, 1954. "A dreadful flop," he admits. "It was very miscast. I've never had much success in America with plays." [P] With everything else, his serious novels, his thrillers or "entertainments" as he once preferred to call them, his films, he has had enormous success. Almost alone among important writers, Greene has had a long and close connection with the movies. It's a kind of love-hate relationship, he confesses. Many of his books [The Third Man, Our Man in Havana, The Comedians, Orient Express) have been turned into films, not all of them satisfactorily as far as he is concerned, though he has scripted a number of them and collaborated on the making of others. [P] In addition, there were three years during which he reviewed films for British journals and the famous suit brought against him by Shirley Temple when she was the moppet darling of Hollywood. He wrote, in effect, that she had an erotic appeal to a nation of dirty old men. He had to hide out in Mexico because of it. [P] Nevertheless, he still finds films interesting. "I go to them much more than to the theater. I liked Chinatown and The Last Detail. I like Nicholson, Polanski...I like Miloš Forman. I've never been enthusiastic for Hitchcock. His plots don't stand up. When you leave the theater you're always saying, but why didn't he ring the police? Some old films do stand up. Casablanca. And I saw on TV last year Murnau's Dracula and I thought it was terrific." [P] On the table a tray of ice cubes is slowly melting. There is a drink in Greene's hand. He's had this apartment for 10 years; before that he always lived in hotels. He likes the neighborhood, it has rather a village atmosphere. There's a very good butcher, a good boulangerie. He is fond of food and wine. "If I eat, I must drink," he explains, and also it is a great help in getting people to talk. [P] Every real writer creates a world. Greene's is a relentless one of sinning and divided men that is made bearable only through God and His mercy. In book after book there is forgiveness for the repentant sinner at the final hour. In the course of writing them all Greene has become, following his conversion at the age of 22, the most important Catholic novelist alive. He has a dazzling sense of story, fine dialogue and an eye for detail. He doesn't joke. He is too involved in his obsessions. Irony, yes, there is often that, and even a kind of comedy, but beneath it is a schoolmaster's firm will. Above all, his characters live. Scobie, the doomed policeman in The Heart of the Matter. The whiskey priest and his pursuer in The Power and the Glory. Pinkie in Brighton Rock. Coral Musker. Dr. Czinner. They are people one never forgets. [P] The writing table at which Greene works is almost bare. There is a TV on a set of library steps, three or four chairs, some paintings on the wall, but the principal decoration is books. The shelves hold Boswell, Ibsen and H. G. Wells, as well as Greene's great favorites, Henry James and Conrad. Of James, he has said that he "is as solitary in the history of the novel as Shakespeare in the history of poetry." And as for Joseph Conrad, the Polish sea captain who carved out an immortal niche in the literature of a country not his own, Greene stopped reading him in 1932 because he was simply too influential a force. [P] The mystery writers Edgar Wallace and John Buchan (The Thirty-Nine Steps) must also be counted as influences. Wallace was a phenomenally popular writer. There was a time when one of every five books sold in England was his. From him Greene learned a great deal: the restrained voice, the variety of characters, the technique of advancing a narrative and, perhaps most of all, the mysterious ability to create a legend. [P] Greene still reads a lot, three or four books a week, and notes them in his diary, putting down a little tick or cross in judgment. Among the Americans, he likes Kurt Vonnegut. Gore Vidal: "I like his essays." Alison Lurie. Philip Roth, not much. Bellow, he finds rather difficult. As for his own work, even coming from a long-lived family it is not easy, he admits, to think of starting on a book these days. "The fears," he says simply, "not knowing whether one will live to see the end of it." [P] He has been a published writer since 1929 with his first novel, The Man Within. There have been novels, travel books, thrillers, films, plays, short stories and autobiography as well as essays and reviews. His output has been protean and the breadth of his travel and experience, vast. Many of his settings are foreign. The Honorary Consul, for instance, resulted from a three months' trip to South America. Though his command of Spanish covers only the present tense, he was visiting in Argentina and saw the town of Corrientes one day while going up the river to Asunción. Corrientes became the scene of the book. He has been in Africa, Mexico, Russia and China ("I found it depressing"), served as an intelligence officer in Sierra Leone during the war, smoked opium in Indochina where he went as a correspondent regularly beginning in 1951 and flew in French bombers between Saigon and Hanoi. He has been an editor in a publishing house, a film reviewer, a critic, a life as varied and glamorous as that of André Malraux, another great literary and political figure. Like Malraux, he asks to be read as a political writer and has set his fiction firmly in that world. The lesson in the books of Graham Greene is the great lesson of the times: one must take sides. [P] He has been extremely generous towards other writers. He was Nabokov's champion in England when Nabokov was little known. Those he admires, he praises freely, Jean Rhys, for instance. "Yes, I like her very much. She's a writer's writer." Or Evelyn Waugh, the best stylist of their generation, he says. "In the Mediterranean you can see a pebble 15 feet down. His style was like that." [P] A voyager in every sense of the word, laureate of the downtrodden and betrayed, Greene is a writer concerned with serious human problems who has lashed out fiercely against escapist fiction. "Life is violent and art has to reflect that violence," he says. At the same time, only a warm human touch together with a deep knowledge of how the world works could have won for him such immense popularity. In his books one feels the breath of a great belief that is enough to justify life, that will not protect one but that ties one to an order and meaning never to be extinguished. [P] He sits now in the twilight, both of work and of dreams. "With the approach of death I care less and less about religious truth. One hasn't long to wait for revelation or darkness..." The great moral and political question during his lifetime has been that of socialism. He has shared the hope of many sincere men that the cruel Communist dictatorships will pass and a more or less democratic form take their place, the end that Marx promised but that has remained ever distant. [P] He admired Allende. He was a man trying, as Czechoslovakia's Dubcek had tried, to bring forth a humane socialism. "Allende was a man with a sense of humor, a man who liked women, who liked practical jokes. He had the support of the cardinal. He had the support of a great body of the priests. He was not so histrionic as Castro. There was complete freedom of the press." [P] But Allende is gone; the Americans helped to overthrow him. Dubcek is gone. Portugal is teetering on the edge of the abyss. There are dark clouds over what remains of Western Europe. "I have my doubts of socialism now," he says. "It has to be either Communism or the welfare state, it seems." [P] And staggering England, what will become of her? He almost sighs. "I have a feeling that somehow, like the war, we will find a way through." He is like one of his own solitary heroes, concealing untold depths of unhappiness and strength. [P] He was always an outsider. Even the Catholicism which shapes his great works is gritty and heretical. It is the hard way he has written of, difficult solutions, difficult joys. He has no part of the casual view of life, hedonistic, mindless, glittering. He writes of the necessity to be "informed by a religious conscience," and it is overwhelming. He is a man who has managed to live his life with honor in an era which does not recognize honor, a man who has found something to remain true to. He quietly recites a bit of Arthur Clough: [P] We are most hopeless who had once most hope, [BR] And most belief less that had most believed. [BR] "Isn't that the way it is now?" he asks. [P]