Friday, April 28, 2017

Dreaming in Greeneland

When I first traveled to Paris as a foreign correspondent, early in the 1970s, the office secretary made a reservation for me at the St James Albany, which turned out to be twin hotels - very handsome Right Bank townhouses - separated by a quiet courtyard with a fountain and flagstones and flowerbeds and shade trees. It struck me that the courtyard between the twin hotels was a liminal space, ideal for intrigue and trespass of various kinds – for games involving lovers, or spies, even players from different worlds. 
     I later discovered, to my great delight, that Graham Greene had similar feelings and had made this location a part of Greeneland, the fictive world of his novels. He used the courtyard of the St James Albany as the setting for a hilarious scene in Travels with My Aunt in which two women, meeting by chance, discuss the lovers with whom they tryst in secret in each of the twin hotels - and then discover that their lovers are the same man when M. Dambreuse arrives with his wife and children.
     Graham Greene led many lives, but first and last he was a writer, with a professional writer’s discipline. Through his many intrigues, both personal and political, he managed to sit down almost every day from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. – on a veranda in Tahiti or a cottage in Brighton – and knock out his quota of 500 words, and he did this for seventy years, producing a steady stream of popular novels and essays.
     A crucial part of Greene’s practice was to write down his dreams. He started keeping a dream journal when he was sixteen. He often reported his dreams in letters to lovers and friends. Over the last twenty-five years of his life, he recorded his dreams with great faithfulness – though in fiendishly difficult handwriting – in notebooks that are now in an archive in Texas. His last literary project was to edit a selection of his dreams for a posthumous collection he titled A World of My Own.
     The interweaving of Greene’s dream life with his other lives makes a fascinating study, for which the primary source materials are unusually extensive.  We see how a man who chose to live on the dangerous edges of the world was able to create – richly and repeatedly – from the borderlands of dreaming. We can track many different modes in which a writer can create from dreams, from receiving the initial idea for a story, to solving a problem during sleep, to bridging a narrative gap, to dreaming deep into a character’s life.
     As a young boy, he had psychic dreams, often involving death by water, a prospect that terrified him. On the night the Titanic sank, when he was just seven, he dreamed of a shipwreck, with a man in oilskins bent double beside a companionway under the blow of a great wave. 
     He was miserable at school – nothing unusual in the lives of creative and sensitive individuals – and ran away when he was sixteen. This was highly embarrassing for the family, since Graham’s father was headmaster. They decided to send him to London to be psychoanalyzed, which was still a novel idea in 1920, especially for a teenage boy. The analyst selected, Kenneth Richmond, had no formal training; he was a writer with spiritualist leanings who followed an eclectic approach.
     While Greene was boarding with him in Lancaster Gate, Richmond instructed him to write down his dreams. In mid-morning sessions, Greene was expected to tell a dream and then give his associations to the key images while the analyst merely listened. When Greene did not recall a dream, he made something up. The whole experience – which he later described as the happiest six months of his life  – laid the foundation for Greene’s literary career by training him to write from dreams and invent stories. 
      Kenneth Richmond’s beautiful wife Zoe – about whom Greene had mildly erotic dreams – thought Graham was clairvoyant, “a natural medium”. While in Lancaster Gate, Greene dreamed of a ship going down in the Irish Sea. That same night, just after midnight, the Rowan sank in the Irish Sea
      In some of his precognitive or clairvoyant dreams, he found himself in the situation of one of the victims. Aged twenty-one, he dreamed of another shipboard disaster in which he was being ordered to jump overboard from an upper deck. He later read the news of a terrible wreck in a storm off the Yorkshire coast in which the captain ordered his men to jump into the violent sea, and all but two were drowned. Greene speculated that “on an occasion like this there must be terrific mental waves of terror, and my mind seems to be particularly attuned to the terror of drowning wave.”
     His youthful psychic ability to dream his way into someone else’s situation resembled his mature ability as a novelist to dream his way into his characters’ lives. He later observed that “sometimes identification with a character goes so far that one may dream his dream and not one’s own.” 
     Greene’s dreams were central to his writing. He said that two of his novels, It’s a Battlefield and The Honorary Consul, both started with dreams. He dreamed the plots and characters of entire short stories. When he was writing A Burnt-Out Case – which drew heavily on his diary of a trip to the Congo – Greene came to a point in the plot where he was stuck. Then the author dreamed as his character, Querry, and found he could insert his dream “without change” in the novel, “where it bridged a gap in the narrative which for days I had been unable to cross.” 
     Greene made it a habit to solve writing problems in his sleep, noting that it is not necessary to remember the content of a dream in order to receive a dream-inspired solution. “When an obstacle seems insurmountable, I read the day’s work before sleep…When I wake the obstacle has nearly always been removed: the solution is there and obvious – perhaps it came in a dream which I have forgotten.” 
      He harvested personal dreams and assigned them to characters in his novels. In a  dream reflecting his lifelong preoccupation with religion, he gave a lecture on the theme that God evolves, as well as man, and that behind their apparent duality, God and Satan are one. He later transferred this theory to a passage in The Honorary Consul where his character explains that God has a “night-side” as well as a “day-side”; the night-side will wither away (“like your communist state, Eduardo”) as God and man both evolve. 

   Graham Greene was a man of mystery who had much to hide, in his private life and in his engagement with the worlds of power and espionage. For him the great mystery, at the end, concerned what follows death. He thought – and dreamed – about this all his life. He was greatly affected by a series of dream encounters with his father after his death. 
   Greene had a disturbing dream that he might be extinguished after death through lack of belief. “I had been aware of people I had loved who called me to join them. But I had chosen, by my lack of belief, extinction. A great black cone like a candle extinguisher was to be dropped over my head.” 
     But he did not go out like that. He left sure of continuing life, ready for new travels, regretting only separation from the last woman to share his life, Yvonne Cloetta.
    A week before his death, knowing it was at hand, he said to Yvonne in the hospital at Vevey: “It may be an interesting experience; at last I shall know what lies on the other side of the fence.” 
Towards the end, he made this note in Yvonne’s “red book” of their conversations: “Perhaps in Paradise we are given the power to help the living. I picture Paradise as a place of activity. Sometimes I pray not for the dead friends but to dead friends, asking their help.” 
Yvonne recalls that “He worked every morning, as he always did, right up to the end, on his book of dreams.” Evidently he came to believe that through dreams (as one of his characters said in a different connection) “there was something in the warring crooked uncertain world he could trust beside himself.”

Adapted from The Secret History of Dreaming by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.


Lloyd Schell said...

Excellent story, sir. I read some of your books a couple of years ago and was wanting to find you again this morning. This was the first thing that I came across. Thank you. Lloyd Schell, Quincy, Florida.

Wei said...

I am sure that in my dream this morning I have stepped into the scenery of this story. (Please pardon my non-poetic language.)
I walk into a big room to look for you, Robert. Your office is located straight ahead at the far side, on the left corner of the big room. I can see through the office window and know that you are not in the office and it is still night time. Now I hear you talking to me from a bed nearby to my right. Because the room is so dark I have not noticed the bed until now. You are sleeping on your left side on the left side of the bed. On the right side of the bed sleeps another man who I know as Bishop Green (the head of a local Buddhist Sangha group). He also sleeps on his left side as if you two are mimicking each other in the way you sleep. Now Bishop Green gets up and rearranges the bed sheets. All of a sudden, Bishop Green disappears and you take over his place, sleeping on the right side of the bed.
Now, I am in the court yard sitting at a round stone table in the moist air of dawn. I notice that the table is actually a flower bed. In the middle of the flower bed is a fountain that puts out a gentle sound of running water. I gaze at the small white to light-green colored petals of the jade-like succulent plant that grows all around the edge of the stone bed, so densely grown that it hangs over the stone edge. I sense other ladies nearby. I feel like being in the play of Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream”. Now, you walk out from the building nearby and come over to me. With a broad grin on your face, like a magician doing his final act, you lift the entire dense part of the plant and toss it to the ground, revealing a bed of fresh young plants growing in the flower bed which are previously covered under the dense layer of plant.
I woke up from the dream still hearing the sound of water fountain and seeing your grin. Whenever you appear in my dream I naturally visit your blog post first after waking up. Here they are: the picture of the familiar court yard with the round flower bed, the tables and chairs, the character’s name “Greene” and so on. I revisited my dream as I read your story of Graham Greene, who I had never heard of before. I have a feeling that you may have slept on the same bed that Graham Greene has once slept.
Thanks Robert for your teachings.

Robert Moss said...

Dear Wei

You had me puzzled with your "Bishop Green" until I saw the connection you are making with my blog about Graham Greene. I then made a further association that may have struck you by now. My next blog is about a bishop - Synesius, who was made Bishop of Ptolemais in 410 - and I sometimes call him the Bishop of Dreams. So, while you are unlikely to find me in bed with a man in a literal sense, perhaps your dream producers did conflate, amusingly, two men I admire and could be in bed with in a metaphorical sense - a dream-inspired writer and a dream teacher who showed us how to get through dark times by dreaming in ways that strongly resemble my Active Dreaming approach.

bright blessings

Wei said...

Beautifully said Robert! Thanks!

Synchronicity happens in clusters. Yesterday morning after sharing the dream about you with my husband I came to work. After reading your blog I emailed the link of your blog to my husband to read. When I returned home in the evening my husband's first greeting was "I haven't read what you emailed me yet but Bishop Green sent me three videos on dreams and I have been watching them." I was pleasantly surprised.
Looking forward to the next round of synchronicity like this!

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