Travels with my Aunt by Graham Greene

Published 1969       part 2 ch 1

I looked out of my porthole, to escape my thoughts, into the winter day and saw a tall lean sad grey man gazing back at me. My window gave on to the bows and he turned quickly away to watch the ship’s wake, embarrassed at having been noticed. I finished my unpacking and went down to the bar…

‘Mind if I join you?’ the American asked. He wore an English tweed coat and a pair of old grey flannel trousers: thin and melancholy, he looked as English as I did; there were small lines bitten by care around the eyes and mouth, and like a man who has lost his way he had a habit of looking this way and that with anxiety. He had nothing in common with the Americans whom I had met in England, noise and self-confident, with the young unlined faces of children romping and shouting to one another across the nursery floor.

observations: The quiet American (to quote another Greene book) is the father of Tooley, a young girl in a miniskirt whom Henry has encountered earlier in the book (in an episode on the train to Istanbul – an episode which this reader had for years wrongly ascribed to a different, and much earlier, Greene book, Stamboul Train). The father, O’Toole, a CIA man, worries a lot about his daughter.

Part of his role in the book is to show us how Henry is changing: the two men have their similarities, and their anxieties. Henry earlier told us that he is likely to be ‘the only man in a dinner-jacket at a fancy-dress party’ and there is a very funny symbol for his repression: he moves his lips while he is thinking, and on one occasion a very beautiful lip-reading woman finds out what Henry really thinks about her this way – he has been ‘dwelling a little wistfully on her loveliness.’ Henry sees this as her mistake, her problem. But he will change under the influence of his aunt.

Links on the blog: Sweet Tooth has more spies (MI5 rather than CIA) who aren’t supposed to admit what they are doing. Another of the great aunts of fiction in this book. You can trace a path through this book with earlier blog entries.

The picture is of the photographer William P Gottlieb (we've used several of his fabulous pictures on the blog) and comes from his collection at the Library of Congress.


  1. Moira - I love the way Greene describes the other Americans he's met. So interesting! And the speech-reading incident - classic! You've reminded me of an author whose work I really should re-acquaint myself with soon.

  2. I know! When I pick him up after a long time, I wonder if the magic will have gone, but he was SUCH a great writer...


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