Green remains a dim figure for many Americans. He stopped writing in 1952, at age 47, with just nine novels and a memoir behind him. In the last years of his life—he died in 1973—he became a kind of British Thomas Pynchon, agreeing to be photographed only from behind. But those who knew him often revered him. W. H. Auden called him the finest living English novelist. His real name was Henry Vincent Yorke. The son of a wealthy Birmingham industrialist, he was educated at Eton and Oxford but never completed his degree. He became managing director of the family factory, which made beer-bottling machines. But first he spent a year on the factory floor with the ordinary workers, and his fiction is forever marked by an understanding of the English at all levels of society, something rare in class-bound British literature. Loving is a classic upstairs-downstairs story, with the emphasis on downstairs. You see the life of a great Irish country house during World War II through the eyes of its mostly British servants, who make a world of their own during a period when their masters are away. Green’s generosity towards even the most scheming and rascally of them offers a lesson you never forget.
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