Burns Librarian Robert O'Neill says the letters add valuable material to the 60,000-piece collection that is the world's preeminent Greene archive, while contributing to the "big puzzle" regarding Greene's longstanding association with known Soviet agents.
"Some people thought Greene himself was a double agent, though there is no confirmation of that, and I don't think he was," said O'Neill. "He continued to work with British intelligence after the war. It is thought some of his travels to remote regions - Vietnam, Latin America, behind the Iron Curtain - were done for British intelligence."
Greene, a novelist, playwright, journalist and Catholic convert, was known for novels that explored life's moral ambiguities in the context of contemporary political settings, such as revolutions.
The novelist's own relationships were no less complex. His longstanding friendship with Kim Philby, a colleague in British intelligence during the war who was revealed to be a central figure in a Russian spy ring, is reflected in decades' worth of correspondence in the Burns Library.
So now is Greene's friendship with Cairncross, a British civil servant who admitted in his autobiography that he had passed secrets to the Soviets.
The Greene-Cairncross correspondence spans more than 40 years between the late 1940s and early 1990s and includes exchanges on books and whiskey, mutual friends, and published allegations concerning Cairncross' ties to the spy ring.
Greene's motivation in maintaining friendships with Soviet agents remains unclear, O'Neill said.
"I think he took some amusement in all of it," he said. "He boldly did not disassociate himself from some of his friends who did turn out to be spies. He wrote the introduction to Philby's book. He knew they were all spies.
"Greene enjoyed tweaking people's noses," O'Neill added. "He encouraged speculation."
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