Henry Green is one of the literary enigmas of the twentieth century. Twenty years after his death, posterity seems still to be groping for an evaluation of his slim oeuvre—nine novels and a memoir,[1] all produced between 1926 and 1952, when he stopped writing at the age of forty-seven. “I find it so exhausting now I simply can’t do it any more,” he told an interviewer, though he lived on for over twenty years, increasingly eccentric and reclusive. He refused even to leave his London house for the last seven years of his life, nor would he consent to being photographed except from the rear. In 1973 he died, a very old sixty-eight.

He achieved neither commercial success nor wholehearted enthusiasm from the literary pundits, though he commanded, then and now, excitement amounting to passion from certain readers, an oddly assorted group including W. H. Auden, Elizabeth...