Vivien Dayrell-Browning was born in Rhodesia. She had a difficult childhood. Her father had an affair and her mother left him, requiring Vivien at the age of fifteen to write him a letter ending their relationship. In 1921, she published The Little Wings, a collection of poetry and prose written before she was fifteen. It had an introduction by G. K. Chesterton, who was a family friend. In 1925 she started a correspondence with Graham Greene, and they married two years later. The Greenes had two children, Lucy (born 1933) and Francis (born 1936).
Graham left the family in 1948 for Catherine Walston, but in accordance with Roman Catholic teaching (Vivien was a convert, and Graham converted in order to marry her), the couple were never divorced and the marriage lasted until Graham's death in 1991.
During World War II, Vivien and her children lived in Oxford after their home in London had been bombed. At a local auction she was charmed by an old doll's house; she bought it and took it home on the bus with her. As the war dragged on and her marriage disintegrated, she devoted herself to restoring and furnishing the doll's house. Materials were scarce; she recalled scraping off old paint and wallpaper with shards of broken glass. "I needed a hobby, the wartime evenings in the black-out were long and dark, so I started to furnish the house, to make carpets and curtains for it."
She then began seeking out other antique dolls' houses and furnishings, researching their history, and restoring the houses, filling the Greenes' rented home with her miniature world.
After her marriage to Greene ended, she travelled the world to add to her collection, becoming a noted authority in the field of antique dolls' houses and their social history. Her notes record 1,500 dolls' houses that she examined in North America, Europe and South Africa. She even made the journey to Communist East Germany to research 19th century makers of miniature furniture. In the 1960s Greene gave her the money to build the Rotunda, a doll's house museum at her home near Oxford. By the mid-1990s, the Rotunda contained some 41 miniature castles, cottages and manors, all furnished down to the last tiny piece of porcelain. Her collection was auctioned off in London in 1998.
- The Little Wings: Poems and Essays (1921) (as Vivienne Dayrell)
- English Dolls' Houses of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (1955)
- Family Dolls' Houses (1973)
- The Vivien Greene Doll's House Collection (1995) (with Margaret Towner)
- Laurel for Libby: A Story with Cuts (2006)
- Richard Greene (ed.), Graham Greene: A Life in Letters. London: Little, Brown, 2007, p. 10 (citing her birth certificate).
- Norman Sherry, "Obituary: Vivien Greene", The Guardian, 23 August 2003
- Norman Sherry, The Life of Graham Greene: Vol. 1, 1904–1939. London: Jonathan Cape, 1989, p. 475.
- Jessica Amanda Salmonson, "Girl Writers: Nathalia Crane, Vivienne Dayrell & Daisy Ashford"
- Charlotte Cory, "Escape from the doll's house", The Independent, 29 November 1998.
- Danielle Demetriou, "Graham Greene's widow Vivien dies at 98", The Independent, 21 August 2003, like other obituaries, gets her year of birth and age at death wrong.