Although Graham Greene never hid the deep love he had for the works of G. K. Chesterton, it is undeniable that there are enormous differences between the two writers.
Chesterton belonged to the group of English intellectuals who, at the beginning of the 20th century, found in the Church of Rome an effective barrier to rampant nihilism. His apologetic spirit was based on a strong faith, the exact opposite of Greene’s “agnostic” Catholicism. However, there is no lack of important analogies between the two: Greene, for example, was a relative on his mother’s side of Robert Louis Stevenson – to whom Chesterton devoted a biographical essay – and in some ways it can be said that his novels are just a cross between Stevenson’s taste and Chesterton’s, where adventure, exoticism and paradox abound.
Certainly there is a deeper psychological reason that justifies Greene’s attraction to Chesterton. In an interview for The Observer, published in the issue of March 12, 1978, describing Chesterton as «another underestimated poet», Greene even compared him to T. S. Eliot. Nothing like the joy and innocence of Chestertonian poetry contrasts so dramatically with the works of Greene. Perhaps the latter interpreted it almost as an antidote to his visceral pessimism. Probably reading Chesterton was, for him, also a way of observing the world from an alternative and enriching point of view.
Among other things, it should be noted that Greene converted to Catholicism only after meeting Vivien, his future wife, who herself had recently been received into the Church thanks to the reading of the works of Chesterton, which are fascinating and full of good humor (Chesterton, who was a family friend, wrote an introduction to The Little Wings, a collection of poetry and prose Vivien had published when she was only fifteen).
In life, the place of the possible, certain seemingly unlikely affinities can arise. The one between Graham Greene and G. K. Chesterton, between the cantor of dissolution and the lover of existence, is certainly one of these.
Sources: J. PEARCE, Catholic Literary Giants, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2014; J. PEARCE, Literary Converts, Harper Collins, London, 2000.