Morley Callaghan 1903-1990
(Full name Morley Edward Callaghan) Canadian novelist, short story writer, journalist, playwright, and autobiographer.
The following entry provides criticism on Callaghan's works from 1992 through 1999. For criticism prior to 1992, see CLC, Volumes 3, 14, 41; for an obituary entry on Callaghan, see CLC, Volume 65.
Callaghan is best known for his allegorical fiction in which he infuses seemingly ordinary human relationships with complex moral, psychological, and religious significance. His prominent themes include redemption and salvation, the discrepancies between illusion and reality, and the conflict between materialism and spiritualism. He established a solid reputation during the 1930s as a significant new fiction writer, and his short stories were especially well received. In the 1940s, however, Callaghan ceased writing short fiction, concentrating instead on long, complex novels that generally met with slight critical favor. Callaghan's publications of the 1970s and 1980s renewed interest in his career, and he is now regarded as an important figure in twentieth-century Canadian literature.
Callaghan was born on September 22, 1903, in Toronto. He attended the University of Toronto, graduating with his B.A. degree in 1925. He also worked as a journalist at the Toronto Star in the early 1920s. It was there he met Ernest Hemingway, who recommended Callaghan's fiction to Ezra Pound, who aided in its initial exposure. While in law school, Callaghan's short stories appeared in several periodicals; his first novel, Strange Fugitive, was published in 1928. One of many expatriate writers to travel to Paris in the 1920s, Callaghan associated with such literary celebrities as Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. During the 1930s, influenced by Hemingway and Sherwood Anderson, Callaghan began to write spare, journalistic novels. He worked with the Royal Canadian Navy on assignment for the National Film Board during World War II. Callaghan became a well-known radio and television personality in Canada in the 1940s and 1950s. He received several awards for his body of work, including the Lorne Pierce Medal for Literature in 1960, the Royal Bank of Canada award for distinguished work in 1970, and the Companion Order of Canada in 1983. He died on August 25, 1990, in Toronto.
Callaghan's novels have been described as spare and journalistic in nature and reflect an interest in the moral and spiritual effects of prevailing social conditions. His first major novel, Such Is My Beloved (1934), is the story of a Roman Catholic priest whose awareness of the conflict between his spiritual convictions and his bourgeois status enables him to understand the two prostitutes he tries to reform. Redemption and salvation are again prominent themes in They Shall Inherit the Earth (1935), in which a man's guilt for allowing his malicious stepbrother to drown combines with the physical poverty he endures during the Depression. Callaghan departed from the style of his early novels during the 1950s, attempting to apply his characteristic themes in a form similar to that of the nineteenth-century novel. In his later publications, commentators detect a return to the moral vision and concise, unobtrusive style of his early work. A Time for Judas (1983) is a complex biblical-historical narrative about Judas Iscariot. Written in the colloquial manner of Callaghan's realistic parables, this novel focuses sympathetically on Judas's betrayal of Jesus Christ. Functioning simultaneously as a defense of Judas and as a treatise on the artist's responsibility to himself and others, the book abounds with allusions and parallels to modern times. In his autobiographical memoir, That Summer in Paris (1963), Callaghan discusses his experiences with various literary celebrities, including Hemingway and Fitzgerald, and the origins behind his own fiction.
Critics have frequently debated the effectiveness of Callaghan's novels, focusing particularly on whether his understated prose style is an effective means of presenting moral conflicts and uncertainties. In fact, many critics consider Callaghan's stories to be his best work. His spare, reportorial narrative style is often compared to that of Ernest Hemingway, and his friendship with the infamous American author is a recurring topic of interest for commentators. There was renewed critical attention to Callaghan's oeuvre in the 1970s and 1980s, and around that time scholars began to debate his place within the Canadian literary tradition. Today he is regarded as a significant figure in twentieth-century Canadian literature.
Strange Fugitive (novel) 1928
A Native Argosy (short stories) 1929
It's Never Over (novel) 1930
No Man's Meat (novella) 1931
A Broken Journey (novel) 1932
Such Is My Beloved (novel) 1934
They Shall Inherit the Earth (novel) 1935
More Joy in Heaven (novel) 1937
Now That April's Here, and Other Stories (short stories) 1937
Turn Again Home (play) 1940
Luke Baldwin's Vow (juvenilia) 1948
The Varsity Story (novel) 1948
To Tell the Truth (play) 1949
The Loved and the Lost (novel) 1951
Morley Callaghan's Stories (short stories) 1959
The Many Colored Coat (novel) 1960
A Passion in Rome (novel) 1961
That Summer in Paris: Memories of Tangled Friendships with Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Some Others (memoir) 1963
Stories (short stories) 1967
A Fine and Private Place (novel) 1975
Close to the Sun Again (novel) 1977
A Time for Judas (novel) 1983
The Lost and Found Stories of Morley Callaghan (short stories) 1985...
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SOURCE: Avison, Margaret. “Reading Morley Callaghan's Such Is My Beloved.” Canadian Literature, no. 133 (summer 1992): 204-08.
[In the following essay, Avison provides an appreciation of Callaghan's work, asserting that his spare narrative style may have been detrimental to his literary legacy.]
Rereading this novel [Such Is My Beloved] impelled me to reread the many many other novels and stories to seek an overview of Morley Callaghan's work now that it is completed (although still there may be new books, collections of stories that so far have appeared only in the leading U.S. magazines of the 1920s and 1930s).
A conviction began to emerge. Gripping as his plots are, realistic as his settings and situations, Callaghan was all out, not so much for storytelling, as for utterance. I don't mean that there is any trace of the propagandist, the exhorter, the apologist, the schematizer, in him. Rather, he invites and probes the very recalcitrance of his people and his situations, he courts the ambiguities, to make sure he is not caught by any extraneous considerations: a process of refining the gold of what he sees. “I was loyal to my search for the sacramental in the lives of people,” he told an interviewer, “to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. This used to be considered the great and only aim of art.”1 It has been asked, I too have asked, why a...
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SOURCE: Burbidge, John W. “Religion in Morley Callaghan's Such Is My Beloved.” Journal of Canadian Studies 27, no. 3 (fall 1992): 105-14.
[In the following essay, Burbidge elucidates Callaghan's treatment of religion in Such Is My Beloved, viewing the novel as a commentary on the “Song of Songs.”]
In his seminal work, The Meaning and End of Religion, Wilfred Cantwell Smith challenged a common assumption, one which holds that religion is an entity that can be isolated, defined and studied like other topics of scholarly inquiry. Only in periods when pluralism reigns do people talk about religions in the plural, and distinguish them by such names as Buddhism, Protestantism and Judaism. Naming implies that there is something referred to by those names, and scholars struggle to define what that something is.1
Over most of its history, however, the word “religion” referred not to a thing but to a stance, a characteristic of human beings. It described the relation humans have with transcendent reality. So Smith advocates a new terminology for those who want to study religion. In the first place, there is the “faith” of individuals; that is, their encounter with transcendence. Secondly, there is the “cumulative tradition” that develops as faith finds expression in such things as architecture, child-rearing, shared worship and political...
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SOURCE: Brown, Russell. “Callaghan, Glassco, and the Canadian Lost Generation.” Essays on Canadian Writing 51-2 (winter-spring 1993-94): 83-112.
[In the following essay, Brown discusses how Callaghan's memoir That Summer in Paris and John Glassco's Memoirs of Montparnasse challenges the American-in-Paris myth of expatriate life in the 1920s.]
If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you. …
—Ernest Hemingway, epigraph to A Moveable Feast, 1964
The notion, in the years immediately after World War I, that Paris was the best place for artists and intellectuals may have been true, but it functioned chiefly as a myth: that is, it embodied a cluster of unarticulated assumptions, it shaped decisions and attitudes in ways that went beyond rational appeal, and it generated many narratives.
Emerging in something like its enduring form by 1924, the American myth of the Paris twenties was first disseminated in magazine articles and newspaper stories and then, increasingly, in books. It was a powerful myth with broad popular currency, and from the start historical accuracy was not a concern: “There was too much music, dancing, drinking and moiling about of the mob for anybody's memory to...
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SOURCE: Perz, Marianne. “Staging That Summer in Paris: Narrative Strategies and Theatrical Techniques in the Life Writing of Morley Callaghan.” Studies in Canadian Literature 22, no. 1 (1997): 96-116.
[In the following essay, Perz contends that Callaghan employs theatrical techniques in his memoir That Summer in Paris.]
The people in the principal cafés … might just sit and drink and talk and love to be seen by others.
(Hemingway, A Moveable Feast 100)
In “Mimesis: The Dramatic Lineage of Auto/Biography,” Evelyn Hinz proposes a new poetics of life writing, one that recognizes life writing's “dramatic affinities” (196). She argues that “drama [i]s the ‘sister-art’ of auto/biography” (196) and writes: “the internal dynamics of life writing are much closer to dramatic art, and the language of the stage affords us a much better vocabulary for describing the impact of this kind of literature than does the critical terminology of prose fiction” (208). There are three pivotal steps in Hinz's argument. First, she traces the “genetic” or historical roots of drama, citing various life writers who have acknowledged the connection between the two genres. Second, she refers to the large volume of modern criticism in which the similarities between the two are illuminated. And third, Hinz points out...
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SOURCE: Edwards, Justin D. “Strange Fugitive, Strange City: Reading Urban Space in Morley Callaghan's Toronto.” Studies in Canadian Literature 23, no. 1 (1998): 213-27.
[In the following essay, Edwards considers Callaghan's portrayal of Toronto in his novel Strange Fugitive.]
The City is of Night; perchance of Death, But certainly of Night
I am … a citizen of no mean city
If, as Steven Marcus claims, “the city continues to be a text,” it is a text fraught with ambiguities, paradoxes, and contradictions (234). Marcus goes on to articulate the contradictory tensions inherent in reading the city-as-text by noting that “the city is at once sordid, corrupt, ruinous, terrible, contaminating, and still a place of wonders, magic, marvels, and ‘reality’” (233). The illegibility of the city, moreover, is partially explained by Louis Wirth's comment that “instability and insecurity” are at the very heart of the modern metropolis (497). Although these comments refer specifically to major American cities, such ambiguous discourses find their way into Morley Callaghan's 1928 novel Strange Fugitive. In fact, even the dust-jacket of Strange Fugitive resonates with ambiguity: “Toronto of the late 1920s,”...
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SOURCE: Pell, Barbara. “Morley Callaghan.” In Faith and Fiction: A Theological Critique of the Narrative Strategies of Hugh MacLennan and Morley Callaghan, pp. 65-73. Waterloo, Canada: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1998.
[In the following essay, Pell delineates the defining characteristics of Callaghan's fiction.]
Although he did not share MacLennan's nationalistic vocation to define this country in fiction, Morley Callaghan was arguably the other most important founding father of the modern Canadian novel. One of Canada's most prolific writers for over sixty years, he produced in that time sixteen novels, five books of short stories and novellas, a book of memoirs, a couple of plays, and innumerable articles. He was also a major religious novelist, for the distinctive and personal view of life which characterized all of his writings was based on a religious view of humanity in God's world. In a time of rapidly changing social mores and perspectives, he portrayed the tension between the sacred and the secular in our modern world with fidelity both to the social context and to his religious vision. Callaghan always displayed an intuitive understanding of the complexities of the individual's existential struggle against “sin, the world, and the devil” and toward “grace” and personal salvation. In his attempt to commune intimately with what he called the “despairing questions” and the...
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SOURCE: Boire, Gary. “The Language of the Law: The Cases of Morley Callaghan.” In Dominant Impressions: Essays on the Canadian Short Story, edited by Gerald Lynch and Angela Arnold Robbeson, pp. 75-86. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 1999.
[In the following essay, Boire examines Callaghan's use of the language of the law in his short stories between 1925 and 1928.]
This discussion has two discrete, yet intersecting, points of departure. I want to consider, first, Morley Callaghan as an experimental short story writer—more specifically, a postcolonial writer intensely aware of his own resistant activity within a well-established colonialist genre. I want to consider, in other words, Callaghan's radical experimentations with both the language and genre of the short story form. Second, I want to consider how this experimentation intersects with what proved to be Callaghan's lifelong boredom and fascination—his fear and temptation, if you will—with the language of law. In the interests of clarity, I want to concentrate here, furthermore, on the cluster of stories published between 1925 and 1928—the years during which Callaghan attended Osgoode Law School, corresponded with Ernest Hemingway in Paris, and began drafting the first of his many short “legal fictions.”
My argument, in a nutshell, is that figures of law permeate many of the works of Morley Callaghan, and that...
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James, William Closson. “The Ambiguities of Love in Morley Callaghan's Such is My Beloved.” Canadian Literature, no. 138 (fall-winter 1993): 35-51.
Traces Callaghan's ideological and literary development, culminating with the author's emphasis on the religious nature of Such is My Beloved.
Metcalf, John. “Winner Take All.” Essays on Canadian Writing 51-52 (winter-spring 1993-1994): 113-45.
Metcalf unfavorably compares Callaghan's fiction to that of Ernest Hemingway and asserts that critical assessments of Callaghan's work have often been exaggerated.
Additional coverage of Callaghan's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12R, 132; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vols. 33, 73; Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vols. 3, 14, 41, 65; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 68; DISCovering Authors: Canadian Edition; DISCovering Authors Modules: Most-studied Authors; Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, Ed. 3; Literature Resource Center; Major 20th-Century Writers, Eds. 1, 2; Reference Guide to English Literature, Ed. 2; and Reference Guide to Short Fiction, Ed. 2.
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