Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 796
The writing career of Edward Morley Callaghan (KAL-uh-han), one of Canada’s foremost novelists, began in the 1920’s and spanned more than six decades. Born in Toronto to an Irish Catholic family, he attended Withrow Public School and Riverdale Collegiate before attending St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto, where he earned a B.A. in general arts in 1925 and subsequently enrolled in Osgoode Hall Law School. While an undergraduate he took a part-time position as a reporter with the Toronto Daily Star. In 1923, while working there, he met Ernest Hemingway, who read some of Callaghan’s stories and urged him to keep writing.
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Callaghan published his first short story, “A Girl with Ambition,” in This Quarter, a Parisian magazine, in 1962 (the story was one that Hemingway had commended). In that same year, he visited New York briefly and met several writers, including Ford Madox Ford, Katherine Anne Porter, and William Carlos Williams. By the time he graduated from law school in 1928, Callaghan had established himself as a writer. He had published several short stories in American and European magazines, had a story (“A Country Passion”) selected for inclusion in an anthology edited by J. Edward O’Brien, and had seen the publication of his first novel, Strange Fugitive. Set in the days of Prohibition, the novel introduced a theme that was to recur in Callaghan’s novels: the alienation of the social outcast. One year later, he published a collection of short stories, A Native Argosy, and with his wife, Loretto Florence Dee, traveled to Paris, where they spent the summer in the company of Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. His experiences with these writers are recorded in That Summer in Paris.
In 1930, after residing for about eight months in a farmhouse in Pennsylvania and a hotel in New York City, he returned to take up permanent residence in Toronto and began publishing a book a year until 1937. His most notable novels of this period are Such Is My Beloved and More Joy in Heaven. During the next decade, a period Callaghan saw as “the dark period” of his life, he produced very little. He turned his attention to writing reviews and articles on current events and to adapting They Shall Inherit the Earth as a play he retitled Turn Home Again. He wrote another play, To Tell the Truth; a novel for juvenile readers, Luke Baldwin’s Vow; and The Varsity Story, a fictionalized history of the traditions of the University of Toronto.
In 1951, he returned to serious fiction with a novel that is considered to be among his best, The Loved and the Lost, which won that year’s Governor-General’s Literary Award for fiction. Nine years later, he published A Passion in Rome, his only novel with a non-Canadian setting, on which he had begun working after spending a few weeks in Rome on a journalistic assignment at the time of Pope Pius XII’s death in 1958. After another dry period of more than a decade, Callaghan published, at the age of seventy-two, A Fine and Private Place, which initiated another creative phase. The three novels that followed were well received and clearly showed (particularly Close to the Sun Again) that his creative ability had not waned.
Throughout his writing career, Callaghan published numerous short stories in European and North American magazines, many of which have been collected in A Native Argosy, Now That April’s Here, Morley Callaghan’s Stories, and The Lost and Found Stories of Morley Callaghan. Some critics consider his stories to be even more impressive than his novels. In all of his writing, Callaghan examines the moral and spiritual issues involved in the struggles of individuals, invariably outcasts on the fringe of society, to accommodate themselves to a society that perversely expects them to conform to its dubious standards. Up against a world that lacks common humanity, they are subjected to poverty, loss, fear, and betrayal.
Critics have complained that Callaghan’s novels tend to stereotype women, depicting them as either saints or wantons, as is evident in the early The Loved and the Lost and the later A Time for Judas. Callaghan’s protagonists, like Hemingway’s, tend to explore their private emotions and feelings in public places, and his prose is spare, compact, and lucid. Though he creates graphic scenes and brilliant character portraits, his settings and characters recurringly have symbolic and allegorical functions.
In 1965, critic Edmund Wilson identified Callaghan as “perhaps the most unjustly neglected novelist in the English-speaking world.” That situation changed as critics began to recognize Callaghan’s worth. Callaghan’s works increasingly attracted readers as well as scholars, and the writer was awarded a number of prestigious honors during his lifetime. He died in 1990 at the age of eighty-seven.