Morley Callaghan

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Morley Callaghan World Literature Analysis

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Morley Callaghan’s international literary reputation struggles against two curious adversities. The first resulted from the revelation that he had knocked down the burly Hemingway during a boxing match at a Parisian athletic club in 1929; a great deal of hoopla was made over this unimportant feat, which should have been quickly forgotten. In addition, his credibility as a significant international writer suffered because his fiction was often set in Toronto, causing many critics to dismiss him as merely a competent regional writer. Edmund Wilson, the distinguished and influential American critic, began a 1960 essay on Callaghan by saying that he “is today perhaps the most unjustly neglected novelist in the English-speaking world,” and concluded wryly that this might be so because readers wonder whether any Toronto writer could be legitimately compared to Anton Chekhov and Ivan Turgenev—as White believed Callaghan should be.

Callaghan’s fiction addresses many universal themes. Often, he uses characters who may be defined as ordinary people with dilemmas. He then dramatizes their suffering when they fail to make the “right” choices, which they often do because they lack anything resembling free will. He shows how the establishment breaks the hearts of the have-nots, the unfortunate, and the misfits in its midst. Callaghan also describes how people of goodwill must have, seize, add to, and strengthen their moral values to survive in a troubled world. Callaghan develops orderly, uncomplicated, suspenseful plots. He includes violence and muted sensuality, tangles people in permanent psychological conflict, and closes without passing judgment, leaving characters with little if any hope for happiness.

It’s Never Over presents the consequences of the execution of a combat veteran who killed a policeman under mitigating circumstances. The murderer’s sister wrecks her life, that of her brother’s best friend, and that of the friend’s girlfriend by clinging to a dead past that prevents her from having a living present or future.

No Man’s Meat focuses on a triangular relationship. The staid, childless marriage of Bert and Teresa Beddoes is shattered when their friend Jean Allen, who has left her husband, comes to visit them. After a serene sunset over a peaceful Canadian lake, from which the three take no lesson, Bert and Jean shoot craps, while Teresa watches. Jean loses a final startling bet and sleeps with Bert to pay it off; Teresa does not protest but insists with “calmness” that the two sleep together. In the morning, Jean reveals why she left her husband. She can hardly stand a man’s touch; she is a lesbian. She then departs with Teresa.

Such Is My Beloved has attracted increased attention in recent years. It’s the story of an idealistic, young priest who falls in love with the idea of saving the souls of two prostitutes in his neighborhood. Though he has the best intentions, his innocence of social reality leads to negative consequences for all concerned.

Callaghan describes weather and street scenes in a painterly way and employs cinematic techniques. The opening paragraph of Our Lady of the Snows, for example, tells how on a certain Christmas Eve “big wet [snow] flakes” fall “on an old dilapidated neighborhood,” and then zooms in on a nearby hotel and its loquacious bartender named “Gil” Gilhooley. The novel also has autobiographical overtones, since Gil had ambitions to be a writer and is trying to come to terms with his brother’s death. Callaghan’s only sibling, an older brother, died in 1946. In A Fine and Private Place , Al and Lisa discuss details of the hit-and-run death of an enigmatic friend, a writer named Eugene Shore. Callaghan makes masterful use of clipped,...

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simple dialogue that is at once realistic and heightened. Such dialogue is also reminiscent of cinema.

Callaghan often uses simple plot structures. The Many Coloured Coat features three central characters in an unnamed city that resembles Montreal. One character perceptively admires the other two, who are contrasted. A temptation generates a crime, a public trial, a conviction, and a suicide in prison. The fortunes of the surviving pair undergo inversion—one up-then-down, the other down-then-up. A second trial permits a private reconciliation of the two survivors.

Almost never presenting his action through omniscient narrators who explain things for the reader, Callaghan has his characters, especially in short stories, learn something significant at the climax. “Day by Day,” for example, describes the consequence of a young wife’s prayer that her husband may find contentment. He comes home, observes her spiritual enlightenment, becomes suspicious, and storms out. At the end of the story, “She had such a strange feeling of guilt. White-faced and still, she tried to ask herself what it was that was slowly driving them apart day by day.” In “A Sick Call,” a Catholic priest pays a requested visit to a sick former member of the church in order to provide spiritual comfort. In so doing, he bothers the woman’s gruff young husband, whose love for her the priest wistfully sees as beautifully “staunch,” though “pagan.” The story ends: “As he [the priest] began to wonder about the nature of this beauty, for some reason he felt inexpressibly sad.”

“Two Fishermen”

First published: 1934, as “Who Is My Neighbor?” (collected in Morley Callaghan’s Stories, 1959)

Type of work: Short story

A hangman comes to town on business, goes fishing with the local newspaper reporter before the execution, and confronts him afterward.

One of the two fishermen of the title is Michael Foster, a young journalist for a small-town newspaper called the Examiner who wants to work for a metropolitan paper instead. The other fisherman, K. Smith, has come to town to execute the well-liked Tom Delaney, who fought, was hurt by, and killed his wife’s molester.

The story falls into two parts. The first part takes place in the evening; Foster finds Smith, borrows a boat, and rows him out onto the lake. They share a bottle and grow “neighborly.” “Smitty” amusingly talks about his wife and children and then begins to discuss his work, “knowing he ought to be ashamed.” Next day, soon after the execution, the two meet again. Smith, now formally dressed, gives Foster two fish he caught before dawn that morning. An upset crowd approaches and pelts Smith, and a flying rock cuts Smith’s head. The inefficient sheriff intervenes and saves Smith. An irate citizen notices Foster’s fish, grabs them, and hurls them toward Smith. Smith stares at his gift, in the dust; Foster, backing away, feels “hot with shame” for “betraying Smitty.”

This story concerns injustice, friendship’s limits, disloyalty, and the sad separation of work and play. Tom should not be hanged. Foster makes and loses a friend. Smith endures his job partly so he can fish in different places. The serenity of the lake implicitly mocks the characters’ common inhumanity. A bleeding head, betrayal, and fish provide twisted Christian symbolism. When asked to select one of his stories for inclusion in This Is My Best, a 1942 collection of works by famous authors, Callaghan submitted “Two Fishermen.” He might easily have chosen any of a dozen other splendid stories, but he rightly held this one in high regard.

They Shall Inherit the Earth

First published: 1935

Type of work: Novel

When a father and his estranged son are implicated in an only partly accidental drowning, frustrated hopes and wrecked lives result.

This novel, whose title derives from the Bible, tells the story of an egocentric, sinful man who learns repentance and gains forgiveness through the love of a meek woman. The plot involves interlocking activities of several characters. Andrew Aikenhead is a successful advertising agent. Andrew’s mentally unbalanced first wife has died, and their son Michael, an infrequently employed engineer, resents his father’s second marriage to Marthe Choate. Marthe’s irresponsible son by her previous marriage, David, has tested the limits of Andrew’s patience.

In a pathetic effort to improve matters, Andrew manages to persuade Michael to vacation with his family and a few friends at his lakeside home. David, who drinks excessively, harasses Sheila, Michael’s sister and the fiancé of Ross, the physician son of Andrew’s partner Jay Hillquist. After arguing noisily with Andrew, David goes boating with Michael in the dark. The two argue. David dives from the boat, swims around foolishly, becomes confused, and calls for help. Michael bruises him with an oar in an angry rescue attempt, then abandons him. The next day David’s drowned body is found. Suspicion falls on Andrew, although the police lack evidence to prosecute. Michael, bitterly blaming his father for much of his life’s trouble, fails to come forward with the truth.

Marthe leaves Andrew, who so declines that Jay dissolves their partnership. Sheila marries Ross but, fearing family madness, tells him she wants no children. Michael, on whom Callaghan concentrates, has four friends: Anna Prychoda, an unemployed dress designer; Huck Farr, a callous sensualist; Nathaniel Benjamin, a would-be teacher and a convert from Judaism to Christianity; and Bill Johnson, a loudmouthed communist. Michael finds no solace with Huck, despite their former camaraderie, especially when he observes Huck’s campaign to seduce Anna. He finds no answers in religion through Nathaniel, none in politics through Bill, nor any in nature when he goes wolf hunting with Ross and observes slaughter.

Meek Anna becomes Michael’s salvation. Falling awkwardly in love, they soon become intimate. When she shyly tells him she is pregnant and appears frightened by his initial silence, he explains: “I was just feeling glad, and I was trying to understand why I felt glad.” Her reply is wondrous: “Then I’m glad too.” At one point, Michael watches Anna peacefully sleeping and begins to understand:If to be poor in spirit meant to be without false pride, or be humble enough to forget oneself, then she was poor in spirit, for she gave herself to everything that touched her, she let herself be, she lost herself in the fullness of the world, and in losing herself she found the world, and she possessed her whole soul. People like her could have everything. They could inherit the earth.

Michael confesses his sin to Anna. She says that only meaningless justice would be served by his going to the police, that instead he should ask the prodigal son’s forgiveness of the father. What follows this dramatic act, nicely underplayed by Callaghan, contains the seeds of a diminished contentment.

Callaghan handles details with consummate skill, creates many scenes as if for a film treatment, and conveys psychological realities by natural dialogue and by having his characters ponder what they want to say but cannot express. Misery results from misunderstanding, resentment, and misinterpretation but imperfectly articulated love points to a moral: “give all of yourself to help.”

More Joy in Heaven

First published: 1937

Type of work: Novel

A famous bank robber apparently reforms while serving a long prison term, but after a few months back in society, he is destroyed by the pressures of success.

Red Ryan was the actual person who served as the model for the hero of More Joy in Heaven. He was released from prison in 1935 after serving more than ten years for grand theft. For a few months, Ryan was the toast of Toronto, but the fashion of his popularity passed and he reverted to his previous patterns. Ryan was finally killed by a police officer while attempting to rob a liquor store.

Callaghan’s novel turns this true story into a version of the parable of the prodigal son. The fictional hero of More Joy in Heaven, Kip Caley, sees another side of life while serving his long prison term. His transformation is due largely to the help of a priest who is ministering there. Caley forgets the demands of his giant ego and finds new satisfaction in helping other inmates. He becomes a model prisoner, and through the intervention of a Canadian senator and other political figures, he is granted parole.

Unfortunately, his well-earned reputation for being reborn on the inside makes him a valuable commodity on the outside. The senator gets him a job as a greeter at a popular sports bar, which puts Caley back in contact with the fast-track world of heavy drinking, gambling, and prostitution. Shrewd entrepreneurs, political opportunists, and thrill seekers of various kinds pounce on him as soon as he is free.

Caley loses touch with Father Butler, who in prison had shown him a better way of life. Instead, Caley finds himself hobnobbing with a bishop of the church, whose devotion to the power of the institution leaves little time to care about any individual. A waitress named Julie, who has also been through some hard times, comes to love Caley for reasons that have nothing to do with his notoriety. She has to compete, however, with the senator’s daughter, who wants only a fling with the famous former bank robber. Julie wins, but their love is not enough to stave off the inevitable tragedy.

The dream that catches fire in Caley’s heart is to become a member of the parole board, which would allow him to continue on a larger scale the worthwhile work he had begun in prison. The dream is frustrated, however, by his own impatience and then vetoed by Judge Ford. This same judge had originally sentenced Caley and had opposed his early release. Judge Ford is untouched by mercy, pity, peace, or love. He sees nothing but the law. In one memorable passage, Ford is compared to the cynical former convict Whispering Joe Foley. They are portrayed as mirror images of each other, both addicted to the law. Ford can think only in terms of enforcing the law; Foley can think only in terms of breaking it.

The extremely romantic and dramatic ending leaves the reader with a better understanding of the impersonal forces that control society and destroy Kip Caley. Sympathy for Caley is qualified, however, by an appreciation of the tragic consequences of his kind of egomaniacal naïveté. The celebration to welcome back the prodigal son can become toxic if it continues too long.

That Summer in Paris

First published: 1963

Type of work: Memoir

Callaghan describes seven months in 1929 spent with his wife in Paris associating with expatriate writers and sharing their mostly carefree café life there.

Callaghan began That Summer in Paris: Memories of Tangled Friendships with Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Some Others to correct the many stories generated by his outboxing Hemingway in Paris. The book, however, grew into a charming compilation of memories of Paris boulevards, commentary, and conversations with American writers, editors, and publishers. The book falls into thirds, followed by a coda. In the first third, Callaghan details his newspaper work in Toronto, meeting Hemingway there, and conferring with members of the literati in New York. Callaghan presents himself as an eager young author, ready for advice but also rather cocksure.

The Callaghans arrive in Paris in April. Callaghan, recalling numerous experiences with remarkable objectivity, offers vignettes of Parisian life before the economic collapse and war that were to come. He reveres Paris as “a lighted place where the imagination was free,” that people “have to make room for . . . in their thoughts even if they never visit them.” Distancing himself from the French writers he observes, he calls one trio “French cutups” and André Gide “a second-rate novelist.” Some Americans fare no better. Gertrude Stein’s abstract prose is “nonsense.” A host spoils his generous treatment of Americans with gossip and cruel behavior. Through this host, however, Callaghan meets James Joyce, whom he esteems above all other living writers, whose wife he meets and likes, and in whose home he is entertained. Callaghan also reveres Hemingway and hopes to meet F. Scott Fitzgerald through him. Callaghan does meet “Scott” later.

Callaghan summarizes more adventures with celebrities and phonies, describes far too much drinking, and carefully reports his boxing match with Hemingway. Fitzgerald, who timed the match, in innocent excitement let a three-minute round run on, which allowed Callaghan to floor Hemingway, who bellowed that Fitzgerald had done it purposely to see him humiliated. Callaghan concludes that Hemingway had to be the winner in everything. The episode ruined the already shaky friendship between Fitzgerald and Hemingway, whom Callaghan crisply analyzes: “[Hemingway’s] quality for moving others to make legends out of his life may have been as tragic a flaw as was Scott’s instinct for courting humiliation from his inferiors.”

The book’s last chapters serve as an epilogue. After enjoying a trip to Versailles and Chartres with Hemingway, the Callaghans return, via London and Dublin, to their home in Toronto. Embroiled at once in inaccurate reports of his boxing victory, Callaghan tries honorably but without success to set the record straight by publishing an explanation in the newspapers.

Callaghan, who took pains to disparage the seventeenth century love of balance and form seen at Versailles, avoids compositional symmetry in this book. It has two chapters of three pages each and one of nineteen. He makes casual generalizations concerning life and art. Some of his critical observations could, of course, be the result of hindsight. That Summer in Paris is now a classic remembrance of Paris in 1929.


Morley Callaghan Long Fiction Analysis


Callaghan, Morley