Morley Callaghan

Start Free Trial

Margaret Avison (essay date summer 1992)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

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 powerful stylist (many passages attest that he is that) lets stand those places that sink, go flat, indicate rather than speak; granted that they are never key passages, but all the same, why? I suspect that he might tell us that a person can grow as many feet as a centipede if he fusses too much, and he will end up never saying it, never really getting there.

Although Morley Callaghan was already qualifying as a lawyer when I was just in public school, the time-gap between us closed over the years; by the 1940s I was generously included, Saturday evenings at Eustace and Mary Lowry Ross's house or in Morley and Loretto's second-floor duplex on Walmer Road, in an ongoing conversation with their friends about books new and old, ideas, the literatures of other countries, languages. On more than one occasion one of us would debate prose style with Morley. Blunt, simple, immediate, realistic—that style fits some themes, but not others, surely? His reply was stubborn, then. It has remained so. In the 1960s he wrote: “The words should be as transparent as glass, and every time a writer used a brilliant phrase to prove himself witty or clever, he merely took the mind of the reader away from the object and directed it to himself.”2 And almost thirty years later he was still insisting that such vanities should be beneath a writer. “I wanted language to come easily, you know? I believed in that, I always sit back objectively and detached, and observe … the whole effect is in the way you see it, not in the scheming to achieve an effect. … If you see it right, then it comes out right.”3 This is not a casual method; economy of words involved cutting, going over and over an unsatisfactory passage. Look at his first sentences: “It was not true that Jeannie Warkle had been too easy for Joe Stanin.”4 “Joseph Carver, the publisher of the Montreal Sun, lived on the mountain.”5 No slipshod craftsman could launch a tale this ably. It took pains to get the “language to come easily”—although I suspect this attention was...

(This entire section contains 2376 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

focused on the key passages, not the transitional bits.

Isn't it astonishing that, though Callaghan was loved and respected as a TV pundit, his Canadian viewers did not go on to devour his books? By 1929 he had become a literary celebrity in the United States. In 1960 Edmund Wilson was calling him “the most unjustly neglected novelist in the English-speaking world.”6 Why has he “occupied a curious position in the literary history of his own country, where he has been both honoured and put down, and at times almost ignored?”7 As my own enthusiasm grew with reading, the fascination of the question grew.

Are the books ‘dated’ in any significant way? I think not. Some adjustment of perspective is asked of readers. Particulars change from decade to decade: current slang is of course missing although the tone of the 1934 street talk still carries conviction; the Hospital and the Cathedral of this novel still mark their area, but the downtown streets west and south are altogether different now; the priggishness of pre-war Toronto died out in the war years; there was little plane travel then, no television, no subway in Toronto—in 1934 people walked—in this novel shoes get wet in the slush, galoshes matter, winter streets soak through a hole in the sole. All the same, these and other stories published long before Hugh MacLennan's or Margaret Laurence's are immediate still, and surprisingly approachable.

Is Callaghan's stubborn, unique approach to style the reason his work is undervalued? Are people misled by the drive and seeming simplicity of the language to expect another whodunit or a good yarn to while away an idle hour? and baffled and put off when unbearable snarl-ups develop, and are not resolved or leave you wondering whether they have been resolved? Because these simple novels are not at all simple. Who is the lover, who is the beloved, of the title? Why is the central character presented—not in the first sentence—against the background of his most recent sermon “on the inevitable separation between Christianity and the bourgeois world”? This passage does not work as characterization. It does provide the context in which three parties are set on their collision course:

—the main character, Father Dowling: from a background of poverty and love, his family having sacrificed for his education and deeply respecting his vocation;

—Ronnie and Midge, and Lou: also with a background of poverty but rootless early in their years, vulnerable to manipulation and victimizing in order to survive, defensive;

—certain, substantial, prosperous, complacent, prejudiced lay Catholics, a power in the Church but themselves a minority in the city, pressed into propriety by the prejudiced Protestant majority around them.

Take with this subject-matter the iridescent title and the companion epigraph (also from the Song of Songs), and Canadian readers of our day need all the directness and sturdiness of language they find, just to hang on. The artifice of economy in storytelling is needed; the laconic voice of a plain-speaking man (for all the objectivity Callaghan insisted on, his prose often makes a woman feel like an eavesdropper) makes of that narrator an extra invisible character. He is a plain man, whereas Callaghan himself was a tremendous reader, widely acquainted with his world. This, I think, is why Callaghan created his own worn-out words. I didn't do a count, but “eager,” for example, recurs with deadening frequency, here and in other novels and stories over decades. Such words are his narrator's not the artist's. The transparency with which Callaghan seeks to see and make us see reveals himself behind it, all-out in his determination to perceive undistracted and with honesty, foregoing new ways of stating some things, too “eager,” for example, to be bothered.

“Your beliefs will be the light by which you see, but they will not be a substitute for seeing,” said Flannery O'Connor. Callaghan's struggle, in the telling, is to make convincing to others remote from his beliefs the light by which he sees; and he does not provide himself, or us, with any comfortable substitutes for seeing.

Despite his plain-man's voice, the artist is evident, for instance in the sentence-rhythms. In the very first sentence of the novel, Father Dowling is introduced this way: “The móst éager yoúng priést at the Cathédral, was Fáther Stéphen Dówling.” Over the page we meet Ronnie and Midge: “As he wálked briśkly by the hóspital, he nóticed twó giŕls stánding nót fár awaý from a lámp-póst.” Again the clustered stresses slow down the reading; and “at the Cathedral” is musically echoed in “by the hospital.” The implications are focused, over the next page: “It was not yet clear to him what he ought to have done, but as he hurried to the church rectory he was full of sharp disappointment and more discouraged than he had been at any time since his ordination.” The scattering of unstressed syllables here conveys fluster; and what a difference between the flowing “at the Cathedral” and the rough bump of “at the church rectory.”

His meeting with the two prostitutes, in his parish, embarrasses, then troubles, then challenges the young priest. Is the ensuing disaster a result of more than manipulative forces and victimization? Is it some one character's “fault”? Is it inevitable? But if it is inevitable, the young priest's absolute conviction that goodness can and must be introduced, indeed intruded, into a bad situation, that change for the better can ease the social pressures with the evils they engender and give back to impoverished lives the scope for new choices—this conviction then remains an unbearable anomaly. The weight of his failure deadens his spirit for a time. But Father Dowling at last reached an awesome place of stillness, a new vision. Is he just a callow idealist, broken by the collision with reality? Is he simply unbalanced? Or is his spiritual insight valid, ultimately hopeful, consistently loving? Is the Bishop, who was put in an arbiter's position, clearer?—“‘Father Dowling in the beginning may have loved them in a general way and, of course, that was good. … What is the matter with me? Do I suffer from the sin of hardness of heart?’ he muttered. … ‘If I had it to do over again, I would face the problem in exactly the same way,’ he thought firmly. ‘What on earth is bothering me then? …’”

The supreme unpurchasable love defined in the epigraph is set to challenge a select handful of people, in a realistic situation, in a familiar, ordinary, provincial city. That is the way Callaghan “sees” to “get it right.” The scope of his candour and faith are conditions of reading his story or, put another way, are his gift to his readers.

Four decades and a dozen books later Callaghan cited this novel as a kind of touchstone of “real writ[ing].”8 And at a crisis in his life the hero of a 1960 novel pondered the same theme: “Innocence is so frail. Can it ever be acknowledged to oneself without becoming a vanity, a pride?”; and he speculated about others in the early evening streets, “… some … he was sure, … would really be alone, knowing the terror of their innocence.”9 Another early novel ended with many people “too hurt to say much at first, their faith going, feeling the little bit of hope they had held shyly, that men could change and want to be good, fading out of their own lives.”10 This melancholy is just one facet of the stubborn confidence that recurs in story after story, that “… in each man … [is] a secret domain. Every man or woman [is] sovereign of this domain … [and] somehow ha[s] to preserve that faint secret unconquerable area of self-respect.”11

If such inward concerns be central in all these books, what becomes of Callaghan's assertion that “the greatness of writing is in the reporting—what is in fact observed?” He went on, “Was Flaubert objective? Was he the most highly objective or the most truly personal of all reporters?”12 What a fascinating question! It suggests such answers as these.

Callaghan absolutely protected his private life. He was an objective reporter depending on observation of others but never drawing on family or friends for fictional persons. (One sturdy character who had thought of Gil, a barkeep-writer, as his friend “perceived in a flash that Gil wouldn't be offended by anything he said, just interested that he had said it—as a character in his story. Offended, he thought grimly, ‘It's time I started keeping Mr. Gilhooley away from me.’”13

When he eschews the private, Callaghan sets his characters in an apartness, however vivid, that block a reader from identifying with them. The reader does enter this fictional world. But it is by engaging in the moral struggle portrayed there, a struggle experienced in some form in his own private world as well. Callaghan's commitment is to explore a situation and its effect on a character, to make himself vulnerable to the conflicting values involved, and to choose (in terms of that fictional world) realistically, honestly, often ruefully.

Is his style “unadorned and colloquial … even … commonplace?”14 Yes, but that too is a value Callaghan chooses even though he is well able to write in other voices. E.g. his Mollie, in The Man With the Coat, is totally unlike the direct person who confronts an issue. When she is alone at one point, and in distress, she muses, standing at a window: “Why is it that nuns look so well under a pear tree in the sunlight?15

“Men have to make room for such places in their thoughts,” says Callaghan, “even if they never visit them.”16


  1. “Interview” Quill and Quire (July 1983): 17.

  2. Morley Callaghan, That Summer in Paris (Toronto: Macmillan, 1963): 21.

  3. Ray Ellenwood, “Eternal Style” [Interview with Callaghan], The Idler 30 (November 1990): 35, 37.

  4. Morley Callaghan, “The Magic Hat,” Morley Callaghan's Stories (Toronto: Macmillan, 1959): 339.

  5. Morley Callaghan, The Loved and the Lost (1951; Toronto: Macmillan, 1977) 1.

  6. Edmund Wilson, “Morley Callaghan of Toronto,” The New Yorker 26 November 1960, p. 224.

  7. Robert Weaver & William Toye, eds., The Oxford Anthology of Canadian Literature (Toronto: Oxford Univ. Press, 1973): 37.

  8. Morley Callaghan, A Fine and Private Place (Toronto: Macmillan, 1975): 94.

  9. Morley Callaghan, The Many Colored Coat (Toronto: Macmillan, 1960): 288, 318.

  10. Morley Callaghan, More Joy in Heaven (1937; Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1969).

  11. Morley Callaghan, A Wild Old Man on the Road (Toronto: Stoddart, 1969): 16.

  12. Callaghan, A Wild Old Man on the Road, 62.

  13. Morley Callaghan, Our Lady of the Snows (Toronto: Macmillan, 1985): 210.

  14. Callaghan, A Fine and Private Place, 53.

  15. Morley Callaghan, The Man with the Coat (Toronto: Exile Editions, 1987): 119.

  16. Callaghan, That Summer in Paris, 88.

Quotations from the novel are taken from Morley Callaghan, Such is My Beloved (1934; Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1957).


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

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.

Biographical Information

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.

Major Works

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.

Critical Reception

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.

John W. Burbidge (essay date fall 1992)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

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 organizations. The cumulative tradition provides the context in which faith emerges and is itself moulded by the ways faith becomes incarnate in public life.2

The study of cumulative tradition is fairly straightforward. One has the public artifacts, and one can trace the way those have altered and affected human behaviour. Thus, for example, Smith can talk about how the story of Siddartha Gautama migrated from its native India by way of muslim Persia into the Christian West, where the Bodhisattva became St. Joshophat.3

It is not so easy to identify faith, for the encounter with transcendence is perhaps the most profoundly personal of all human encounters. The full dynamic of that interaction is often so subtle and so delicate that the person of faith is loath to talk about it. Some will not appreciate its intricate shading and will quickly categorize it with bastard explanations or phony caricatures that demean and betray the sacred. The move from faith to its expression is thus not direct; typically, it avoids the straightforward way we articulate our intellectual insights or make our emotions public. It is deliberately indirect. A public medium is chosen that will both veil and reveal the faith to be expressed, so that the ordinary person will notice only the surface, while the more perceptive will respond to intimations of eternity.

The discontinuity between faith and its expression poses problems for the student of religion in human life. He or she has only public artifacts at hand—the lives of children nurtured at a believing mother's knee, the worn steps that lead to a shrine, a fragment of poetry, a charitable organization. The significance of those artifacts has been moulded as much by the reception they have had at the hands of others as by the faith that initiated and inspired them. How, then, can a student of religion discern the faith that has found such expression?

The interpreter comes with an individual sense of what is ultimate and significant. He or she is part of the public that is prone to misread the subtleties of faith. The individual must learn how to take public artifacts as imperfect indicators of a faith that nonetheless remains hidden. In doing so, the individual has to be as sensitive to what is not expressed as to what is revealed.

That, however, only increases the dilemma, for there are no hard and fast rules to ensure success. Hence, the creativity that searches for an adequate public expression of faith on the part of the believer needs to be matched on the part of the interpreter by a sensitivity to connections and distinctions never before noticed. But too much sensitivity can create a fantasy-world of unreality, reading into an expression of faith dimensions of meaning that are simply figments of the interpreter's imagination; conversely, too little sensitivity can categorize the profound in terms of the trite preoccupations of ordinary life.

There is no easy solution to this dilemma. If anything, the student must start by recognizing that it will always bedevil the path, that one must always navigate between the Scylla of over-interpretation and the Charybdis of banality. Nonetheless, the challenge must be faced. To talk about religion as cumulative tradition while ignoring the moment of personal faith is to distort both faith and the phenomena of religion itself.

When one considers the role religion has played in Canadian life, the expressions of faith are many and diverse: the educational institutions of Quebec before 1960; the delicate harmonies of a Healey Willan motet; the astounding victory of Social Credit in Alberta in 1935; a Hutterite colony in Saskatchewan; the self-confidence of the Dene people before the Berger Commission on the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline; the persistence of the Jehovah's Witnesses in establishing the rights of assembly, press and religion; the impact of Henry Alline on post-revolutionary Nova Scotian society; the symbolism of William Kurelek's art. In one sense it may seem arbitrary to select Morley Callaghan's Such Is My Beloved to illustrate how one might draw out the faith that inspired it. It can be argued, however, that the novel encapsulates not only Catholic but Canadian religion generally.4

The novel was written in 1933, only four years after Callaghan's famous summer in Paris. Many years later, Callaghan recalled the end of that summer:

“It's a kind of other worldliness,” I said, laughing, yet meaning it. And indeed it was my conviction now that for most men there had to be some kind of another more satisfactory world. (The primrose had to be anything but a primrose.) The saints, tormented by the anguish of the flesh, wanted to reject the human condition, the world they lived in. But whether saints or café friends there in Paris, weren't they all involved in a flight from the pain of life—a pain they would feel more acutely at home? It struck me then too that the French literature we had so much admired from Mallarmé to the surrealists was simply a rejection of this world and the stuff of daily life. The French writers stayed at home and exiled themselves in their own dreams. Then what would my own fantasy be? Loretto asked, lightheartedly. And rather grandly, to mask my doubt and wonder, I said I might have to forge my own vision in secret spiritual isolation in my native city. Joyce in exile has gone deeply, too deeply, into himself. But what if he had stayed in Dublin?5

Callaghan's grand statement—“I might have to forge my own vision in secret spiritual isolation in my native city”—masks his doubt and wonder. Out of the spiritual isolation he experienced, what vision emerged? Such Is My Beloved gives us a clue. “I always had a happy feeling about that book—that it was right—because I wrote it so quickly, so moved was I by the story.”6

It is a simple story of a priest who befriends two prostitutes. Yet its simplicity is belying. It signifies more than appears on the surface. At the basic level there is the outline of a priest's life, with his mind wandering during confession, conversing with parishioners at the church door, chiding fellow priests in the rectory, visiting the sick and the dying, playing cards with the leisured elite, on occasion escaping to a non-Catholic friend who espouses Marxian sociological theories. Because Callaghan does not wax eloquent about primroses, these activities are presented in matter-of-fact language, leading the unwary to suspect that he is caricaturing the church: showing that it is not all that it is cracked up to be and that its teaching on birth-control, for example, leads to the Canzanos' misery.

What is the import that lies under this surface? Both Marx and Freud, who offer sophisticated ways of reading a text for its hidden meanings, leave traces within the pages of the novel. Callaghan himself weaves in explicit references to Marxism and class consciousness, not only by introducing Charlie Stewart, but also by including the specific content of Father Dowling's sermons “on the inevitable separation between Christianity and the bourgeois world” (3). Toronto in the 1930s was in the midst of the Depression, and the contrast between the threadbare prostitutes, Midge and Ronnie, and the affluent Robisons suggests that the poverty of the working class is the immediate cause of the girls' prostitution. If the Marxists of Callaghan's generation identified ultimate reality primarily with the economics of class conflict, Freudians found it in basic sexual drives. It is tempting from this viewpoint to see Father Dowling not only as a socialist sympathizer but also as a repressed celibate, whose natural desire for sexual gratification drives him to initiate and maintain contact with the prostitutes, so that he can have a salacious second-hand delight in their nightly activity.7

While Marx and Freud articulated convincing versions of ultimate reality to many who were searching in the early 1930s for “another more satisfactory world” (and it is clear from Callaghan's text that he was well aware of such ideas and their appeal), a careful reading of the novel makes us aware that Callaghan plays down such deliberately systematic ideological interpretations. In his conversation with the priest, Charlie argued that the girls' occupation posed an economic, not a religious problem. In reply, Dowling admits that Charlie is right “in a way”; it is a point of view. But when he leaves his friend and enters the deserted church he prays a “most silent prayer” that “was more intense than any he had ever made.” The sacrifice the girls made of their souls every day was interwoven with his meditation on the mystery of Mary's virginity (128). Callaghan does not allow Charlie's Marxist point of view to have the last word.

Nor does Callaghan open even a crack that would admit a Freudian reading. When Annie, one of the prostitutes' friends, flaunts her dark breast at the priest it triggers “a man's passion … But then his forehead began to perspire, his whole body relaxed and he trembled and felt ashamed.” A relaxed release from temptation runs counter to the Freudian myth of repressed desire. On another occasion, a night-time ejaculation leaves him feeling wretched, yet he realizes that to stay away from the girls for such a reason “would be an act of weakness and lack of faith” (49). The way Callaghan introduces the temptations of sexual desire, makes it clear that the motivations inspiring Father Dowling are not those of libidinal love. That is not the reality signified by the story, nor is it the faith that seeks expression.

When we look more closely at the novel, we find evidence that Callaghan wants to explore the influence of a quite distinctive kind of reality. Indications are found in the occasional references to emotions, looks and thoughts that are unfamiliar and unknown. The first time Father Dowling visited Midge and Ronnie in their hotel room, they noticed “somehow an expression of love in his eyes they had never seen before” (12). In turn, when he stroked Midge's hair, “in him was a joy he had never known before.” He felt “a curious new love that gave him a strange contentment” (13). Even James Robison found a surprising eagerness and love in the priest's face, so much so that he grew curious because the eagerness did not seem like any emotion he had ever felt (84).

The imponderable or unfamiliar emerges as well when the Bishop prepares for his confession. “He couldn't help feeling that he, judging the priest, might not have been without some kind of sin in the matter. … A feeling stronger than his reason was urging him that his doubt and perplexity [were] a matter for his spiritual adviser” (134-5). For all that the Bishop's reason seeks to justify his action, his thoughts move on in an uncontrolled manner, betraying the fact that something more ultimate is involved. Indeed, Callaghan is suggesting that there is some unknown and unfamiliar agency at work—neither Marx's economic forces nor Freud's libidinal unconscious—but a love that was like nothing else in the world, which many waters cannot quench, nor floods drown.8 This becomes fully explicit in Chapter 5.

The day after the priest's second visit to the prostitutes (from information in the novel, it was probably the day after the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin9), he goes into the darkened church to meditate before the Blessed Sacrament on love: “on human love, divine love, and the love of man for God.” In the previous two chapters, Callaghan presented a detailed description of the girls working the streets. At that moment in the church, Dowling feels that his love was growing “so that he might try and love them in his way as God must love everybody in the world” (37). That he is successful is clarified towards the end of the story, after the police have raided the prostitutes' hotel. Fresh from his encounter with Mrs. Canzano, whose twelfth child has brought her husband to despair, his horizon expands. “Then he began to feel that his love for Midge and Ronnie made much more comprehensive his sympathy for all the wretched people he had ever known” (124).

There are several features of Dowling's love for the girls that are distinctive, that challenge any analogy with our more conventional experiences. His love stands helpless before the free will of the beloved: “It was this helplessness, so much deeper than his anger, that he could not understand, and bit by bit this helplessness possessed him till soon his anger was completely submerged” (18). To the practical people of the world, Dowling's love has the innocence of a child (41). It is hesitant to judge: “If he properly understood the lives of these girls, he thought, he might realize that they were not free but strongly fettered and he would not be so sure of judging them” (23). It is patient and long-suffering: “‘Was I to become impatient or weary,’ Dowling asked his bishop, ‘or abandon them, out of disappointment?’” Love for the loveless provides no material aid, but means “helping them with my presence” (130). In characterizing Dowling's complex feelings, Callaghan has probed deeply into the nature of divine love.

Unlike class conflict and libidinal drives, the alternative secularized candidates in Callaghan's vision for the position of ultimate reality—that which grounds and explains all human behaviour—divine love does not subvert human initiatives. Thus, its activity is always ambivalent. There is a constant dialogue between the human and the divine. We have already noted how lust rises, only to disappear in release and relaxation, and how anger is submerged by a divine helplessness. With the bishop the struggle is left unresolved, although his final decision on Dowling's fate indicates that the bothered conscience has been anaesthetized. On a larger canvas, the same struggle emerges between Mrs. Robison's outraged concern for respectability together with the bishop's fears about the charity campaign on the one hand, and the priest's helpless, self-abandoning love on the other. This conflict comes to a head in Dowling's thoughts as he leaves the bishop's palace. Obedience was necessary, he recognized, yet “he knew that in his thoughts he could not obey the Bishop” (133).

That unresolved tension culminates in Dowling's final insanity. Divine love cannot block the determined actions of the Robisons, the courts and the bishop. Confronted by their intransigence Dowling goes mad, refusing to give up despite all that militates against him. He is left with incompatibles—obedience to the bishop, and love for the girls—both of which are to him inescapable. Abandoning himself completely to divine love, he remains subject to the human decisions of his church. This paradox is both his downfall and his salvation.

There are, of course, more obvious evocations of the Christian tradition. Sandwiches in a white napkin and wine poured with “a special graciousness” (109) mark the first—and last—time the priest eats with Ronnie and Midge. During Easter Mass, it is the bodies of Midge and Ronnie that are sacrificed. For them “it was still the hard dark time of the Good Friday passion” (137). Such subtle touches only serve to confirm this reading: the reality signified by this story is divine love as celebrated and experienced in Callaghan's particular Catholicism.

The erotic poetry of the “Song of Songs” has been read time and again by poets and theologians as a type of that divine-human relation. It is no accident, then, that the title and epigraph of the novel are taken from its pages. Father Dowling himself recognizes the connection between his love for the girls and the sacred text. As he read the “Song of Songs,” it seemed “that he understood some of the secret rich feeling of this love song, sung so marvellously that it transcended human love and became divine.” Later, as he prepared his final sermon, it seemed “that he understood this love song as it had never been understood before, that each verse had a special, fresh new meaning for him.” It is as if the commentary that Dowling intended to complete on the novel's last page has been transubstantiated into the novel that Callaghan wrote.

Any commentary is itself a work of interpretation. Its task is to unfold the meaning inherent in a text. Over the ages, students of the Bible have recognized that the written words are to be taken not only literally but also as signs of spiritual truth—signs that hide as much as they reveal. To capture this, the fathers of the church developed a four-fold interpretative schema. On one level a passage can be taken in its historical sense; the story represents something that actually took place. But since the text is inspired, each part has in addition a three-fold spiritual sense. It can be read allegorically, with its meaning transferred to a different subject; it can be read tropologically, to identify the moral injunctions inherent in the text; and it can be read anagogically, so that profound spiritual depths are unveiled.

In our attempt to discern the particular faith finding expression in Callaghan's novel, we would be delinquent if we did not explore how the four-fold schema of textual interpretation throws light on his intention. This approach is especially appropriate in that Callaghan is not averse to self-reflexively embodying in the structure of the novel what the novel itself discusses.10

At the historical level of interpretation, there are episodes in Such Is My Beloved that seem to transcribe verses from the “Song of Songs.” For example, we hear echoes of verse 2:8:

The voice of my beloved!
                    Behold he comes,
leaping upon the mountains,
                    bounding over the hills(11)

as we read the following:

When he was dressed and out on the street, he felt a peculiar exhilaration and joy in life and his work in the parish. … It seemed to him now, going along the street with a long swinging stride and his hands in his pockets, that his prayers for these girls would never be unheeded. He smiled very happily to himself.


To show that this parallelism is not unique, I offer two further prose renderings of the “Song of Songs”:

He brought me to the banqueting house,
                    and his banner over me was love

(“Song of Songs” 2:4)

Compared to:

And they used the coffee cups for the wine, too, and he poured the wine for them with a special graciousness, as if he were a host at a banquet.



Upon my bed by night
          I sought him whom my soul loves;
I sought him, but found him not;
                    I called him, but he gave no answer.
‘I will rise now and go about the city,
                    in the streets and in the squares;
I will seek him whom my soul loves.’
                    I sought him, but found him not.

(“Song of Songs” 3:1-2)

Compared to:

He went up to his own room. He took off his shoes and put them together on the floor and stared at them thoughtfully. “I'll go to the city hall tomorrow. I'll find out something.” He got undressed and lay wide awake in bed. “They needed me very much. Who will help them now? What is there for them to do?” he was thinking.


Beyond such parallelisms, Callaghan's novel as a whole can also be taken as a spiritual commentary. It suggests allegorical, tropological and anagogic readings of the “Song of Songs.” First, the allegorical level. From earliest times, the church, relying on Ephesians 5:26, has read the “Song of Songs” as an allegory for the relation between Christ and his church. So the beloved of Callaghan's title refers not only to the girls who are the objects of Dowling's love, it refers just as much to the church, embodied in the worldly wisdom of Father Anglin and the rational calculations of the Bishop, but containing as well the incarnate innocence of Father Dowling. This is the kind of institution the church, as God's beloved, really is. Callaghan extends the allegory so that Father Dowling, inspired by feelings he cannot understand, loves Midge and Ronnie, and through them loves all the wretched people he had ever known or imagined. In his concern and compassion he signifies God himself. The story opens up new perspectives on the way in which divine love, while helpless before human freedom, nevertheless remains constant. Here is a “vision of another more satisfactory world” located in the “secret spiritual isolation” of Callaghan's native city. At the same time, the girls, responding tentatively to the priest's initiative even as they continue with their normal lives, not only signify the world that is loved by God, but also the church, which continues to live by human values despite the grace offered in the sacraments. As an allegory, Such Is My Beloved represents the relation between Christ and his church, offering to faith a new understanding of divine love.

The novel also calls for a tropological reading, one that makes a moral demand on the reader. Such a reading emerges from the ambiguity of the church's role. On the one hand it is to be the human bride of Christ; on the other, the incarnate agent of God's love. Formally, the church is embodied in the authority of the bishop, which is transferred to the parish priest. It is buttressed by the conventional respectability of well-placed laymen and women. Such Is My Beloved plots ways in which that institutional structure can become so concerned with status and public esteem that it represses the stirrings of divine conscience within the heart. Yet the same church ordained Dowling as a priest and empowered him with sacramental authority. In its sanctuary he renews his faith and love as he meditates on the blessed sacrament or on the mystery of Mary's virginity. The sacraments he administers—penance, extreme unction and the eucharist—communicate grace, even when, as in the prostitutes' room that last evening, they do not follow the prescribed ritual. The discrepancy between the innocent love of Dowling, and the self-conscious deliberations of those entrusted with institutional responsibility, focuses the moral challenge for the reader and uncovers a moral command inherent in the “Song of Songs.” In the real world, love does not flow as many waters; it is utterly contemned.12Such Is My Beloved exposes this ambiguity. Yet divine love, powerless and apparently ineffective, is the kind of love to which the church and the committed Christian should always aspire.

While the allegorical reading focuses on faith, and the tropological on love, the anagogic or mystical reading nurtures hope. Traditionally, the “Song of Songs” offers a foretaste of the heavenly wedding banquet when the faithful will be overwhelmed by divine love. It is difficult to persist in such a hope when the reader reaches the end of Callaghan's novel. For Dowling, caught between his vow of obedience to the Bishop and the fountain of love that wells up from unknown springs, disappears into insanity, a state that he offers up as a sacrifice to God. The girls have not been saved. We are not told whether, in their new, more desperate life, they will experience any consolation from the memory of the priest's affection and innocence. There appears to be little hope at the end. Yet, even with such a conclusion Callaghan provides an anagogic interpretation of the “Song of Songs.” For, while the allegorical reading brings out similarities between human and divine love, there are also profound differences—discontinuities that run counter to all human expectations and to all reasonable judgment. These discontinuities, which in their extreme form find expression in insanity, are the points of revelation of divine mystery. Such discontinuities emerge early in the novel: in the discrepancy between the carnal expectations of the young prostitutes and the simple concern of the priest; in the gap between the economic analyses of Dowling's constructed sermons and the direct inspiration of his encounters with the girls; and in the personal insight he gains into their prostitution as he meditates on Mary's virginity. An anagogic reading of the novel, which is driven by the contradictions of ordinary discourse to an awareness of that which transcends all human capacity, finds several intimations of the divine mystery, and suggests as well a mystical understanding of the “Song of Songs.”

The evidence presented suggests that Morley Callaghan was deliberately writing a commentary on the “Song of Songs,” using the traditional modes of figurative interpretation. All such modes are indirect. When, therefore, one reads his novel as an expression of faith and attempts to discern the faith being expressed, one finds oneself led into echoing halls that recede into infinity, as each sign signifies what is in turn a sign. In the end, a definitive statement of Callaghan's faith cannot be set down in clear prose. The unnamed is both hidden and unveiled in the pages of the novel. Moreover, in other novels,13 he explores other dimensions of life—profane as well as sacred—and the interpreter is hard pressed to identify where, in any particular narrative, he stands (if indeed he ever stood anywhere). Moreover, faith itself is not a static entity, and is subtly transformed with the passing of time. But, read through the lenses of the four traditional modes of interpretation, Such Is My Beloved provides a glimpse into one moment in Callaghan's spiritual pilgrimage. In 1929 he had returned to Toronto from Paris to feel the pain of life more acutely, and to forge his own vision. “Joyce in exile had gone deeply, too deeply, into himself. But what if he had stayed in Dublin?” Such Is My Beloved tells us that Callaghan, in the years immediately after he had returned to his Dublin, went deeply, not into himself, but into a reality that we can, however hesitantly, identify as the transcendent, which faith encounters. This intimate connection between living in Toronto and writing a story about the mystery of divine love makes this novel a significant expression of religion in Canada.


  1. W. C. Smith, The Meaning and End of Religion (New York: Macmillan, 1962), particularly Chapter 5.

  2. Ibid., Chapters 6 and 7.

  3. See W. C. Smith, Towards a World Theology (London: Macmillan, 1981), 7-9.

  4. M. Callaghan, Such Is My Beloved (New Canadian Library) (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1960).

  5. M. Callaghan, That Summer in Paris (New York: Dell, 1964), 228-29.

  6. M. Callaghan, letter to J. W. Burbidge, dated December 13, 1989.

  7. So that it becomes a variation on the theme of Somerset Maugham's short story, “Rain.”

  8. These phrases of the epigraph for the novel on page 2 echo “Song of Songs” 8:7.

  9. On p. 16, Callaghan says that the second visit was on the evening of the first Thursday in February; Chapters 3 and 4 describe Midge's and Ronnie's activities on “the next night” (25). Since Chapter 5 opens with “That first Friday in February” (36), it describes what Dowling was doing at the very time that Midge and Ronnie were plying their trade. In 1933 (note the date in Callaghan's dedication) the first Thursday in February was the 2nd.

  10. He does this most noticeably in A Fine and Private Place, where one character in the novel is evidently himself as author.

  11. Biblical quotations are from the Revised Standard Version of 1952.

  12. Once again, we are evoking Callaghan's epigraph.

  13. Such as More Joy in Heaven, A Passion in Rome, and A Time for Judas.

Thanks to my colleague, Michèle Lacombe, who not only encouraged this venture into literary analysis, but saved me from some of the pitfalls into which the unwary inevitably fall.

Principal Works

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

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

Our Lady of the Snows (novel) 1985

A Wild Old Man on the Road (novel) 1988

Russell Brown (essay date winter-spring 1993-94)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

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 be trusted,” wrote Robert McAlmon in 1938 in one of the most famous memoirs of the period, Being Geniuses Together (112-13).1 “It was all very interesting in those days. … You just mentally tossed a coin in your mind and decided, I believe, or I don't believe” (173; B222).2

The myth of Paris as a place for marginally living artists and free-thinkers has its roots in Henri Murger's popular 1851 book Scènes de la vie de Bohème. As well as being widely available to the postwar generation in French editions and in English translations, the book inspired Giacomo Puccini's La Bohème (1896), an opera of immense popularity that also helped create the myth of Bohemian Paris. The American version of this myth, that of necessary expatriation from one's homeland as too provincial, was anticipated in George Moore's Confessions of a Young Man (1888). Moore transformed the British aristocratic notion—that a journey to the Continent was good seasoning for a young man because it provided sophistication and culture he could not get at home—into a somewhat different trip across the channel, one that represented a gleeful throwing-off of the restraint, conventionality, and dedication to work that seemed essential to late Victorian England in order to embrace the freedom, joie de vivre, and attention to art associated with nineteenth-century Paris.

However, the more immediate shape of the American-in-Paris myth was a result of American intellectuals' and artists' disillusionment with the postwar business ethos and materialism and their restiveness with lingering Victorian standards. As Malcolm Cowley points out in Exile's Return (1934; rev. 1951), the idea that European centres such as Paris were superior in their appreciation of culture and tolerance of nonconformity was central to the essays that Harold Stearns gathered in 1922, in Civilization in the United States: An Inquiry by Thirty Americans, and to his emblematic and highly publicized departure for Paris following the book's publication (74-79). Stories about a Paris scene, made up of (mostly American) writers, painters, intellectuals, and the generally disaffected, began to appear regularly in the press, usually expressed in a tone of moral disapproval that barely veiled its intention to titillate. As the twenties progressed, the Paris expatriate community became journalistic fodder and a convenient metonym for artistic licence and the Bohemian life in general.3 McAlmon wryly wrote that journalists who had only briefly visited the Latin Quarter “went back to their own countries—the Americans were the worst—and wrote righteous and moralizing articles and editorials on expatriate life” (24). “In the year 1924,” he observed, “there were appearing in American magazines and newspapers a number of articles about the life of the deracinated, exiled and expatriate, who lived mainly in Paris leading, the articles implied, non-working and dissolute lives” (105). This journalistic construction of “Paris,” enhanced by such things as the Hollywood silent film So This Is Paris (1926), was one of the first manifestations of the myth-making power of twentieth-century media, and this myth grew until, by 1929, it had become “passionately the fashion to be an artist or a genius” (B251).

Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, the first full-length narrative of this mythic Paris café society, appeared in 1926. Naming into existence “the lost generation,” it gave heightened significance and apparent unity to a small and loosely defined community. A flow of nonfiction books soon followed, elaborating the details of this lost generation finding stimulating refuge in left-bank Paris: They Had to See Paris, by Homer Croy in 1926; This Must Be the Place, by James (“Jimmie the Barman”) Charles in 1927; Sisley Huddleston's Paris Salons, Cafes, Studios in 1928 and Back to Montparnasse in 1931; Gertrude Stein's The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, which contains a long section about the era, in 1933; Cowley's Exile's Return in 1934; McAlmon's Being Geniuses Together in 1938; and Janet Flanner's An American in Paris in 1940. Since then, just as there seems to be no limit to books about Bloomsbury (a similar—if more exclusive—mythic locus for artists and intellectuals in the twentieth-century imagination), books contributing to the myth of the Paris twenties and its American lost generation have continued to appear long after the passing moment. These have included such notable works as Elliot Paul's The Last Time I Saw Paris (1942), Samuel Putnam's Paris Was Our Mistress: Memoirs of a Lost and Found Generation (1947), Sylvia Beach's Shakespeare and Company (1959), and Hemingway's A Moveable Feast (1964). As well, earlier books gained new life: in 1968 Kay Boyle revised McAlmon's memoirs and interpolated chapters of her own to produce a substantially new version of Being Geniuses Together, and, in 1972, Janet Flanner's New Yorker columns were reprinted—with sections from An American in Paris—as Paris Was Yesterday. If in the last two decades, the appearances of personal accounts have finally decreased, they have given way to the volumes of letters, biographies, and period studies that also contribute to our idea of the age.

One striking feature of this story of Paris in the twenties is the degree to which it was an American narrative. Gertrude Stein, the great forerunner of the twenties expatriates and the formidable mistress of an obligatory shrine on the Paris literary circuit, insisted that she was not an exile: “America is my country,” she said, “and Paris is my home town” (qtd. in Cunliffe 237). According to the literary historian John McCormick, this sense of Paris as an extension of America was justified. He remarks that for most of the twenties expatriates, “abroad” in general, and “Paris in particular, was a village or an American suburb, with Gertrude Stein as Mayor and with Robert McAlmon and Harry and Caresse Crosby as Deputy Sheriffs by virtue of their having capital to publish their friends' work” (5). Indigenous French culture of this period has been so overshadowed by the success of this American myth-making that when Richard McDougall compiled and translated yet another account of the Paris twenties—Adrienne Monnier's memoirs, published in America in 1976 as The Very Rich Hours of Adrienne Monnier—it carried the following remark by Archibald MacLeish on its back cover: “Every now and then a book appears which twists the kaleidoscope of the past and changes the pattern. This book does exactly that for the Paris Twenties which are so often presented on this side of the Atlantic as an American decade somehow passed in France.”

An American decade somehow passed in France is what the myth of the Paris twenties has become. However, even before 1976, two books challenged this American view: Morley Callaghan's belated Paris memoir, That Summer in Paris: Memories of Tangled Friendships with Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Some Others, published in 1963, and John Glassco's Memoirs of Montparnasse, published in 1970 (though Glassco claimed to have written it much earlier). Each author modifies the American-in-Paris myth by offering an alternative Canadian-in-Paris narrative that inserts his presence into a history in which Canadians had previously been invisible. Their memoirs are, that is, acts of revisionist literary history that moved Canadian protagonists to a place of unaccustomed centrality as they renarrated a story previously constellated around Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Stein, with guest appearances by James Joyce and the always-disdained Ford Madox Ford, and fleshed out by minor but highly visible American literati such as Robert McAlmon, Kay Boyle, and Harry Crosby. Because part of the American myth of Paris was that it gave birth to modernism (which turns out, therefore, to have been American modernism), Callaghan's and Glassco's narratives also locate Canadian authors within the emerging modernist tradition.

This recontextualizing came at a significant moment in Canadian literary history. Many Canadian writers who emerged in the fifties and sixties seemed to have found their own period of expatriation necessary. Behind American artists' earlier rhetoric about their country's philistine disregard for the finer things there had resided a more general anxiety—a fear that America was still too colonial to realize that art and literature of value could be produced at home. For American expatriates, therefore, going abroad—and (what was sometimes just as important) writing about life abroad—was not so much a repudiation of their country as a way of locating themselves in an international arena in order to gain their homeland's attention.4 (No wonder Americans fashioned a Paris that sometimes looked familiar.) The later generation of Canadian artists felt similarly disappointed by Canada's failure to acknowledge the value of its culture or to regard its own cultural products as important. Like the generation of American expatriates before them, Canadian writers sought recognition at home yet left home to find it. They longed for approval in Canadian terms, without recourse to larger and potentially distorting frames of reference. At the same time, they dreamed of a literary culture that would be part of an international mainstream, one that not only included membership in the European community that Americans of the twenties had longed for but that also brought them recognition in the now-important American milieu. Writers such as Norman Levine, Mordecai Richler, Dave Godfrey, Margaret Laurence, Leonard Cohen, and Robert Kroetsch spent some or all of the fifties and sixties outside Canada. During that period, Callaghan and Glassco published books showing that they had already made their necessary journeys—a generation earlier.


But what have been the consequences of their delay in telling their stories? In “The Other Paris,” Mavis Gallant (another Canadian writer abroad) shows how Paris-as-myth can infect reality:

To have met and married Howard there would sound romantic and interesting, more and more so as time passed. She would forget the rain and her unshared confusion and loneliness, and remember instead the Paris of films, the street lamps with their tinsel icicles, the funny concert hall where the ceiling collapsed, and there would be, at last, a coherent picture, accurate but untrue.


While “accurate but untrue” might be a way to characterize all Paris memoirs, Gallant's narrator reminds us that the passage of time plays a special role in the transformation of memory to myth. As Kay Boyle reflects, in her late version of the tale, “But how do I know that I am telling the truth now about what I believed and wanted then?” (B103).

We now know that Glassco's story of Paris is closer to a novel than to the autobiographical account that it pretends to be. Of course, Glassco warns us, at the beginning of Memoirs of Montparnasse, that his project was to write “not a journal but a record of my life written in chapters, like one of George Moore's books—to impose a narrative form on everything that has happened” (4). Similarly, Callaghan's account is so shapely and convenient—and also written so long after the fact—that we can presume a good deal of aesthetic design has been imposed on his reconstructed memories as well. But even if both Callaghan's and Glassco's memoirs do have some of the status of art, even if they are more responsible to myth than to history, nevertheless we should recognize that they were useful fictions. Callaghan says as much when, at the end of That Summer in Paris, he calls his early dream of Paris “a necessary fantasy” (229). As he makes clear at the beginning of his second chapter, it is not the reality but the personal symbolism of Paris that we need to understand: “I have to tell how Paris came to have such importance as a place for me” (13).

These two books became, for Callaghan and Glassco, a way of writing themselves into the larger and already-told story of Paris. By assigning meaning to the “Paris” in their lives, they gained control over the story of those lives. By identifying their lives as part of a recognizable tale, they gave them new importance.5


In my account of the years 1920-1930, I attempted to record the times and the settings. … Yet I did so aware of the violent truth in the words [of] the young French surrealist, René Crevel. … “Memory is the tattooing by which the weak, the betrayed, the exiled, believe they have armed themselves,” he wrote.

—Kay Boyle, afterword, Being Geniuses Together, 1984 (B333-34)

Intertwined with the North American myth of the Paris twenties is another myth, one of personality rather than of place—for the story of Paris intersects with that of the man who may be America's most important fiction writer, and is certainly its most mythic one, Ernest Hemingway. The Hemingway myth was largely self-created, shaped by his actions as much as by his books. A journalist in his early days, he became the subject of endless journalism. As Callaghan puts it in That Summer in Paris, “he was able to get these legends going” (26).

The figure of Hemingway is as intertwined with the American myth of Paris as Apollo is with Mt. Olympus.6 Hemingway began his literary career in Paris, and he wrote what is generally regarded as his best fiction while living there. The legend of his work habits and way of life helped form the popular American image of the expatriate writer who, after working each morning at a café table with a Scotch at his elbow, spent the rest of his day exploring the quarter and mingling with other expatriates and artists before settling down to an evening of drink and parties. Hemingway seemed both a spokesman for, and the embodiment of, that “lost generation” depicted in The Sun Also Rises.

Both myths—that of Paris and that of Hemingway—powerfully affected Callaghan; both influenced his early career and haunted him thereafter. More than simply claiming a place within a mythic landscape, That Summer in Paris reaffirms his association with the writer who gave his landscape much of its meaning. Yet if this book is conscious and sometimes self-serving myth-making, it is also an exploration of Callaghan's ambivalent feelings about these myths. Indeed—and this is perhaps what makes it so interesting—That Summer in Paris is a protest against the very myths that it helps perpetuate.


Although Hemingway did not give the public his version of Paris until the publication of The Sun Also Rises, Callaghan tells us that Hemingway conveyed it personally to him three years earlier, when he returned to Canada in 1923 to work for the Toronto Daily Star. According to That Summer in Paris, Callaghan, prompted by the writer's presence, read Hemingway's first publication, Three Stories and Ten Poems (recently published by McAlmon's Contact Editions), and then saw (in proof) the in our time sketches. Recognizing the artistic merit of this work, he also saw in Hemingway's previous stay in Paris and in the return he soon made (“He couldn't write in Toronto” [27]) a symbol of necessary escape:

In my city were many poets, a group of painters called the Group of Seven, and no doubt many great readers and scholars. But in those days it was a very British city. I was intensely North American. … I was wonderfully at home in my native city, and yet intellectually, spiritually, the part that had to do with my wanting to be a writer was utterly, but splendidly and happily, alien.


Six years passed before Callaghan, temperamentally less able to ignore the demands of orderliness and responsibility, could bring himself to follow Hemingway to France. By then he had a contract with Scribner's for his first two books and, with his career under way, he was ready to allow himself this journey abroad. Yet his memoir suggests that it is what Paris had already meant to him that had allowed him to function as a writer. He had become an expatriate by dwelling in the myth—if not in the city—of Paris. “I dreamt of Paris,” he writes. And when he adds that, “In my exile, I sat at the typewriter working on stories to send to Paris” (40), he ironically inverts the usual way of understanding expatriation: it is his remaining in Toronto, he suggests, that makes him an expatriate—because he feels so out of place in his home town.

Callaghan lived in a Paris of the imagination after Hemingway left Toronto: he corresponded with Hemingway and others among the expatriates; he published one of his earliest stories in a Paris journal and used that fact to help establish himself as a writer; and, during a trip to New York, he talked so intensely about the “news from Paris” that the writers he met assumed he had only recently returned from France (52). He grew so preoccupied with the French capital that he began to think of that distant city “as some kind of magical milieu where there would be a vast number of nameless perceptive men” (46). Feeling that the centres of literary modernism in America were not satisfactory alternatives (“Chicago didn't beckon to me. Nor did Greenwich Village” [20]), he concluded, “If I was ever to receive any good news about my work, I seemed to know that it had to come from Paris” (46). When, in the account he gives in his memoir, he finally arrives at his long-anticipated destination, he provides a panegyric for Paris, calling it “the world capital for the novelist … in twenty-nine” (115):

A whisper had gone the rounds that Greenwich Village was washed up: Paris was the new frontier. … Above all, Paris was the good address. It was the one grand display window for international talent, and … you had to be there. … [S]ome of the magic still remains in the word from Paris. … It's not the voice of the turtle today but it was in the twenties. It offered the climate, the ambience, the importance of the recognition of the new for the artist.



Perhaps Callaghan longed to be part of the Hemingway myth as much as of the Paris myth because it was Hemingway who first authorized him in his desire to be a writer. In That Summer in Paris, Callaghan describes the older man's approval of the first story he showed him (“You're a real writer. … [K]eep on writing” [29]), and adds: “He spoke so casually, but with such tremendous authority, that I suddenly couldn't doubt him. Without knowing it, I was in the presence of that authority he evidently had to have to hold his life together” (29). But we eventually discover that the things that empower Callaghan—gaining Hemingway's approval and then following his mentor to the magical city—also threaten him. Having finally had his sojourn in Paris, Callaghan tells us, by the end of his memoir, that he must return home to Toronto:

if I were to stay on in France I should now be soaking up French culture. I should want to be with French writers. If I didn't want the French culture, then I was there in exile. Could the dream I had had for years of being in Paris been only a necessary fantasy? A place to fly to, a place that could give me some satisfactory view of myself?


What is less overtly stated is his realization that he must similarly leave—must dissociate himself from—Hemingway.

Noticing the importance of this unacknowledged level helps us appreciate why That Summer in Paris takes as its central event the famous boxing match that resulted in the estrangement between Hemingway and Callaghan. But Callaghan's book does more than chronicle their separation: it is an enactment of it. In it, some thirty years after the fact, Callaghan bids his final farewell to Hemingway.


Callaghan often protests in his memoir—as he has protested elsewhere—against the way that his work was associated with Hemingway's, both at the beginning of his career and since. There has always been some doubleness in these protests, for they remind us that his work has been compared to the writing of one of the great prose stylists, even while they create an image of Callaghan as a writer of such integrity that he has resisted this flattery and gone his own way. Still, if Callaghan valued the Hemingway connection more than he admitted (and his memoir extends the association even as it decries it), he also did feel in danger of being overshadowed. In That Summer in Paris, Callaghan at last strives to deal with the shadow of his literary father-figure.

The nature of the struggle is apparent in the opening paragraph of That Summer in Paris: the question is who will be in control of the story. Callaghan is told a false story about himself; the true version, the text implies, has not yet been spoken. The memorist has, therefore, even before he begins his memoir, a rival for its control. The false story is, of course, an inaccurate account of the celebrated boxing match, and the author of this distorting narrative is the man who was once in the ring with him, his one-time friend, Hemingway. The account that follows, and that makes up the body of the book, a summary of Callaghan's brief stay in Paris while a young man, is thereby assigned a single function: it is a long preparation for—and the necessary contextualizing of—a corrective retelling, one that begins with Callaghan's protest in the second paragraph: “Of course it wasn't true that we had all been full of wine that afternoon in Paris in 1929” (10).

Callaghan's use of the boxing match as a way of giving narrative shape to the book might seem merely a convenience, a way to bring together a loose collection of anecdotes and justify a belated addition to the (North) American-in-Paris genre; however, his need both to recount his victory and to regain control of his own story parallels other aspects of his struggle with Hemingway. The construction of his memoir around the correction of the story of their match expresses a desire already apparent in the opening, when Callaghan remarks how

the secondhand greeting from Ernest only made me wonder and smile. It didn't put me in a sentimental mood. Anyway, I was now feeling confident and sure of myself. In the last ten years I had written The Loved and the Lost,The Many Colored Coat and was finishing A Passion in Rome. What Hemingway might have thought of any of these books, or whether he had even read one of them, had ceased to matter to me.


The boxing match is a literalization of his agonistic relationship with Hemingway. In providing a corrected account, Callaghan wants to put a period to what we soon learn has become a posthumous struggle: he seeks to claim the story of Paris for himself.7

In this reclaiming of narrative control, That Summer in Paris becomes Callaghan's account of regaining the authority he had yielded to Hemingway. How has Callaghan become self-authorized? Chiefly, he suggests, by having come through an extended period of dryness. After his early success, he experienced a troubling hiatus. Working chiefly as a journalist for a decade, he did not publish a new book between More Joy in Heaven in 1937 and The Loved and the Lost in 1951. It is his return to fiction that lies beneath Callaghan's response to the friend who brings him Hemingway's greeting in 1960: “I was now feeling confident and sure of myself.” That “now” should be heard as emphasizing an important development.

The way Callaghan associates boxing and writing throughout That Summer in Paris gives the Callaghan-Hemingway match particular artistic meaning. In his second chapter, he provides an extended statement of his own aesthetics: a Hemingwayesque literary code, it calls for the writer to avoid cleverness and vanity, and to “face the thing freshly and see it freshly for what it was” without metaphor or any other use of “language to evade” (19). The duty of every writer is to “Tell the truth cleanly” (20) by finding “the right relationship between the words and the thing or person being described: the words should be as transparent as glass” (21). “I wanted,” he says of his sensory experience, “to get it down so directly that it wouldn't feel or look like literature” (21-22). Dismissing the bad writing of his time—writing that fails to achieve these ends—as like the tricks of “stunt men” such as flagpole-sitters, he contrasts it with a kind of writing that will resemble “the way Jack Dempsey fought. His brutal mauling style seemed to be telling me something: do the thing you want to do in your own way. Be excellent at it. Seek your own excellence. Having no use for pure aesthetes or aloof intellectuals, I went on …” (21). Throughout, Callaghan emphasizes recording “the stuff of experience” (115), a goal that links him with the (especially American) modernist aesthetics of writing based on firsthand knowledge—what Philip Rahv called “the cult of experience”—often seen as having Hemingway as its central figure. Callaghan hints that he is even more committed to the value of experience than Hemingway. Alluding to the paradoxical role Stephen Crane played in establishing the American emphasis on writing from experience (the Civil War, about which Crane wrote so vividly, ended before he was born—so it was only in his later work that he became an exemplar of the writer in pursuit of dangerous first-hand knowledge), Callaghan writes: “I was to wonder about his [Hemingway's] enthusiasm for The Red Badge of Courage, especially when, later on, he made such a point about a writer needing to experience for himself the scenes he described” (28).

In fact, it turns out to be aesthetic concerns arising from this question of experience that led to Callaghan and Hemingway meeting in the boxing ring. Before going to Paris, Callaghan tells us that,

in a letter to a mutual friend, he [Hemingway] had made one critical comment that puzzled me about a story of mine—a story about a prizefighter—that had appeared in Scribner's Magazine. And he told this friend that when Morley wrote stories about the things he knew, there was no one any better, but he should stick to the things he knew something about.

Thinking about this, Callaghan wonders: “What was bothering Ernest? … Did he think that in writing about a fighter I had made an unworthy excursion into his own imaginary world? Was it because I had forgotten to tell him I had done a lot of boxing and went to all the fights?” (64). Later, when they first meet in Paris, Hemingway quizzes him about his knowledge of boxing and—obviously sceptical of Callaghan's reply (“Yes, I had done quite a bit of boxing, I said truthfully”)—insists that the younger man immediately put on gloves and spar with him there in his room. This challenge leads to their regular meetings in a gymnasium and eventually to the disputed victory. Therefore, in the famous boxing match, the two writers were just showing each other their credentials.


While the opening scene of That Summer in Paris is a new encounter and struggle with Hemingway (if at one remove), the event we learn about a few paragraphs later is what gives the real impetus to, and context for, Callaghan's memoir: Hemingway's death. The rest of the opening chapter describes Callaghan's sadness at the news—a sadness greatly increased by his shock at learning that his one-time mentor had taken his own life. Although we may believe in the sense of loss described here, what we can also read out of That Summer in Paris is how this death gave Callaghan a way to measure his own, superior achievement: by merely surviving, he has proved himself tougher than the man whose writing defined manhood in the modern era. Although the comparisons are never made explicit, Callaghan's ability to endure his period of dryness and regain his early form stands in contrast to Hemingway's suicide, which, we are encouraged to infer, may have resulted from the fact that his career was, according to the generally accepted critical view, marked by a decline in his talents after the Paris twenties.8 The strength of will that carried Callaghan through his fallow period is therefore given heightened significance by an implied contrast with Hemingway's apparent despair. Though Callaghan expresses feelings of benevolence toward his early mentor, and though he speaks of his grief—indeed, at the end of the opening chapter he expresses regret over not having tried to patch up their rift (“why did I never get in touch with Ernest again?” [8])—when we finish That Summer in Paris and recall the opening pages, it is hard not to feel that he stands there victorious over his fallen comrade (who had also been his adversary), as he did long ago in a Paris gym.


One of the impressions we carry away from That Summer in Paris is that it is as much an inquest into Hemingway's death as it is a recollection of distant lives. Among the several narrative structures that organize this memoir, the presiding one is therefore that of the mystery story. There is Hemingway's death to be investigated (Hemingway did it, of course, but his motives still need to be understood) and—as is always the case in the mystery—that death is a crucial event disrupting a once-harmonious (or seemingly so) order. As with all detective stories, the solution can come from the observation of clues (“It was a fact I was to remember later and brood on,” says Callaghan about Hemingway's behaviour at one point [149]). But, playing the role of detective within his mystery story, as well as serving as its author, this memoirist will also reconstruct a more accurate narrative of the crucial events, so that, as with the best mystery novels, his solution chiefly depends on the unravelling of other, false narratives—that is, on the disproving of alibis.

The quasi-mystery form of That Summer in Paris further links it to the sixties (and early seventies) Canadian project of reclaiming a national literature. Deriving much of its interest from its promise to replace a false story with an authentic one, this narrative anticipates Canadian novels such as The Stone Angel, the volumes in the Deptford trilogy, and Surfacing.9 Like Callaghan's memoir, these are books that untell an old story in order to tell a new one in its place; employing the narrative structure that Robert Kroetsch later characterized as unhiding the hidden, they reflect a sense that one task of the contemporary Canadian writer is to throw off the inherited and alien story lest it cover up the real, the native, truth.10

What the mystery structure of That Summer in Paris is designed to reveal is that Hemingway died because he failed to adhere to his own aesthetics, especially to that essential principle of remaining true to reality (a principle Callaghan repeatedly suggests he himself has always followed). Hemingway's mistake was that because he grew “committed … to the romantic enlargement of himself,” there had to be “one adventure after another, until finally there was no home” (225-26). Hemingway, that is, was crushed under the weight of the very myths he propagated. In the end, deracinated by the condition of exile that was an essential part of “Paris,” he was doomed to employ all his energies being “Hemingway.”11

When he attributes Hemingway's self-defeat to “the romantic enlargement of himself,” Callaghan levels his most substantial charge. The key word in this passage is “romantic,” and its meaning is heavily loaded, not merely because the modernists generally disdained romanticism as lacking the tough-mindedness that they thought was their own greatest strength, but also because Hemingway himself often used the word dismissively.12 Several times in That Summer in Paris, Callaghan makes a point of rejecting Wordsworth (he does so again shortly after speaking of Hemingway's “romantic enlargement”) in order to underline the goal of his own writing, which is to respond to “the wonder of the thing in itself” (226)—a stylistic project that he surely thinks of as associated with Hemingway. Borrowing again from the imagery of a book whose author says he wanted to write “the way Jack Dempsey fought,” I would suggest that the word romantic is a blow meant to send Hemingway once more to the mat.


… it interested her to have letters telling other versions of the same incidents and characters which occur in some books. The books were often interesting to me for what they did not tell more than for what was put down, and in some cases a novel by one writer would shortly be followed by a novel by another writer who had been used as a character in the first book.

—Robert McAlmon, Being Geniuses Together, 1938 (346)

While the opening of That Summer in Paris suggests that it is a book written to emend Hemingway's falsification of the record, it became in turn a book in need of correcting for a younger writer who felt that his life's story had been distorted by Callaghan. That is, just as Callaghan strove to regain control from Hemingway, so John Glassco, in writing Memoirs of Montparnasse, sought to reclaim control of his narrative. Paul Delany, discussing a similar case—the way Ford Madox Ford used his 1931 novel When a Wicked Man to correct Jean Rhys's version (in Quartet, 1929) of their mid-twenties Paris affair, and the way Rhys's and Ford's mates of the time then responded to those books—writes that “in the endless struggle for personal and collective justification, text contends with text, and it takes one nail, always, to drive out another” (23).13

Although he arrived in Paris somewhat earlier than Callaghan, Glassco also made his journey near the end of the twenties. Inspired by Moore's Confessions of a Young Man, the adolescent John Glassco—“Buffy” to his friends—travelled there, accompanied by Graeme Taylor, to pursue a lightly chosen literary career and escape the respectability and responsibility back home. Glassco and Taylor established themselves in the Paris expatriate community, and Glassco, as well as dabbling in poetry, embarked on his youthful memoirs. Although he published a first chapter in This Quarter, neither he nor Taylor accomplished anything of real literary significance. (A recurring motif in Glassco's Memoirs of Montparnasse is the turning from the discipline of writing to the distractions of pleasure.) For this reason as much as for any other, Glassco and Taylor left little record of their passing—until Glassco's belated but successful forging of a bit of literary history in the form of those long-abandoned memoirs.

About a dozen years passed after the publication of Memoirs of Montparnasse in 1970 before researchers recognized that it was a species of literary forgery. Until then, the details of its composition, contained in the text where they become a crucial and affecting part of the narrative, were generally believed. Glassco gave this false provenance to his work by appending a short “Prefatory Note” in which he tells his readers that, in addition to publishing the first chapter, he finished two further chapters while living riotously “In Paris in 1928 when I was eighteen.” He explains how his life there as a high-liver and a wastrel—a life he now claims to have chosen because it would provide the material for his chronicle—distracted him from its writing and eventually broke his health, almost leading to his death. And he adds that, though his manuscript remained unpublished for almost four decades, it had been completed long ago, “in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal during three months of the winter of 1932-3, when I was awaiting a crucial operation.” He had not published it at that time because “After barely surviving the operation I turned away from my youth altogether” (xiii).

Since Glassco records that the odds of his surviving that operation had been no better than fifty-fifty, this prefatory history of composition sets the free-and-easy Paris days it chronicles within a sombre context—that of the Montreal hospital ward in which he light-heartedly recounts the events that have brought him to the brink. In the narrative that follows, this somewhat older, authorial Glassco occasionally intrudes from his hospital ward and remarks on the behaviour of his younger self in his glittering days in Paris, viewing the late-adolescent Buffy from this new perspective of rapidly maturing and world-weary man who can provide objective, if not really disapproving, commentary.

The credibility of Glassco's claims about the early composition of Memoirs of Montparnasse was greatly enhanced by Leon Edel's apparent belief. In an admiring introduction to the published volume, Edel (yet another Canadian in expatriate Paris) wrote:

The Buffy memoirs have the fascination of a long-buried artifact suddenly turned up by a spade. … If his book is more modest than most of the Montparnasse memoirs, it is more immediate—possessing almost the effect of “instant” memory, total recall. The other memoirs (I have read I believe most of them) look back from middle life. Buffy couldn't wait that long. He wasn't sure, when he wrote them, that he would have his middle age.


But in fact Glassco wrote the book at a much later moment. The history of Glassco's actual composition is summarized in Thomas E. Tausky's essay “Memoirs of Montparnasse: A Reflection of Myself” (1983) and, in greater detail, in Philip Kokotailo's 1988 study John Glassco's Richer World: Memoirs of Montparnasse.15 Though Glassco began his memoirs in Paris and though he published one (substantially different) chapter there, he did not continue them; in fact, he did not return to them until after the publication of That Summer in Paris. We can, of course, still enjoy Memoirs of Montparnasse. But we must now appreciate its prefatory portrayal of a young man who, as he faces possible death, recounts with relish the events that have brought about his sad condition for what it always was: not extratextual information about the history of composition, but a striking and effective frame tale.


That Summer in Paris is the first published account that records Glassco's presence among the expatriates. This fact has been obscured for us because Glassco was twice mentioned in the McAlmon chapters of the 1968 revision of Being Geniuses Together. (As well, in Kay Boyle's interpolated chapters, Glassco figures more largely.) But it was Boyle—who corresponded with Glassco while working on her revision—who introduced these references from McAlmon's unedited typescript. The reader will search in vain for references to Glassco in the original, 1938, edition of McAlmon's book.16

Although Glassco was stimulated to return to his memoirs after reading Callaghan's,17 he soon let them languish again. It was learning from Boyle of her revisionary work on McAlmon's reminiscences that finally prompted Glassco to complete his book (Kokotailo 31). Because Glassco had, for a while, been an intimate companion of McAlmon's, we can assume that he must have keenly felt his omission from Being Geniuses Together. Because he had similarly been Boyle's companion, he must have been cheered by her willingness to acknowledge his presence in Paris, and delighted that, through her, belated recognition was inserted into McAlmon's famous record of Paris events. Indeed, the influence of Being Geniuses Together—most likely in its 1968 reincarnation—seems strong on the final version of Memoirs of Montparnasse. Though Glassco tells a more orderly story than McAlmon, his tone and handling of the material in Memoirs of Montparnasse are closer to McAlmon's way of writing than to George Moore's in Confessions of a Young Man.


One convention of the Paris memoir is that it is chiefly a record of encounters with the famous and near-famous—which is reason enough to explain Glassco and Taylor's omission from the original edition of Being Geniuses Together. Why, then, did Callaghan, who generally adhered to this convention, give Glassco and Taylor a significant place in his version of the Paris story? Since Callaghan takes pains to call attention to their nationality, one reason he mentions them may be simply because they are Canadian. He notes earlier, before he describes his journey abroad, that it was important to him to encounter “people with Paris connections,” one of whom, Raymond Knister, he describes as “A countryman of mine who had actually written in This Quarter!” (56). But if, for this young writer who clearly feels that he dwells at the margin of literary empires, there is so much significance in finding a fellow Canadian with Paris connections, he must have regretted that, like himself, Knister hadn't actually been to the fabled city. So Callaghan may have made a point of locating Glassco and Taylor in Paris because, by calling attention to the two Montrealers who were there when he arrived, he could show that Canadians were a part of the expatriate community.

There is, however, a second, and more likely, explanation for Callaghan's decision to locate Glassco and Taylor in that Paris milieu: he had depicted them there already. As That Summer in Paris revealed for the first time, the two young men had been the models for the central characters in “Now That April's Here.” This story, in which Callaghan satirized the pretentiousness of such expatriates, was—until he wrote That Summer in Paris—the chief literary product of his visit to Paris, and it had become one of his best-known stories. By documenting the existence of the two men on which it was based, Callaghan could not only draw attention to a story of which he was proud, but also illustrate one of the central points that he makes concerning his artistic method—the way he has always worked from “concrete reality, the stuff of experience” (115).

In That Summer in Paris, Callaghan mentions Glassco on six occasions, each time in the company of his companion, Graeme Taylor. Most of these mentions come with a tag phrase set off by quotation marks; they are the “two ‘bright boys’ from Montreal” (85), “Those two ‘bright little devils’ Buffy and Graeme” (91), and (twice) “‘the clever little devils’” (132, 168). Callaghan describes them as “Our new friends” on his second encounter, saying that they helped him find an apartment (111), and in their last appearance in his memoir, he says he'd grown to like them (though he adds “by this time” [169]); nevertheless, he treats them with a supercilious irony each time he describes them. In his final depiction, he dramatizes an encounter in which they fail to recognize the painter Miró, thinking he might be Hemingway's butler—a scene that both emphasizes their foolish affectations and shows Callaghan's ability to see through their posturing. He then dramatizes himself informing them of their mistake, thus appearing the more mature man in contrast to the callow attitude of “bland superiority” affected by these “boys” (169-70).

While we now know that the patronizing tone of these passages offended Glassco, what probably bothered him more was that Callaghan had revealed something previously known only to a few members of the original Paris scene—that he and Taylor were the models for the two homosexuals treated so satirically in “Now That April's Here,” Callaghan had written that

[McAlmon's] view of the boys amused me and I said so. We kept jibing and jeering at each other, offering contrasting views of the boys. Titus, brightening and becoming an alert editor, suggested we should both write stories; he would publish the two stories side by side in the next issue of This Quarter. Immediately I agreed to do it. So did McAlmon.

By the way, I did write the story, “Now That April's Here,” and Titus did publish it. Ezra Pound wrote me a letter from Rapallo expressing his admiration of the story and suggesting that I go to Washington and write about the politicians in the same manner.

(That Summer in Paris 132-33)

Near the end of Memoirs of Montparnasse, Glassco provides a scene that allows him to record his negative response to Callaghan's story. “Did you see the story he wrote about you and Graeme and Stanley in This Quarter?” McAlmon is shown asking him; Glassco replies, “‘Now That April's Here’? Not very good, was it? Rather nasty—and it's full of holes” (221).

Both “Now That April's Here” and That Summer in Paris suggest that Glassco and Taylor made Callaghan uncomfortable. While their habitual air of mocking superiority (which Boyle, who is otherwise sympathetic, also mentions [237]) was undoubtedly off-putting,18 it is hard not to infer that it was their homosexuality that most bothered Callaghan.19 And since Glassco himself felt anxiety about his homosexual relationships, being explicitly identified with the character in Callaghan's short story must have disturbed him.20

Perhaps Glassco felt an ambivalence about That Summer in Paris similar to the ambivalence that Callaghan felt about being compared to Hemingway. Though unhappy about his treatment, Glassco may have welcomed the belated confirmation of his existence in the Paris expatriate community. Again, the recognition by the better-known writer seems to have stimulated the lesser-known to take himself more seriously—even if, again, the recognizing authority must also be overcome. Clearly the main reason Glassco returned, in the early sixties, to his interrupted project was his sense of injury over Callaghan's depiction of him. Kokotailo calls it “a desire to even the score”:

That Summer in Paris not only belittles Glassco, it publicly disclosed that Callaghan modeled the two pitiable characters in “Now that April's Here” on him and Graeme Taylor. Together, these two works present a mocking, burlesque caricature of them. By calling attention to Callaghan's “rather spiteful ridicule” …, Glassco makes it clear that he felt the offence. … [He] had to revive his own memoirs, where he could turn the tables on Callaghan.


A turning of the tables is indeed what Glassco's Memoirs gives us in this reduplication of narratives. Where Glassco once existed as a character manipulated by Callaghan as author, Glassco now becomes the author in charge of a character named “Morley Callaghan.”22

Although Callaghan does not figure largely in Glassco's book (as Glassco did not in Callaghan's), when he does appear, he is handled no less slightingly and is always made to appear less sophisticated and less worldly than the younger Buffy. Glassco has his own story about having to correct his compatriot's misperception:

Morley … was pensive. In an interval of comparative quiet he pointed to a sign above the bar that read Consommations, 40 francs. “What's a consommation?” he asked. “Does that mean—intercourse?”

“No [Glassco replies], it's just a drink.”


So much for Glassco's not having recognized Miró. If Callaghan will reveal Glassco as pretentious, then Buffy will expose Morley as provincial.

This is the beginning of a passage in Memoirs of Montparnasse (99-102) that forms Callaghan and Glassco's only extended exchange. In this dialogue—and we now know that Glassco freely invented the conversations in his book—Glassco clearly establishes the counterpoint between Callaghan and himself. Callaghan is shown undervaluing Dreiser, whom Glassco defends on the ground that he joins a sense of commitment to a nature that is “anarchic, amoral, immature, antediluvian.” Then Buffy breaks off, reflecting:

I suddenly realized I was talking like a character in a Huxley novel. This problem of commitment was Morley's, not mine. I had no commitments except, in a vague way, to remain uncommitted. … [N]ow, vis-à-vis the deadly earnestness of Morley Callaghan, a man only ten years older than myself, I had once again the salutary sense of the abyss that yawns for everyone who has embraced the literary profession: … literature, like every other form of gainful employment, was just another trap.



Kokotailo discovered that when Leon Edel described, in his preface to Memoirs of Montparnasse, how “Buffy and Graeme … [were] quite cleverly satirized at the time in Morley Callaghan's unkind tale, ‘Now That April's Here,’” Glassco added to the proofs, as if they were Edel's words, an additional phrase: “and much later they were made the object of some rather spiteful ridicule in his That Summer in Paris” (Kokotailo 23). Edel demurred at allowing Glassco to put these words into his mouth this way, but, apparently as a concession, he did add a sentence to the passage, so that it ends: “These memoirs help to correct his caricature” (Kokotailo 24). Glassco must have taken pleasure in mocking the “deadly earnestness of Morley Callaghan,”23 but correction was his chief aim in writing Memoirs of Montparnasse, as it had been Callaghan's in That Summer in Paris.

Reading the two works together shows us that a shaping force on Memoirs of Montparnasse was Glassco's need to retell, from his point of view, the material that Callaghan had appropriated from his life. Throughout, Glassco paints a portrait of himself and Taylor that is quite different from that found in either “Now That April's Here” or That Summer in Paris. He makes himself wittier and more charming—more “insouciant,” as Edel puts it (x)—and makes no mention of his homosexual encounters. In particular, he provides readers with a new version of the events treated in “Now That April's Here.” In Callaghan's story, the two boys share a girlfriend; given the ironic name Constance Foy, she appears only at the end of the narrative, chiefly to suggest Johnny's insecurities about Charles's love. In his retelling, Glassco gives considerably more prominence to this shared girlfriend, whom he calls Stanley, and portrays the three characters as living in a heterosexual ménage à trois.24 All three are much more likeable and more generally attractive; and what seemed serious misdeeds in Callaghan's version become mere pranks in Glassco's, youthful and justifiable high jinks. Where Callaghan's story alludes to the threesome's having skipped out on a hotel bill in Nice, Glassco's dramatizes the event in detail. He even shows himself protesting the dishonourable decision to abandon their debt—until Taylor tells him that the hotel-keeper has been padding their accounts “for the last three months” and Stanley adds, “… we're just setting things to rights, like Robin Hood” (149, 150). Glassco's insistence here on the rightness of their actions is so much at odds with the rest of Memoirs of Montparnasse (its “insouciance” derives, after all, from its blithe amoral tone) that it makes sense only when we realize that the whole Nice section is a countertext, written with “Now That April's Here” in mind.25


Memoirs of Montparnasse is striking not because it is yet another in a long line of books providing subjective retellings of what really happened in Paris, but because, by claiming to have completed his memoirs in the winter of 1932-33, Glassco did something no one before him had done: he gave his book an unwarranted priority. Not only did this act create the sense of immediacy that Edel mentions, but it was an effective way to upstage most of the previous tellers—especially Callaghan. It was already true that Glassco had gotten to Paris first; now we are told that Glassco had also written about Paris first. Glassco's claim that his book was composed earlier than Callaghan's is his way of usurping authority. When Callaghan comments presciently on literary figures in the twenties, we wonder how much his remarks benefit by what he later learned—but we are invited to hear Glassco's observations as exhibiting uncanny foresight.26

The most conscious bit of mischief that arises from Glassco's altered chronology comes when he (inevitably) alludes to the famous boxing match. Callaghan had taken pains in That Summer in Paris to suggest that he had always been reluctant to speak about knocking Hemingway down: that emphasis on his reticence was necessary because he wanted to show that he had not been the source of the early rumours or the distorted newspaper story that had so distressed his famous friend. But Glassco has Callaghan telling the story freely (“bubbling quietly” is his phrase [154]) immediately after the bout. Moreover, while Callaghan had sought to clarify the tale of boxing with Hemingway in order to show clearly his triumph over Papa, Glassco deliberately returns it to ambiguity. According to Memoirs of Montparnasse, Callaghan's original claim was that he had either “knocked the great man out or given him a nosebleed,” and “it wasn't clear which” (154).

Thus, though he was the younger man, Glassco turned himself into Callaghan's elder brother. He even found support for his worldly, older air by affirming in Memoirs of Montparnasse what in Callaghan's account seemed to be evidence that Glassco was behind the times. While writers such as Callaghan may have gone to Paris under the influence of Hemingway, Glassco reminds us that he arrived first because, reading an earlier writer, George Moore, he had already known the importance of Paris. To use a boxing metaphor for a final time, Glassco's strategy of false priority shows Callaghan arriving at the ring too late; he'd already forfeited the bout to Buffy.


The memory of Felix and Odile and all their distasteful strangeness would slip away; for “love” she would think, once more, “Paris,” and, after a while, happily married, mercifully removed in time, she would remember it and describe it and finally believe it as it had never been at all.

—Mavis Gallant, “The Other Paris,” 1956 (30)

One powerful aspect of the Paris-twenties narrative is that it has closure. The 1929 stock-market crash brought this story to a decisive end, a conclusion conventionally reported with the words, “The party's over.” Yet, because the milieu eventually became mythic, books about the era evoke a landscape out of time—and thus resist closure. In That Summer in Paris, Callaghan solves the problem of how to conclude a mythic narrative by demythologizing his material. In recognizing that Paris is only a “necessary fantasy,” he is free to leave the fabled realm and return home to become what Edmund Wilson later christened him, “Morley Callaghan of Toronto.” In his last chapter, Glassco—perhaps here again playing off against Callaghan's narrative—moves toward a similar demythologizing by having Taylor chide him: “You were in love with Paris. You thought it the Great Good Place. Well, it's not. You were in love with a dream” (237).27 But Glassco, once more unwilling to accept anything that resembles Morley's “earnestness,” refuses to close his book by assigning to Paris the function of “necessary fantasy.” Indeed, it may have been his unwillingness to relinquish the fantasy of an idealized place that led him to elude closure so effectively at the end of Memoirs of Montparnasse. (A few pages earlier he prepares us for this manoeuvre by having one of his characters “wonder if a book should end at all” and refer to the “merit in a book that was … left unfinished” [230, 231].) Instead of bringing his story to its historical end, he tells us in a brief epilogue that his surgery prevented him from finishing it. His last two chapters remain forever unwritten.

Thus, even though the stock-market crash has just occurred, and even though Buffy's party is over and his Paris life is in a state of decay, Glassco can end his account with an exchange that keeps him inside the realm of myth: “This Paris winter is lasting much too long,” his latest lover says, in the last of the Paris memories that he gives us. When Glassco asks, “Where are we going?”, her answer, the last line of these “unfinished” memoirs, does not renounce fantasy but proposes a new destination: “To the land of sunshine and dancing. Spain.”28

A land of sunshine and dancing, a land that lies elsewhere, still beckoning, outside the “reality” that is Callaghan's chief interest. Such a land is visible in all Paris memoirs. It is the “Other Paris” that exists outside time, the Paris that McAlmon recognizes when, near the end of Being Geniuses Together, he returns after a long absence to find that “Paris had changed, but Paris was the same” (371). It is the realm that Hemingway points to at the end of A Moveable Feast when he writes, “There is never any ending to Paris …” (209). Even Callaghan, if not in his conclusion, then at least in the opening of That Summer in Paris, acknowledges the attraction of a timeless, mythic land. It is hard to think of Hemingway dead, he writes, because “we assumed that he would always be secure in some place in some other country … writing something beautiful” (11).


  1. For this essay I have drawn on McAlmon's original 1938 edition of Being Geniuses Together as well as on the better-known 1968 revision by Kay Boyle, to which she added chapters of her own memoirs. The substantial differences between the two versions seem not yet to have been recognized: in places, Boyle's reordering of, revisions of, and additions to McAlmon's original version are extensive. In her prefatory note, she explains that McAlmon's sections in this later edition contain some material not in the original because, “In revising, shortening, and adding alternate chapters of my own to the 1938 edition, I consulted … McAlmon's typescript. … I have frequently substituted McAlmon's undeleted text rather than the edited sections which appeared in the original edition” (xi). When a passage appears in both versions, I have ignored Boyle's stylistic revisions; because the original edition of Being Geniuses Together is not readily available, however, I have provided page references to both editions when passages occur in both. References to Boyle's edition are prefaced with the letter B and keyed to the 1984 North Point Press reprint (which contains a new afterword by Boyle).

  2. McAlmon frequently casts doubt on the accuracy of previous accounts of Paris life, often by emphasizing the unreliability of the sources. See 39 (B61), 86 (B116), and 136 (B206), where he describes (in turn) Sinclair Lewis, Ford Madox Ford, and Gertrude Stein as “mythomaniacs.” (Indeed, he says of the first of these, “Lewis, however, is not the only mythomaniac among the geniuses or megalomaniacs.”) McAlmon also points out the inevitable heightening of the stories of Paris that results from memory, narrative compression, and selection. See, for example, 65 (B97), 120 (B198, in incomplete form), and 344.

  3. The best and most influential of this journalism was undoubtedly Janet Flanner's fortnightly “Letter from Paris,” which appeared under the nom de plume Genêt in The New Yorker beginning in 1925.

  4. Recall the obituary Callaghan gives to Eugene Shore, the self-portrait in his 1975 novel A Fine and Private Place: “A unique artist who belonged to the world, yet was of this town” (246).

  5. And in turn, of course, they contributed to the further development of the myth. As Noel Riley Fitch observes, “The reminiscences of Glassco (Memoirs of Montparnasse), who was nineteen at the time, and those of Callaghan (That Summer in Paris), who was twenty-six, have helped to create the myth that expatriate life in Paris was all drinking, boxing, and having trivial spats” (290).

  6. In The Paris Edition: 1927-1934 (1989), a very belated Paris memoir compiled from seventies newspaper columns, Waverley Root wrote: “The first question asked, inevitably, of anyone who lived in Paris during the 1920s and 1930s, at least if he moved at all in the culture-conscious circle that came to be synonymous with the name of Montparnasse, is: ‘Did you know Ernest Hemingway?’” (12).

  7. Although he suggests that he was disturbed, Callaghan was not likely to have been surprised to hear that Hemingway was telling the story of his having been knocked down because he was “full of wine.” Undoubtedly he had already read the following passage in McAlmon's memoirs:

    Hemingway's story was that he had been drinking the night before and was boxing on three pick-me-up whiskies so that his wind gave out. The decision results were, however, that neither Hemingway nor Callaghan could decide what the bout proved. Was one a better boxer but not so good a writer as the other, or was the other a better writer and boxer, or had Scott [Fitzgerald, serving as timekeeper] framed one or the other of them?

    At this time Hemingway felt that Callaghan was imitating his style. … Possibly then their writing bout was a draw. The final bell has not rung.

    (164; B162)

    A measure of Callaghan's success in winning the writing bout and ringing the final bell comes in the present edition of Being Geniuses Together, where Boyle appends this footnote to McAlmon's statement: “For Morley Callaghan's version of this bout, see That Summer in Paris.” Similarly, in Denis Brian's oral biography of Hemingway, The True Gen: An Intimate Portrait of Ernest Hemingway by Those Who Knew Him (1988), Callaghan gets one more opportunity to rehearse his version of events. Having already reiterated his complaints about Hemingway's distorted version of their bout in his 1981 review of Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters, 1917-1961, he reads that review into the record.

  8. In this context, the first sentence of the original back-cover blurb for That Summer in Paris becomes significant: “A contemporary of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, discovered by Maxwell Perkins, hailed as the world's best short story writer, Morley Callaghan is one of the authors of his generation who has demonstrated consistent development and deepening insight over the decades since the 1920s” (emphasis added).

  9. For additional discussion of the use of the mystery genre in such fiction, see my essay “In Search of Lost Causes: The Canadian Novelist as Mystery Writer.”

  10. See “Unhiding the Hidden,” which was originally published in 1974.

  11. Callaghan thus affirms a frequent early criticism of the American literary colony in France, one that he introduces earlier in his book when he has Maxwell Perkins “grumble about Americans who went to Paris to become expatriated. It was all wrong, and he hoped we wouldn't stay too long in Paris” (67).

  12. Hemingway comments in Death in the Afternoon on the “useless and romantic things that the spectators like” (12). Compare McAlmon's claim that Hemingway once mocked him by saying: “Hell, Mac, you write like a realist. Are you going to be a romantic on us?” (160; B160).

  13. For an essay that treats this kind of intertextual interrelationship in terms of Bloomian and Bakhtinian theory, see Draine.

  14. In a 1989 article in the Globe and Mail, Stephen Godfrey observes that “Louis Dudek said Edel's reputation was compromised by taking part in the deception. But neither the deception nor his involvement bothers him at all, Edel says now”: “‘I suspected that Buffy had rewritten them, but I didn't say it,’ says Edel. … ‘Buffy was always writing fiction about himself. And if you're going to start defining memoirs, you're in for a devil of a job.’”

  15. I am indebted to both Tausky and Kokotailo for their comments and generous sharing of information and material with me.

  16. Though Glassco is not named in the original edition of Being Geniuses Together, McAlmon probably alludes to him when he writes, “I doubt the wisdom of young men who consult the aged master [George Moore]. … It would be too bad to have an epidemic of Moores breaking loose on the world” (71; B101).

  17. On 19 and 26 February 1986, the CBC Radio program Ideas broadcast “A Canadian in Paris,” a presentation about Memoirs of Montparnasse. In an interview taped for this program, Glassco says that he found That Summer in Paris “too much” and decided to take a little “mild revanche.

  18. In the interview he gave for the CBC Radio program on Glassco, Callaghan says he wrote “Now That April's Here” partly because he was fond of McAlmon and therefore wanted to get back at Glassco and Taylor for the way they made fun of the man despite his sometimes being their patron. Since there is no hint of that in That Summer in Paris, this explanation may be an afterthought.

  19. In “Now That April's Here,” Callaghan makes the homosexual relationship between Johnny and Charles clear, mentioning that “an elderly English gentleman” had paid “to see the boys make a ‘tableau’ for him” (134) and, in the conclusion, both telling the reader that Charles “was very much in love with Johnny” and having Charles say, “How could he hit me, … and he knew I loved him so much” (136). In moving from fiction to nonfiction in That Summer in Paris, Callaghan is more cautious about attributing an emotional or sexual relationship to Glassco and Taylor. But he is explicit about McAlmon's bisexuality and his attachment to the “boys,” and he suggests their homosexuality in his descriptions: “Along the street came those two willowy graceful young men from Montreal whom McAlmon called affectionately ‘the clever little devils.’ … [T]he two boys shared his snickering wit” (132). In addition, a story that Callaghan tells in the chapter from which this description comes—of the young married man who has been initiated by four young homosexuals who were part of the café scene (“he had been corrupted by these boys” [133-34])—suggests that in That Summer in Paris, “boys” carries a distinct suggestion about sexual preference.

  20. Tausky observes that in the original manuscript version of Memoirs of Montparnasse, Glassco's “Direct statements [acknowledging his sexual relationships with McAlmon and Taylor] … are frequently accompanied, curiously enough, by furious denunciations of the practice of homosexuality and the character of homosexuals” (65). In preparing the final published version, Glassco apparently changed his mind about going public and, in consequence, deleted the explicit references to his own homosexuality.

  21. See also Tausky: “Publication of Callaghan's memoir … likely played a part in Glassco's decision to write his own book. Glassco's hostility towards Callaghan, and towards That Summer in Paris is re-affirmed in his letters to Kay Boyle” (82n14).

  22. In the original draft Callaghan was even more explicitly a character of Glassco's creation, since he was there given a new name—albeit one meant to call attention to the original: “Corley Mulligan.” Although many of Glassco's characters remain concealed (or partly so) behind such masks, Callaghan is one of the figures who appears in his own person in Memoirs of Montparnasse.

  23. “Earnestness” is a word that occasionally occurs in Callaghan's self-description in That Summer in Paris; for example, in the second chapter he says that he gained his initial entrée to the Toronto Daily Star because “The elderly gentleman at the reception desk” was “impressed by my earnestness” (14). (Although this passage comes immediately after the discussion of Hemingway in chapter 1, it seems unlikely that Callaghan was consciously playing with any Ernest/earnest associations; Glassco, on the other hand, may have been.)

  24. However, Glassco is probably having a bit of fun here by assigning a male name, Stanley, to his female character—especially since in “Now That April's Here” the character based on McAlmon is called Stan Mason.

  25. In Glassco's notes for his book, he explicitly mentions the Callaghan story as material to be retold in his Memoirs (Kokotailo 38).

  26. Like That Summer in Paris, Memoirs of Montparnasse has, since its appearance, been treated as a reliable source of documentary evidence and cited by the authors of several later books and essays on the period and its chief figures. Indeed in 1986, Cowley described it as “one of the truest books about Montparnasse” (148). Thus, like Callaghan, Glassco succeeded in writing himself into the history of the Paris expatriate era.

  27. Glassco's use of the phrase “the Great Good Place” is especially interesting here because of the way it recalls E. K. Brown's famous definition of the colonial mentality in Canada: “It sets the great good place … somewhere outside its own borders, somewhere beyond its own possibilities” (14). This passage, which appears in “The Problem of a Canadian Literature” (the opening essay in On Canadian Poetry in 1943), follows Brown's criticism of Callaghan as a writer who succumbed to one version of colonialism by remaining in Canada while looking for approval and readership abroad, a criticism that seems to have pained Callaghan deeply.

  28. By opposing this conclusion in Memoirs of Montparnasse to Callaghan's decision at the end of That Summer in Paris to return from Paris to Toronto, Glassco may be having one final joke at his rival's expense: his proposed journey, from France to Spain, will make his life the one that more resembles Hemingway's.

Works Cited

Boyle, Kay. See McAlmon.

Brown, E. K. “The Problem of a Canadian Literature.” On Canadian Poetry. 1943. Rev. ed. 1944. Ottawa: Tecumseh, 1973. 1-27.

Brown, Russell. “In Search of Lost Causes: The Canadian Novelist as Mystery Writer.” Mosaic 11.3 (1978): 1-15.

Callaghan, Morley. A Fine and Private Place. Toronto: Macmillan, 1975. New York: Popular Library, 1977.

———. “Now That April's Here.” Morley Callaghan's Stories. 1959. Toronto: Macmillan, 1967. 129-37.

———. That Summer in Paris: Memories of Tangled Friendships with Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Some Others. Toronto: Macmillan, 1963.

“A Canadian in Paris.” CBC Radio. Ideas. 19 and 26 Feb. 1986.

Cowley, Malcolm. “Malcolm at Eighty.” With Patrick Hynan. Conversations with Malcolm Cowley. Ed. Thomas Daniel Young. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1986. 138-50.

———. Exile's Return: A Literary Odyssey of the 1920s. 1934. Rev. ed. New York: Viking, 1951.

Cunliffe, Marcus. The Literature of the United States. Rev. ed. Baltimore: Penguin, 1961.

Delany, Paul. “Jean Rhys and Ford Madox Ford: What ‘Really’ Happened?” Mosaic 16.4 (1983): 15-24.

Draine, Betsey. “Chronotope and Intertext: The Case of Jean Rhys's Quartet.Influence and Intertextuality in Literary History. Ed. Jay Clayton and Eric Rothstein. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1991. 318-37.

Fitch, Noel Riley. Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation: A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties. 1983. New York: Norton, 1985.

Gallant, Mavis. “The Other Paris.” The Other Paris. Boston: Houghton; Cambridge, MA: Riverside, 1956. 1-30.

Glassco, John. Memoirs of Montparnasse. Introd. Leon Edel. Toronto: Oxford UP, 1970.

Godfrey, Stephen. “Edel Returns to the Roots of His Literary Career.” Globe and Mail [Toronto] 11 May 1989: C7.

Hemingway, Ernest. Death in the Afternoon. New York: Scribner's, 1932.

———. A Moveable Feast. 1964. New York: Bantam, 1965.

Kokotailo, Philip. John Glassco's Richer World: Memoirs of Montparnasse. Toronto: ECW, 1988.

Kroetsch, Robert. “Unhiding the Hidden.” 1974. Rpt. The Lovely Treachery of Words. Toronto: Oxford UP, 1989. 58-63.

MacLeish, Archibald. Back-cover copy. The Very Rich Hours of Adrienne Monnier. By Adrienne Monnier. Trans. Richard McDougall. New York: Scribner's, 1976.

McAlmon, Robert. Being Geniuses Together: An Autobiography. London: Secker, 1938.

———. Being Geniuses Together 1920-1930. Rev. and supp. Kay Boyle. 1968. Afterword Kay Boyle. San Francisco: North Point, 1984.

McCormick, John. American Literature 1919-1932: A Comparative History. London: Routledge, 1971.

Root, Waverley. “I Never Knew Hemingway.” The Paris Edition: 1927-1934. Ed. Samuel Abt. San Francisco: North Point, 1989. 12-19.

Tausky, Thomas E. “Memoirs of Montparnasse: A Reflection of Myself.” Canadian Poetry: Studies, Documents, Reviews 13 (1983): 59-84.

Marianne Perz (essay date 1997)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

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 several features in auto/biography, which, she explains, are ones which Aristotle has identified as being essential to drama.

I suggest that there is yet another parallel between the two genres: the authors' use of similar strategic techniques. Just as a stage director employs stagecraft for the production of a drama, a life writer uses it to shape the way that he or she recreates life experience. Canadian writer Morley Callaghan, I argue, dabbled in techniques of the stage when writing his memoir That Summer in Paris. In this text, Callaghan creates a narrative persona for his voice that performs the same tasks as a casting director, a lighting designer, and a costume designer. As he speaks, this narrator reconstructs a theatrical mise-en-scène, comprised of performance and of spectatorship, in which he imagines himself and other writers to have taken part during the summer of 1929. This is referred to in the text as “literary life … on [a] grand, opulent and theatrical scale” (Callaghan, That Summer in Paris, 74). First, the narrator casts various people in the roles of performers and spectators. Second, he describes light and dark images in relation to what the people are doing. This “stage” technique indicates when characters are performing and when they are not, while it also simulates theatrical scenery. Third, he designs imaginative costumes for this production. He describes various pieces of attire which, when worn, signify either that attention is being attracted to someone who is performing or that there is a lack of attention to a spectator—hence, the dynamics within the theatre. As such, Callaghan invites us to participate in a third production. Having once actually experienced the “show” in Paris, then having watched it in his imagination a second time, the narrator calls upon us to act as spectators in a playhouse as he delivers a third performance as he speaks.

Before discussing the memoir in detail, I wish to point out Callaghan's familiarity with stagecraft and dramatic technique. Among many of his works are two experimental plays. Callaghan had what Gary Boire refers to as “a short-lived career as a dramatist” (75). In 1938, Callaghan completed Going Home (initially referred to as Turn Home Again), and in 1940, he completed Just Ask For George. Furthermore, during this time, Callaghan had the opportunity to discuss technique with other dramatists. For example, he “socialized with the American writer and dramatist William Saroyan” (77). Neither of Callaghan's plays were successfully produced in New York, but while attempting to do so, Callaghan did take a part in preparing the staged production, thereby developing experience in casting. He played a large role in “audition[ing] actors with [Lawrence] Langner [from the New York Guild]” (77).

The narrative persona that Callaghan assumes in That Summer in Paris provides him with yet another theatre role: the recreation of actual events on the stage of the reader's imagination. What the narrator describes to us is not a direct reflection of the rituals of performance and of spectatorship that took place in 1929. Rather, it is a recreation of events that he imagines, remembers, or wants us to believe to have taken place. What is important here is to realize that the writing is an imitation of his interpretation, which has played inside his mind before he put it into words.

Consider that there are three times that a drama presents itself in the formation of That Summer in Paris. The first is the actual observation, a time when the narrator has been in the position of watching and acting in 1929. The second is recollection. In this second or intermediary stage (before recreating it in words), the narrator describes a drama as taking place inside his mind. Callaghan constructs an implicit metaphor throughout the text, comparing the voice's personal process of recollecting this Parisian excursion to a dramatic presentation which takes place inside his mind before describing it.

One of the ways by which the metaphor is constructed is the continual reference to memories as “scenes”: one of the sub-divisions or units of drama. In the first chapter, the voice describes the memorable “scenes” which are triggered in his mind:

That night I couldn't sleep. Little scenes from our lives in the Quarter in Paris kept dancing in my mind. That Raspail and Montparnasse corner would light up brightly with the cafés crowded and the headwaiters shaking hands with the regular patrons. Or down at the Deux Magots I could see Fitzgerald coming to meet me with his elegant and distinguished air. … It was all too vivid in my mind.


The narrator forms the analogy between memory and scene later in the text, when describing Parisian “musicians,” “violins,” and “chestnut trees” (188) as well as Scott Fitzgerald's charm: “The remark and the warm little scene made me feel again that he had some fixed place in my life” (188). Moreover, the narrator refers to the boxing match that has taken place between himself and Ernest Hemingway, refereed by Fitzgerald, as a scene: “At the club—I remember the scene so vividly—I remember how Scott, there for the first time, looked around in surprise” (212). In this passage, the voice switches from the present to the past tense. The phrase “I remember the scene” describes the drama first playing in his mind and only after this does the voice switch to the past tense to describe the manner in which Scott Fitzgerald “looked.”

The implicit metaphor is also constructed by the repetition of the term “picture.” It emphasizes the “pictorial aspect of the stage” (McCandless 13). A staged production is often described as a picture. In Lighting the Stage, Stanley McCandless proposes that the stage is “a large canvas on which to paint with light” (86). In the earlier part of the twentieth century, a time just prior to the time that Callaghan was living in Paris, this comparison was also made. Arthur Symons writes: “This visible creation of life [the production] is … like a picture, and it is made in the spirit of the painter” (364). Symons also refers to the “stage director … [a]s the artist of the theatre” (362). This connection is in fact made by Callaghan in his text A Wild Old Man On the Road,1 in which the protagonist's observations (which are also memories for his father) are described as paintings on a stage. The two are spectators at different moments in time to the same picture of activity in and around the cafés in Paris: “the whole corner a big bowl of light hanging there in the night as it must have hung there forty years before” (19).

As Hinz points out, one of the characteristics of drama is “its visual immediacy or quality of actual presence” (196); that life writing does “aspire to this condition … may be seen in its frequent recourse to pictorial metaphors” (196). Throughout That Summer in Paris, the narrator uses the term “picture,” either in reference to a memory or to a flashback. He refers to a recollection of Ernest Hemingway, for example, as “that picture I ha[ve] of him spitting blood at me” (128). The voice also describes a memory of Ernest Hemingway's appearance as constituting a type of picture: “in the way he held his hands, his chin down a little to his shoulder, he made an impressive picture” (104). In this case, he describes the picture as having formed itself in the past in order to be retained for future recollection. Furthermore, he refers to the process of recollection as a “dream technique” which operates by “one picture then another flashing in the mind” (143). Finally, the metaphor is reinforced by a character's reference to a potential memory as a tableau. Near the end of their journey, Morley and Loretto Callaghan “wand[er] into an elegant house without noticing it ha[s] a red light over the door” (225); a brothel in which a madame tries to stage her business. Callaghan remembers her suggesting: “if we would like it, two of her girls would come into our room and make a tableau for us” (225). While the narrator himself does not make a direct comparison between a memory and a picture here, he does call our attention to the pictorial aspect of this memory through the words of this madame. That is, what he may have seen, the girls in sexual performance, is compared to a tableau which has still yet to be assembled.

The narrative voice then recreates what he has watched in his imagination in the form of a third dramatic presentation, this one drawing us in to participate in the ritual of theatrics as we read—as spectators. Foremost, as he tells his story, the narrator acts as a casting director by speaking about the characters as performers and spectators. Most often, he casts the literary figures into the roles of performers, thereby following an important strategy for appropriate casting: “The search for specific qualities … is the major attack in the casting process” (Hodge 316). Writers are particularly well-suited for performatory roles since they have experience in performance and show, displayed in written form. That the narrator imagines to have perceived, in his younger years, a connection between writers and performance is evidenced in a disapproving comment about metaphor. Ventriloquizing his younger voice, he comments: “every time a writer used a brilliant phrase to prove himself witty or clever he merely took the mind of the reader away from the object and directed it to himself; he became simply a performer. Why didn't he go on stage?” (Callaghan, That Summer in Paris, 21).

Hemingway and Fitzgerald are two writers in particular who assume the roles of performers in That Summer in Paris. As Brandon Conron suggests about their portrayal in Callaghan's text: “at the centre of their brilliantly imagined worlds they were actors who could put on dazzling performances” (Introduction 15). In one passage, the voice describes a memory of Ernest Hemingway during a boxing match, in which he spouts out “blood at [Callaghan] with such theatrical scorn” (That Summer 128). The narrator also casts Fitzgerald in various performatory roles throughout much of the story, more often than he does Hemingway. Fitzgerald is consistently “making a spectacle of himself” (196). The voice describes a scene in which Fitzgerald delivers an acrobatic performance for him to watch and interpret. Once Morley and Loretto Callaghan have been invited into the home of the Fitzgeralds, Scott Fitzgerald responds to Morley's lack of enthusiasm either for Hemingway's Farewell To Arms or for the company of the art critic Clive Bell by performing an acrobatic stunt:

Suddenly he got down on his knees, put his head on the floor and tried to stand on his head. One leg came up, and he tried to get the other one up and maintain his balance. And while he was swaying and flopping at my feet, my shame and anger became unbearable. … Now here he was on the floor of his own drawing room, trying to stand on his head to mock me. In my anger and anguish, I felt there must be some dreadful flaw in my character which he had immediately perceived. Then he lost his balance and sprawled flat on his face.


This “play within the play” (Fitzgerald's performance) is designed to arouse emotion from its audience. Fitzgerald is mocking Callaghan's lack of enthusiasm and is questioning his artistic judgement. As such, the performance provokes “anger and anguish” which Callaghan admits to having experienced at that time.

The narrative voice also invites us to watch James Joyce, another member of the Parisian literary circle, behaving as an entertainer. Both theatre and film imagery are used to describe an evening during which Morley and Loretto Callaghan have been invited back to the Joyces' home, the Irish writer discussing film: “As he [Joyce] talked, I seemed to see him in a darkened theatre, the great prose master absorbed in camera technique” (143). Ironically, Joyce is speaking about film as if he were performing in one. He then proceeds to play the recording of a consummate performer—Aimee Semple McPherson, this detail emphasizing that this is indeed entertainment for the Callaghans. McPherson was an evangelist singer whose “life can be explained in terms of the 1920s craze for Hollywood, the stage and stardom” (Blumhofer 8). In fact, one might argue that McPherson used religion to attract attention to herself. With the fame she acquired as an evangelist, she then attracted even further attention with extremely dramatic stories; it is ambiguous whether or not she may have fabricated a story for public attention about being kidnapped, “bound, gagged and numbed by ether” (7) to explain her disappearance for six weeks.

The narrator casts yet another member of the Montparnasse artistic circle, Kiki, “an artist model” (196), in the role of an entertaining comedian. While Kiki is not herself a writer, she does inhabit the literary social circle. Callaghan meets her through his “literary” friends Bob McAlmon and John Glassco. The voice suggests that Kiki is well suited to acting out different roles, referring to her as “the woman of so many lives in Montparnasse” (196). In fact, she performs the role of a humorous dramatic figure, the clown, when she climbs the stairs to the Whidney's apartment one late evening: “there was something of the clown in her lovely face … Going up the stairs ahead of me was Kiki, and being the lovely clown she was, she began to go up the stairs on all fours” (196).

The narrator also portrays himself as having been an entertainer. Foremost, he is a comedian. Consider how he admits having acted in a “[crowded] apartment with well-known writers and reviewers” (48) in Greenwich Village, New York. While this particular location is not Paris, it is part of Callaghan's journey to Paris; it is a stop along the way. In fact, some of the guests who attend the “big cocktail party” (48) are “Quarterites” themselves. During this event, in the summer of 1920 Callaghan plays “the clown” for Sherwood Anderson, the American writer and “Quarterite”:

Full of affection for this man I had never seen before, I played the clown and did it well. Approaching him with a solemn air, I took him by the arm. “Excuse me, aren't you Sherwood Anderson?” I asked accusingly.

“That's right,” he said.

“Good,” I said quietly. “Then you're my father.”

The look on his face as he drew back uneasily made me want to laugh … Finally he said, “I don't understand. What is your name?”

“Morley Callaghan.”

“Morley Callaghan …” and then he burst out laughing. Delighted, he put his arms around me. “What a wonderful thing to say to me,” he said.


Here, Callaghan performs two roles at the same time: the abandoned son and the clown. In this latter role, he plays a trick in attempt to establish a friendship with Anderson. Callaghan also assumes the role of the clown when following Kiki up the stairs leading to the Whidneys' apartment. After Kiki has begun to climb “the stairs on all fours” (196), Morley is described as “reach[ing] down, and thr[owing] her skirt up over her head” (196). The voice then says: “she continued to go up on all fours while I played a drumbeat with both hands on her plump behind” (196-97). The narrator admits that he has considered playing the part of the clown on other occasions, once while engaged in a serious conversation with Fitzgerald: “Taken aback, I tried to laugh. Those strangely colored eyes of his were on me, and if I clowned I knew I would be insulting him” (184). In this case, the narrator recalls being aware that Fitzgerald is trying to project “an unspoiled frankness” (184) while delivering a compliment on Morley Callaghan's writing. The voice also recalls the risk in performing the part of a clown on this particular occasion, thereby reminding Fitzgerald of simpler and sillier things within this “frank” and serious context that he attempts to create.

Apart from performing as a clown, the narrator describes himself as once constituting a spectacle in Paris in 1929. He believes that the combination of himself, Hemingway, and Joan Miró walking outside the boxing club together after a boxing match must have drawn attention to itself: “Outside, walking over to the American Club, we must have presented a strange spectacle: Big Ernest over six feet and heavy, me, four or five inches shorter, and Miró, who might have been a little over five feet” (167). Miró and Hemingway then form yet another spectacle for John Glassco and his friend Graeme who are presented as “the clever little devils” (168). Buffy and Graeme commit “the most terrible of sins around the Quarterite” (169-70), failing to recognize Miró and mistaking him for playing the role of Hemingway's butler: “‘And the other one,’ Buffy said blandly, watching the two retreating figures. ‘His butler, I presume?’” (169).

The narrator also casts the characters in the roles of spectators, thereby inviting us to pretend that we are watching them perform as “observers” of the activities in Paris. He often talks about himself as an observer, a “stranger” (79) to Paris, one who sees this city “‘as a kind of otherworldliness’” (229). In fact, he describes himself as being a spectator of a Parisian picture: “But Paris was always in our minds as a very satisfying and beautiful picture, the soft river valley, the gentle slopes, the two hills, and on the Right Bank sunlight on the white dome of Sacré Coeur” (111). Morley and Loretto Callaghan are often positioned together as spectators, watching from their audience chairs inside the contours of Parisian cafés. Either they watch their “fill of the faces and [listen to] the snatches of conversation at the Coupole” (88) or they are described as eating “inside a café,” observing: “Outside on the rue de la Paix the girls were passing, taxis whirled by” (79). The voice proclaims: “the street life of Paris was just beyond our window” (79). In fact, during his visit with Sinclair Lewis in Greenwich Village, the voice refers to himself and Loretto as constituting an “audience” for a “performance” in which Lewis “seem[s] to be so absorbed” (72):

Lou called out that Henry Canby was not at the office. Then he might be in his home in Connecticut, Lewis answered. Wherever he was, get him. By now we had become merely spectators, watching Lewis as he smiled to himself.

Then Lou called out that Henry Canby had been traced to his home in Connecticut; here he was. With an encouraging smile to us, Lewis picked up the phone, but he kept his eyes on us, his audience.


Here, Lewis acts outraged and annoyed, as he speaks to Henry Canby about having published a patronizing review of Callaghan's text.

Apart from describing his friends as taking on the roles of performers and spectators, while telling his story, the narrator acts like a lighting designer. While the illumination—and darkening—of the theatre that is of both stage and audience, is used for several purposes in the theatre, I would like to consider two of its functions in That Summer in Paris.

Light and dark imagery enhances performance and spectatorship. During a dramatic production, technical lighting is used to direct audience attention towards performance and away from the rest of the theatre. As such, lights are shone onto the actors who perform on stage while the rest of the theatre is left in darkness, since “the eye [of the audience] tends towards the brightest object in its field” (McGrath 118). In That Summer in Paris, light and shadow indicate to us when performance and spectatorship are taking place. Light appears frequently in Callaghan's descriptions of Paris. In fact, the narrative voice imagines Paris as a whole to have been so full of light—that is, so full of performance—that he describes it as a spectacular stage, remarking that “[i]n Toronto, Paris indeed became my city of light” (36). Recognizing that this is his own perception of Paris, the narrator admits: “the lighted place … had to be always in my own head” (254). The voice describes several images of light: moonlight, streetlight, bulb light and sunlight, to illuminate and indicate performance. For example, while Callaghan stands at the Fitzgeralds' doorstep in search of Scott, the “hall light” suggests that Zelda Fitzgerald is only pretending to smile, that she is delivering a happy performance: “Pale, haggard, dark patches under her eyes, she stared at me vaguely, then tried to smile and failed. I can remember the way the overhead hall light glinted on her blond head” (190). The smile is something that Zelda must force, having been awake all night “due to some trouble over the theft of Scott Fitzgerald's wallet in a night club” (191). Light also indicates to us when performance is being delivered through body language. Describing Fitzgerald, who has been awake for twenty-four hours, the voice says: “Under the bright kitchen light his humiliation, his exhaustion with the aftermath of some drinking, made him look like a corpse” (192). Here, the kitchen light acts as a spotlight, shining onto him to highlight or attract our attention. Although he may not be deliberately trying to act as a corpse, the involuntary exhaustion of his body performs the role for him.

Just as different types of lights illuminate a stage, a number of different light images are described by the narrator for several effects in That Summer in Paris. For a dramatic presentation, a lighting technician may vary the intensity or colour of a light for a particular result. A light may be dimmed to cause a performance to appear unclear and therefore open to interpretation. To achieve this, a stage technician might apply a dimmer. During the early part of the twentieth century, this technique was introduced into theatre production in Paris. During the performance of a matinée in an opera-house in Paris, the Savoy, in 1897, the dimmer (though at this time it was not electric) made one of its first appearances, thereby catching the public attention as “an interesting experiment” (Rees 171).

In That Summer in Paris, the narrator achieves a similar effect. He “dims” the images of light for the reader. What he refers to as “false” light indicates that a performance which a character has delivered has been misinterpreted by others. The voice refers to “false” light when describing Scott Fitzgerald's performance at the Deux Magots at a time when he has been deprived of his sleep. As the voice notes, Fitzgerald has been a spectacle of something he is not actually trying to perform: “No one could know he hadn't had any sleep for twenty-four hours” (195). Even though Fitzgerald is actually “quite sober” (195), he involuntarily acts as someone would who is drunk:

Scott's drink had a particular effect on him. In his nervous exhaustion he had thought the drink would cheer him up. Instead it seemed to numb him. Stiffening, he looked puzzled … My wife was watching him … His face had turned ashen. He looked sick. People were gaping at him. We could see some Americans at a nearby table whispering. Suddenly it was as if he had been recognized; his name had been whispered along the terrace.


The voice then points out to us, with light imagery, that the people who have mistaken Fitzgerald's exhaustion for drunken stupor have misinterpreted his gestures as a performance out of context: “That night at the Deux Magots, he had been in a false light. Apparently he had been making a public spectacle of himself; a living picture of all the belittling stories that were being told about him … Yet he had managed to be seen in this light—the profligate abandoned sinner!” (195).2

While light suggests that a character is performing in the text, shadow indicates that a character, at that moment, is not. Consider again the passage during which Callaghan visits the exhausted Fitzgerald. That Fitzgerald is described as being in the shadows suggests that his body has stopped performing as “the corpse.” Once Fitzgerald has left his home and encountered Loretto Callaghan, the narrator says: “In her presence he had quickly recovered some of his charm, and on the shadowed street, away from the light, he sounded like himself” (193). As a result, the reader compares Fitzgerald to an actor who has shed his role. The shadow into which he steps metaphorically represents the darkness into which an actor steps off-stage. Out of his performatory role, he becomes “himself,” as the voice believes him to be.

The shadowed area represents a place in which performance does not take place, a place that cannot be seen by spectators. The narrator describes a conversation he has had with Scott Fitzgerald: “I made a joke about Scott living in the shadow of bad Catholic art. It amused him. Then he said that he liked living near the Cathedral; he liked the neighborhood; he was always aware he was in the shadow of the Cathedral” (206). In the shadow, Fitzgerald is again an actor, this time out of the spotlight, off-stage and unable to be seen by the audience. Living in the shadows signifies that he lives in a location beyond public gaze and that, as a result, he can preserve his energy; he does not have to perform.

The images of lights and shadows also function as props. That is, when the voice refers to these images, it simulates for us the kind of lighting and darkening that we would experience sitting in the audience of a playhouse. Barnet, Berman, and Burto suggest that for a dramatic presentation, lighting can be used “as a substitute for (and improvement on) painted scenery” (223). They specify that such earlier forms of lighting, for example, as “[g]as could be controlled to produce the effects of sunlight, moonlight, etc.” (222-23). In That Summer in Paris, the voice describes such images as sunlight, moonlight and bulb light in relation to people's performances or observations of them. He describes a shadow in relation to people who are not performing, to simulate the darkness that pervades the theatre as the performance is taking place on stage.

In one particular passage, streetlight, vestibule light, and shadow simulate theatrical “décor” for us. Consider the first observation that Morley and Loretto Callaghan form of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald outside the apartment building in which they reside:

As we turned away disappointed, at loose ends standing in the shadowed doorway, a taxi drew up. A man and woman got out. They were under a street light. We could see their faces. ‘Why, there's Fitzgerald,’ I said to Loretto. In that light, even from a distance, he looked like the handsome, slender, fine-featured man whose picture I had so often seen, whose profile, in fact, appeared to be copied again and again by magazine illustrators. Coming towards us slowly, they couldn't see us. We were half hidden in the shadows. The vestibule light touched Zelda's blond hair. A handsome woman, her features were as regular as Scott's. I don't know why it upset me seeing these fine classic heads coming into the vestibule shadows where we waited.


Here, the shadow around the doorway in which Morley and Loretto Callaghan stand simulates the darkness of a theatre in which the audience is seated, thereby also establishing that these two characters are spectators. At the same time, the streetlight simulates a theatre spotlight. As such, the movement that Scott and Zelda make from this light into the shadows simulates the movement that actors make from spotlight to off-stage. Consider yet another passage in which the voice describes his final observation of Hemingway in Paris in front of the Callaghans' “little hotel on Raspail”: “I remember so clearly our parting with him. The streetlight was on him, and in that light there seemed to be so much warmth and vitality in his face” (237). Here again, streetlight represents the spotlight under which Hemingway delivers a performance. That the voice uses the term “seemed” to describe the “warmth and vitality” in Hemingway's expression suggests that perhaps there really is none. Quite possibly, the voice remembers him mimicking the display of such feelings rather than doing so naturally. Hemingway may be harboring resentment towards Callaghan, not only because of his “bloody” punch in the boxing arena but also because he is unable to score higher than he did at “the shooting gallery” (236). In this way, light and dark images have the capacity to transform into theatrical settings the front of the Fitzgeralds' apartment building and the Callaghans' hotel.

The third “stage” role that the narrative persona assumes in recreating the theatrical mise-en-scène is that of a costume designer. As such, he imitates the same method that those in Paris were using to make a statement about themselves. Paris, during the decade of the 1920s, is referred to as “this colourful world” (Conran, Callaghan 6)—colourful, in a metaphorical sense, since many people wore striking and flamboyant clothes. “This was the hour that brought the tourists to Montparnasse—‘Americans in checked shirts,’ writes Frederick Kohner, ‘Scandi navians in sweaters and heavy boots, play-boys in tuxedos, women in men's clothes’” (in Carpenter 100).

What effect did this “costuming” have on those who were observing in Paris? As James Laver suggests: “As soon as clothes are anything more than a mere device of decency or a protection against the weather they inevitably assume a dramatic quality of some kind” (1). That is, those who watched these people dress up in costume felt like they were an audience watching a production in a playhouse, and, would form a connection between the costume and the person wearing it. This I argue is the very effect that Callaghan wanted on his own readership. In fact, we find that the use of costumes is quite common throughout much of Callaghan's work, especially in his text The Many Colored Coat.

In That Summer in Paris, not only are costumes described, but they have a function similar to the function they have in a production; they act as signs for the reader. More specifically, a distinguishing characteristic of a costume can signify a particular dynamic about the role that is being played by the actor who is wearing it. In other words, the costume designer invites the audience to play a game, to form the connection between costume and role—to make the deduction that one signifies the other. For example, as Laver writes: “When a mayor puts on his robes he is both putting on ‘historical costume’ and assuming a character” (1) because the robes act as a sign of leadership and of authority. In That Summer in Paris, the reader is drawn in to do this very thing. The narrator designs costumes, or at least mental pictures of them, with his words. It is the appearance of these costumes which we are called upon to see as a reflection of the internal dynamics of spectatorship and performance. Various items of clothing signify both the attention that performance attracts and the lack of attention that spectatorship attracts. The narrative voice describes two particular types of costumes for us: those which are flamboyant and signify the performer and those which are inconspicuous and signify the spectator.

One of the more flamboyant pieces of attire we are called upon to recognize both as a costume and, therefore, as signifying something about the person wearing it, is the white felt hat. Worn by its owner, Fitzgerald, this costume reflects the attention he attracts to himself when performing as a drunkard. The narrator presents quite a “flashy” description of this hat. It is certainly ostentatious enough to have remained so vivid in his memory that he is able to describe it in detail: “[Fitzgerald] had acquired the most elegant felt hat I had seen in Paris; in color it was lighter than pearl- gray, almost white” (187). He recalls having proclaimed at his first sight of it: “‘That's the grandest hat I've seen in Paris, Scott.’” (189). In fact, it is quite conceivable that Callaghan, who feels more comfortable watching than performing,3 refuses to accept this Italian hat when we are told it is given to him, because of its flamboyancy, because it attracts attention:

It was an Italian hat, he said. Taking it off, he gave it to me. ‘Take it, I want you to have it,’ and he put it on my head. I gave it back to him. A little more grimly, he put it back on my head. We kept exchanging the hat.


We are then called upon to recognize that this pretentious hat reflects Scott Fitzgerald's own flamboyancy. The narrator points out that Scott has left his home one evening, “[c]lamping that beautiful white hat on his head (193). It is during this evening that Fitzgerald sits with the Callaghans at a table in the Deux Magots on St. Germain-des-Prés, acting drunk: “His face had turned ashen. He looked sick” (194). He therefore attracted the attention of patrons: “people were gaping at him” (194). The narrator then points out that he forms a connection between Fitzgerald's behaviour and the theatrical hat he wears. He remembers himself thinking: “his shirt open, the elaborate white hat at too rakish an angle. The elegant Scott!” (195). In other words, we are led to connect the white felt hat with the “public spectacle” (195) that Fitzgerald makes of himself.

Another conspicuous costume is the brown velvet dressing gown worn by Callaghan. Again, as he describes himself wearing this gown, the narrator calls on us to connect it to the performatory role he plays, the role of an athletic performer. The narrator describes this piece of clothing as being “flashy.” He says it looks “like a crocodile skin” (92). The narrator also tells us that when Hemingway arrives at Callaghan's doorstep, he is struck by its appearance. For Hemingway, the gown causes Callaghan to resemble the boxer Georges Carpentier:

there was a moment of shyness when I felt like a stranger. I had on a dark brown velvet dressing gown which Loretto had given me as a present; it was expensive and looked like a crocodile skin. Stepping back, looking at me and shaking his head, Ernest said to Loretto, “I haven't seen such a dressing gown on a man since the last time I saw Georges Carpentier climb into the ring.”


As with the white felt hat, we are called upon to see this ostentatious dressing gown as a sign of the narrator's memorable demonstration of athletic skill. Unlike the white felt hat, however, the dressing gown is not worn at the same time that its “wearer” engages in performance. In fact, Callaghan is just standing at his doorstep, “engaged in a moment of shyness” (92) while wearing it. Nevertheless, while Callaghan may not be actually be performing at this moment, he is doing so in Hemingway's imagination. In forming the connection between Georges Carpentier's and Callaghan's robes, Hemingway imagines his friend as a boxer, that is, in the role of an athletic performer. Furthermore, the costume foreshadows Callaghan's athletic performance to come. Callaghan will perform in the boxing ring with Hemingway, delivering such a skillful performance that one of his punches will leave his opponent in a “bloody” mess.

This particular spectacle will generate a great deal of attention, particularly from Fitzgerald, Callaghan, and Hemingway. It is not simply the injury from the punch that will cause this attention but a public discrepancy over who “out-performed” whom in the boxing ring. In fact, the “bloody” performance will become so unforgettable that it will undo the friendship that Morley Callaghan has formed with each of them. At this point, “a long simmering fissure in their friendship had finally erupted” (Boire 39), arguably resulting from the combination of Callaghan's desire to compete with Hemingway's writing and Hemingway's “own discomfort with a disciple gone astray” (39). As such, the flamboyancy of the dressing gown anticipates the attention that Callaghan's athletic performance in the boxing ring will generate. Moreover, the manner in which the voice interprets Ernest's remark, referring to it spitefully as “the crack about the Georges Carpentier dressing gown!” (99-100), foreshadows bitter and angry feelings.

The narrator also presents inconspicuous costumes, such as “the conventional white collar of the American businessman” (174). We are invited to recognize this collar as a sign of the discretion of the priest who wears it as he takes on the role of a spectator in this Parisian theatrical mise-en-scène.

Although it is not specified, it is suggested that the white collar of the businessman is worn by Father Tom, the Catholic priest whom Loretto and Morley Callaghan meet during their transatlantic boat passage. This collar is one of two choices of attire the priest has while in France. Having noticed that Father Tom is not wearing a Roman collar, the voice tells us that Father Tom does not wear “a clerical collar [since it] [i]s taken as the mark of a Protestant Minister. Therefore, an American priest ha[s] a choice between the soutane of the French priest, or the conventional white collar of the American businessman” (174). While the priest's choice of attire is not specified in the text, we can deduce that it is the white “businessman” collar that Father Tom wears on the night of his Montparnasse outing with the Callaghans.

It is quite clear that the priest does not wear the soutane. Because this costume takes the form of a long robe usually worn only by Catholic priests, presumably it would not disguise this vocation, but would instead indicate it. He would almost certainly attract attention. The reaction that he predicts the ladies in his tour group will have upon discovering his whereabouts suggests that a Catholic priest in Montparnasse would stand out. Once he has begun to socialize with the Callaghans, he tells them, “At this hour his ladies would be wondering what he was doing … But he had left a note for them” (174). Father Tom then predicts that the note, which will inform “his ladies” that he is in the company of a friend in “Montparnasse, living among all the wild free artists” (174), will “put them in a terrible tizzy” (174). This predicted reaction implies not simply that the ladies disapprove of the lifestyle in Montparnasse but more specifically that they will disapprove of him taking part in it, that a Catholic priest does not belong on a wild excursion into the Montparnasse night. Father Tom's priesthood is not recognized during his outing. In fact, it is questioned by “a Toronto newspaperman with an owlish leer” (176), who has been informed of Father Tom's identity: “‘Where's the Roman collar?’”(176). The newspaperman then proceeds to comment with a sarcastic sneer: “‘Yeah, a priest, eh?’” (176). The cause of such scepticism is that Father Tom is wearing nothing that would identify him as a priest. Hence, he most likely wears the conventional white collar that a “businessman” typically wears.

The white conventional collar is designed as a very dull and “lackluster” piece of clothing. As its name suggests, it simply is conventional. In fact, as we have seen, it camouflages rather than causing itself to stand out. It is something, the voice tells us, that is worn by an American businessman—a typical “Quarterite” frequenter who, as Sherwood Anderson says in Dark Laughter, “had the money and the time for a holiday fling” (113). In fact, as we have also noted, when it is worn, no one really pays attention to it. The white collar is so effective at deflecting attention that when the priest wears it, no one, other than his two companions, pays attention to him or looks at him in a strange way even though he is quite an unusual frequenter of the Quarter. In such a disguise, Father Tom is incognito, deflecting attention during his final night in Paris, and the narrator remarks: “Here at least no one would care what he did” (175).

As in the case with the white hat and the brown dressing gown, we are called upon to see this white conventional collar as a sign of the priest's inconspicuous behaviour while performing for us as spectators. After Father Tom has arrived at the Callaghans' apartment, it soon becomes clear that he does not want to attract attention, that he wants to blend into the “Quarterite” lifestyle on his final evening in Paris, having nearly completed his European tour. In fact, it is his request to “Quarterites” Morley and Loretto Callaghan to do “what [they] would … be doing [them] selves tonight” (175). Father Tom then spends his time being inconspicuous as a spectator to the activities and sites around Montparnasse. As the voice remarks, “we invited him to observe our little street walker, who was busy as always at that hour on the strip of pavement extending from the Sélect halfway over to the Gare Montparnasse” (177, emphasis added). In fact, we are told that the priest, sitting in his audience chair in the Sélect, a “strange smile on his face, … looked around the whole brightly lit neighborhood (178, emphasis added). The fact that the neighbourhood is brightly lit suggests that the “disordered idle sinful life flowing” (178) within it is a kind of spectacle at which Father Tom gazes. Furthermore, when Father Tom is led to the Jockey, we are told that “In that smoke-filled room, … he just watched” (178, emphasis added). Safely protected by the inconspicuousness of his white collar, Father Tom's eyes act as a kind of camera, taking imaginary pictures during this final night in Paris to capture “a good memory to take back to his penitentiary” (179). As such, the conventionality of this costume reflects the fact that he does not attract attention to himself, but directs it towards the spectacles along the streets of Montparnasse.

In That Summer in Paris, Callaghan invites us, as we read, to participate as a spectator in a playhouse drama. The narrative persona acts as a self-conscious casting director, lighting designer and costume designer, thereby recreating a mise-en-scène of performance and spectatorship believed to have been at the core of his 1929 Parisian experiences. As he speaks, the narrator casts characters into the roles of performers and spectators. He describes light and dark images in relation to people's activities, thereby “highlighting” when people are performing or watching as well as simulating the spotlights and darkness in the theatre. The narrator also designs costumes with his words, thereby reflecting the inner dynamics of this “Paris theatre.” He describes people as wearing various pieces of clothing, ones which attract attention to performance and ones which deflect attention or act as camouflage.

To take this one step further, the narrative persona's assumption of these roles leads us to question his reliability. If drama is the “sister-art” to life writing, then we must consider that the life writer can use dramatic technique to shape what and how the reader imagines. By using stagecraft, Callaghan has the power to distort or to enhance the truth about what and how events took place during the summer of 1929. The characters he portrays as performers and observers may not have actually assumed these roles; he may be directing us to think this way. We may be persuaded by the use of light and dark images to give more attention to some characters over others when, in fact, no one person captured more public attention than any other. Finally, the costumes may also be exaggerated or invented to shape the significations we give to characters. Whether this “dramatic” narrative voice is authentically that of its author or one which Callaghan would like us to believe belongs to him remains in question. Nevertheless, he has given it the power to present the “drama” to play for a third performance. Thus, if drama is the “sister-art” to life writing, as Hinz proposes, then what a writer recounts as having taken place in “real” life can be staged in the reader's imagination in the manner in which he or she wishes. This conclusion, I propose, is a critical step towards initiating the “dramatic” poetics of life-writing.


  1. In A Wild Old Man On the Road, the protagonist travels around Paris to discover more about his father's earlier experiences, encountering various artist figures.

  2. In his retrospection of a time during the 1920s in Montparnasse, Ernest Hemingway remarks in A Moveable Feast that Scott Fitzgerald became easily intoxicated: “he was easily affected by such small quantities of alcohol” (Hemingway 166). There is also a suggestion that this fact became publicly known.

  3. In a personal interview at York University in January 1996, Clara Thomas suggested that Morley Callaghan presents a view of Parisian lifestyle as an impressed but definitely alien outsider.

Works Cited

Barnet, Sylvan, Berman, Morton, and Burto, William. Aspects of The Drama: A Handbook. Boston: Little, Brown, 1962.

Blumhofer, Edith L. Aimee Semple McPherson: Everybody's Sister. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1993.

Bogatyrev, Petr. in Elam, Kerr. The Semiotics of Theatre and Drama. London and New York: Methuen, 1980.

Boire, Gary. Morley Callaghan: Literary Anarchist. Toronto: ECW, 1994.

Callaghan, Morley. That Summer in Paris. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1963.

———. A Wild Old Man on The Road. Toronto: Stoddart, 1988.

Carpenter, Humphrey. Geniuses Together: American Writers in Paris in the 1920s. London: Unwin Hyman, 1987.

Conran, Brandon. Morley Callaghan. New York: Twayne, 1966.

———. Introduction. Morley Callaghan: Critical Views on Canadian Writers. Ed. Conran. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1975.

Hemingway, Ernest. A Moveable Feast. Boston: Northeastern UP, 1991.

Hinz, Evelyn. “Mimesis: The Dramatic Lineage of Auto/Biography” in Essays on Life Writing: From Genre to Critical Practice. Ed. Kadar. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1992.

Hodge, Francis. Play Directing: Analysis, Communication, and Style. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1982.

Laver, James. “Dressing Up to Dance.” Costume in the Theatre. New York: Hill and Wang, 1964.

McCandless, Stanley. A Method of Lighting the Stage. Fourth Edition. New York: Theatre Arts Books, 1958.

McGrath, Ian. The Process of Lighting the Stage. Toronto: Allan and Bacon, 1990.

Rees, Terence. Theatre in the Age of Gas. London: Compton, 1978.

Symons, Arthur. Studies in Seven Arts. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1910.

Further Reading

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share


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.

Justin D. Edwards (essay date 1998)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

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

(Thomson 34)

I am … a citizen of no mean city

(Acts 21:39)

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,” the cover announces, was “narrow” and “provincial,” but was also “the era of jazz, flappers, speakeasies, and bootleggers.” This sentence unites a so-called “provincial” city with images that are reminiscent of Fitzgerald's “Jazz Age” New York. These seemingly paradoxical descriptions signal a more general conflict in 1920s Toronto, a conflict between the contemporaneous conceptions of the city as both a decadent urban centre and an unsophisticated “city of churches.” I would not suggest that these two urban models are mutually exclusive; however, the dust-jacket's blurb articulates a refiguration of the discourses that defined Toronto as an urban space—a refiguration that Strange Fugitive explores and disseminates.

As Canada's first urban novel, Strange Fugitive is an important text not only for exploring the rhetorical changes in articulations of Toronto, but also as a document that constructs and manipulates conceptions of urban space within the Canadian cityscape.1 In this paper I want to examine how Callaghan's representation of 1920s Toronto is indebted to early twentieth-century discourses and representations of the modern North American city, representations that were developed by such urban critics as C. S. Clark, Josiah Strong, Frederick Olmsted, and Louis Wirth, as well as such novelists as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Theodore Dreiser, and John Dos Passos. My interest in this paper will be to examine how Callaghan's rhetorical strategies attempt to undermine the threatening characteristics of 1920s Toronto while simultaneously using the urban tropes of gangsters, bootlegging, and murder to sensationally entice his reader. Central to my analysis is the fact that, like the conflicts and ambiguities implied by the dust-jacket, Callaghan's use of American urban discourses become unique when placed in the context of the Toronto scene. Borders, boundaries, taxonomies, structures of difference—these are some of the textual devices that Callaghan uses when adapting American models of urban representation to confront 1920s Toronto.


C. S. Clark first published his book Of Toronto the Good: A Social Study in 1898, coining a phrase that would live on long after his death. In this “social study” Clark constructs a vision of Toronto that is free from the “rampant evils” of the modern metropolis; “the city of churches,” according to Clark, is “a refuge for some higher morality” (23). Although he includes chapters on “Drunkenness,” “Street Walkers,” and “Thieves,” Clark's image of Toronto foregrounds a conception of the city that distinguishes it from other more “corrupt” urban areas such as New York and Chicago. Built into the structure of Clark's narrative, in fact, is a line that is drawn between “the outside world” of urban corruption and the domestic, “moral” space that he defines as “Toronto the good” (White 5). Such rhetorical borders steer our perceptions of Toronto away from the modern urban images of poverty, crime, corruption, and decay by positioning Toronto as an alternative to the New York of Josiah Strong, whose 1885 bestseller Our Country painted urban space as the degenerate “storm centre” of modern life, and the “most serious menace to our civilization”2 (129).

Josiah Strong's reactionary text spoke to those who feared the rapid urban growth and immigration that he refers to as the equivalent of “social dynamite” (132). Fears arose out of the massive social upheavals that transformed American cities during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: mass immigration, population growth, secularization, technological development—these were a few of the social changes faced by the modern American city (Trachtenberg 104). Clark's Of Toronto the Good, though, presented Toronto as a “friendly city” by marking its difference from crime-ridden American cities; Clark was thus able to reinforce the boundaries separating American and Canadian trends in urban development.

By the 1920s, however, public perceptions of Toronto started to contradict Clark's model of the city. An increase in immigration, crime, poverty, and drug abuse became prominent public issues in Toronto during the decade following World War One. Furthermore, 1920s Toronto was faced with a population boom: the 1921 Census of Canada marks Toronto's population as 522,000; by 1929, though, the city's population had jumped to 826,186 (White 204). Mass immigration of Western, Central, and Eastern Europeans to Toronto from 1919 to 1930 accounted for this population increase; and, although the majority of the population still identified themselves as Anglo-Saxon, immigrants of Jewish and Italian backgrounds began to form vibrant communities in the city (Zucchi 39).3 One of the social changes that began to transform popular conceptions of “Toronto the good” arose out of the growth of the downtown “Ward” district, which served as affordable housing for the city's Jewish and Italian citizens. It was not long before this neighbourhood became associated with the same “menacing” and “ominous” tropes of New York's Bowery district (Maynard 167). Xenophobia and racist public policies arose out of this mass immigration, and, during this period, the Federal government tried to limit Toronto's multicultural demography by imposing “head taxes” on various racial groups.4 Another attempt to manipulate social development in Toronto emerged in the form of the Ontario Temperance Act, which banned the sale of alcohol from 1916 to 1927—a development that figures prominently—the narrative of Strange Fugitive. Controlling the sale of alcohol and limiting immigration were thought to contain the social problems that many Canadians considered menacing in American urban areas; nonetheless, Toronto's increase in population and immigration (while relatively small in comparison to New York and Chicago) represented a substantial change in the way Torontonians conceived of their city.

Strange Fugitive reflects these urban shifts. Throughout the text, for instance, the narrator describes the ethnic topography of the city, and Harry Trotter's movement through Toronto's streets comprises a textual tour of Italian, Jewish, and Chinese neighbourhoods. Unlike Clark, though, Callaghan does not present these areas of Toronto to show “Toronto the good”; instead, he presents the Ward district as a “foreign” space for his middle-class readership, a space that was always potentially “corrupted” by crime and dishonesty. Such an image of Toronto dismisses Clark's late-nineteenth-century presentation of the city by adopting contemporaneous American discourses surrounding the modern metropolis.5

Although American novelists had been publishing texts based on the “great American city”6 as early as 1900, the mid-1920s marked an important moment in the development of the American urban novel: in 1925 Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, Dreiser's An American Tragedy, and Dos Passos's Manhattan Transfer appeared, all of which construct the city as a lurid space of mystery and anxiety. Urban space, for example, partially clouds Nick Carraway's judgments and forces him to question his ethical choices and introspective identity; Clyde Griffiths's experience of the modern city is one of theft, sex, and murder; and Jimmy Herf's life in Manhattan leads to alcoholism and nihilism. These texts also sensationally posit the modern city as a space where bootlegging, speakeasies, and sexual promiscuity are commonplace, resulting in an image of urban space that becomes a way of dealing with and contributing to the mysteries, fears and anxieties of the “great city.”7

It is important to note that by the 1920s, Callaghan had become involved in what Robin Mathews refers to “the new colonialism,” whereby “Canadian identity” shifted “away from a British influence towards the influence of the power and culture of the U.S.A.” (Mathews 78). Such a shift is central to Strange Fugitive, for Callaghan turns to the models of an American urbanism in an attempt to capture 1920s Toronto. F. Scott Fitzgerald, in fact, supported Strange Fugitive, and, after reading the manuscript, he urged Scribners to publish the text in 1928 (Callaghan, That Summer 62). It is not surprising that Fitzgerald endorsed Strange Fugitive because, as in his own novels, speakeasies, and bootleggers pervade Callaghan's text. But unlike Fitzgerald, Torontonians were not ready to conceive of their city in this way, and newspapers such as the Mail and Empire declared that the novel was “a success in New York,” but a flop in Toronto: “One book dealer even went to the length of returning his copies to the publisher with the remark that the style was not for him. It was not quite the thing, though it dealt with life in Toronto” (qtd. in White 197). Callaghan's first novel, in other words, was rejected by many Torontonians because it did not comply with the traditional notion of “Toronto the good.”


The city as it is presented by Callaghan—as well as by Fitzgerald and Dreiser—is partially allied with the urban spaces that were used as both setting and subject of American realist fiction at the turn of the century. Callaghan's presentation of violence, crime, and corruption reverberates with William Dean Howells's novels, which treated the seamy side of urban life as the touchstone of “the real” itself. This tradition established the “realistic” city as degenerate and “corrupt”; as such, the more slums, poverty, crime, and corruption, the more realistic the novel was thought to be. As Amy Kaplan notes, however, late-nineteenth-century American realism also presented an alternative image of urban space that was mysterious and “unreal”:

[In] late nineteenth-century writing … “the city” often signifies “the unreal,” the alien, or that which has not yet been realized. Represented by what it might become—by its potential, its threat, its promise—“the city” figures as a spatial metonymy for the elusive process of social change.


For Callaghan and his American contemporaries, then, representations of the city engendered a desire to combat the mysteries and otherness of this elusive “spatial metonymy” by fixing its protean changes within the confines of a coherent narrative form. Callaghan, then, confronts Toronto's otherness—the site and sign of social change—through a manipulation of urban topography whereby different districts of the “unreal” city become classified and categorized in an attempt to control their threatening features within the narrative.8

I would suggest that Callaghan's attempt to manage and control these threatening features forces a narrative tension that results in an ambiguous model of the city. That is, like the dust-jacket's articulation of Toronto's narrow provincialism and urbane Jazz Age culture, Callaghan interlaces the realist literary modes of crime and corruption—the “unreal” and mysterious qualities of the modern city—with the domestic and secure space of “Toronto the good.” Strange Fugitive, for example, opens with the narrator's comment that “Harry Trotter … was determined everybody should understand he loved his wife” (3). This introductory sentence places Harry within the secure realm of domestic space, a security that the second paragraph furthers with a description of Harry “in bed one night, listening to Vera breathing and thinking he loved her so much no other woman could ever give such satisfaction” (3). Domestic space, however, soon gives way to Callaghan's presentation of the cityscape when an argument erupts between the couple, and Harry decides to take a long walk through the city and sit on a park bench. The introduction of the city, then, occurs only after a disruption arises in the domestic realm, for, on the park bench, Harry feels “absolutely alone” and contemplates leaving his wife. The narrative transitions—moving from domestic bliss to an argument and then to a description of the city—textually structures urban space as threatening to the domestic sphere of the Trotters; Callaghan thus launches Strange Fugitive by constructing an artificial binary between domesticity and the city, a binary that he returns to throughout the novel.

Such a domestic-urban opposition calls attention to the construction of the narrative itself. Images of the city rupture the narrative continuity of the domestic scene and the city is thus constructed as an unwieldy space that must be brought under conceptual control. By opening the text with Harry's expressions of love, Callaghan struggles to present a domesticated and nonthreatening terrain; dispute, however, refigures the textual spaces by incorporating a threatening city that, in turn, ruptures the domestic plot. The narrative, though, works to contain this sense of the city as a threat by assimilating the social conventions that establish the park as a retreat from urban stresses and steering Harry to a pastoral space where he is able to think about his future with Vera. This scene in the park, then, complicates the narrative's domestic-urban opposition in that the park constitutes an “in between” space which is nonthreatening and secure as well as urban. Moreover, the image of the park serves as a further example of Callaghan's participation in American discourses of urban space; American urban planners such as Frederick Olmsted conceived of city parks as prime features of a system of order and security and also as a means of control and stability. An urban park, according to Olmsted, should be a space that exists between domestic and commercial areas—a space where one could retreat from the mysteries of the modern city and yet remain outside of the home (Olmsted 110). Embodied in the concept of the park lay a desire to eradicate the threatening mystique of urban space by providing a pastoral area that was consistent with the ideals of middle-class domesticity. The fears and anxieties of urbanism, therefore, were thought to be limited and controlled through a green space that could defuse urban tensions and undermine the potential threats of the street.9

Callaghan uses this conception of green space as an urban refuge throughout Strange Fugitive. In the first section of the text, for instance, Harry visits numerous parks and travels to the edge of the city for relaxation and comfort.10 After a day at work, Harry finds the pastoral nature of the park relaxing: “in the park he leaned against the rail … he liked the way it took his mind off his work” (12). Callaghan develops this image of the park when Harry and Vera have a picnic at a ravine in the eastern end of the city. Here, Callaghan temporarily interlaces domesticity with green space:

The two of them [went] out east and up the railway tracks in the country to a wooded ravine with a slow twisting river. … They followed the tracks between the hills until the bank on the right flattened out and they stood at a steep path looking down at the dark ravine. They walked on to the next path, Vera strutting happily on the ties. … She giggled, slyly putting an arm around his waist, and kissed him.


This green space echoes Olmsted's theory of parks as an alternative to the anxieties and mysteries of urbanism; Callaghan paints this park's image in the form of a natural innocence that is contrasted with the lost innocence of the city where Harry becomes the “strange fugitive.” Such complex presentations of urban space, however, eventually complicate the park's pastoral imagery, for, while the park generates emotional renewal, there is an underlying tension that suggests another side to the urban park. This tension arises when a sinister impression merges the park with the threatening aspects of the city; the narrator tells us that Vera and Harry “stayed in the ravine till twilight when night noises in thickets and occasional sounds of someone moving on the hill scared her and then they climbed … down [to] the street” (37).11 This ambiguous vision disrupts the narrative continuity and forces tensions that confuse the boundaries dividing the city into distinct areas based on categories such as domesticity, urbanism, and green space. The infiltration of a threatening person “moving on the hill,” that is, ruptures the artificial line that Callaghan uses to chart the domesticated and nonthreatening terrain of the park. A closer look at Callaghan's manipulation of pastoral and urban spaces will show how he attempts to generate particular strategies to distinguish and categorize areas of Toronto in order to bring the city under conceptual control and thus undermine that which is considered “unreal” and mysterious.


Toronto's parks (spaces that are prominent in the first section of Callaghan's novel) become less conspicuous in the second and third sections when Harry takes to a life of crime; it is not long before the city parks disappear completely. The second section, for instance, focuses on the urban rather than the pastoral descriptions of the city by concentrating on Harry's aimless walks throughout the downtown streets:

He [Harry] walked down Yonge to Albert Street. … In the crowd across the street a high-pitched voice grew louder and more powerful and became a wail of despair. Slightly startled, Harry stopped but did not cross the street. He had walked as far as Albert Street and stood at the corner, looking along the street. … On Sunday night the city was quiet but many loud voices cried out on Albert Street.


Opening the second section with this passage is a significant narrative strategy in that it contextualizes Harry's movement away from the relative safety of the city's parks. Here, Harry confronts an imaginary border in the topography of Toronto, a line that separates the middle-class, “Anglo-Saxon” areas of the city from the “menacing Ward district.”12 Harry, standing at the corner of Yonge and Albert, occupies the borderline of the Ward; the symbolism of this movement is expressed through the spatial configuration that signals Harry's movement away from domesticity into a space defined by crime and alienation. The scene also presents Harry's ambivalent reaction to the Ward: he experiences a simultaneous attraction and repulsion to the mysteries of this neighbourhood. But the fascination is fleeting, for Harry remains on the boundary, refusing to penetrate its borders.

Callaghan manipulates his images of Toronto by constructing distinct areas that become important objects of knowledge. The recognition of the Ward's boundary, for instance, makes the city visible in greater detail by limiting Harry's sight in the first half of the text to particular neighbourhoods. Such a line thus functions as a guiding principle to steer Harry through the streets and distinguish between the threatening and nonthreatening areas of Toronto. Callaghan, through this structuring of urban space, frames a coherent picture of the city that contains the mysterious and threatening aspects of otherness within the confines of a specific district; the power of the line relegates the Ward to a peripheral category that cannot threaten Harry's domestic world unless he crosses over to the other side of the boundary.

The mysterious urban terrain of the Ward, however, is partially attractive to Harry: it is here that domesticity and green space are overpowered by the “high-pitched screams” and “many loud voices” that cry out, but the alienation, poverty, and crime spark Harry's curiosity and speak to his desire for change. If, as Kevin McNamara states in relation to American cities, change in the cityscape is a central trope of the “fluid urban social structure … [because it] allows the freedom to negotiate … [the] field of differences and reconstruct one's self through changing networks of affiliations,” Harry's attraction to the Ward becomes a symptom of his desire to “reconstruct” himself by entering into a new network of social interaction (3). Such an attraction becomes paramount as the narrative evolves, for Harry's introduction into the world of bootlegging corresponds with his movement over the line that divides the Ward from the city's domestic realms and green spaces. Harry and Jim, for example, understand that the market forces for illegal alcohol are driven by the Italian, Jewish, and Chinese restaurants of the Ward district; Harry, therefore, becomes immersed in the Ward, and the domestic life of the opening section fades into the background.

Callaghan's manipulation of Toronto according to these boundaries implies that Harry has overstepped a line between “us” and “them,” between domestic reality and criminal corruption. By crossing this line, Harry shatters his relationship with Vera, and the narrative shifts away from domestic themes into the realm of criminal action and adventure. For Callaghan, then, navigating the course between domestic and criminal spaces becomes a major strategy for manipulating urban images and undermining the potentially threatening mysteries of the city. The drawing of boundaries offers Callaghan a narrative solution to the ideological question of how to represent and control the social conflicts inherent to 1920s Toronto. The border between the Ward and the rest of the city divides Toronto's urban space into two separate but unequal camps and veils the antagonism between them so that the social nature of the division fades from view. Such a manoeuvre functions as an attempt to undermine the city's mystique and provide Harry with the agency to choose which side of the line he wishes to inhabit.13

Harry's movement across the line, however, reveals a tension in Callaghan's representation of the city, for a sense of the city as a nonthreatening, common experience depends upon a relegation of the “other half” into a confined area of the cityscape. By moving into the Ward district, Harry complicates the conceptual control inherent to the Toronto-Ward opposition by confounding the distinctions between the domestic and threatening areas. This narrative tension corresponds with the development of Harry's alienation and subsequent decline in social agency. As he becomes more involved in bootlegging in the Ward, that is, Harry loses the essential sense of self that he experienced with Vera:

restless and uncertain of himself he [Harry] wanted to run and feel himself lurching along, his feet thudding, going on, further away from all his thoughts that had bothered him. But instead, stopping on the opposite corner, he leaned against a post, suddenly tired and hungry and unimportant, so that his thoughts seemed trivial. He had lost all identity, nothing he did was of any consequence.


Here Callaghan, resounding with Dreiser's naturalist depictions of urban space, presents Harry's life in the Ward as erasing his individual identity based on a collapse of the “us” and “them” distinction. As such, Harry's induction into this area turns him into “an almost amoeba-like creature” or “a kind of automaton, unable to express himself, scarcely conscious of the passions and social forces that mold and impel him” (White 136). Social forces, in fact, become insurmountable once Harry enters the Ward, and his anti-social crimes isolate him from a sense of community or connections to those outside the Ward district. Harry's immersion in this anti-social space engenders another narrative tension in a slippage that moves from “Callaghan's ‘realist’ philosophy and technique” to a Dreiserian naturalistic portrayal of urbanism wherein Harry loses his social agency and is ruled by the external forces of the city (Mathews 83). While in the Ward, that is, Harry longs to return to his domestic life with Vera, but he finds he is unable to leave this space, and thus he tries to put Vera out of his mind. He cannot forget her, however, and even while “walking up the street his thoughts flowed rapidly, the old thoughts of Vera he had been trying to avoid” (115). Ironically the Ward's streets function to generate both a nostalgia for his old life as well as a reminder of the boundaries that separate Harry from Vera. Even though Harry desires to return to his domestic life, he is unable to leave the Ward, thus lacking agency when confronting the district's social forces.

If, as Harold A. Innis notes, violent action becomes a way of restructuring space, Harry Trotter's violent crimes may be read as responses to the naturalistic forces that he encounters in the Ward. Innis notes that physical force reconstitutes “the spatial concept and organisation of society in terms of space rather than time and continuity” (106). Such a restructuring in terms of spatial dimensions speaks to the separation of the Ward from the rest of the city in that this district is conceived of as a violent threat to the surrounding domestic spaces. Moreover, by turning to violent crimes, Harry attempts to reconstitute the space he inhabits and regain his social agency. When he murders Cosantino, for instance, Harry is conscious of his power and identity, for he becomes “aware of his own body” and “conscious of his own being” to the point of overcoming his feelings of alienation and loneliness (153). This murder, then, reconstitutes Harry's relationship to the Ward by engendering feelings of agency and self-confidence; according to the narrator, the murder caused Harry to “become confident and sure of himself … and [he] began to talk pompously … [and] authoritatively” (157). Violence, then, functions as a counterforce to the Ward's naturalist forces, a means of reshaping the space where he is confined. Paradoxically, though, Harry's act of murder alienates him further, and such violent acts become insufficient for controlling naturalistic forces—forces which are ultimately responsible for his death.


Differences in ethnicity, combined with Harry's acts of violence, become important determining factors in the spatial structuring of the text. From its opening pages, the narrator refers to the recent immigrants to the city as “wops,” “Chinks,” “niggers,” and “kikes” (5, 28, 183, 199). Such racist language constitutes markers based on ethnic and national identities to distinguish between the regions of the city. Harry's voice echoes that of the narrator; he consistently articulates his dislike of Toronto's immigrants by calling them “dirty old wops” and by stating that there are “too many Jews” in the city (5, 90). Callaghan's narrative deploys structures of difference by rhetorically constructing dividing lines of ethnicity that parallel the text's other borders and boundaries. These dividers function to dispossess the city's immigrants by foregrounding an allegiance of the assumed British-Canadian reader with the narrator and Harry. Categorization based on ethnic difference subsequently relegates the immigrant communities to a position of otherness, and attempts to conceptualize the cityscape by hierarchically dividing the different racial groups inhabiting Toronto. These structures, like the boundaries separating the Ward from the rest of the city, function as textual strategies to make 1920s Toronto knowable and to subdue the unsettling foreign forces.

Such divisions are furthered in the fight that develops between Harry and Tony in the lumber-yard. When Tony throws a plank at Harry, the anger of the two men erupts in violence—an eruption that results in Harry's dismissal. The narrator describes the fight as follows:

Tony took one step backward and Harry poked him three times in the jaw. … The big wop fell sideways and tried to crawl away from the kiln. … The wop shook his head, rolling until they banged against the kiln wheel-track. … Punching and gouging Harry worked loose. Get his head against the rail, bang it, bang it, the skunk! … Harry rubbed his heel, looking indifferently at the big Italian who moaned, trying to get up on his knees.

(33; emphasis added)

Here, the continual references to Tony as “the big wop” and “the big Italian” not only function to remind us of his ethnicity, but they also illustrate an anxiety that runs throughout the text. That is, by referring to Tony in terms of his generalized physicality, the narrative diffuses his individuality; Tony comes to stand in for the physically threatening Italian presence in 1920s Toronto. Such xenophobic ideologies imply that Tony's ethnicity is responsible for the altercation; only a “big dirty wop,” the narrator states, could attack Harry in this way (33). Furthermore, Strange Fugitive constructs the Italian characters as threatening to the domestic spaces inhabited by “Anglo-Saxon” Torontonians; for instance, it is this fight (instigated by Tony) that results in Harry's dismissal and, in turn, ruptures his domestic life with Vera.

Callaghan also presents Jewish Torontonians as social threats when another fight erupts at a dance hall. Here, Harry becomes upset because there are “too many Jews” at the club, and he lashes out in violence on the dance floor (90):

The elegant young man with trimmed eyebrows passed gracefully, a nice Jewish boy. … [Then] the lipsyled young man, holding the smile as long as possible, … deliberately bumped him again. … Suddenly hating, he swung his open palm and caught the young Jew across the mouth. … A little Jew with oiled hair dived at his legs. … The slim boy with the rouged cheeks looked at Harry, hesitating. … A big Jew with wide heavy shoulders jumped on Harry's back, and feeling his knees sagging, Harry dropped quickly to his knees.


Harry, as in his fight with Tony, eventually overpowers those who assault him on the dance floor. Here though, the narrative constructs the Jewish men as effeminate; the narrator describes them as “slim,” “graceful” and “lipsyled” with “oiled hair” and “rouged cheeks.” Such effeminate characteristics further the textual strategies that undermine the threatening social position of ethnic otherness. The feminization works to disempower the Jewish characters and becomes a structure of difference that distinguishes between the boundaries of “us” and “them”—boundaries that are central to the spatial ordering of the novel. By moving across the line into the Ward district, however, Harry complicates the ethnic patterns, and forces another ambiguous representation of Toronto's topography; because the Ward of the 1920s was the principal home of Jewish and Italian immigrants, Harry's symbolic entrance into this neighbourhood places him in intimate contact with the very ethnic groups that inspire his anxieties. Although this spatial shift does not change Harry's racist assumptions, the displacement does result in relationships with Jewish and Italian characters such as Angelo, Angelina, Cosantino, Weinreb, and Asche. While relationships partially collapse the boundaries of ethnicity that the text works to establish, the narrative moves to resolve this potential conflict by defining the ruptured boundaries as dangerous and hazardous. The text's conclusion, for instance, results in the murder of Harry by Weinreb and Asche, suggesting that only corruption, violence, and murder unfold when a character enters a forbidden area of the city.

As well as borrowing strategies of ethnic taxonomy from his American counterparts, Callaghan adopts American gang warfare for the action of the text—action that comes out of the tradition of Al Capone and Bonnie and Clyde. Such an adoption includes an acceptance of what Robin Mathews refers to as “idealised independence” and a “traditionless immediacy” (84). However, his debt to American influences is not simply “traditionless.” Callaghan's text, in fact, exploits an intermediary space between the traditional nineteenth-century conception of “Toronto the good” (through the domestic spaces of the city) and the twentieth-century American impression of the modern city as a transgressive terrain. The inevitably ambiguous depictions of Toronto that arise out of this coupling call attention to the representational strategies that modernist writers used to construct visions of the modern city and bring it under conceptual control.


  1. Callaghan's later novels are also concerned with images of urban Canadian space: A Broken Journey, They Shall Inherit the Earth, and Such is My Beloved all explore life in Toronto.

  2. For more on the texts that established the city as a space of corruption see Trachtenberg.

  3. For more on Jewish and Italian immigration during the 1920s see Stephen A. Speisman's The Jews of Toronto: A History to 1937 and John E. Zucchi's Italians in Toronto: Development of a National Identity, 1875-1935. It is interesting to note that Jews and Italians were the largest “non-Anglo-Saxon” groups in Toronto of the 1920s; perhaps this accounts for their conspicuous presence in Strange Fugitive.

  4. While “head taxes” had been introduced as early as 1900, the most extreme anti-immigration legislation was introduced in March, 1923 when the federal government placed a ban on Chinese immigration (White 59).

  5. Late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century representations of American urban space often adopted the form of the travel narrative whereby a white middle-class character would journey to the poor areas of the city and report his experiences for a middle-class readership. Horatio Alger's Ragged Dick, Jacob Riis's How the Other Half Lives, Henry James's The American Scene, and Stephen Crane's “Bowery Tales” illustrate this form of urban representation.

  6. Trachtenberg makes an important distinction between “the city” and the “great city” based on the “sheer intensity of growth, in population, in territory, [and] in material shape” of the early twentieth-century metropolis (104).

  7. The discourses establishing the city as a lurid space can be traced back to John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress and the biblical Sodom and Gomorrah.

  8. Fitzgerald's depiction of 1920s New York employs a similar form of spatial categorization whereby certain neighbourhoods are separated from others by physical and psychological boundaries; the privileged Long Island suburb of West Egg, for example, is estranged from the urban threats of New York by the “desolate area of land” that the narrator calls “a valley of ashes” (27).

  9. Olmsted even goes so far as to claim that the tranquillity provided by city parks has the power to weaken the negative impulses responsible for riots, crime, and alcohol abuse. Citing Jeremy Bentham, Olmsted claims that the “open landscape” of a city park could “weaken the dangerous inclinations” of certain urban dwellers (111).

  10. Green space, in fact, was an important attribute of 1920s Toronto. Because Toronto was bordered by the lake and ravines, Torontonians could easily escape from the urban scenery; at this time, for instance, Don Mills Road led through farmland (Woodcock 22).

  11. For more on crime in Toronto's parks during the 1920s see Maynard.

  12. The 1920s Ward district was bordered by Yonge, Queen, University, and College streets (Speisman, “St. John's” 107).

  13. It is important to note that Harry's ability to transgress the borders of the Ward are central to his privileged position as a middle-class “Anglo-Saxon” character; many of the Italian and Jewish immigrants, because of poor economic conditions, were unable to move beyond these same boundaries.

Works Cited

Callaghan, Morley. Strange Fugitive. 1928. Toronto: Macmillan, 1973.

———. That Summer in Paris: Memories of Tangled Friendships with Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Some Others. Toronto: Macmillan, 1963.

Clark, C. S. Of Toronto the Good: A Social Study. 1898. Toronto: Coles Canadiana Collection, 1970.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. 1925. New York: Scribners, 1995.

Innis, Harold A. “The Problem of Space.” The Bias of Communication. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1951. 105-07.

Kaplan, Amy. The Social Construction of American Realism. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1988.

Marcus, Steven. “Reading the Illegible: Some Modern Representations of Urban Experience.” Visions of the Modern City: Essays in History, Art, and Literature. Ed. William Sharpe and Leonard Wallock. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1987. 232-56.

Mathews, Robin. “Morley Callaghan and the New Colonialism: The Supreme Individual in Traditionless Society.” Studies in Canadian Literature 3.1 (1978): 78-92.

Maynard, Steven. “Through a Hole in the Lavatory Wall: Homosexual Subcultures, Police Surveillance, and the Dialectics of Discovery, Toronto, 1890-1930.” Gender and History in Canada. Ed. Joy Parr and Mark Rosenfeld. Toronto: Copp Clark, 1996. 165-84.

McNamara, Kevin R. Urban Verbs: Arts and Discourses of American Cities. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1996.

Olmsted, F. L., Jr., and Theodora Kimball, Ed. Frederick Law Olmsted: Landscape Architect 1822-1903: Central Park. New York: Putnam, 1928.

———. “St. John's Shtetl: The Ward in 1911.” Gathering Place: Peoples and Neighbourhoods of Toronto, 1834-1945. Ed. Robert F. Harney. Toronto: Multicultural History Society of Ontario, 1985. 107-19.

Speisman, Stephen A. The Jews of Toronto: A History to 1837. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1979.

Strong, Josiah. Our Country: Its Possible Future and Its Present Crisis. New York: American Home Missionary Society, 1885.

Thomson, James. The City of Dreadful Night. London: Dobell, 1919.

Trachtenberg, Alan. The Incorporation of America: Culture and Society in the Gilded Age. New York: Hill & Wang, 1982.

White, Randall. Too Good to be True: Toronto in the 1920s. Toronto: Dundurn, 1993.

Wirth, Louis. “Urbanism as a Way of Life.” American Urban History: An Interpretive Reader with Commentaries. Ed. Alexander Callow. New York: Oxford UP, 1969. 482-97.

Woodcock, George. “Callaghan's Toronto: The Persona of a City.” Journal of Canadian Studies 7-2 (1972): 21-24.

Zucchi, John E. Italians in Toronto: Development of a National Identity, 1875-1935. Montreal: McGill-Queen's UP, 1988.

Barbara Pell (essay date 1998)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

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 “secret loneliness” of modern life, “the dead of night in a man's heart,” he used the vision and form of his art, for “in the glory of form is a sense of eternity” (“excerpt” 20-21). Callaghan presented humanity's spiritual struggles in secular analogies and the eternal solution, not in abstract dogma, but in drama with all the ambiguities and paradoxical mysteries of human life.

Callaghan's religious vision arose naturally out of his Roman Catholic background, but it was more instinctive than intellectual and more empirical than dogmatic. It was the vision of a world redeemed; at a historical point in time the sacred became incarnate in the secular and this Incarnation redeemed the temporal and gave it ultimate worth. It was this “view of life” that distinguished Callaghan as a “religious novelist.” However, he denied that he wrote “thesis books,” or that he deliberately sat down “to write religious books.” And, while not quite “hopelessly corrupt theologically,” he was not a consciously orthodox Roman Catholic (Weaver 23-25). In fact, like Graham Greene and François Mauriac, he was a “Catholic who was a novelist, not a Catholic novelist” (Stratford 289). For he reserved the right of unorthodoxy for all “real writers”:

A real writer, that very rare thing—a man who looks at the world out of his own eyes and judges it according to the best part of himself, whatever truth he has in him; his loyalty is all to this humanity in himself. This loyalty can't be a deliberate thing, a self-conscious thing. It is simply his way of seeing things … ; all great writers by their very nature must be heretical.

(“Solzhenitsyn” 72)

Callaghan did not, however, share Greene and Mauriac's particular heresies, what he called their Jansenist and Albigensian tendencies (Weaver 25-26). In That Summer in Paris he recalls how, as a young writer searching for a Christian aesthetic, he strongly rejected the dualistic viewpoint which he saw “running through modern letters and thought that man was alien in this universe” (TSP [That Summer in Paris] 148):

My own problem was to relate a Christian enlightenment to some timeless process of becoming. A disgust with the flesh born of an alleged awareness of an approaching doomsday bored me, as did the flash of light that gave a man the arrogant assurance that he was the elect of God.

(TSP 94-95)

Callaghan's own temperament, in contrast to this dualistic view, predisposed him to a “Mediterranean Catholic view of life” (Weaver 25). His natural inclinations were to live out his faith in the world:

[I]t seemed to me it would be most agreeable to God if we tried to realize all our possibilities here on earth, and hope we would always be so interested, so willing to lose ourselves in the fullness of living, and so hopeful that we would never ask why we were on this earth.

(TSP 111)

This religious attitude manifested itself in an artistic concern for and celebration of the temporal world in opposition to the fashionable modern authors who rejected “this world and the stuff of daily life” (TSP 229-30):

Wandering around Paris I would find myself thinking of the way Matisse looked at the world around him and find myself growing enchanted. A pumpkin, a fence, a girl, a pineapple on a tablecloth—the thing seen freshly in a pattern that was a gay celebration of things as they were. Why couldn't all people have the eyes and the heart that would give them this happy acceptance of reality? The word made flesh. The terrible vanity of the artist who wanted the word without the flesh.

(TSP 148)

Callaghan's rejection of this terrible gnostic vanity was based on the doctrine of the Incarnation, “the word made flesh,” and it was this faith that gave rise to the distinctive marriage—and tension—of religious themes and realistic techniques in his fiction.

In That Summer in Paris Callaghan speaks of the “new dignity and spiritual adventure” that Christian artists were finding in the neo-Thomist philosophies of Jacques Maritain (TSP 94). We know that Callaghan was already interested in Maritain's Art and Scholasticism in 1929 (TSP 103), and in the winter of 1933 they became friends when the Catholic philosopher was teaching at the Institute for Medieval Studies at St. Michael's College (Callaghan's alma mater). This friendship lasted for many years, but 1933 marked an important turning point in Callaghan's writing.

It is impossible to attribute the religious themes in Callaghan's novels directly to Maritain's theology. Callaghan was proud of his long friendship with “the great Jacques Maritain,” of Maritain's praise for Such Is My Beloved, and of his appreciation of The Loved and the Lost as “a great religious book.” But Callaghan denied a direct adoption of Maritain's doctrines: “He and I had in common a belief in the essential dignity of the individual. That was the basis of our communion, and he knew it. Doctrinal matters were way outside” (Fetherling 14, 16). The novelist, while interested in metaphysics (TSP 103), seems to have assimilated ideas from his discussions with Maritain (J. O'Connor 147), rather than consciously to have turned philosophy into fiction.

In this practice, of course, he was in accord with Maritain's own precepts. Christian art is “the art of humanity redeemed” (Maritain, Art 68), but:

[A]ny philosophical thesis imposed on a work of art tends to corrupt its transcendence. The presence of a particular idea in a work must be entirely natural, not consciously forced. For example, it would be impossible to create an expressly Christian work of art. For Maritain, Christian art can only result when a profoundly and sincerely Christian person creates a beautiful work in which he expresses himself. It is the work of an artist possessed by divine love.

(Dunaway 106)

Nevertheless, in this theory of art, as in many other vital areas, there are striking parallels between Maritain's thought and Callaghan's themes, and the philosophy can often illuminate the fiction. Integral Humanism is Maritain's most important analysis of the application of religious principles to the secular realm, and it establishes the framework for Thomist responses to all particular temporal issues including those in The Rights of Man and Natural Law. Integral Humanism is the text of six lectures delivered in Santander in August 1934—the same year as Such Is My Beloved was published and dedicated to the philosopher: “to those times with M. in the winter of 1933.”

In Integral Humanism Maritain rejects inhuman totalitarian systems for a Christian humanism that “tends essentially to render man more truly human. … [I]t at once demands that man develop the virtualities contained within him, his creative forces and the life of reason, and work to make the forces of the physical world instruments of his freedom” (2). He characterizes pure anthropocentric humanism as a “metaphysic of freedom without grace” and Calvinist-Jansenist Christianity as a “theology of grace without freedom” (20). His solution is “that the creature be truly respected in its connection with God and because receiving everything from Him; humanism, but theocentric humanism, rooted where man has his roots, integral humanism, humanism of the Incarnation” (72).

Following this, man must achieve an “evangelical consciousness-of-self” (Integral 76): the knowledge of human sin and divine mercy, of human freedom and spiritual grace. This new man will establish the new Christendom, “a veritable socio-temporal realization of the Gospel,” since “… it is in vain that one affirms the dignity and vocation of the human person if one does not work to transform conditions which oppress him, and to bring it about that he can eat his bread with dignity” (Integral 94). And the new Christendom demands “a new style of sanctity, which one can characterize above all as the sanctity and sanctification of secular life” (Integral 123). Although the temporal order is “a divided and ambiguous domain,” the Gospel tells us that “the world is saved in hope, and the blood of Christ, the vivifying principle of the redemption, acts already within it,” and there is no more segregation of the sacred and the secular. The Christian, therefore, must work for “a realization of the Gospel exigencies and of Christian practical wisdom in the socio-temporal order—a realization which is itself thwarted, in fact, and more or less marked and deformed by sin” (Integral 126). This new Christendom, which is communal, personalist, and peregrinal (Integral 133-36), will be a society “brought about on earth by the passing of something divine, namely, love, into human means and into human work itself” (Integral 203). This means that in art and in life “the temporal wants to be vivified by the spiritual”:

In reality, the justice of the gospel and the life of Christ within us want the whole of us, they want to take possession of everything, to impregnate all that which we are and all that which we do, in the secular as well as in the sacred. Action is an epiphany of being.

(Integral 293)

From the beginning Callaghan's works were marked by this same strong humanistic compassion for the individual in his socio-historic condition and a moral concern for his freedom and dignity. However, in his first three novels he seems to have searched vainly for a theology that would vivify the secular with a glimpse of the sacred. In a conflict of current naturalistic theories with his own religious perspectives, his heroes struggle in vain to escape their environments, their pasts, and their own sins to find meaning, hope, freedom, and love—the intimations of grace in nature.

Influenced by the theories of Maritain—popular among liberal Catholic intellectuals at that time—Callaghan in the mid-1930s found a focus for his art in the doctrines of Christian humanism. The three novels from the middle of this decade are his most overtly religious, and many critics would say his best. They present a world struggling with sin but eternally redeemed, in which the dignity of humanity is rooted in the Incarnation. Human beings have free will to sin but also the responsibility to seek God's grace and forgiveness. And secular saints attempt to realize divine love in human relationships, thus bringing the Gospel into the socio-temporal realm. However, Callaghan was neither a philosopher nor a dogmatic theologian. He was a realistic novelist with an empirical awareness of the tension between the sacred and the secular in life and the very ambiguous ways in which grace operates in nature. Therefore, even in these three biblical parables there are few clear-cut victories for the Gospel or happy solutions for the characters.

In Callaghan's later novels his view of the existential struggle between nature and grace becomes increasingly complex, and there is a greater concentration on the secular realm as the only possible forum for any realization of the sacred. He expressed his personal feelings in an interview in 1971:

Another interesting question is, how is anybody redeemed? … At the end of your life, the whole question should be, How did you manage to get along with people? If you say, Well, I lived my life in the desert, loving God, to my temperament that doesn't mean anything. Okay, kid, you dropped out, you're a saint in the desert, a hermit. Great, you like that kind of thing, but you know nothing about human beings. From my view you know nothing about love. And if you know nothing about human love, … you can't know anything about divine love. I hate the person who loves the idea.

(D. Cameron, “Callaghan” 23)

This sentiment may be an inevitable development of Christian humanism when the emphasis shifts to human involvement away from a clear balance with Christian theology. This faith has resulted in Callaghan's fictional commitment to the realities of life and to the compassion for humanity that illuminate his books. But it has also been responsible for his central conceptual weakness. Desmond Pacey pointed this out many years ago and later novels have only confirmed it:

Callaghan, though himself a Catholic, is a proponent of a liberal and humanitarian Christianity. The defect of that type of Christianity, and of much of Callaghan's work, is that it often loses sight of the reality of evil. One feels the lack, in Callaghan's novels and stories, of any definite standards by which his characters are to be judged. He succeeds admirably in revealing the shoddiness of most of the prevailing standards, but when it is a matter of suggesting alternatives he can offer only vague words like simplicity, tenderness and compassion. The result is that all of Callaghan's work has a certain moral flabbiness. … Of the novel, however, we demand a firm philosophy, a clearly articulated sense of values, and instead of that Callaghan invites us merely to a feast of pity.

(Pacey, Creative 211)

Having considered the development of Callaghan's theological themes, we can now see the effect that they have had on his fictional techniques. In That Summer in Paris Callaghan outlines his artistic creed of realism, according to the fashion of the twenties and the influences of Sherwood Anderson and Ernest Hemingway:

It was this: strip the language, and make the style, the method, all the psychological ramifications, the ambience of the relationships, all the one thing, so the reader couldn't make separations. Cezanne's apples. The appleness of apples. Yet just apples.

(TSP 148)

However, Callaghan also viewed this aesthetic as a moral, religious commitment, not to orthodoxy (“fat comfortable inert people who agreed to pretend, agreed to accept the general fraud, the escape into metaphor”) but to honesty (“Tell the truth cleanly”) (TSP 20). The real artist must portray the “concrete reality” of life in words “as transparent as glass” (TSP 21) in a rejection of modern dualistic heresies (“the terrible vanity of the artist who wanted the word without the flesh” [TSP 148]). Never a post-modern, Callaghan throughout his career believed in the mimetic function of art and the transparency of language.

Moreover, despite his denunciation of metaphor, Callaghan's logocentric fictional form (“the word made flesh” [TSP 148]) implies a metaphysics of presence behind his simple realistic surfaces. “I was loyal to my search for the sacramental in the lives of people,” he said in 1983, “to find the extraordinary in the ordinary that used to be considered the great and only aim of art” (“Interview” 17). In realizing this aim, however, he was never entirely successful. Whether the critics call them “parables” (Woodcock, “Eurydice”) or “two worlds” (McPherson), his novels attempt to create a temporal universe with the transparent fidelity of realistic techniques and the inner illumination of religious themes. He is combining Chekhovian objectivity with Christian humanism when he says: “The great fiction-writer, then, must not only have a view of man as he is, but of man as he ought to be” (“Novelist” 32). Callaghan may have underestimated, however, the difficulties of integrating faith and fiction. F. W. Watt calls realism and religion “two opposite extremes” that must be married with great tact, and points out Callaghan's frequent lapses:

Callaghan is the kind of novelist who tries to reach his goal by simultaneously working from two opposite extremes. Being a realist, he enjoys making acute observations and providing accurate notations of physical appearances, turns of conversation and thought, and behaviour. Being a religious writer, he is inspired by glimpses of patterns or significant forms which promise to make all nature meaningful. Ideally these two processes meet: accurate notation coincides with meaning, and there is an explosion of light, a point of illumination. Where they do not meet, we get the wayward piling up of naturalistic detail empty of significance, or—and this is more often Callaghan's weakness—distortions or false notes in the realistic texture, stilted, factitious, unconvincing effects of dialogue or gesture.

(Watt, “Letters 1961” 455)

As a Catholic writer with a sacramental view of nature redeemed and imbued with grace, Callaghan would not have agreed that reality and religion are antithetical. Nevertheless, Watt has articulated the problem for the religious writer of illuminating the holy in the daily. Callaghan's solution was different from MacLennan's and produced markedly different strengths and weaknesses in his fiction.

While, as I have suggested, MacLennan seems to have begun his novels with a thesis, Callaghan began his with a (male) character. He then allowed the character to determine the action; this is the decision for a “character-centred” novel that (as we saw in the Introduction) many of the best religious writers have taken in order to avoid the apparent manipulation of the plot by a religious thesis (MacLennan's chief weakness). Therefore, Callaghan believed his novels “end in terms of the people themselves rather than in terms of the pattern for that kind of material” (D. Cameron, “Callaghan” 25).

Callaghan also, like Greene and Mauriac, had a customary attitude of deep compassion for his characters and, as he said, an almost “anarchistic” sense of the “unyielding” integrity and autonomy of the individual (D. Cameron, “Callaghan” 29-30). No doubt these values were a product of his Christian “personalism” as was his attitude of “Christ-like identification” (Stratford 220) with sinful humanity and his characterization which increasingly stressed human free will and potential, and the individual's eternal worth and vocation in the light of the Incarnation (Maritain, Integral 133-36). For Callaghan, as for Greene, “Le pécheur est au coeur même de chrétienté. … Nul n'est aussi compétent que le pécheur en matière de chrétienté. Nul, si ce n'est le saint” (Heart, epigraph). In Callaghan's books the sinner and the saint are frequently confused. Yet, as we have seen, he did not share Greene's Jansenist preoccupation with the sins of the flesh (TSP 94-95). Much more than MacLennan, Callaghan portrays the seedy case-histories of life for which there are few conventionally happy endings. But his view, while realistic, is neither pathetic nor pessimistic; the muted spiritual optimism in his novels rests on his Christian humanism and his “Mediterranean Catholic” view of the grace operating, however ambiguously, in nature.

Callaghan's narrative point of view is limited or selective omniscience (now known as “free indirect discourse” [New 164]), a voice particularly consistent with his compassionate identification with his characters. He most often focuses on one narrative centre, usually the protagonist, confining himself to the language rhythms and intellectual awareness of the character, moving between internal and external vantage points as necessary. In this way he attempts to delve into the souls of his characters and dramatize their spiritual struggles with compassionate empathy, without surrendering his own vision of the unity and purpose of life.

This brings us again, however, though by a different route, to Callaghan's chief weakness. And, as we saw in the Introduction, it is an occupational hazard for religious writers, such as Greene and Mauriac, who employ techniques similar to Callaghan's. His compassionate attitude, his undiscriminating generosity of characterization, his deep involvement in the limit-situations of his characters, and the structural freedom he allows them without the tyranny of plot or theme—all these result in the lack of a definite vision or judgement conveyed to his readers, and therefore the impression of “moral flabbiness” (Pacey, Creative 211). This is the opposite of the principle defect in MacLennan's works. However, unlike MacLennan, Callaghan was not an academic intellectual, a philosopher or essayist. He was a popular columnist and radio-television personality. After dramatizing the existential questions of life so faithfully, he either did not wish, or did not know how, to resolve them. In positive terms, he refused to impose absolute metaphysical solutions on the ambiguities of life. In negative terms, the ambiguities become simply confusions.

As D. J. Dooley points out, there is a modern critical debate about the necessity for moral clarity in the novel. He cites the quarrel between Wayne Booth “who maintains that the novelist must provide a judgement upon his materials and accuses many moderns of ethical unreliability for not doing so” and Alan Friedman, for whom “leaving things in a state of irresolvable suspension may be the most honest thing for a novelist to do.” I would agree with Dooley that both positions have validity in the broad range of modern literature: “It may be proper for a novelist to conclude upon a note of moral ambiguity, but on the other hand … sometimes his doing so may be an evasion of his responsibility” (Dooley, Moral x-xi). In his interpretation of Callaghan, Gary Boire would apparently take Friedman's position. He praises Callaghan's fiction as a “heuristic device” used “to illustrate a moral puzzle which is left deliberately for the reader to solve” (Boire 99).

However, while never as didactic as MacLennan, and increasingly ambiguous in his moral framework and unorthodox in his theological content, Callaghan throughout his career constructed novels that appeal to logocentric concepts of “truth,” “reality,” and “the law of love.” In fact, the author usually invokes both rhetorical and narrative closure at the end of his novels. These obviously moralistic and religious novels arouse readerly expectations of moral and religious clarity which Callaghan fails to satisfy. I argue that the essential pattern in the development of Callaghan's novels is the dilemma of dramatizing Christian humanism—the divine in the human, the sacred in the secular. His most successful novels are powerful syntheses of faith and fiction, but ultimately the increasing difficulties of uniting the Word and the flesh create moral puzzles that are less heuristic than simply puzzling.

At the time they appeared in Canada, Callaghan's first three novels were distinctive and courageous experiments in urban realism. He seems to have been influenced by the contemporary literary theories of naturalism which offered a sympathetic explanation for the sufferings of humanity with which he compassionately identified. At the same time he does not deny the religious perspective that people have free will and responsibility for both their sin and their salvation. This dual vision leads to an unresolved tension in these novels between nature and grace, reflected in contradictions of both themes and techniques.

List of Abbreviations

Books by Hugh MacLennan

BR Barometer Rising

CC Cross-Country

EM Each Man's Son

OS The Other Side of Hugh MacLennan

P The Precipice

RS Return of the Sphinx

SR Scotchman's Return and Other Essays

TT Thirty and Three

TS Two Solitudes

VT Voices in Time

WE The Watch That Ends the Night

Books by Morley Callaghan

BJ A Broken Journey

CS Close to the Sun Again

FP A Fine and Private Place

NO It's Never Over

LL The Loved and the Lost

MCC The Many Colored Coat

MJ More Joy in Heaven

OL Our Lady of the Snows

PR A Passion in Rome

SF Strange Fugitive

SB Such Is My Beloved

TSP That Summer in Paris

TSE They Shall Inherit the Earth

TJ A Time for Judas

WO A Wild Old Man on the Road

Gary Boire (essay date 1999)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

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 these figures function not simply as an image of authority or as an emblem of socially sanctioned force. Rather, law (its imagery, vocabulary, rituals, and institutions) functions in Callaghan as a type of social “genre,” one made up of multivalent foundational “languages,” which, in turn, are sedimented throughout his oeuvre. These legal languages come to represent a variety of delimitations, for in Callaghan the law is not only always and already an ass, but usually a protean site of authoritarian desire.

By continually invoking this site in a variety of his short stories Callaghan uses the story genre to construct a meticulous, ongoing counter-discourse, a deliberate demystification of authority's chameleon-like forms and strategies. As literary “case histories,” the stories come to be, not simply poignant vignettes or tales, but powerful—anarchic—interrogations of both inherited “genres” and imposed “languages.” To adapt a comment made in a different context by W. H. New, Callaghan's “open, broken forms of the short story … constitute a generic opportunity for authentic speech” (x).

That Callaghan was aware of himself as an anticolonial writer is evident from a number of sources. Most obvious, of course, is the highly stylized self-portrait in That Summer in Paris (1963), where he continually declares his literary independence from everything and everyone with the exception of Sherwood Anderson. This kind of aggressive constructed independence, a public persona of anarchic freedom, gains an interesting twist when we consider three additional statements made, respectively, in 1928, 1938, and 1964. Each corroborates Callaghan's stated need to achieve artistic independence; but each also discloses his evident sympathy with writing that self-consciously breaks away from colonial traditions.

The first is from Callaghan's 1928 letter to Raymond Knister on the publication of the latter's Canadian Short Stories (1928). The anthology enraged Callaghan because, along with his own story “Last Spring They Came Over” (which I will discuss later), it also included works by Scott, Roberts, and Parker. In a fit of pique, Callaghan rebuked Knister for his colonialist conservatism:

Today I got a copy of the Canadian stories. I read the Introduction and then I read D. C. Scott's story in the book. What is the matter with you? Though it will come as a relief to many schoolmarms throughout the country to learn that the venerable Duncan is a great writer, since they have always suspected it, you know better. Then why do you do it? Are you thinking of retiring definitely? You had a chance to point the way in that introduction, and you merely arrived at the old values that have been accepted here for the past fifty years; id est, Duncan C. Scott, G. D. Roberts and Gilbert Parker are great prose writers.

(Letter to Raymond Knister, August 15, 1928)

Callaghan's passionate interest in breaking away from what he saw as outworn colonial styles—the sketch, folktale, humorous anecdote, exemplum, or animal fable—reappears ten years later in an obscure Saturday Night review (interestingly entitled “Honesty of Purpose”). Commenting on C. R. Allen's Tales of New Zealanders, Callaghan remarked,

from a Canadian point of view this collection of New Zealand stories has a special interest … are [New Zealanders] still writing colonial literature, or have they got something of their own? The fine thing to be said about most of these stories is that the authors of them are obviously seeing the people against the background of their own country. But once that has been said the other questions arise: what are they doing with the language? Does there seem to be any kind of native sensibility of imagination?

(“Honesty” 6)

Intriguingly, Callaghan would continue to apply these very questions to himself, offering along the way a number of tentative answers.

By 1964, for example, he was able to offer the following, sepia-tinted retrospective, one that champions his own anticolonial achievements:

I had become aware that the language in which I wanted to write, a North American language I lived by, had rhythms and nuances and twists and turns quite alien to English speech. When I showed some of my first stories to academic men highly trained in English literature, I could see them turning up their noses. “A failure of language,” one said to me; and feeling encouraged I said, “No, a failure on your part to understand the language.”

(“Ocean” 17)

It is a tribute to Callaghan's sensitivity and self-awareness that his staunch defence of a “North American” standard of taste shares the profound insights of theorists like Frank Davey and W. H. New—both of whom have argued critically along the same lines.

Davey, for example, rightly argues that “the development of the Canadian short story … occurred almost entirely outside [the] twentieth-century Anglo-American theory of the unified and autotelic story”; he continues that any examination of the Canadian short story necessarily “requires a much more pluralistic and eclectic view of the story and a more ‘generous’ sense of its generic language” (142-143). W. H. New takes a postcolonial approach to the genre and argues similarly that,

one should not expect American or English rhetorical patterns to be universal ones … to presume that Canadian or Australian or New Zealand patterns would not be different is to fail to conceive of the possibility of working alternatives, alternatives of working cultural pattern and of functionally different narrative modes to those in currency in, say, England or America.


Pace Jacques Derrida and “the law of genre,” Callaghan, by 1964, had quite joyfully mixed genres, bastardized forms, and defiled the supposed purity of inherited literary shapes. On one hand, the clipped, pared-down journalistic prose, combined with urban landscapes and impoverished “little people,” seemed to subvert the imposed laws of “proper” literary language and thereby place Callaghan firmly within the canon of modernist realism. Yet his well-known transgressive hybridizations of tale, vignette, romance, journalistic profile, Christian parable, and realistic sketch deliberately questioned even the possibility of a “law of genre,” and formally re-enacted his thematic concerns with the breakage of law. As Davey reluctantly admits, “it is possible to find in Callaghan's stories a mixture of codes” (145). And it was precisely this mixture, this “illegality” of multiple forms that Callaghan would re-create analogically within the thematics and language of his many stories.

In this same essay in 1964, moreover, Callaghan expresses his sympathy for the devil as it were, for the kind of writing that aligns itself not only with generic oddity, but (interestingly enough for my purposes) criminal transgression, outlawed passion, and the breakage of both literary form and social law. In addition to Sterne's Tristram Shandy and Bronte's Wuthering Heights, Callaghan praises both a famous novelistic magistrate (Henry Fielding) as well as a famous novelistic outlaw (Daniel Defoe, particularly his Moll Flanders). This intriguing blend of sympathies—for the anticolonial reappropriation of language and form, and for the transgressive resistance toward authoritarian law—flourishes in Callaghan's own legal and literary experiences of 1925-28.

That Callaghan had an ambivalent relationship with the law is evident from both his earliest letters to Hemingway and his later memoirs and interviews. Writing to Hemingway on October 11, 1925, Callaghan quipped, “I'm now a law student. Have a lot of time and could do a good deal of writing.” Similarly, the references in That Summer in Paris stress his lackadaisical approach to legal studies: “I used to go to morning law classes and often doze in my chair. … If Joe Sedgewick [with whom Callaghan articled] wanted a title searched I did it for him. Otherwise, with him out on business, I would sit in his office at my typewriter working on a short novel” (47). In the end, Callaghan's decision to complete his degree owed more to filial duty than to any real commitment to a legal career. (Callaghan seems, in fact, to have received more satisfaction at the Toronto Star—where he worked the crime desk, the police reports, and the courts!)

Notwithstanding this kind of comic portrayal, Callaghan's experiences at Osgoode left their mark in more than pragmatic ways. In one sense Osgoode simply consolidated what had been, and what would remain, one of Callaghan's most fertile and challenging areas of literary exploration: throughout his career Callaghan would conduct a lifelong literary and moral struggle with the concepts of natural justice, transgression, and legality. Law and its mechanisms; the themes of retribution, discipline, penitence, and punishment; an implacable unjust justice system—all of these would appear throughout his entire oeuvre.

At the simplest level, cops and robbers, lawyers and pimps, murderers and judges, prostitutes and thieves form something of a retinue or relentless metaphor in Callaghan—a thematic repertoire that he often deploys to represent repression, social violence, puritanical oppression, censorship or whatever. Consider, for example, the gangster mayhem of Strange Fugitive (1928); the prisons of It's Never Over (1930) and More Joy in Heaven (1937); the trial scenes of Such Is My Beloved (1934) and The Many Colored Coat (1960), not to mention the murders of They Shall Inherit the Earth (1935), The Loved and the Lost (1951), A Fine and Private Place (1975), and Close to the Sun Again (1977); as well as the all-pervasive illegality of The Enchanted Pimp (1978), A Time for Judas (1983), Our Lady of the Snows (1985) and A Wild Old Man on the Road (1988). Emblems of law and authority, in other words, permeate Callaghan's fiction from his earliest known published article onward. (Even “A Windy Corner at Yonge-Albert,” Callaghan's first publication written in 1921, has a policeman who breaks up a public political debate.) In the simplest of senses, this retinue lends itself to Callaghan's interests in justice and transgression, to his desire to explore such themes as crime and punishment.

But the law forms more than just an imagistic resource for Callaghan's thematic polemics. Law forms part of a political unconscious in Callaghan, a sedimented archeology or “genre” of thought always associated ultimately with some corrupt component of authoritarian desire. At this point it is helpful to recall a comment made in Fredric Jameson's masterful work, The Political Unconscious, where he argues that,

In its emergent strong form a genre is essentially a socio-symbolic message, or, in other terms, that form is immanently and intrinsically an ideology in its own right. When such forms are reappropriated and refashioned in quite different social and cultural contexts, this message persists and must be functionally reckoned into the new form … the ideology of the form itself, thus sedimented, persists into the latter, more complex structure, as a generic message which coexists—either as a contradiction or, on the other hand, as a mediatory or harmonizing mechanism—with elements from later stages.


Jameson's complex remark here cuts (at least) two ways. In one sense we can apply it to ourselves reading Callaghan—we read his texts through the sedimented layers of the interpretive industry surrounding his canonized status: that is, Callaghan the humanist, the Christian personalist, the individualist, the anarchist, and so on. But on the other (more interesting) hand, Jameson's remark helps us to detect a peculiar kind of “sedimentation” at work in Callaghan's writing when it comes to the sedimented presence of law. For the very prevalence of legal imagery suggests that when Callaghan “reads” the world (and therefore its language) in his writing, he simultaneously “reads” and interrogates their organization by means of power relations, by means of legal formulae. If every one of Callaghan's texts constitutes a reading of the social text that identifies its various sedimented layers of control, then every one of these readings performs a quiet but resistant act of demystification. Particularly as each of these short stories under examination leads to a readerly epiphany: a moment of sudden multivalent illumination.

Now if law, as Pierre Bourdieu argues, is more than just socially sanctioned force, what we have in Callaghan's legal fictions is a much more complex issue than mere thematics. For Bourdieu, as for Callaghan, law is first and foremost a genre constituted by a grammar of control, a type of language that “consecrates the established order by consecrating the vision of that order which is held by the State” (838). In an eerie echo of Callaghan's own sentiments in A Fine and Private Place (where Eugene Shore complains that most people “register” their words with the police), Bourdieu argues that “the law is the quintessential form of ‘active’ discourse, able by its own operation to produce its effects. It would not be excessive to say that it creates the social world, but only if we remember that it is this world which first creates the law” (839). As this kind of language, complete with its own deep structures and hegemonic apparatuses, law becomes, as it were, every State's mother tongue, every citizen's first “sentence.” Uncritically internalized, the law functions, as Callaghan (and Bourdieu and Foucault and de Certeau and Althusser) reminds us, essentially as an unconscious interpellative force—a language, a sedimented story within each citizen's imaginative repertoire. As Bourdieu quips with uncharacteristic clarity, “the specific property of symbolic power is that it can be exercised only through the complicity of those who are dominated by it. This complicity is all the more certain because it is unconscious on the part of those who undergo its effects—or perhaps we should say it is more subtly extorted from them” (844). Like Frankenstein's monster (or society's corrupt policeman, Jason Dunsford, in A Fine and Private Place), the law is a created thing, an energy that turns back upon its creators, itself creating within them an alienated acceptance of self-imposed restriction.

It is precisely this kind of all-pervasive, virtually panoptic power that characterizes Callaghan's presentation of the law (and its mechanisms) throughout his entire career. As mentioned earlier, many of the novels are explicitly grounded in legal rituals: either criminal activity, police investigations, trials, prisons, or murders. Law, in these works, is everywhere. And so it is not surprising that in seven of the ten stories (not to mention the one novel) published between 1925 and 1928 we have an incredible “word-hoard” of crime and punishment, a virtual storage house of transgression and imposed discipline.

In “A Girl with Ambition” (1925-26), for example, the nerdish Harry Brown stands as a symbol of propriety and good-breeding for the working-class Mary Ross—and paramount in his symbolic capital is the fact that “he was going to be a lawyer” (239). “Amuck in the Bush” (1927) and “A Country Passion” (1928) are both examples of Callaghan's much-touted interest in what early critics called the “sub-normal personality.” Both involve grotesque sexual assaults where the perpetrators, Gus Rapp and Jim Cline respectively, are arrested and imprisoned. In both stories Callaghan carefully constructs the personality of the protagonist—the case history—first, and then concludes both stories with the crime and then with the inexorable arrival of law: police cars, constables, handcuffs, jail cells and so on. More complex is the rudely named Joe Harding who seduces his sixteen-year-old niece in “An Autumn Penitent” (1928). In this long short story of sexual transgression, suicide, and public confession, Callaghan slyly insinuates Joe's various “trials” and tribulations by having him read the “police-court news” and reports of a “murder trial” (2). Even so innocuous a story as Callaghan's famous “A Predicament” (1928) involves a young priest, Father Francis, who feels he must learn to exercise his officially sanctioned “judgement” (19) instead of a pragmatic (but very effective) hypocrisy.

What makes these short stories so intriguing is that here Callaghan deploys a more elusive technique, almost the diametric opposite of explicit foregrounding. To borrow an insight of W. H. New's, Callaghan's “legal” short stories operate through a strategy of indirect form and oblique commentary (x). The stories, in fact, are marked by a broken scattering of references, a series of fleeting, off-handed, almost buried legal “punctuation marks.” Only one of the stories has any prolonged representation of legal ritual; but the vast majority of them are dotted throughout with a vocabulary taken from the law; legal diction—or at least a diction resonant with law's power—is omnipresent. The result is that law haunts these imaginative worlds like an ever-present but invisible force, remaining always the emblem of enforced norms, yet constantly changing its specific significations.

This is especially true of two stories written and published by Callaghan during his Osgoode years, “Last Spring They Came Over” (1927) and “A Wedding Dress” (1927) (both of which Callaghan sent to Hemingway in Paris in 1925-26.) The former tells the story of two aptly named British brothers, Alfred and Harry Bowles, who emigrate to Toronto to work at a local newspaper. Alfred writes numerous comic letters home about the locals; Harry, however, withers soon after arrival and dies; Alfred then disappears at the end of the story never to be seen again.

Initially, the story is Callaghan's tongue-in-cheek satiric response to British pomposity. This tale about a mediocre British journalist is written in a crisp mediocre journalistic style; both brothers, moreover, are pretentious colonial bores, and so appropriately appear in a story that mockingly hybridizes such imperial genres as the allegory, anecdote, biography, fabliau, initiation story, mystery story, parable, sketch, and vignette. Callaghan's narrator slyly mocks the brothers' colonialist attitudes and pointedly mimics their British slang:

They talked of the Englishman in Canada, comparing his lot with that of the Englishman in South Africa and India. They had never travelled but to ask what they knew of strange lands would have made one feel uncomfortable. … Once in a while, after walking a block or two, one of the brothers would say he would damn well like to see India and the other would say it would be simply topping.1


This whimsical mimicry gains particular force when we notice Callaghan's ever-so-subtle manipulation of the legal metaphor. Alfred's first assignment is “doing night police,” which makes him feel “important” (39); but being inept, he soon bungles his assignment and instead has to help “a man do courts at the City Hall” (41). Alfred's double failure as a legal reporter is not insignificant.

Convinced as he is of his own superior status, Alfred sees the law as a desirable type of social capital; this is especially evident when we realize the importance he attributes to legal power and how he affiliates it with the hegemony of Empire itself:

The night editor took a fancy to him because of the astounding puerility of his political opinions. Alfred was always willing to talk pompously of the British Empire policing the world and about all Catholics being aliens, and the future of Ireland and Canada resting with the Orangemen. … The night editor liked him because he was such a nice boy.

(39; my emphasis)

Here the Irish-Catholic-Canadian-law-student-part time-journalist Callaghan is at his best. The alignment of “policing” with British imperialism not only works hard to deliver a satiric thrust at a satirized character, but in the characterization itself, Callaghan implicitly deploys the figures of law to interrogate imperial attempts to contain both Irish independence and Canadian nationalism. This moment of ironic diction—“policing”—constitutes, in effect, a miniature resistant event, a small one-word “short story” about the language of power.

Callaghan's portrayal of the law as a restrictive discourse, an official state signature that seeks to right and rewrite the minds and souls of its citizenry is most evident in his well-known story “A Wedding Dress.” The narrative is again a generic experimentation: a case history or an example of “police court news” that ironizes the sentimental tale, vignette, and sketch. The character is introduced, her personality is developed through vague hints, the criminal event is described, and legal retribution follows soon after.

The story, however, is also an exercise in sexist pathos: Lena Schwartz is an “old maid” whose wedding day finally arrives. Callaghan's narrator emphasizes her idealistic anticipations and her wish to appear desirable to her fiancé, Sam Hilton. She goes shopping for a wedding dress but, according to her lawyer, “become[s] temporarily a kleptomaniac” (61), and steals an expensive gown from a department store. In short order, she is arrested and spends the night in a police cell. The next morning Sam arrives from Windsor, and watches Lena's trial, which Callaghan presents in sparse detail. After Sam's character testimonial, Lena is put on remand and ordered by the magistrate to “go out and have a quiet wedding” (61). The story ends with Lena blinking confusedly, being led out of the court and out of the story by Sam to get married.

Throughout, Callaghan's narrator carefully establishes Lena's sexuality as a potentially unruly force—a force that she herself finds alienating. The narrator continually draws attention to her untouched, virginal body through both direct description and indirect (leering) commentary: “her hair was straight, her nose turned up a little and she was thin” (56); the male members of her rooming house nudge one another and chuckle that “it will really happen to her all right. … The Lord knows she waited long enough” (56). As Lena goes shopping for her wedding dress, Callaghan places his narratorial emphasis almost exclusively on her suppressed sensuality and desires, on her desire for attention and seduction. The narrator remarks that “she had a funny aching feeling inside” and that “her arms and legs seemed almost strange to her” (57).

This state of sensual discombobulation continues when Lena decides she wants a “special [dress] to keep alive the tempestuous feeling in her body, something to startle Sam” (58). When she finally finds the dress of her dreams—what is really a displaced version of herself as she wishes to be: a desired love-object—Lena “liked the feeling it left in the tips of her fingers” (58). The narrator emphasizes that Lena's mind “play[s] with thoughts she guiltily enjoyed” and that she “imagines herself wantonly attractive in the dress, slyly watched by men with bold thoughts as she walked down the street with Sam” (58). Driven by these desires Lena steals the dress, returns home and wears it alone in her room.

The rest, as they say, is history: when the detective arrives Lena feels “that she might just as well be walking downstairs in her underclothes; the dress was like something wicked clinging to her legs and body” (59). At her trial next day, “everybody looked at her, the dress too short and hanging loosely on her thin body, the burnt orange petals creased and twisted. The magistrate said to himself: ‘She's an old maid and it doesn't even look nice on her’” (61).

What makes Lena Schwartz's trial so interesting is that it functions within the story, not simply as a tragi-comic resolution, but as a male-centred normalizing ritual. Not for a moment am I claiming that Callaghan is a feminist author, but I am arguing that in this story—and in this conclusion—he shares the insights of a legal theorist like Bourdieu. For Callaghan, only a simpleton (like Alfred Bowles or Joe Harding) believes that state trials provide just decisions; what they do provide is a legitimized version of what most ruling interests agree is the truth. Bourdieu agrees when he remarks that,

the judgement of a court, which decides conflicts or negotiations concerning persons or things by publicly proclaiming the truth about them, belongs in the final analysis to the class of acts of naming or of instituting. The judgement represents the quintessential form of authorized, public, official speech which is spoken in the name of and to everyone. These performative utterances, substantive … decisions publicly formulated by authorized agents acting on behalf of the collectivity, are magical acts which succeed because they have the power to make themselves universally recognized.


Like the British Empire “policing” the world, Lena Schwartz's trial is a process of definition, inscription, and therefore delimitation. Whereas up to this point Lena has been portrayed as a sexualized body whose energy is potentially transgressive (indeed wanton!), here in the legal rituals of normalization her desires are placed squarely back within the confines of a mandated heterosexual marriage. The magistrate speaks in the name of and to everyone, and, on behalf of the collectivity, quietly silences all that potential sexual noise. In this poignant moment, law (and not love) triumphs; individual desire is subjected and made abject.

Morley Callaghan's deployment of law in the 1925-28 cluster of stories is important for a variety of reasons. The ever-presence of legal diction and legal metaphor attests, on one hand, simply to the fact that a young writer was simultaneously attending law school and writing his first stories. I have tried to argue, however, that in a more complex sense, this ever-presence of law constitutes a sedimented genre, an interwoven filament of authoritarian thought that Callaghan continually explores, sometimes comically, sometimes ironically, sometimes approvingly.

This cluster of stories, moreover, forms the nucleus of Callaghan's entire life work, a vast body of experimental stories and novels that would continually return to themes of justice and control, crime and punishment, stories that would continually deploy legal language as part of Callaghan's own appropriation of the short story genre. The cluster, finally, in all of its fragmented usage of legal language, also points to a different deployment: the fragmented legal references, scattered as either words or metaphors across hundreds of later stories, constitute a metanarrative, a series of broken short stories, about the omnipresence of law in our imaginations, an interpellative force that necessitates continual resistance. It is in this continual resistant stance that Morley Callaghan emerges in his short stories as one of Canada's finest gadflies, one of the Canadian state's necessary anarchists.


  1. I am indebted here to Louis MacKendrick, who in private conversation at The Elephant and Castle pub (Rideau Centre, Ottawa) pointed out Callaghan's punning reference here to both the British game of “bowls,” as well as the less salubrious implication of “bowels.” MacKendrick also drew my attention to Callaghan's lurid suggestion that the brothers engage in an incestuous relationship: they sleep together, prefer boys to girls, and live on “Mutual” street. It goes without saying that Callaghan also playfully invokes the names of two British kings: Alfred and Harry.

Works Cited

Bourdieu, Pierre. “The Force of Law: Toward a Sociology of the Juridical Field.” Trans. Richard Terdiman. The Hastings Law Journal 38 (July 1987): 805-853.

Callaghan, Morley. “Amuck in the Bush.” (1927) Morley Callaghan's Stories. Toronto: MacMillan, 1959.

———. An Autumn Penitent (1928). Toronto: MacMillan, 1973.

———. “A Country Passion” (1928). Morley Callaghan's Stories. Toronto: MacMillan, 1959.

———. “A Girl with Ambition” (1925-26). Morley Callaghan's Stories. Toronto: MacMillan, 959.

———. “Honesty of Purpose.” Rev. of Tales of New Zealanders. Ed. C. R. Allen. Saturday Night (July 23, 1938): 6.

———. “Last Spring They Came Over” (1927). Morley Callaghan's Stories. Toronto: MacMillan, 1959.

———. Letter to Ernest Hemingway. October 11 [1925]. Ernest Hemingway Papers. John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library, Boston.

———. Letter to Raymond Knister. August 15, 1928. Raymond Knister Papers. William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections. McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario.

———. “An Ocean Away” (1964). Morley Callaghan. Ed. Brandon Conron. Critical Views on Canadian Writers. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1975.

———. “A Predicament” (1928). Morley Callaghan's Stories. Toronto: MacMillan, 1959.

———. That Summer in Paris: Memories of Tangled Friendships with Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Some Others. Toronto: MacMillan, 1963.

———. “A Wedding Dress” (1927). Morley Callaghan's Stories. Toronto: MacMillan, 1959.

Davey, Frank. Reading Canadian Reading. Winnipeg: Turnstone Press, 1988.

Jameson, Fredric. The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1981.

New, W. H. Dreams of Speech and Violence: The Art of the Short Story in Canada and New Zealand. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1987.


Morley Callaghan World Literature Analysis


Callaghan, Morley (Vol. 14)