Morley Callaghan Callaghan, Morley (Vol. 3) - Essay

Callaghan, Morley (Vol. 3)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Callaghan, Morley 1903–

Callaghan, a Canadian novelist, writes imaginative fiction often informed by Christian principles. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.)

The Canadian Morley Callaghan, at one time well known in the United States, is today perhaps the most unjustly neglected novelist in the English-speaking world….

The novels of Morley Callaghan do not deal … with his native Canada in any editorial or informative way, nor are they aimed at any popular taste, Canadian, "American" or British. They center on situations of primarily psychological interest that are treated from a moral point of view yet without making moral judgments of any conventional kind, and it is in consequence peculiarly difficult to convey the implications of one of these books by attempting to retell its story. The revelation of personality, of tacit conflict, of reciprocal emotion is conducted in so subtle a way that we are never quite certain what the characters are up to—they are often not certain themselves—or what the upshot of their relationships will be….

[Callaghan's] stories are extremely well told. The details, neither stereotyped nor clever—the casual gestures of the characters, the little incidents that have no direct bearing on their purposes or their actions, the people they see in restaurants or pass on the street—have a naturalness that gives the illusion of not having been invented, of that seeming irrelevance of life that is still somehow inextricably relevant. The narrative moves quietly but rapidly, and Mr. Callaghan is a master of suspense.

Edmund Wilson, in his O Canada: An American's Notes on Canadian Culture (reprinted with the permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.; copyright © 1964, 1965 by Edmund Wilson), Farrar, Straus, 1965, pp. 9-17.

From his first novel, Morley Callaghan appears a prophet of gloom. He writes almost exclusively about the people on the edge of society: about the non-conformist, the negro, the alcoholic, the prostitute, the criminal. Most of them are doomed to destruction. With one or two exceptions, those who survive have little left beyond their will to live.

How can this hell he creates be reconciled with Callaghan's own statement in That Summer in Paris: "My problem was to relate a Christian enlightenment to some timeless process of becoming"? His intention appears to be the examination of Christian faith as it impinges on human existence in this world, not in the finality of the world hereafter. The basic message of Christianity is the good news of redemption from evil as presented in the person of Jesus Christ. Implied in this theme are the beliefs that man has responsibility for his own situation, however desperate, that man must sincerely desire to change his life, and that he is dependent on the grace of God to effect such change. Callaghan's concern with the redemptive process is illustrated by his use of the Biblical themes of the prodigal or lost son, of the lost sheep, and of Lazarus. All these present in some way the return to life from death or from a state analogous to death.

If redemption has human significance, each man must be able to choose regeneration and life or to refuse it. The concept of free will appears critical for Callaghan's religious position. His characters are the ideal testing ground since they represent the most restricted and hopeless elements in society. Many of his novels explore the possibility of free will and individual responsibility, both through an apparent acceptance of naturalism in his early novels, and later through an examination of communism….

Morley Callaghan rarely presents a dogmatic answer to any problem, or any explicit affirmation of his religious belief. Indeed the ambiguity of many of his characters precludes such a statement. Yet the pattern of regeneration to which he repeatedly turns is firmly rooted in Christian doctrine: man's fundamental involvement in social guilt, the importance of accepting personal responsibility for one's actions, the necessity of regeneration, the crucial role played by self-sacrificing love in regeneration, and the achievement of a new plane of existence characterized by more vital human relationships. Although there is no credo, the patterns of Callaghan's novels are profoundly Christian.

Margaret Joan Ward, "The Gift of Grace," in Canadian Literature, No. 58, Autumn, 1973, pp. 19, 25.