A Passion in Rome was published near the midpoint of Callaghan’s long career as a writer. It is reminiscent of his earlier works, Such Is My Beloved (1934) and The Loved and the Lost (1951), and of Our Lady of the Snows (1985); like them, it is a novel about the fascination of a lonely man for a fallen woman. Like them, too, the novel is cast in the author’s customary simple style and seeks to express what Callaghan has often referred to as the purpose of his art: the extraordinary dimension of experience, cloaked in the ordinary fabric of life.
Yet, when published, the novel was widely regarded as a failure. Some critics saw it as overwritten, lacking the firmness of structure which distinguishes the author’s best short stories and novellas. It could also be said that, for a novel of its scope, it is deficient in variety of characterization and in suspense. Its strength, however, lies in the subtle interweaving of symbolic meaning and realistic narrative.
Callaghan has, since the beginning of his career in the 1920’s, sought to be judged solely on artistic merit in the international arena. A Passion in Rome confirms his reputation as a serious writer, unafraid to explore an important theme in a popular format. Moreover, it is clear that he is one of the leading Canadian novelists of this century.