Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

It was noted earlier that Callaghan’s chief intention in A Passion in Rome was to explore the coexistence of the sacred and the profane mysteries of life. In developing this theme, his work recalls Brideshead Revisited (1945), subtitled “The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder,” by the British Catholic novelist, Evelyn Waugh. Both writers believe that the universe is governed by the Christian God, and that there is therefore a necessary correspondence between the thoughts and actions of men and the purposes of Providence.

Thus, Sam Raymond grows steadily more astonished by the fundamental “innocence” of Carla, an innocence which has survived “humiliation, brutality, despair.” In her, “he seemed to see how all the crushing experiences could be absorbed by the spirit, and refined into an awareness that the happy hunger for life was unquenchable.” Sam’s profane passion for Carla (her adopted name, symbolic of the self-destructive phase of her life) gradually becomes compassionate understanding for Anna (her Christian name, symbolic of her true identity). Hence, the author welds characterization and plot to develop his major theme.

The death of Pius XII and the election of John XXIII is directly tied to this transformation pattern. Even before he is chosen Pope in Conclave, Cardinal Roncalli, the future John XXIII, is described as a “stocky, pink-faced, purple-robed, plump cardinal . . ....

(The entire section is 414 words.)