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Top Dog of New Yorker Fiction: Morley Callaghan...?

Filed under: The Katharine Wheel: On Fiction   Tagged: , , , , , ,

Benjamin Chambers writes:

In an article in the Canadian newspaper The National Post, Philip Marchand writes,

Whatever happened to the reputation of Morley Callaghan, who was once every bit as much an icon of Canadian literature as Margaret Atwood? For a while he practically owned The New Yorker, in the manner of Alice Munro. In 1965 Edmund Wilson—at that time the most prestigious literary critic in the English-speaking world—compared him to Chekhov and Turgenev. Yet today he is rarely taught in Canadian literature courses, and his works seldom opened. Are we so sure what happened to Callaghan won’t happen to Atwood?

If you’re scratching your head and muttering, “Morley Callaghan?”, you’re not alone. A quick check of the Complete New Yorker showed me that Callaghan published 20 stories in TNY between 1928 and 1938. That surprised me, since Wilson lauded him in 1965.

I wondered why Callaghan’s stories stopped appearing in the magazine so suddenly, but Wikipedia says that he wrote almost no fiction between 1937 and 1950, which partially explains why he didn’t show up there again. (Wikipedia also informed me that Callaghan knocked down Hemingway in a boxing match refereed by F. Scott Fitzgerald…)

In any case, it’s obvious Callaghan was both a prolific writer and a well-regarded one, so I look forward to reading his New Yorker stories.

Of course, it’s not always clear, years later, why an author of the past used to take home all the laurels. Taste, like tempus, fugit.


Speaking of prolific New Yorker fiction writers of yore, check out this recent TLS article about Sylvia Townsend Warner (who clocks in 164 authorial entries in the Complete New Yorker, 150 of them under Fiction!). The article is mostly about her poetry, but it makes me want to check out her “witty and startlingly idiosyncratic” novels: “She proclaims an anarchic pastoral, the rotting fertility of which leaves the urban in a weak-tea-coloured light.” I see some are reissued by New York Review Books….

It’s true - Callaghan knocked out Hemingway in a boxing match and Hemingway blamed losing on Fitzgerald. We don’t have a lot of name-dropping authors in Canada so a lot of us are proud of the fact that he punched out Hemginway. If you want to read one of Callaghan’s best works read Such Is My Beloved - it’s a stunner of a novel.

@ melanie: Thanks for the recommendation - it’s not available at my local used book store, but I’ve mooched it on BookMooch.

@ Jonathan: I look forward to seeing the TLS piece on STW. She’s been on my radar for a while, but I simply haven’t gotten to her. Always admired her triple-barreled name, though.

This reminds me of how hard it is to find anything in print by Peter DeVries; if he wasn’t an Algonquin Roundtable regular, he was close to it. Edited TNY cartoons for many years.

All I know of him is he beat up Hemingway.

@ Pawlie - DeVries! I know, I know. He was a big name I believe, but a shadow has fallen across his reputation. I saw a piece of his in Fierce Pajamas that made me want to read more of him, but … Do you have any particular recommendations?

I went to high school in Toronto during the 1980s and we read Morley Callaghan’s Such Is My Beloved as part of our curriculum. He’s a wonderful writer but from what I remember his later work (post-1950) wasn’t nearly as good as his early stuff.

@Hrag - Good to know. I’m always interested in writers’ creative hiatuses (intentional or not); your take on his work makes me curious about how that long period of not writing changed him. (Or, I suppose, how he changed so that his writing changed.)

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