The great American critic Edmund Wilson observed that “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. . .”
And: “The reviewer, at the end of this article, after trying to give an account of these books, is now wondering whether the primary reason for the current underestimation of Morley Callaghan may not be simply a general incapacity—apparently shared by his compatriots—for believing that a writer whose work may be mentioned without absurdity in association with Chekhov’s and Turgenev’s can possibly be functioning in Toronto.”
—from Edmund Wilson, O Canada: An American’s Notes on Canadian Culture (1960)
Some comments on Callaghan, recently found online:
Book Lover July 10, 2009, 8:05 P.M. ET
Why Do Some Writers Disappear?
By Cynthia Crossen
Morley Callaghan is my favorite 20th-century novelist. His “That Summer in Paris” is among the best of memoirs. His writing is splendid, but he is forgotten. Every book lover can list authors who were wonderful and maybe even great (John Marquand, John Dos Passos, Erico Verissimo) but who are gone. Why do exceptional writers disappear?
—John Adams, Mobile, Ala.
For those (like me) who had never heard of him, Morley Callaghan was a prolific, commercially successful Canadian author who died in 1990 at the age of 87. Among his friends were F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway, whom he is said to have flattened once in a boxing match.
Yet even in the 1960s, Mr. Callaghan was “perhaps the most unjustly neglected novelist in the English-speaking world,” wrote Edmund Wilson, who hypothesized that Mr. Callaghan might have been the victim of geographical snobbery. Critics seemed to doubt that even a literary genius comparable to Chekhov or Turgenev “could possibly be functioning in Toronto.”
Margaret Atwood (another great Canadian author) also tried to make sense of Mr. Callaghan’s literary oblivion. He was “a literary misfit,” she wrote; “people never knew what to make of him.” He was also something of a prodigy—he published three novels before the age of 30—which can start a dangerous trajectory of expectations.
While Mr. Callaghan may seem invisible now, paradoxically he may never have been so accessible. Many of his novels can be sampled on Google Books, and many online book dealers have used copies for sale. So Mr. Callaghan isn’t gone. It’s just that he was once one of a few thousand published authors, and now he’s one of millions. He’s invisible the way Waldo is in the pages of “Where’s Waldo?” — lost in a crowd.
For other examples of lost treasures, see “100 Great American Novels You’ve (Probably) Never Read” by Karl Bridges. I was happy Mr. Bridges’ list included “The Wrong Case” by James Crumley; “Professor Romeo” by Anne Bernays; and “Stones for Ibarra” by Harriet Doerr, but most of his suggestions were new to me. “What America Read” by Gordon Hutner also offers an interesting analysis of how the literary academy decides which books will be remembered.
A very fine Web site, neglectedbooks.com, has many links to lists of lost classics as well as its own ruminations on the subject. But a site search showed not a trace of Morley Callaghan.
—from The Wall Street Journal
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