If I were in charge of Canada, February 22nd, birthday of one Mr. Morley Callaghan, would be a national holiday.
As the only thing I am in charge of is a little corner of the universe in a little bookstore, I will have to sit here, chin in hand, and ponder the greatness of one of my favourite canuck authors.
Morley Callaghan would have been 100 years old today. And what a jam-packed century he would have had. He already filled more than a lifetime usually allots in the first fifty years. His best writing was done when he was young, his greatest adventures played out mighty early, and all of his literary flings and acclaims came at a young age.
Yes, I have romanticized Morley's early years, what with their splash of Parisian panache ( and what with his clobbering of Ernest Hemingway---- don't make me get into the climax of That Summer in Paris as a Canadian literary metaphor again ), but he defines a golden age of sorts for me. I envision him wandering aimlessly around 1920's Toronto---every snippet of his life reading out of the pages of his novel, A Varsity Story. I imagine him, as I often was, curled up in one of the red leather chairs of the Hart House Library at U of T and looking over the courtyards and spires, slightly interrupted by the pealing of the tower bell.
And then, there is Paris and Morley's dappling into the lives of the Literary Elite. He defines Paris for me. Whenever I think of it with its dazzling life, parties and pizazz, I rarely think of anything I did not read of in the pages of Callaghan's autobiography. Forget We Were all so Young or A Movable Feast. Canadians had their own agent in the flapper years!
Further, my personal conceptions of Fitzgerald, James Joyce and ( especially ) Hemingway, are solely accumulated from Callaghan's perspective. Far be it for me to take anyone else's word on how these literary giants were. Morley Callaghan's word is the definitive one.
Finally, there is the sense of melancholy I feel when I leaf through his brilliant short stories ( soaked in Catholic consciousness and always sewn together with bittersweet nostalgia) and re-read his colourful memoir. I pine for his life lost as if I personally had lived it.
What an author is that who paints life so acutely you feel its triumphs and travails!
Tonight I am at a dinner celebrating Callaghan with a speaker who knows his works more intimately than any of his many admirers could hope for. I am excited and invigorated and anxious to experience That Summer once more.