“Why Do Some Writers Disappear?” from the Wall St. Journal

July 4th, 2009

Source: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204556804574260451110396092.html

“Why do exceptional writers disappear?” a reader of Cynthia Crossen’s regular “Book Lover” column in the Wall Street Journal:

Cover of first U.S. edition of 'That Summer in Paris'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?

Crossen admits that Callaghan’s name is unknown to her, but in her defense, notes that,

… 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.”

She concludes with a mention of this site: “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 then she also points out that, “… a site search showed not a trace of Morley Callaghan.”

Well now it does, courtesy of Ms. Crossen.

5 Responses to ““Why Do Some Writers Disappear?” from the Wall St. Journal

  1. Patrick Murtha Says:

    The British critic Martin Seymour-Smith, in his several comprehensive guides to modern world literature (which are treasure troves of “the neglected”), also praises Callaghan as an overlooked modern master. Canadian literature in general has a rather low international profile, yet abounds in authors whom discerning critics have flagged as highly worthy. So any student of neglected books should lay in a few histories and critical studies of Canadian lit.

  2. Robert Nedelkoff Says:

    Callaghan is certainly not a neglected writer in his own country. His 100th anniversary in 2003 was marked by the publication of his collected stories in four volumes, the reissue of a number of his other books, many articles in newspapers and magazines north of our border, and the broadcast of a Canadian Broadcasting Corp miniseries, “Hemingway vs. Callaghan,” based on That Summer In Paris. (Well, granted, in Canada it does help if a Canadian writer is connected to the legend of a famous Yank writer or two.)

    By contrast, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Montreal’s A.M. Klein, an outstanding poet and novelist whose career was prematurely terminated by bipolar illness (and the subject of Leonard Cohen’s song “To A Teacher”) went nearly unnoticed in the Canadian press except for an article in the Montreal Gazette. (Klein in his youth was the intellectual leader of a group of McGill students that included Leon Edel.)

    The 100th birthday of Toronto’s John Glassco of Memoirs of Montparnasse fame comes up in December, so it’ll be interesting to see what notice it gets in Canada.

  3. editor Says:

    I have to agree with Robert. No one in the US knows Hugh MacLennan, for example, but you will find his works and those of Callaghan in just about every decent bookstore in Canada and on the syllabus of any course on the national literature. One could count most Canadian writers as neglected in the US. I guess I draw a distinction between those whose work could be better recognized and those who are truly neglected. Isabel Paterson is truly neglected (as a novelist, not as a Libertarian icon). Morley Callaghan I would rather class as “could be better recognized.”

  4. Brian Busby Says:

    I dare say we Canadians are remarkably inattentive and negligent when it comes to our literary heritage. True, Callaghan continues to be studied – and remains in print through the New Canadian Library and son Barry’s Exile Editions – but he isn’t much read outside the world of academe. The situation concerning Hugh MacLennan’s work isn’t much different. While I won’t agree with Robert Nedelkoff that A.M. Klein was the ‘intellectual leader’ of the McGill Group, his observation concerning the non-observation of the poet’s centenary is spot on. To Klein’s I add the name of Gabrielle Roy, whose centenary passed with little notice this past March. Will Montrealer John Glassco meet the same fate? I do hope not.

  5. Stephanie Spika Says:

    Not only has Callaghan been “forgotten,” but another author by the name of Abha Dawesar decided to recycle the title of his book. Dawesar (born 1974) wasn’t around when the first book came out. No respect. (Sigh)

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