Today in Literary History – February 22, 1903 – Canadian novelist, short story writer and Ernest Hemingway’s boxing partner, Morley Callaghan is born

Morley Callaghan, the Canadian novelist and short story writer, was born in Toronto on February 22, 1903. He died in Toronto in 1990 at the age of 87.

He wrote 13 novels, but they are now considered to be dated and are less read and less well-regarded than his short stories, particularly his 21 New Yorker short stories. In all, Callaghan published nearly 100 stories in many other magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar, Maclean’s, Esquire, Cosmopolitan and the Saturday Evening Post.

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What his name brings up for most people today though is a famous incident that happened in Paris in 1929 (or never happened at all according to some people) — Callaghan’s boxing match with Ernest Hemingway (with F. Scott Fitzgerald as the timekeeper) in which Callaghan knocked Hemingway flat on his back and bloodied his nose.

There have been many contradictory versions of the fight over the years and Callaghan gives his side of the story in his 1963 memoir That Summer in Paris.

The general consensus seems to be that Fitzgerald let the final round go on too long and the younger, nimbler Callaghan got the best of the larger but winded Hemingway. Hemingway apparently thought that Fitzgerald did it on purpose to humiliate him.

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Callaghan graduated from Osgoode Hall law school in Toronto. He articled and was called to the bar but never practiced. He met Hemingway in Toronto in 1920 while both were working as reporters on the Toronto Star. Hemingway became a supportive friend over the years and helped Callaghan get published in New York by his own publisher, Scribner’s.

Callaghan had a remarkably long career. His first novel, Strange Fugitive, was published in 1928. His final novel, A Wild Old Man on the Road, was published 60 years later in 1988. He won the Governor General’s Award in 1951 for The Loved and the Lost, a novel about an interracial love affair in Montreal.  He was made a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1982.

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One of his greatest champions was the influential American critic Edmund Wilson. In 1960 Wilson wrote that “Morley Callaghan, at one time well known in the United States, is today perhaps the most unjustly neglected novelist in the English-speaking world.”

Wilson went on to wonder “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.”

It’s nice to know that that stereotype is now long dead!

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