If you’re looking for a smug, self-important memoir by a rightfully forgotten Canadian writer who name drops his way through Paris, you’ve come to the right place. Usually my interest is piqued whenever stumbling on an author to whom history has not been kind, but I’d rather Morley Callaghan remains in the dusty forgotten basement of the library. The physical library card in the book assures me that it was only checked out 8 times in 37 years, maybe longer, depending on when the Oakland library abandoned stamping checkout dates.
We begin by seeing the precocious young Morley bursting his way into a Toronto newsroom and commandeering a writing gig, with two years of college remaining. His path crosses Hemingway’s and for some reason old Hem takes him under his wing and encourages Morley’s story writing. This leads inevitably to Morley and wife heading to Paris, told to look up Scott Fitzgerald by a mutual pal and not needing a formal letter of introduction. He begins boxing with Hemingway, recounts an eerie story where Hem spit blood all over Morley’s shirt as a way of intimidating him. Hem tells him not to bother trying to meet James Joyce, but the Morleys get invited to dine with Jimmy Joyce by McAlmon. Here the idiot Morley can’t keep his eyes off of Nora Joyce’s breasts, “No matter what was being said, I remained aware of the deep-bosomed Nora Joyce.” Later, they visit the Joyce apartment and idiot Morley is disappointed by the drab brown wallpapered interior:
The Joyce apartment, at least the living room in which we sat, upset me. Nothing looked right. In the whole world there wasn’t a more original writer than Joyce, the exotic in the English language. In the work he had on hand he was exploring the language of the dream world. In this room where he led his daily life I must have expected to see some of the marks of his wild imagination. Yet the place was conservatively respectable.
Morley and his wife then show up uninvited to the Scott Fitzgeralds, stalking them from their apartment building lobby and lurking in the shadows to pounce on them when they arrived. Naturally this leads to a friendship, and quelle surprise Morley is anti-Zelda. Scott reads aloud a passage from Farewell to Arms and demands everyone to agree that it’s beautiful, but Morley braves an honest opinion that the phrase is too deliberate, determined. Zelda chimes in, and Morley paints her as a frivolous object without agency:
“If you ask me, it sounds pretty damned Biblical,” Zelda said firmly. Perhaps she had heard the passage read to her many times. Anyway, she seemed to be relieved to have someone else on her side. “If you’re not impressed, it’s all right, Morely,” Scott assured me. With an injured air he paused, pondered, came to some firm decision, closed the book, put it aside and sat listening as Zelda became talkative about prose generally. But even on that first night I became aware that Scott kept an eye on her. He let her talk on, saying little himself, just listening; then abruptly, to our surprise, he told her that she was tired. She did look tired. She should go to bed, he said firmly. Turning to us, he explained she was taking ballet lessons and had to get up early; he hoped we would understand. We didn’t quite understand; she left either too meekly or too willingly.
Before they leave, Scott supposedly does a handstand for them, trying to impress Morley. The four of them go out to dinner, Scott promising to seat them at the table that Joyce uses, Morley smugly noting that Scott went to the wrong table because Morley himself had had dinner with Joyce at a different table. More misogynistic condescension for Zelda:
Even now I seem to hear Zelda’s voice coming at us suddenly. “I write prose. It’s good prose.” Her strange intensity, the boldness of her insistence that she too be regarded as a talent, was surprising. She was leaning across the table, almost challenging me. What could I say except, “I’m sure it is”? She had had a story in Scribner’s magazine which I had read. It was a story in a careful, determined style with a flash of metaphor.
Once again, Zelda is whisked away by Scott after she suggests going roller skating, his tyranny over her witnessed by the Morleys but shrugged off:
Suddenly he grabbed Zelda by the wrist. “I’m putting you in a taxi. You go home now and go to bed,” he said. His peremptory tone on the shadowed street startled us. If I had grabbed my own wife by the wrist and told her I was putting her in a taxi, her eyes would have flashed; there would have been some kind of a struggle. Zelda’s face was half hidden, yet her whole manner changed; it was if she knew he had command over her; she agreed meekly…
“Zelda has to get up early in the morning. She’s taking those ballet lessons,” and he pointed out that girls as a rule started studying ballet when they were about twelve! Zelda had started when we was over thirty and it was hard for her; it was all very tiring. I asked him why she wanted to take up ballet dancing at her age. It was quite understandable, Scott said; she wanted to have something for herself, be something herself. I recalled her sudden aggressive assertion at dinner that she too was a good writer. Was she bent on competing with Scott for the limelight? Of course, that was it. How unlucky for Scott. And I remember taking Loretto’s arm and looking at her, hoping she would never feel driven to jockey with me publicly for attention.
We all know that Scott pillaged Zelda’s writing for things to pass off as his own. Morley describes how desperate Scott was for details by going into ecstasies over Morley’s wife’s drying handkerchiefs on the windowsill. Finally, Morley puts on his big boy pants in order to show what a genius he is by insulting Gertrude Stein, the final nail in the coffin for him:
Had I seen Gertrude Stein yet? he wanted to know. No, and I no longer had any curiosity about the grand lady. If Scott was interested in Miss Stein, he could have her. For my part, she had written one book, Three Lives. Having waded through The Making of Americans, and those stories of hers like “As a Wife as a Cow, A Love Story,” I had done a little brooding over her. Abstract prose was nonsense. The shrewd lady had found a trick, just as the naughty Dadaists had once found a trick. The plain truth, was, as a I saw it, Gertrude Stein now had nothing whatever to say. But she was shrewd and intelligent enough to know it. As for her deluded coterie, well, I had no interest in finding one of them who would lead me shyly to her den.
The plain truth, as I see it, is that Morley Callawhateverhisnameis is a block-headed third-rate hack whose works have not stood the test of time. Suck on that, Morley.