Sunday, September 9, 2012

Reading Journal: Such Is My Beloved, by Morley Callaghan (1934)

A gesture near the near the end of Chapter 1 in (what's commonly called) Callaghan's best novel provides enough intrigue for the whole rest of the story. The protagonist, the young Father Dowling, takes it upon himself to help two prostitutes he meets on the street, and after conversing with them in their hotel room, as he leaves, the hotel proprietor, Mr. Baer, who let him in earlier, "saw the white priest's collar which Father Dowling thought was still hidden by the woollen muffler, and he grinned so broadly that the corners of his wide mouth seemed to shoot up to his skull, he glanced up the stairs, and he made a load sneering noise with his heavy wet lips." The reader stays in the same shoes as Baer, knowing that this can't help but bring scandal down on Dowling, and the church as well, and you spend the rest of the (short) book wondering how long it will take. But on the other hand, you get absolutely swept up in the love - charity: caritas, not cupiditas - that Dowling lavishes on these untouchables, and you escape all the minor characters' seeming fatalism about the matter and hope against hope for all to be redeemed. It's a book that's very economical with its language, and interesting, too, for showing us a time when being a Catholic in Toronto was a minority position, and one always vigilant against potential persecution. One of the better Canadian novels ever written.

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