Now That April's Here by Morley Callaghan, 1934
NOW THAT APRIL'S HERE
by Morley Callaghan, 1934
"Now That April's Here" is a marvelous, closely observed tale that serves as a telling monument to the crucial role that a sojourn in Paris played in the cultural life of North American writers in the decade after World War I. Morley Callaghan spent his early years in his hometown of Toronto, and it was there that in 1923 he met Ernest Hemingway, who was making a brief visit from Europe and who encouraged the younger man to carry on with his writing. Some of Callaghan's first stories were subsequently published in Paris, and in the spring of 1929, immediately after getting married, he finally crossed the Atlantic with his bride and spent some time in Paris getting to know other American writers and publishers gathered there. Edward Titus bet Callaghan and Robert McAlmon that they could not write stories presenting their views of a couple of young Americans who were familiar figures around Montparnasse. McAlmon lost out, but Callaghan, in his usual tight-lipped, economical manner, wrote "Now That April's Here," using as his title the first line of Robert Browning's poem "Home Thoughts from Abroad." The story first appeared in the October-December 1929 issue of the Paris-based magazine This Quarter. Callaghan must have set some store by his work, for when he included it in a 1936 collection of 35 stories, he used it as the title story.
In the story Charles Milford is four years older than Johnny Hill. They are bored with life in their native town in the Middle West and are convinced that America has nothing to offer talented people such as themselves. They have been influenced above all else by George Moore's Confessions of a Young Man (1888). It is thus that they have gone to Paris together in late autumn. Fortunately, Johnny has $100 a month to spend, and he is happy to give financial support to Charles, who is, he is sure, going to become a famous writer.
We have an early glimpse of the pair as they peer into the windows of an art gallery and make patronizing remarks about Foujita's draftsmanship. They soon settle down to a life of sitting for hours in boulevard cafés, talking to friendly girls, looking at the luminaries of the literary scene, and hoping against hope that they are themselves being looked at too. They certainly pick up something of the style of the milieu they frequent in such a self-conscious manner, but they do not get far with their writing. For a fortnight Charles devotes himself to his latest book, and Johnny, who is typing it, assures his friend that no modern author since Henry James has had anything like his perceptiveness or delicacy. An authorial aside first assures us that Charles "did write creditably enough," but it then devastatingly undermines the praise by adding that "everything he did had three or four good paragraphs in it." The strain of creativity, or perhaps a realization that persistence was not likely to pay dividends, leads to the desire for a break, and so Charles and Johnny decide to go south. They stay in Nice, spending more than they can afford on drink and hotel bills and finally making a surreptitious getaway without paying. In April they return to Paris, expecting the city to live up to its reputation as the ideal spot in springtime, but they are disappointed by the raw weather.
It is at this juncture that Johnny decides that he must go to London, where his father is spending a few months, and the parting of the two friends, though only for a short while, is the turning point in the seemingly loosely structured story. Charles finds that for some reason people do not care much for him when Johnny is away, and there is talk of the danger that the younger man might take up with some woman in London. In fact, Johnny has a violent row with his father, who suggests that it is time he makes an effort to earn his living. Once he is back in Paris, however, the pair soon begin to fall out over Constance Foy, a girl they had met in Nice. They try to patch things up, but it is no good. The spell is broken, and Johnny decides to return to the United States, taking Constance with him. We last see Charles alone in a café on a cool evening. On his head he has a black hat that he bought before coming to Europe, a hat he had chosen especially to create the right sort of impression but had somehow never got around to wearing. This gives an open-ended conclusion to a tale that Callaghan makes both vivid and laconic, richly comic in its portrayal of two conceited young men and genuinely touching in its account of the deep relationship between them. It should be noted that, after writing "Now That April's Here" and turning down Edward Titus's offer of the editorship of This Quarter, Callaghan returned to Canada to pursue his career.