Style and Technique
The fact that Gallant is often called a “writer’s writer” suggests that nothing in her works is accidental. Even the titles of her stories are carefully chosen. It is interesting, for example, that this one is entitled “Lena,” instead of “Magdalena,” though Edouard refers to his first wife by her full name throughout his narrative. It is the elderly widows who call her “Lena” as a term of affection. To them she is a pious old lady much like themselves. Edouard’s view of her is very different. Therefore it is significant that he calls her “Lena” only after their argument about Juliette, when Magdalena says she would have left all she had to any child of Edouard. On subsequent visits, Edouard begins to call her “Lena,” suggesting that what was once only a sense of duty on his part has now developed into something that, if not love, is at least affection and a certain respect.
Gallant is just as meticulous about the colors she uses in her works. According to her, this series was inspired by something she saw in the Marseilles railway station, a woman in a white hat leaning out of a train window toward a man below. In “Lena,” Magdalena is always draped in white, which is not meant to symbolize purity but to suggest her adamant impracticality. In her apartment, with its white sofa, the only spots of color were her red nails, her red lipstick, the red eyes of her little dogs, and the red Legion of Honor ribbons worn by her admirers. In her final days, the glamour is gone. It is now Magdalena’s hair that is white. However, she still has one visitor with a Legion of Honor ribbon, her faithful Edouard. In fact, at the very end, she can count him as an admirer, for he has at last found something in her worthy of admiration.