Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Gardens of Mont-Saint-Michel,” one of only a few of Maxwell’s stories set abroad, illustrates some of the difficulties Americans may experience in forming cultural relations with non-Americans. John Reynolds is a conventional American male whose admirable manners control his responses to a series of disappointments. He is middle-class, moral, and literate. His difficulties with circumstances initially appear to be the fault of the French, but these difficulties are in fact a result of his own wavering innocence. Reynolds hopes, in a dreamy sort of way, that after eighteen years he will return to a France as unspoiled as the one he witnessed eighteen years before.

Although Reynolds is sure that he recalls the events and setting of his honeymoon clearly, he is equally sure that he has forgotten experiences that did not serve his emotional needs. He imagines that time has glossed over any unsettling aspects of the earlier trip. Now he misses seeing women in shapeless black cotton dresses, as well as cows, chickens, geese, and bicycles. However, he still thrills to the ethereal vision of the abbey and its spire pointing upward toward a heaven that he doubts many people still believe in. He is both repelled by the size of the new hotel obscuring the abbey and pleased that his family’s rooms are new and attractive. He anticipates that when night comes and the bus passengers have departed, he will once again sense the fifteenth century purity of the...

(The entire section is 444 words.)