Mavis de Trafford Young Additional Biography

Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Mavis Gallant (guh-LAHNT) was born Mavis de Trafford Young in Montreal, Canada, on August 11, 1922, the daughter of parents who enrolled her, beginning at the age of four, in a series of schools, some seventeen in number, in Montreal, Ottawa, and the eastern United States. Although a Protestant, she also attended some Catholic schools, which later provided her with material for her stories. Her childhood years were marked by loneliness. Her mother virtually abandoned her to foster parents in Ottawa before Gallant, while in her teens, went to live with a New York psychiatrist and his wife, who became her legal guardians. Her father died when she was a young girl.

After she returned to Montreal in 1940, she worked for a short time with the National Film Board before becoming a reporter for the Montreal Standard in 1944. During the next six years she wrote many features, photo-stories, and reviews, some of which she later reworked into her fiction. In her features she reveals a knowledge of Freudian psychology, a wide acquaintance with English Canadian and French Canadian literature and culture, an interest in a variety of displaced people caught in an alien culture, and a fascination with the dynamics of family struggles.

For a variety of reasons Gallant left her job with the newspaper in 1950. Her brief marriage to Johnny Gallant had ended, leaving her determined to live independently. This was difficult in Montreal; she had always been drawn to Europe, where she wanted to write for a living. During her Montreal Standard years she had been writing short stories, a few of...

(The entire section is 659 words.)

Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Mavis Gallant (guh-LAHNT) is regarded as one of the finest short-story writers of the second half of the twentieth century, as well as being an essayist and social commentator. Although she was born in Canada as Mavis de Trafford Young, she has spent much of her life in France and only occasionally returns to Canada. She grew up in a middle-class, English-speaking, Protestant family in Montreal. After her parents’ marriage broke up, she had an unsettled childhood, attending seventeen different schools in Canada and the United States. An early story, “Thank You for the Lovely Tea” (1956), relates the experience of a girl who is a resident in an expensive girls’ school and resists the kindness of her father’s mistress on the occasion of an afternoon excursion. The girl’s deliberate surliness and the woman’s ineptness and insecurity are played out in the genteel atmosphere of a fashionable hotel dining room; the inevitable failure of the meeting is expressed with a laconic sourness and with the cold-eyed, witty awareness that is a characteristic mark of Gallant’s short-story technique. Gallant’s early experience of being on the move may be related to the interest she has in characters who are uprooted and aimless and often live in foreign lands.

Gallant began her career as a reporter with a Montreal newspaper, where she became a commentator on a wide range of social topics. At the same time she began to write short stories; in 1951 she had her first story printed in The New Yorker. One year earlier she had left Canada and settled in Paris, where she wrote fiction and commentary on French social, political, and cultural life; occasionally she also wrote articles on American and Canadian social topics. Gallant retained her Canadian citizenship, suggesting that it gave her the kind of emotional and intellectual distancing that allowed her to write comfortably. That need for keeping things at arm’s length is clearly mirrored in the emotional disinterest with which she handles her characters. Some critics have pointed out that...

(The entire section is 844 words.)