The distinguishing feature in the life of Mavis Gallant, an Anglo-Canadian born Mavis de Trafford Young in French-speaking Montreal, is that her artist father died while she was away at school. Her mother promptly remarried, leaving the child with strangers. This was the beginning of a solitary and unsettled existence for the girl who, starting at a French-speaking convent in her native city (Gallant was not a Catholic), attended seventeen different schools in Canada and the United States. By her own admission, the isolation and transiency she experienced when young have influenced her writing.
This problem of belonging (or not belonging) was not improved by her brief, failed marriage to John Gallant of Canada. Except for a short residence in English-speaking Ontario Province, Gallant has been part of a minority most of her life, despite her fluency in French.
After her return from New York with a high school diploma and following a stint as a reporter at the anglophone Montreal Standard from 1944 to 1950, Gallant became a voluntary expatriate, ultimately settling in Paris. Despite her cosmopolitan tendencies—a Canadian abroad writing primarily for an American magazine, The New Yorker—Gallant has retained her original citizenship and her Canadian identity. This is especially evident in her collection Home Truths. Another central theme in her writings reflects her concern, initially for displaced persons and refugees in Canada and later for the rootless and orphans of all kinds—physical and spiritual exiles.
Gallant’s sensitivity to the collision of cultures in Canadian and various European settings surfaces in A Fairly Good Time, one of her few novels. The Pegnitz Junction is a collection of stories about postwar Germans who live in interior exile in a world that resembles only superficially the one they knew.