Mavis Gallant Gallant, Mavis (Vol. 172) - Essay

Mavis de Trafford Young


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Mavis Gallant 1922-

Canadian short story writer, novelist, critic, playwright, and essayist.

The following entry presents an overview of Gallant's career through 2000. For further information on her life and works, see CLC, Volumes 7, 18, and 38.

One of the few Canadian authors to have her work regularly published in the New Yorker, Gallant has won international acclaim for her prolific body of short fiction. Peopled by alienated expatriates, time-worn spouses, and disillusioned souls, Gallant's stories offer keen observations about the contemporary human experience in Europe and North America, exposing the ironies of human nature that tread between comedy and tragedy. Her fiction often conveys a sense of ambiguity about the past and its effects on the present, and routinely presents narrative conflicts that reflect the prevalent attitudes of postwar society. Besides short stories, Gallant has also written two novels, a play, and numerous essays and reviews. Long neglected by Canadian readers until the late 1970s, Gallant has since become celebrated as one of Canada's best known authors at home and abroad. Critics and academics alike have frequently compared Gallant to a range of authors, including Henry James, Anton Chekhov, George Eliot, and Katherine Anne Porter.

Biographical Information

Gallant was born Mavis de Trafford Young on August 11, 1922, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, to an Anglo-Scottish father and an American mother. When she was ten years old, Gallant's father died and her mother soon remarried. Over the next eight years, Gallant attended seventeen different schools, completing her education at a New York City high school after she was sent there to live with a guardian. Returning to Canada during World War II, Gallant briefly worked at the National Film Board before she became a feature reporter for the Montreal Standard in 1944. While working for the Standard, Gallant began to publish short stories in a number of Canadian literary magazines. During the late 1940s, she married pianist John Gallant; the couple later divorced. In 1950 Gallant resigned from the newspaper and moved to Paris in order to pursue her writing career full-time. Gallant has since resided in Paris, although she has retained her Canadian citizenship and maintained close ties with Canada. Soon after arriving in Paris, she began publishing work in the New Yorker, which has continuously published her stories since 1951. Over the next three decades, Gallant periodically gathered these stories, along with several novellas, in such collections as The Other Paris (1956), My Heart Is Broken (1964), The Pegnitz Junction (1973), and From the Fifteenth District (1979). In 1981 Gallant published Home Truths, which won the Governor General's Award, Canada's most prestigious literary prize. That same year, Gallant was appointed as an Officer of the Order of Canada, eventually elevating her rank in 1993 to Companion, the order's highest degree. Following the premiere of her play What Is to Be Done? at Toronto's Tarragon Theatre in 1982, Gallant briefly stayed in Canada, accepting an appointment as writer-in-residence at the University of Toronto in 1983 and 1984. In 1986 Gallant published Paris Notebooks, a collection of her nonfiction work for the New Yorker that examines French culture and society. During the 1990s, Gallant continued to gather her New Yorker material in such volumes as Across the Bridge (1993) and The Moslem Wife and Other Stories (1993). The recipient of numerous academic honors, Gallant was feted in 1993 during an evening-long tribute at the International Festival of Authors in Toronto. In 2002 Gallant received the Literary Grand Prix Award at the Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival in Montreal.

Major Works

Most of Gallant's short stories initially appeared in the New Yorker, before they were periodically collected and subsequently published. Gallant's main narrative aims have consistently focused on the development of a specific situation from the intellectual and emotional perspective of specific characters, particularly favoring the expatriate condition. For example, Gallant's first collection of stories, The Other Paris, explores the expatriation and dislocation of Britons, Americans, and Canadians living in postwar Europe. My Heart Is Broken, an anthology of several stories and a novella, examines the despair of a variety of exiles who inhabit a series of run-down hotels in Europe. In a similar vein, From the Fifteenth District centers on a group of North American expatriates in World War II Europe. Another recurrent theme of Gallant's fiction involves exploring the individuality of the Canadian character set against a confusing and challenging outside world. Delineating the lives of young Canadians at home and abroad at different moments of the twentieth century, Home Truths concludes with a sequence of six “Montreal stories,” which approximate the upheaval and rejection Gallant experienced as a child and adolescent in Montreal between World War I and World War II. In Transit (1988) consists of stories previously published in the 1950s and 1960s, separated into three sections that alternately focus on parents and children, adolescents, and pre-adolescent youngsters. Half of the eleven stories in Across the Bridge recount moments in the lives of the fictional Carette family in prewar and postwar Montreal, and the other half trace their fortunes as expatriates in Paris. Arranged by the date of the stories' settings rather than by the chronology of publication, The Collected Stories of Mavis Gallant (1996) presents a vast selection of Gallant's fiction encompassing her entire career, the only such collection of Canadian literature by a single writer. Although the pieces featured in The Collected Stories do not represent all of Gallant's short fiction in print, the volume is over eight hundred pages long.

In 2002 Canadian author Michael Ondaatje edited a new collection of Gallant's fiction titled Paris Stories. The work reprints a variety of Gallant's best-known stories, including “The Moslem Wife,” “In Plain Sight,” “Grippes and Poche,” and “The Ice Wagon Going down the Street.” While she is best known for her short fiction, Gallant has also produced several notable works in other genres. The first of her two novels, Green Water, Green Sky (1959) follows the destructive relationship of a mother and daughter living abroad. A Fairly Good Time (1970) constructs a narrative around a Canadian woman living in Paris who is haunted by her own isolation and the collapse of her marriage. Gallant's only work of nonfiction, Paris Notebooks, gathers a cross-section of Gallant's essays and criticism on French culture and society that originally appeared in the New Yorker, including an introduction to the autobiography The Affair of Gabrielle Russier (1971) and her own eyewitness account of the 1968 student riots in Paris. Gallant's play, What Is to Be Done?, is set during World War II, dramatizing the struggle of two young, idealistic Canadians with communist sympathies.

Critical Reception

Critics have widely acclaimed Gallant's short fiction, particularly after her rise to prominence in Canada during the early 1980s. For much of her career, criticism of Gallant's work has been limited to brief reviews in popular magazines and newspapers. However, academic scrutiny of Gallant's fiction has grown since the late 1980s and has continued to expand since the publication of her Collected Stories in 1996. Many reviewers have noted Gallant's command of the English language and skillful use of narrative forms, remarking favorably on her biting sense of irony. Another strain of commentary has focused on her deft character studies, demonstrating Gallant's empathy with individuals caught between cultures. Additionally, several critics have studied the objectivity of Gallant's perceptions of twentieth-century world history in her cumulative work. Scholars have also examined the significance of her expatriate perspective with respect to definitions of the Canadian character. Due to her Acadian heritage and intimacy with the English history of French Canada, several Canadian literary academics have compared Gallant to author Antoinette Maillet, whom many scholars respect as an authority on Acadian culture. Although most critics have singled out the “outsider” perspective of Gallant's fiction for particular mention, many of these same readers have also applauded the distinctly Canadian consciousness that pervades her fiction.

Principal Works

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Other Paris (short stories) 1956

Green Water, Green Sky (novel) 1959

My Heart Is Broken (short stories and novel) 1964; also published as An Unmarried Man's Summer, 1965

A Fairly Good Time (novel) 1970

The Pegnitz Junction (novella and short stories) 1973

The End of the World and Other Stories (short stories) 1974

From the Fifteenth District (novella and short stories) 1979

Home Truths: Selected Canadian Stories (short stories) 1981

What Is to Be Done? (play) 1982

Overhead in a Balloon: Stories of Paris (short stories) 1985

Paris Notebooks: Essays and Reviews (essays and criticism) 1986

In Transit (short stories) 1988

Across the Bridge (short stories) 1993

The Moslem Wife and Other Stories (short stories) 1993

The Collected Stories of Mavis Gallant (short stories) 1996; published in Canada and the United Kingdom as The Selected Stories of Mavis Gallant

Paris Stories [edited by Michael Ondaatje] (short stories) 2002

Glyn Hughes (review date 29 November 1985)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hughes, Glyn. “In a Strange Land.” New Statesman 110, no. 2853 (29 November 1985): 34-5.

[In the following excerpt, Hughes offers a positive assessment of the stories in Home Truths, but notes that Gallant sometimes lapses into “cliché.”]

Mavis Gallant's sensibility is one which seems to cast that of many other authors into a shadow; into a place from which they do not see clearly, or deeply, or richly enough. Her perceptions are keen and so thickly distributed that they make the textures of many other writers' work look meagre. This is not because of any excessive compression or colouring; her writing is relaxed and not ornate. It is because it...

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Mark Abley (review date 13 October 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Abley, Mark. “Touring the City of Light.” Maclean's 99, no. 41 (13 October 1986): 66.

[In the following review, Abley praises the journalistic qualities of Paris Notebooks.]

Mavis Gallant, one of the best writers of fiction Canada has produced, left the country as a young journalist in 1950. In eight subsequent books of fiction, notably From the Fifteenth District (1979) and Overhead in a Balloon (1985), she revealed an eye for character and language as sharp as a cut diamond. The incisive, wary prose of Paris Notebooks, her first collection of nonfiction, demonstrates that she lost none of her skill as a reporter after she quit her...

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Jeff Gross (review date 24 May 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Gross, Jeff. Review of Overhead in a Balloon, by Mavis Gallant. Los Angeles Times Book Review (24 May 1987): 8.

[In the following review, Gross summarizes the themes and style of Overhead in a Balloon.]

Behind the tourist's Paris is a city that struggles to regain momentum and a sense of purpose that drifts between the lure of the technological, “European” future, and a longing for the golden past.

A malaise most perceptively described by Mavis Gallant, a Canadian exile who has lived in Paris since 1950. In the stories [in Overhead in a Balloon], 11 of which appeared in The New Yorker, her characters—French painters,...

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Mavis Gallant and Patrick H. Samway (interview date 13 June 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Gallant, Mavis, and Samway, Patrick H. “An Interview with Mavis Gallant.” America 156, no. 23 (13 June 1987): 485-87.

[In the following interview, Gallant discusses her lifelong love of reading, her reaction to the French character, and the genesis of several of the stories in Overhead in a Balloon.]

Born in Montreal, Mavis Gallant left Canada in 1950 to live in Paris. Her books of fiction include The Other Paris, From the Fifteenth District, and The Pegnitz Junction. In 1981, she received the Order of Canada for her contributions to Canadian letters and the Governor General's Award for Home Truths.

Eleven of...

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Ellen Lesser (review date July-August 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Lesser, Ellen. “A Quartet of Storytellers.” Women's Review of Books 4, nos. 10-11 (July-August 1987): 24.

[In the following excerpt, Lesser assesses the strengths and weaknesses of Home Truths.]

Short stories used to be considered the fiction writer's warm-up, an exercise period, a prelude to the real career—which was, of course, writing novels. No longer. Today, in what critics have grown fond of calling the short-story renaissance, it is possible to make and sustain a career exclusively writing short fiction. Even those writers we think of as primarily novelists now seem sooner or later to publish a volume of stories, as if the rigors of the...

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Anita Brookner (review date 29 August 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Brookner, Anita. “A Canadian in Paris.” Spectator 259, no. 8302 (29 August 1987): 26-7.

[In the following review, Brookner addresses the themes and narrative style of Overhead in a Balloon, comparing the collection to Gallant's novel A Fairly Good Time.]

Mavis Gallant, the Canadian writer, has long been appropriated by the New Yorker, for whom she produces lapidary short stories, which, by an inevitable process of osmosis, have become more characteristic of the New Yorker than of Mavis Gallant. This is to be regretted, for the author, perhaps too little known in this country, since her earlier works are out of print, is able to turn out...

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Richard Cobb (review date 20 February 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Cobb, Richard. “Quite Wise During the Events.” Spectator 260, no. 8328 (20 February 1988): 26-7.

[In the following review, Cobb assesses the events and personalities described in Paris Notebooks.]

There are a good many moments in modern French history that it would have been best to have missed. Often it was just a matter of getting out of Paris early on. In July, 1830, one would not have had to go any further than Rambouillet. In June, 1848, the prudent Parisian could have headed for the Vexin or the Beauce, or, indeed, anywhere within easy reach west of Paris: an eastern exit was not to be recommended. In March-May, 1871, the sensible thing would have...

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Douglas Seibold (review date 28 May 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Seibold, Douglas. “The Sly Subtleties of Mavis Gallant.” Chicago Tribune Books (28 May 1989): 4.

[In the following review, Seibold summarizes the themes of In Transit, highlighting its treatment of the expatriate condition and honest characterizations.]

Mavis Gallant, a native of Canada who makes her home in Paris, is one of the foremost living practitioners of the short story. Her rich, subtle fiction is a fixture in the annual collections of the year's best stories; it has appeared regularly in the New Yorker for at least 30 years; and each of the 20 stories included in In Transit was first published there.


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E. D. Blodgett (essay date winter 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Blodgett, E. D. “Heresy and Other Arts: A Measure of Mavis Gallant's Fiction.” Essays on Canadian Writing 42 (winter 1990): 1-8.

[In the following essay, Blodgett examines Gallant's work by introducing the main points of the critical response to her oeuvre.]

J'étais un enfant dépossédé du monde.

—Anne Hébert (I)

Mavis Gallant was born in 1922. If she were a professor, this special issue would be a festschrift. Gallant, however, is not a professor, and this is not a festschrift, although it is designed to celebrate critically a writer at the apogee of her career. That she...

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Bernice Schrank (essay date winter 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Schrank, Bernice. “Popular Culture and Political Consciousness in Mavis Gallant's My Heart Is Broken.Essays on Canadian Writing 42 (winter 1990): 57-71.

[In the following essay, Schrank examines the influence of popular media on the characters of My Heart Is Broken, highlighting its effects on their flaws, development, and motives.]

Although My Heart Is Broken includes some of Mavis Gallant's best and most frequently anthologized stories, it has received little critical attention. This is not as it should be, given the collection's technical subtlety and political sophistication. Like Dubliners, Winesburg, Ohio, and...

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Mark Illis (review date 10 February 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Illis, Mark. “Partners That Do Not Change Enough.” Spectator 264, no. 8430 (10 February 1990): 29.

[In the following review, Illis comments on the plots and characterizations of In Transit.]

Mavis Gallant's characters, fathers and sons, lovers, husbands and wives, are hopelessly incompatible. They are prone to realise this either with an awareness that quietly creeps up on them, or the opposite way, with a moment of sudden, terrifying clarity:

He accepted this stunning shock: he was 40, he had never been able to earn a living, and in a moment of sexual insanity he had taken on a young, young wife.


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Ronald B. Hatch (review date summer 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hatch, Ronald B. “Missing Connections.” Essays on Canadian Writing 41 (summer 1990): 21-5.

[In the following review, Hatch calls the publication of In Transit a watershed event in Gallant's career and surveys the stories in the collection.]

In the present state of commercial publishing, writers who shun publicity run the risk of finding their work out of print, for a book's success frequently depends on “selling” the author. In the case of Mavis Gallant, whose personal life has always remained private, the result has been that some of her finest short stories have never been collected in book form. The publication of In Transit helps to...

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Janice Kulyk Keefer (essay date fall 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Keefer, Janice Kulyk. “Bridges and Chasms: Multiculturalism and Mavis Gallant's ‘Virus X.’” World Literature Written in English 31, no. 2 (fall 1991): 100-11.

[In the following essay, Keefer discusses the problematic representation of multicultural ideology in the story “Virus X.”]

Mavis Gallant's “Virus X” is several different stories all happening at the same time: a story about two young Canadians abroad and the unlikely friendship that develops between them; a story about a sociology thesis that fails to get written due to the incapacitating but ambiguous illness of its author; a story about temporal, spatial, and conceptual dislocations; a...

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Danielle Schaub (essay date fall 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Schaub, Danielle. “‘Small Lives of Their Own Creation’: Mavis Gallant's Perception of Canadian Culture.” Critique 34, no. 1 (fall 1992): 33-46.

[In the following essay, Schaub analyzes the representation of a core Canadian identity and its defining values in the “Linnet Muir” narrative sequence of Home Truths.]

A Canadian by birth but an exile in Paris for forty years, Mavis Gallant continues to assert her Canadian identity. This she attributes to the indelible mark left by the first years of education, in her case received in Canada. She explains that “they provide our sense of gravity, our initial view of the world, the seed of our sense of...

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Danielle Schaub (essay date spring 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Schaub, Danielle. “Structural Patterns of Alienation and Disjunction: Mavis Gallant's Firmly-Structured Stories.” Canadian Literature 136 (spring 1993): 45-57.

[In the following essay, Schaub discusses the stories “About Geneva,” “Orphans' Progress,” and “My Heart Is Broken” in terms of a textual correlation between structure and theme that betrays disjunction rather than harmony.]

Gallant once remarked that “style is inseparable from structure” (“What Is Style?” 6), so that both the expression and presentation of events, feelings, thoughts and conversations convey the message of fictional pieces. The correlation between presentation and...

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John Bemrose (review date 18 October 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Bemrose, John. “Exile in the Spotlight: Honoring a Master of the Modern Short Story.” Maclean's 106, no. 42 (18 October 1993): 66.

[In the following review, Bemrose evaluates the strengths of Across the Bridge within the context of Gallant's career.]

There is something about Mavis Gallant that embodies the timeless appeal of her finest short stories. The Montreal-born, Paris-based author is 71, but might easily pass for 10 or 15 years younger. Her handsome face has a startling clarity, and her eyes, which seem to subtly change color as she talks, radiate enthusiasm and intelligence. Even her voice is youthful. Touched with the old-fashioned accents...

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Barbara Gabriel (review date March 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Gabriel, Barbara. “Gallant Language.” Canadian Forum 72, no. 187 (March 1994): 38-40.

[In the following review, Gabriel explores the linguistic dimension of Across the Bridge, highlighting Gallant's preoccupation with language itself.]

There is a magical moment at the close of the title story of Mavis Gallant's most recent short story collection [Across the Bridge] in which the young Parisian female protagonist is unexpectedly washed by a wave of happiness. Reconciled for the first time with her abandoned fiancé, she sees him off on the train, following a meeting in which, little by little, she has seen the possibility of love. Instructed to...

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Doris Betts (review date 5 March 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Betts, Doris. Review of Across the Bridge, by Mavis Gallant. America 1170, no. 8 (5 March 1994): 28.

[In the following review, Betts examines the unsentimental tone and perspective of Across the Bridge.]

Aristotle describes the “great-souled man” as one who, moving others, is himself unmoved. In these 11 stories that make up her 11th book, [Across the Bridge,] Canadian native Mavis Gallant writes with the skill of a great-souled woman whose calm narrative style seems to keep her, like her character Blaise Forain, “at a remove” from painful events so understated that the reader's heart may already have broken before he felt it crack....

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Jennifer Krauss (review date 28 March 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Krauss, Jennifer. “Family Secrets.” New Republic 210, no. 13 (28 March 1994): 43-5.

[In the following review, Krauss discusses the family tensions that motivate the characters and inform the style and structure of Across the Bridge.]

Family is an embattled country surrounded by moats in Mavis Gallant's precarious world. The characters in her stories who escape its confines—castoffs or deserters committing acts of treason—are wary adventurers, uncertain if they are being rescued or taken prisoner. When her younger sister gets married and prepares to embark on a new life in “The Chosen Husband,” one of four linked stories in the latest collection,...

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Elín Elgaard (review date summer 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Elgaard, Elín. Review of Across the Bridge, by Mavis Gallant. World Literature Today 68, no. 3 (summer 1994): 579.

[In the following review, Elgaard argues that Across the Bridge is thematically redundant and derivative.]

In the eleven stories of Across the Bridge, Mavis Gallant's eleventh work, there are few surprises, though, once past the first four (of which “flowers from an earlier wedding banked on the altar rail” may serve emblematically for tired and tested territory), things brighten somewhat. But whether Montréal or Paris, Across the Bridge is a pitiless survey of humanity—Katherine Mansfield at her burlesque...

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Jeanne Schinto (review date summer 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Schinto, Jeanne. “Maps Can Only Show So Much.” Belles Lettres 9, no. 4 (summer 1994): 14.

[In the following excerpt, Schinto summarizes the major themes of Across the Bridge.]

The stories in Mavis Gallant's 11th book, Across the Bridge, take place in three separate countries—Canada, France, and the United States; they also span several decades, taking into account such events as World Wars I and II, Korea, and Vietnam (or “the War in Indochina,” as it is called in Paris). Gallant never tries to portray such global cataclysms directly, however; instead, her gift is to show how local lives are inevitably transformed in their wake or else keep on...

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Tracy Ware (review date spring 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Ware, Tracy. Review of Across the Bridge, by Mavis Gallant. Studies in Short Fiction 32, no. 2 (spring 1995): 239-40.

[In the following review, Ware evaluates the style of Across the Bridge, highlighting the ironic elements of several stories.]

The important point about Mavis Gallant is that she writes magnificent short fiction. In Across the Bridge, she is at her best: the book seems destined to join The Pegnitz Junction (1973), From the Fifteenth District (1979), and Home Truths (1981) on the short list of Gallant's major collections. Nine of these 11 stories originally appeared in The New Yorker, with which...

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Mavis Gallant and Daphne Kalotay (interview date August 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Gallant, Mavis, and Daphne Kalotay. “Mavis Gallant: The Art of Fiction CLX.” Paris Review 41, no. 153 (winter 1999-2000): 192-211.

[In the following interview, which originally took place in August, 1996, Gallant discusses her literary influences, writing habits, and life as an expatriate author.]

This interview was conducted outdoors at Le Select in Paris on a late afternoon in August, 1996. Gallant had suggested the café, which is not far from her apartment in the Montparnasse neighborhood. Surrounded by street bustle and occasionally interrupted (Gallant has lived in the neighborhood for decades and knows a number of regulars at the café), the...

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Michael Dorris (review date 6 October 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Dorris, Michael. “A Gallant Storyteller.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (6 October 1996): 1, 12.

[In the following review, Dorris surveys the contents and arrangement of stories in The Collected Stories of Mavis Gallant, noting that the collection is “far too short.”]

Some writers have all the luck: They possess a name so intrinsically right, so appropriate to the quality of fiction they create, that their signature alone demands serious literary attention.

Mavis Gallant's name is intimately connected with the august imprimatur of the New Yorker—as well it should be, since she has been published consistently in that...

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David Finkle (essay date 7 October 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Finkle, David. “Mavis Gallant: An Oeuvre Extraordinaire.” Publishers Weekly 243, no. 41 (7 October 1996): 46-7.

[In the following essay, Finkle provides an overview of Gallant's life and career through the publication of The Collected Stories of Mavis Gallant.]

Not every expatriate writer in France likes to sit at La Coupole, the clean, well-lighted Boulevard Montparnasse brasserie. Some like to while away their off-writing hours across the wide thoroughfare at the smaller, darker Cafe Select. Mavis Gallant, a Montrealer who's lived permanently in Paris since 1960, is one of them. That's where she decides she'll be most comfortable talking about her fiction...

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Pearl K. Bell (review date 25 November 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Bell, Pearl K. “Rara Mavis.” New Republic 215, no. 22 (25 November 1996): 42-5.

[In the following review, Bell details the autobiographical aspects of The Collected Stories of Mavis Gallant, spotlighting Gallant's affiliation with the New Yorker.]

More than forty years ago, Mavis Gallant, then 27, was working on a Montreal weekly and struggling to write stories which only a close friend or two were permitted to read. Restless and ambitious, she came to a bold decision: she would give herself two years to see whether she could support herself entirely by writing, and if at the end of that time the foolhardy plan had turned to ashes, she would renounce...

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Brooke Allen (review date December 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Allen, Brooke. “Brownout in the City of Light.” New Criterion 15, no. 4 (December 1996): 69-72.

[In the following review, Allen evaluates the settings, themes, and tone of The Collected Stories of Mavis Gallant in relation to the stories's autobiographical significance.]

Postwar Paris is a mythical place, dear to the hearts of a whole generation of Americans. Art Buchwald's recent memoir, I'll Always Have Paris, blends the familiar ingredients once again: Sartre and de Beauvoir at the Deux Magots, The Paris Review, Alice B. Toklas, Harry's New York Bar (located at 5 rue Daunou, pronounced by American visitors “Sank Roo Doe Noo”), A....

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Merle Rubin (review date 15 January 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Rubin, Merle. “New Yorker Writer's Miniature Novels.” Christian Science Monitor (15 January 1997): 15.

[In the following review, Rubin comments on the narrative strategies of The Collected Stories of Mavis Gallant, observing the effect of the disinterested tone common to them.]

The short stories of Mavis Gallant might well be said to epitomize the spirit of The New Yorker at midcentury, although in fact her contributions to that magazine have continued on into the century's last decade.

Born in Montreal in 1922, Gallant began writing for The New Yorker in 1950. The payment she received for her first story...

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Judith Farr (review date 8 February 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Farr, Judith. Review of The Collected Stories of Mavis Gallant, by Mavis Gallant. America 176, no. 4 (8 February 1997): 33-4.

[In the following review, Farr assesses the literary accomplishments of The Collected Stories of Mavis Gallant, noting the characterizations and linguistic implications of the text.]

I first read Mavis Gallant when I was 16, studying French while boarding for the summer in the Woodmont section of Montreal with a dignified Anglophone lady. Over tea each afternoon, this woman complained that “English Quebec” was being overwhelmed by “foreign speakers,” often pausing to address her maid, a Quebecoise, in an accurate...

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Nancy Baele (review date April 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Baele, Nancy. “A Climate of Mind.” Canadian Forum 75, no. 858 (April 1997): 35-7.

[In the following review, Baele offers high praise for The Selected Stories of Mavis Gallant, but criticizes the collection's publisher for how they released the work.]

“I have lived in writing, like a spoonful of water in a river, for more than forty-five years,” Mavis Gallant writes in the preface to this landmark edition of her work [The Selected Stories of Mavis Gallant]. And because this year's winner of the Molson prize lives in writing with such intensity, such subtlety, such wide vision, she offers her readers the chance to experience the world...

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Jane Gardam (review date 3 May 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Gardam, Jane. “The Language of Her Imagination.” Spectator 278, no. 8805 (3 May 1997): 42-3.

[In the following review, Gardam appraises the literary merits of The Selected Stories of Mavis Gallant.]

It is odd that Mavis Gallant, for decades publishing fiction in the New Yorker, widely translated, winner this year of the Canadian prize for a life dedicated to the arts, is not better known here. Maybe it is because in Britain we are wary of short stories and she has remained faithful to them for over half a century; or at any rate faithful to intense novels from four to 40 pages long, which is not necessarily the same thing; but short stories we call...

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Mavis Gallant and Leslie Schenk (interview date 6 May 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Gallant, Mavis, and Leslie Schenk. “Celebrating Mavis Gallant.” World Literature Today 72, no. 1 (winter 1998): 19-26.

[In the following interview, originally conducted on May 6, 1997, Gallant discusses her literary milieu, its autobiographical dimension, and the French response to her body of work.]

Prior to requesting an interview with Mavis Gallant, deservedly and universally recognized as a master of the short story today (which means of all time), I undertook to read her new Collected Stories.1 Easier said than done. I can take on an 887—page novel with the greatest of ease, but taking on fifty-two short stories amounting to the...

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Jonathan Coe (review date 18 September 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Coe, Jonathan. “The Life of Henry Grippes.” London Review of Books 19, no. 18 (18 September 1997): 13.

[In the following review, Coe applauds the literary achievements of The Selected Stories of Mavis Gallant in terms of the volume's “Henri Grippes” narrative sequence.]

This enormous volume [The Selected Stories of Mavis Gallant]—beautifully designed, bound and typeset by its publishers—represents the merest sliver of Mavis Gallant's lifelong achievement. Even discounting the two novels and the books of essays, what we have here can amount to little more than half the content of her nine published short-story collections. Gallant has...

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Ronald B. Hatch (review date spring 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hatch, Ronald B. “Selected Gallant.” Canadian Literature 160 (spring 1999): 159-61.

[In the following review, Hatch assesses the merits of The Selected Stories of Mavis Gallant, but regrets the volume's uneven distribution in Canada.]

That [The Selected Stories of Mavis Gallant] is beautifully produced, a fine selection of her stories, and a bargain at $39.95 for almost 900 pages is the crucial point to make in this review about one of Canada's most eminent fiction writers. Yet there are also a number of oddities about the publication that require mentioning. The volume appeared in late 1996 to the sort of hype we have come to expect from a...

(The entire section is 1268 words.)

Neil Besner (essay date fall 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Besner, Neil. “Reading Mavis Gallant's 1940s in the 1990s: ‘The Fenton Child.’” University of Toronto Quarterly 68, no. 4 (fall 1999): 898-908.

[In the following essay, Besner explicates the “Canadian” perspective in the story “The Fenton Child,” correlating its literary achievement to contemporary Anglo-French Canadian life.]

Fiction, like painting, consists entirely of more than meets the eye; otherwise it is not worth a second's consideration.

Mavis Gallant

(Mavis Gallant's ‘The Moslem Wife’ has more going on in it than five novels).


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Claire Wilkshire (essay date fall 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Wilkshire, Claire. “‘Voice Is Everything’: Reading Mavis Gallant's ‘The Pegnitz Junction.’” University of Toronto Quarterly 69, no. 4 (fall 2000): 891-916.

[In the following essay, Wilkshire analyzes the point of view and characterization of the story “The Pegnitz Junction,” surveying the critical response to other narrators of Gallant's stories and positing an archetypal voice that highlights the centrality of voice in short fiction.]

Voice is everything. If I don't hear the voice, I can't write the story. One has to find the exact tone, and it has to hold from beginning to end if it is to be true.


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Further Reading

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


Bell, Millicent. “Fiction Chronicle.” Partisan Review 64, no. 3 (summer 1997): 414-28.

Bell examines the short fiction of Gallant, Alice Munro, and William Trevor.

Greenstein, Michael. “How They Write Us: Accepting and Excepting ‘The Jew’ in Canadian Fiction.” Shofar 20, no. 2 (winter 2002): 5-29.

Greenstein discusses the portrayal of Jewish characters in the fiction of several female Canadian authors, including Gallant.

Ingham, David. “The Poetics of Dislocation.” Books in Canada 31, no. 3 (May 2002): 19-20.

Ingham presents a critical...

(The entire section is 200 words.)