Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

How does Mavis Gallant explore the themes of rootlessness, dislocation, and alienation in her fiction?

Why do you think Gallant’s fiction is so highly admired by other writers but has never been widely popular with general readers?

What is it about Gallant’s stories, even those that deal with the same characters, that make them read like short stories rather than chapters of novels?

Is there anything particularly “Canadian” about Gallant’s Canadian stories?

How might Gallant’s early experiences of being brought up in various boarding schools affect her themes and concerns in her fiction?

How do Gallant’s stories combine both humor and despair?

Gallant once said in an interview that short-story readers are a special kind of reader, like readers of poetry. How do Gallant’s stories support this idea?

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

A journalist and essayist as well as a writer of fiction, Mavis Gallant has chronicled various social and historical events, such as the case of Gabrielle Russier, a young high school teacher in Marseille, who was driven to suicide by persecution for having become romantically involved with one of her students. Paris Notebooks: Essays and Reviews (1986) is a collection of essays in which Gallant offers observations relating to her many years spent in France, scrutinizing French culture and life in general. Her accounts of the student revolt of 1968 are particularly riveting.

In addition, Gallant wrote The War Brides (1978), a collection of biographical articles, and the play What Is to Be Done? (pr. 1982), a drama about two young women who idealize communism. Her essays, articles, and reviews have appeared regularly in The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, The New Republic, The New York Review of Books, and The Times Literary Supplement.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Mavis Gallant’s stature as a writer of short fiction is unsurpassed. The elegant simplicity of her pieces is an unchanging trait of her work and was in fact recognized in her first published piece, “Madeleine’s Birthday,” for which The New Yorker paid six hundred dollars in 1951. In 1981, Gallant was awarded Canada’s Governor-General’s Literary Award for fiction for Home Truths. Other awards include the Canadian Fiction Prize (1978), Officer of the Order of Canada (1981), and honorary doctorates from the University of Saint Anne, Nova Scotia (1984), York University (1984), the University of Western Canada (1990), Queen’s University (1992), University of Montreal (1995), and Birnap’s University (1995). She has also received the Canada-Australia Literary Prize (1985) and the Canadian Council Molson Prize for the Arts (1997).

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

The literary reputation of Mavis Gallant (guh-LAHNT) rests more on her short fiction than on her novels. The great majority of Gallant’s published short stories have appeared in The New Yorker, and many of them have also been collected in books, including The Other Paris (1956); My Heart Is Broken, which contains the novella Its Image on the Mirror (1964); The End of the World, and Other Stories (1974); From the Fifteenth District (1979); Home Truths: Selected Canadian Stories (1981); In Transit (1988); Across the Bridge (1993); The Moslem Wife, and Other Stories (1994); Paris Stories(2002); and Varieties of Exile (2003). Her one play, What Is to Be Done?, was performed in Toronto in 1982. Her nonfiction includes a seventy-two-page essay about a French schoolteacher’s affair with a student that appeared as the introduction to The Affair of Gabrielle Russier (1971) and a substantial body of periodical essays, book reviews, and newspaper features and articles, some of which are collected in Paris Notebooks: Essays and Reviews (1986).


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Mavis Gallant’s chief accomplishment as an author has been to illuminate the physical and psychological effects of the aftermath of World War II and of geographic and cultural dislocation in general. Her recognition of the essential homelessness of the human spirit in the modern world gives her work an appeal on both sides of the Atlantic. She transmutes the banalities of the life of the stranger abroad into metaphors of wandering in a confusing landscape, which is both another country and one’s own heart.

After Gallant won the Canadian Fiction Prize in 1978 and the Governor-General’s Award in 1981, literary awards continued to come her way. Her publications have garnered the Canada-Australia Literary Prize (1984), the Canada Council Molson Prize for the Arts (1996), the Matt Cohen Award (2001), and the Rea Award for the Short Story (2002). Although Gallant is bilingual, she writes only in English, so it was quite a distinction for her to receive Quebec’s Prix-Athanase-David in 2006, which up until that point was given only for literature written in French.

Gallant was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1981 and was promoted to the order’s highest level of Companion in 1993. In 1989 she became an Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters as well as a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (United Kingdom). In 2004, she was the recipient of a Lannan Literary Fellowship. Since the 1980’s, Gallant has been awarded honorary degrees from several universities, including the University of Toronto, the University of Montreal, York University, and Queen’s University. Her papers are donated on an ongoing basis to the University of Toronto, where she was a writer-in-residence in 1983-1984. She is considered by critics in Europe and in North America to be one of the greatest Canadian writers of short fiction, along with Alice Munro and Morley Callaghan.

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

How has the linguistic divisiveness of Canada affected Mavis Gallant’s writing career?

Does Gallant introduce a contemporary but essentially unfamiliar moral world to her readers, or does she help them make sense of a familiar but confusing world?

How does one explain the rather late recognition of Gallant’s merit by a Canadian audience?

What does the adjective “other” signify in the title “The Other Paris”?

How can the “acceptance of mediocrity” lead to happiness, as happens to Sylvie in “Across the Bridge”?


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Besner, Neil. The Light of Imagination: Mavis Gallant’s Fiction. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1988. An extremely thorough analysis of Gallant’s fiction from The Other Paris to Overhead in a Balloon. Includes a biographical review as well as a useful critical bibliography.

Clement, Lesley D. Learning to Look: A Visual Response to Mavis Gallant’s Fiction. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2000. This “visual” study of Gallant’s work analyzes her descriptive powers, which generally take priority over plot per se.

Cote, Nicole, Peter Sabor, and Robert...

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