Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Gallant points up the inner conflict of her protagonist, who is caught between antithetical perceptions of love, by employing a pervasive pattern of opposites. The two time sequences reveal this pattern: The past is characterized by the bleakness and darkness of winter; the current time sequence by the buds and light of spring, the advent of which is “like coming out a tunnel.” The past episodes show Carol consciously striving for romance and are set against the immediate incident that reveals her confronting the possibility of romantic love without deliberately seeking it.

Gallant’s characterization also exhibits the counterpointing principle at work. Although Odile, who has romance, worries about financial security, Carol, who is materially comfortable, yearns for romance. Odile’s stock observations of New York are compared with Carol’s fixed expectations of Paris. Also, Felix is a perfect foil to Howard.

A subtler form of contrast that helps to keep before the reader Carol’s fluctuation between reality and fancy is that between the actual and the desired suggested by the frequent use of “as if” constructions. At one point, for example, the narrator says: “Her heart leaped as if he, Felix, had said he loved her.” There are at least a dozen such phrasings in the story.

The story constantly and subtly shifts between two voices, Carol’s and the omniscient narrator’s, which offer contrasting perceptions of Carol’s experiences. The protagonist’s assessment of herself is narrow; the narrator’s of her is inclusive. Carol’s elicits sympathy; the narrator’s is occasionally ironic but never mocking, for the narrator recognizes the honesty as well as the limits of Carol’s self-assessment and makes the reader aware that she is no worse than the other characters, such as Odile, who is biased in her view of others, has questionable expectations, and compromises as well.

This is an early Gallant story, but her skills as a short-story writer are recognizable. Besides this appropriate pattern of opposites, there are her graphic but economical portrait of postwar Paris, her structural skill, her subtle tone, and her grasp of the complex and the elusive in examining the individual’s ordinary experiences.


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Canadian Fiction Magazine 28 (1978). Special issue on Mavis Gallant.

Essays in Canadian Writing 42 (Winter, 1990). Special issue on Mavis Gallant.

Gadpaille, Michelle. “Mavis Gallant.” In The Canadian Short Story. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Grant, Judith Skleton. “Mavis Gallant.” In Canadian Writers and Their Works, edited by Robert Lecker, Jack David, and Ellen Quigley. Toronto: ECW Press, 1989.

Keith, William John. “Mavis Gallant.” In A Sense of Style: Studies in the Art of Fiction in English-Speaking Canada. Toronto: ECW Press, 1988.

Kulyk Keefer, Janice. Reading Mavis Gallant. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Schaub, Danielle. Mavis Gallant. New York: Twayne, 1998.

Simmons, Diane. “Remittance Men: Exile and Identity in the Short Stories of Mavis Gallant.” In Canadian Women Writing Fiction, edited by Mickey Pearlman. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1993.

Smythe, Karen. Gallant, Munro, and the Poetics of Elegy. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1992.