Themes and Meanings
In a journalistic piece written in 1947 for Standard Magazine entitled “Is Romance Killing Your Marriage?” Mavis Gallant refers to the anthropologist Margaret Mead’s theory that the myth of romantic love was responsible for the increasing collapse of marriages in North America. Those seeking romantic love, Gallant states, affirming Mead’s observation, will find that it does not exist. This idea reappears in “The Other Paris,” but although the article is a categorical rejection of romantic love, the story, in portraying the intense emotional and mental conflict of an individual forced to come to grips with a possible need for romantic love, has a richly ambiguous tone.
Young Carol learned at college that “the illusion of love was a blight imposed by the film industry, and almost entirely responsible for the high rate of divorce.” However, during her first stay in Paris, she experiences the tug of romantic love and is caught between her romantic yearning and her realistic perception. She is attracted to Felix, who, dispossessed, world-weary, and mysterious, exhibits the trappings of the romantic hero. She is momentarily tempted to abandon the evident staidness of her world for the apparent excitement of his. However, she resists, persuading herself to believe that what “she and Howard had was better.” She compromises herself. In doing so, however, she evades or at least eases the tormenting inner conflict caused by her indulgence in romantic love.
The omniscient narrator, whose presence is evident throughout the story, neither condemns nor sanctions Carol’s decision. The reader is invited to consider whether it would have been better for her to choose Felix’s world, which is romantic but contains aspects that are abhorrent to her; whether, given Carol’s particular sensibility, she has chosen what is best for her; and whether, in not risking a romantic relationship, Carol has robbed herself of a richer emotional life.
It is possible to see the story as an account of a Jamesian American innocent in Europe, or of the comforting nature of memory, or of the interplay between illusion and reality, or of the relative truth of art, or of the differences between American and European mores. All of these are evident in “The Other Paris,” but they are ancillary to the main study of Carol’s confrontation with romantic love.