Style and Technique
Mavis Gallant’s use of setting expresses the respectable conservatism of Speck’s world. The Faubourg Saint-Germain neighborhood of Paris is described as a quarter marked by decaying aristocratic elegance. The gallery’s only commercial neighbors are a restaurant that caters to lower-echelon civil servants and a bookstore “painted royal blue, a conservative color he found reassuring.” Unfortunately this bourgeois respectability is cold; the antiquated heating system is useless, and Speck’s gallery is bitterly cold. The image of the bookstore becomes increasingly menacing as Speck’s hopes for his idea fade, and he ponders the changing meanings of fascism. What had once seemed calmly respectable takes on an aspect of violence.
An image of evening sadness follows Speck through the low points in his fortunes. As the story opens, Speck is groping for the idea that will carry him to financial security and respectability. He feels a “faint, floating sadness.” “In his experience, love affairs and marriages perished between seven and eight o-clock, the hour of rain and no taxis.” Later, when Speck has the idea of a Cruche retrospective, the rain has stopped. At another low point, when Speck reflects on the depressing economy and the changing attitude toward fascism, it is once again between seven and eight. At the moment when he hurls the label “fascist” at Lydia Cruche, he is standing at a bus stop on a cold, rainy evening. However, in the final image of the story, Speck has overcome the evening sadness. “He smiled at the bright, wet streets of Paris as he and Cruche, together, triumphantly crossed the Alps.”
Gallant is noted for her meticulous use of language and precise details that allow space for complicated social nuances, a feature of “Speck’s Idea.” The story is long, thirty-eight pages, and the plot meanders, contributing to the mood of disorientation, confusion, and constant change that characterizes Speck’s wandering fortunes. Although the style is realistic, the story demands a certain commitment of attention. It is as complicated as a miniature novel.