Mavis Gallant
Story Teller International

Mavis Gallant, an only child, was born in Montreal in 1922. Her parents died when she was young, and she was educated in a mind-boggling series of 17 public, convent, and boarding schools. In her twenties, she worked as a reporter for the Montreal Standard (1944-1950), leaving journalism in 1950 to pursue her true love and vocation – fiction writing.

Because of her fluency in both French and English, she selected Paris as her home base. Although she maintains her Canadian citizenship, Gallant enjoys a life of independence, cultural stimulation, and “marvellous peace and quiet.”

This view of Mavis Gallant was taken at Chibougamau, Quebec, while reporting for the Montréal Gazette in the mid 1940s. Finally recognized by her homeland when she was appointed Officer of the Order of Canada in 1981, Mavis Gallant has lived mainly in Paris since 1950. Not widely read in Canada until publication of Far from the Fifteenth District (1979), Home Truths (1981), and Overhead in a Balloon (1985), Mavis Gallant, today, is one of Canada's best-known authors read internationally. [Photo, courtesy National Archives of Canada/PA-114591]

In interviews and descriptions of her lifestyle, Gallant is forthright about the protectiveness she feels towards her independence and privacy. In an interview with Geoff Hancock in Canadian Fiction Magazine in 1978, she discussed her “life project” and her deliberate move to France to write by saying, “I have arranged matters so that I would be free to write. It’s what I like doing.” In the preface to her collection of stories, Home Truths: Selected Canadian Stories (1981), she uses the words of Pasternak as her epigraph: “Only personal independence matters.”

Mavis Gallant has the esteemed privilege of being, along with Alice Munroe, one of the few Canadian authors whose works regularly appear in The New Yorker. Many of Gallant’s stories appear there first and are subsequently brought under one cover to form a collection.

Grazia Merler observes in her book, Mavis Gallant: Narrative Patterns and Devices, that “Psychological character development is not the heart of Mavis Gallant’s stories, nor is plot. Specific situation development and reconstruction of the state of mind or of heart is, however, the main objective.” Frequently, Gallant’s stories focus on expatriate men and women who have come to feel lost or isolated; marriages that have grown flimsy or shabby; lives that have faltered and now hover in the shadowy area between illusion, self-delusion, and reality. As well, because of her heritage and understanding of Acadian history, she is often compared to Antonine Maillet, considered to be spokesperson for Acadian culture in Canada.

In a critical book, Reading Mavis Gallant, Janice Kulyk Keefer says, “Gallant is a writer who dazzles us with her command of the language, her innovative use of narrative forms, the acuity of her intelligence, and the incisiveness of her wit. Yet she also disconcerts us with her insistence on the constrictions and limitations that dominate human experience.”

Gallant has written two novels, Green Water, Green Sky (1969) and A Fairly Good Time (1970); a play, What is to be Done? (1984); numerous celebrated collections of stories, The Other Paris (1956), My Heart is Broken (1964), The Pegnitz Junction (1973), The End of the World and Other Stories (1974), From the Fifteenth District (1978), Home Truths: Selected Canadian Stories (1981), Overhead in a Balloon: Stories of Paris (1985), and In Transit (1988); and a non-fiction work, Paris Journals: Selected Essays and Reviews (1986).

In 1981, Gallant was honoured by her native country and made an Officer of the Order of Canada for her contribution to literature; that year, she received the Governor General’s award for literature for her collection of stories, Home Truths. In 1983-84, she returned to Canada to be the writer-in-residence at the University of Toronto. Queen’s University bestowed an LL.D. upon this famous short story writer in 1991.

Mavis Gallant’s life in Paris is spent writing her internationally acclaimed stories and in participating in the occasional gallery opening and gala opening night exhibits. She assiduously reads daily newspapers in German, Italian, French, and English and occasionally (and reluctantly) grants an interview.

In a review of her work in Books in Canada in 1978, Geoff Hancock asserts that “Mavis Gallant’s fiction is among the finest ever written by a Canadian. But, like buried treasure, both the author and her writing are to discover.”

Speaking of Gallant in Canadian Reader, Robert Fulford has said, “One begins comparing her best moments to those of major figures in literary history. Names like Henry James, Chekhov, and George Eliot dance across the mind.”

Patricia Stone