Gallant began writing fiction in Canada, publishing stories in Preview (1944), the Standard Magazine (1946) and Northern Review (1950). But in 1950, determined to write fiction full time, she courageously departed for Europe, finally settling in Paris, where she still resides.
Gallant achieved her ambition quickly; since 1951, she has published more than 100 stories, most of which first appeared in the New Yorker magazine, where she continues to publish; they are collected, along with several novellas, in The Other Paris (1956), My Heart Is Broken (1964), The Pegnitz Junction (1973), The End of the World and Other Stories (1974) and From the Fifteenth District: A Novella and Eight Stories (1979). In 1983-84, Gallant returned to Canada as writer-in-residence at the University of Toronto. In 1984 she received the Canada-Australia literary prize.
Gallant's vibrant, flawless prose, often presented in a detached ironic tone, carries a highly visual quality, and her sharply delineated characters are routinely set within a truthfully rendered specific time and place. Perhaps because of her own troubled childhood, she is frequently drawn to the plight of frightened, lonely children and adolescents, and writes compassionately of their anguish.
Another recurring focus is on expatriates - English, American or Canadian - who have been displaced from their cultural milieu through choice or circumstance; lacking a clear sense of direction, they are adrift as permanent tourists, eking out miserable lives in run-down European hotels and pensions. In her 2 novels, Green Water, Green Sky (1959) and A Fairly Good Time (1970), similar patterns are evoked, with characters perpetually in transit. Always fascinated by varieties of exile and intensely interested in politics, Gallant has also written compelling stories about Germans who found themselves strangers in their homeland after WWII.
Neglected for a long time in Canada, Gallant has finally gained recognition here. In 1981 she was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada and in 1993 was raised to Companion, the Order's highest level. In 1982 Toronto's Tarragon Theatre premiered her first play, What Is To Be Done? In the same year, Home Truths: Selected Canadian Stories (1981) won the Governor General's Award. This collection of stories about young Canadians at home and abroad concludes with the 6 linked "Montréal Stories," which are as close as Gallant has come to a precise evocation of her childhood and her youthful wartime experiences during Montréal's "two solitudes." Four of the 11 stories in Across the Bridge (1993) follow the fortunes of the Carette family in Montréal, another is set in post-war Montréal, and the rest are set in Paris.
Gallant also speaks with an authoritative voice about her adopted homeland. In the collection Overhead in a Balloon: Stories of Paris (1985) she depicts French life in the post-war period. Displaying a great gift for nonfiction, she has also written an impressive body of reviews and essays on French culture and society, most notably a lucid, sympathetic introduction to The Affair of Gabrielle Russier (1971) and a graphic eyewitness account of the 1968 Paris student riots. These latter works of nonfiction, initially published in the New Yorker, are now collected in Paris Notebooks: Essays and Reviews (1986). Her Selected Stories was published to great acclaim in 1996.
Author DONNA COATES
Links to Other Sites
A profile of Canadian author Mavis Gallant. From Library and Archives Canada.