Mavis Gallant: Québécoise writer who settled in Paris and found a home for her masterful short stories in the pages of The New Yorker

 

Mavis Gallant carved out an international reputation as a master short-story author while living in Paris for decades. The bilingual Québécoise started out as a journalist and went on to publish well over 100 s hort stories, many of them in The New Yorker and in collections such as The Other Paris, Across the Bridge and In Transit. As an émigré, she often wrote about foreign cultures.

"Her voice was a defining one for New Yorker fiction: clear, sharp, penetrating, often breathtaking in its ability to dissect human emotions, motivations, flaws, and moments of grace," the New Yorker's fiction editor Deborah Treisman said. "She was an observer, a portraitist both of social niceties – no gesture went unnoted – and of the brutality of what can happen in our own minds."

Born Mavis Leslie Young in Montreal in 1922, Gallant was an only child in an English-speaking Protestant family that splintered: her father died when she was young, and her mother remarried. From the age of four she was sent to numerous boarding schools in Canada and the US. Many were French-speaking, and she was usually the only English speaker.

After graduation, Gallant returned to Montreal and landed an entry-level stint at the National Film Board and then a job as a reporter for the Montreal Standard. She married a Winnipeg musician, John Gallant, in 1942, but they divorced five years later. In 1950, when she was 28, she kept a promise she had made to herself to leave journalism by the time she was 30. She travelled round Europe, living on her New Yorker fees and by giving English lessons.

"I live on bread, wine, and mortadella," she wrote in her diary in Madrid in 1952. "Europe for me is governed by the price of mortadella." She gave herself two years to succeed, and did. Her first internationally published short story, "Madeline's Birthday", had appeared in The New Yorker in 1951, and more followed, but her agent pocketed her fees and told her the stories had been turned down. It wasn't until she looked at a copy of the magazine in a library that she realised. She contacted the celebrated New Yorker editor William Maxwell, and a 25-year literary relationship began.

Though Montreal's literary scene was thriving at the time, with writers like Mordecai Richler, Gallant said she moved to Europe when "Canada in the early '50s was an intellectual desert. I wanted to live in Paris and write nothing but fiction and be perfectly free. I just held my breath and jumped. I didn't even look to see if there was water in the pool."

Gallant felt at home in Europe, gaining an acceptance that she felt she never would have back in Canada, she told a 2006 television documentary, Paris Stories: The Writing of Mavis Gallant. "I found for the first time in my life a society where you could say you're a writer and not be asked for three months' rent in advance."

Gallant didn't often write about herself, but more often of people who, like her, lived in exile. Some of her early life was revealed in the collection Home Truths. In a series of stories, she invented a young Canadian woman, Linnet Muir, who lives in New York and is then hired by a Montreal newspaper during the Second World War. Like Muir, Gallant remembers hearing her boss say that the only reason they hired her is because the men were away.

Gallant told The Paris Review that writing is like "a love affair: the beginning is the best part. I write every day. It is not a burden. It is the way I live."

ERIC LAW

Mavis Leslie de Trafford Young, author: born Montreal 11 August 1922; married 1942 John Gallant (divorced 1947); died Paris 18 February 2014.

News
people
News
people And here is why...
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
News
i100
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsWelsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
News
Destructive discourse: Jewish boys look at anti-Semitic graffiti sprayed on to the walls of the synagogue in March 2006, near Tel Aviv
peopleAt the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Associate Recrutiment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Group have been well ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...

Year 6 Teacher (interventions)

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...

PMLD Teacher

Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Time to stop running: At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity

Time to stop running

At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence