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
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Life and Style
tech
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
John Terry, Frank Lampard
footballChelsea captain sends signed shirt to fan whose mum had died
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
tv
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
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

Graduate Pricing Analyst - 6 months / 1 year analytical experience

£20000 - £25000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Project Manager (retail, upgrades, rollouts)

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Project...

Hourly Paid Teachers

£20 - £25 per hour: Randstad Education Cheshire: randstad education are curren...

Technical Project Manager - Software and Infrastructure - Government Experience

£400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Central Lon...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits