Friday, February 22, 2008

1988 Interview with Mavis Gallant to read online in Athabaska University's Aurora Interview Series

Genesis Of A Story:
Mavis Gallant Describes The Creative Process Behind Her Award-winning Stories
Interview by Kathy Williams

.....Aurora: In The Pegnitz Junction, you stretch the limits of the traditional use of point of view. You tell the story from Christine's point of view, but she actually is receiving the thoughts of the other characters.

Gallant: Fiction. That to me is the writing of fiction. I truly enjoyed writing The Pegnitz Junction, and I didn't care if it was ever published. I absolutely adored writing it. I wrote it in a great hurry and put a lot of things into it that I liked and that amused me. It's one of the few things I can reread.

Aurora: I feel sometimes that she is almost helpless. They are transmitting, and she has to receive these waves, these messages. Sometimes she doesn't know what to do with them.

Gallant: But it's not metaphysical. I absolutely refuse that! I won't have it! No, I'm joking. The things that she sees out of the train window all had a reference to German literature. I was just having a good time with it, and a lot of it is satire. There are names in it from Wilhelm Busch, the German caricaturist. That thing in the castle is obviously just a satire of Kafka's castles. Even the names I gave people, if you look at them closely, are satire. But I just did it for myself.

Aurora:At the same time, I have read that you were exploring the whole phenomena of the rise of Nazism.

Gallant: Was I now? When I was writing the stories that were in the book—not the novella—I was fascinated with Germany, but that has something to do with my generation. I am the war generation, and I was never satisfied with anything that I had read about it. Everything seemed to me to be written in black and white, and I wondered if I could do something with fiction. I thought it had to be done at a kind of lower middle-class level. I think that's where it all arose, the Nazi movement. I got very much into it, then I couldn't do anymore, so I stopped. That was when I wrote all those stories, as well as a couple that were in other anthologies.

Aurora: I think you stated that you don't deliberately strive to create symbols in your stories.

Gallant: No, that would be a very cheap thing to do. I did it deliberately in The Pegnitz Junction because I was doing it for myself. But there is something in the writing of fiction that one will see only later. In a funny way, your memory and your unconscious work together without your being always aware of it, and then you are aware of it much later. I have had to change things in proof because I realized I had used a real situation or a real name that I didn't remember having remembered.

Aurora: Irony seems to operate on several levels in your stories. There's a tension, an inconsistency, between the characters and even the reader's expectations and reality. You juxtapose the commonplace with the bizarre. In The Fifteenth District the dead are haunted by the living.

Gallant: This is very cruel, but I am going to tell you anyway. I am at an age where everybody is dying, so I've seen quite a few little widows. One thing I've noticed is that when the poor man dies, often very glad to get out of his misery, the widow will always evoke an extraordinary marriage, nothing that ever really existed. I have often thought about this poor guy running through eternity, with this complete nonsense following him from the living. That was where I got the idea of the professor who keeps saying that his wife is a saint, and she's so sick of hearing it. The whole thing is meant to be funny.

To read the rest of this interview with Mavis Gallant click here.


Montreal Stories by Mavis Gallant and narrated by Margot Dionne (the unabridged audio book) is available from Rattling Books.