Mavis Gallant on The Reading Life
“The Colonel’s Daughter" a story narrated from Paris circa 1980 about events that happened forty years ago. Edourad is now in his early 60s, is looking back on when he met his second wife in war time Paris. (As I learned from reading Buried in Print's insightful post on the story that this is a story in the middle of others about Edourad. I have not read these other stories. Of course this puts me at disadvantage but it does mean I will experiencing the story as most first publication readers probably did.)
Edourad wanted to enlist to fight with the Free French Army against the Germans. We learn he entered into a in name only marriage with a French actress of Jewish heritage in the hope it would protect her.
"GOT TO London by way of Marseilles and North Africa, having left Paris more than a year before. My aim was to join the Free French and General de Gaulle. I believed the weight of my presence could tip the scales of war, like one vote in a close election. There was no vanity in this. London was the peak of my hopes and desires. I could look back and see a tamed landscape. My past life dwindled and vanished in that long perspective. I was twenty-three."
He seems to have a romantic conception of war and when the story begins he is a French hospital recovering from a motorcycle accident. He is assigned a hospital volunteer, Juliette, she is seventeen. We learn her father is a colonel in the Free French Army. They begin a relationship which continues once he is released. Having read maybe fifty stories by Mavis Gallant when we find them naked in bed together I was made to pause, why does Gallant do this? I think maybe it is the sixty two year old narrator wants to remember their first intimacies, the trust Juliette once had for him.
Old memories of relationships play an important part in lots of Gallant's stories.