"The Chosen Husband" - A Short Story by Mavis Gallant, first published in The New Yorker, April 15, 1985A
Included in The Collected Short Stories of Mavis Gallant
April 11, 1922 - Montreal
1950 - moves to Paris
September 1, 1951- publishes, in The New Yorker, her first short story. She would publish 116 stories in The New Yorker.
February 18, 2014 - passes away in her beloved Paris
Buried in Print is doing a full read through of the short stories of Mavis Gallant,one of the masters of the form. She began in March 2017 and anticipates finishing in the fall. I have access to about half of her stories and have been following along as I can since March 25, 2007, starting with "The Other Paris". The full schedule is on her blog and all are invited to join the project.
In the opening sentences of "The Chosen Husband" with her characteristic style Gallant lays out the family history in just a few sentences.
"IN 1949, A year that contained no other news of value, Mme. Carette came into a legacy of eighteen thousand dollars from a brother-in-law who had done well in Fall River. She had suspected him of being a Freemason, as well as of other offenses, none of them trifling, and so she did not make a show of bringing out his photograph; instead, she asked her daughters, Berthe and Marie, to mention him in their prayers. They may have, for a while. The girls were twenty-two and twenty, and Berthe, the elder, hardly prayed at all. The first thing that Mme. Carette did was to acquire a better address. Until now she had kept the Montreal habit of changing her rented quarters every few seasons, a conversation with a landlord serving as warranty, rent paid in cash. This time she was summoned by appointment to a rental agency to sign a two-year lease. She had taken the first floor of a stone house around the corner from the church of Saint Louis de France. This was her old parish (she held to the network of streets near Parc Lafontaine) but a glorious strand of it, Rue Saint-Hubert."
We learn they are French Canadians. ($18,000 in 1949 is roughly equal to $190,000 today). We learn there are two daughters in the family and they are Catholics. We learn she elevated her social standing. She becomes preoccupied with the upkeep of the Parrish church.
We soon learn she has been a widow a good while, like a number of people we meet in Gallant's stories, she seems intentionally to be old before her time, seeking an essence, a protective cover, in premature old age.
Both of the daughters are single. The older one has an office job. One has a relationship of some sort with a man of Greek ancestry. He fails Mme. Carette's son in law test on several grounds, not a Catholic, but at least Christian, too dark, and does not speak French. The other daughter also has a suitor. He comes to dinner on a regular basis. There is no sex in either relationship.
Gallant takes us slowly, you have to work her stories, into the characters of the daughter, the suitors and the mother. We come to
see how Mme. Corette misses her husband.
"In quiet moments, Mme Carette imagines her funeral. She is forty-five years old and “death had been her small talk”. She still feels “cruelly the want of a husband, someone – not a daughter – to help her up the steps of a streetcar, read La Presse and tell her what was in it, lay down the law to Berthe”.
Such beautiful lines!
I was caught by surprise when international affairs resulted in a marriage.