“Forain” - A Set in Paris Short Story by Mavis Gallant - 1993
“Forain took in the likeness of the man who had fought a war for nothing.”
“Forain” is included in The Collected Short Stories of Mavis Gallant and her collection, Across The Bridge
Website of July in Paris - Thyme for Tea
Buried in Print’s Mavis Gallant’s Mavis Gallant Project.
Mavis Gallant loved Paris. I decided to begin my sixth year of
participation in July in Paris with one of her Paris stories.
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 began her read through of the short stories of Mavis Gallant in March of 2017. (It is projected to reach completion in September of this year.) Lots of the short stories are set in
Paris, often among expatriates who have cut most of their ties. There are stories about American women who came seeking romance after the war ended, ex-French and German soldiers and several centering on emigrates from Poland, as is today’s story.
There are leitmotifs that emerge in Gallant’s stories if you read enough of them. Among them are people who seem old before their time, a sense that the best days of European culture maybe passed, a preoccupation of emigrates with their compatriots to the exclusion of the French, a feeling life passes the people in the story by as they await a remittance of some sort. Forain came to Paris after the war, he runs a publishing house specializing in translations of Central and Eastern European literature into French.
“He ran his business with a staff of loyal, worn-out women, connected to him by a belief in what he was doing, or some lapsed personal tie, or because it was too late and they had nowhere to go.” This is a vision of Gallant’s Paris.
At thirty eight he is characterized as old. He is very involved with
the Polish community, rife with intrigue and gossip.
Gallant perfectly sets the stage in the opening sentences:
“ABOUT AN HOUR before the funeral service for Adam Tremski, snow mixed with rain began to fall, and by the time the first of the mourners arrived the stone steps of the church were dangerously wet. Blaise Forain, Tremski’s French publisher, now his literary executor, was not surprised when, later, an elderly woman slipped and fell and had to be carried by ambulance to the Hôtel-Dieu hospital.”
Of course a funeral often launches interior monolugues and involuntary memories about things that might have been or never again will be. We learn about his history with Tremski, a figure very much in accord with Gallant’s vision of expatriates in Paris.
Later on we learn Tremski’s work has attracted interest of young scholars:
“The chronicle of two generations, displaced and dispossessed, had come to a stop. The evaluation could begin; had already started. Scholars who looked dismayingly youthful, speaking the same language, but with a new, jarring vocabulary, were trekking to Western capitals – taping reminiscences, copying old letters. History turned out to be a plodding science. What most émigrés settled for now was the haphazard accuracy of a memory like Tremski’s. In the end it was always a poem that ran through the mind – not a string of dates.”
This is a great short story, I will close with these lines:
“Season after season, his stomach eaten up with anxiety, his heart pounding out hope, hope, hope, he produced a satirical novella set in Odessa; a dense, sober private journal, translated from the Rumanian, best understood by the author and his friends; or another wry glance at the harebrained makers of history. (There were few women. In that particular part of Europe they seemed to figure as brusque flirtatious mistresses or uncomplaining wives.) At least once a year he committed the near suicide of short stories and poetry. There were rewards, none financial.”
I hope very much to return to Mavis Gallant this month.