Mavis Gallant’s “Dido Flute, Spouse to Europe” (1980)

Presented as the “Addenda to a Major Biography”, noted to be nearly 1000 pages long, these three pages are not a typical short story.

Readers are left to assemble their impressions of Dido based on fragments of a relationship which occupied only a fragment of her life from a relational perspective.

We have to peer between the lines and be satisfied with an outline, with the hint of a character, rather than a proper look and introduction.

As a companion piece to “From Gamut to Yalta”, “Dido Flute, Spouse to Europe” is a curious concept.

In “From Gamut to Yalta”, readers glimpse an older man, unexpectedly married and less influential in life than he expected to be, reflecting on his own experience.

In “Dido Flute, Spouse to Europe”, readers imagine the biography of a woman, whose relationships are so intricate and intriguing that their consideration could fill a thousand pages, who has married at least seventeen times.

Surely there would be at least seventeen short stories in that.

Perhaps these pieces are simply designed to urge us to think about what makes a good story.

The life of a character: that’s enough.

Perhaps just hinting at the life of a character is enough.

The letters which are reproduced in this piece were discovered in Dido’s dancing slippers. She patched them with her favourite documents apparently.

Actually, she patched them with the documents she “truly loved”.

Really? Wouldn’t one put the documents one truly loved in a safe place, where one could revisit them as desired?

Perhaps that’s just not Dido’s way. Perhaps she wants them next to her dancing feet. Perhaps that’s what it means to truly love something. If you’re Dido.

But perhaps this is simply the biographer’s slant. Maybe it’s not the documents that were truly loved, but the letter-writer. Despite all his references to the other husbands, perhaps he was the one whom Dido loved, truly loved. Or whom the biographer truly loved on Dido’s behalf.

The introductory material, which appears before each letter, offers political and social context. But of course the names and places do not hold any real meaning for readers.

One imagines that, if they only knew Dido, these details would be familar and comfortable, arriving complete with other imagery and understanding.

Here, however, in an appendix, they are like a footnote to someone else’s life’s work, to someone else’s understanding.

What we are left with, however, is the idea that, yet again, a Mavis Gallant character has struggled to connect. Seventeen times or more.

Dido may be a spouse to all of Europe, but Mavis Gallant is a patron saint for all lonely women.

Note: This is part of a series of posts on Mavis Gallant’s stories, as I read through her short fiction. This is the eighth story in Going Ashore. Please feel free to check the schedule and join in, for the series, or for a single story; I would love the company. Next week’s story: “Siegfried’s Memoirs”, as the stories between it and today’s have been covered earlier in the reading project.

2017-11-21T15:23:52+00:00

4 Comments

  1. Naomi December 4, 2017 at 8:17 pm - Reply

    I forgot to tell you that I had another wonderful Gallant discovery. My daughter and I were “re-arranging” my book piles to get the house ready for Christmas decorations, and in the process I found Gallant’s From the Fifteenth District! What next?!

    • Buried In Print December 5, 2017 at 10:27 am - Reply

      Heheh – I’m convinced that you are going to end up with a complete collection (between your own stacks and the library) before I’m finished reading them all!

  2. Naomi December 1, 2017 at 10:26 am - Reply

    “Mavis Gallant is a patron saint for all lonely women.” – I love this!

    • Buried In Print December 4, 2017 at 3:00 pm - Reply

      For her, I would even wear one of those little necklaces! 🙂

Say something bookish, or just say 'hey'