Mavis Gallant’s “Siegfried’s Memoirs” (1982)

Continuing in the vein of “From Gamut to Yalta” and “Dido Flute, Spouse to Europe”, in only four pages, Mavis Gallant presents a cursory view of a life.

Background music for Siegfried and Charles

Although ostensibly an exercise in objectivity, a writer’s imagined review of a man’s memoirs, the story is awash with the personal relationship which informs his position.

“Having got to bed early, I would lie awake counting the words in the review I would undoubtedly be requested to write and asking myself if any critic, even yours truly, Charles Filandreux, could do Handelskammern, and his generation, justice.”

How to summarize an entire generation’s experiences in one volume (even one imagined, in this case, to be 600 pages long)?

How to summarize that summary in an effort to review the author’s success in his book-length venture, in a few hundred words?

How to do so if you are Charles Filandreux, who clearly also has the story of Charles Filandreux percolating beneath the surface of his imagined review assignment?

The story of Charles Filandreux is told in short-hand, between the lines of his imaginary review.

But for readers longing for more detail, he has, it would seem, published his own memoirs in a volume titled From Poultry Yard to Playing Field: An Author Builds a Retreat, which gives readers a glimpse of Gallant’s playfulness.

For as angry and resentful (and admiring and condemning) as Charles Filandreux seems to be, he still has a sense of humour or, at least, irony.

Readers share in the fun, with his imagining of the delivery of the manuscript to his door for review, “the publisher’s tawdry book envelope leaking its vitals all over the gravel”.

He is, seemingly, perfectly positioned to offer an opinion of Siegfried Handelskammern and his work.

“When, later, our acquaintanceship had attained that stage of intimacy which permits personal comment, I ventured to point out that his servile flatterers had never known the vital Handelskammern and were concerned only with what the official Handelskammern had to offer.”

Having know the vital – not merely the official – Handelskammern, Charles Filandreux is poised to interpret.

Much better placed than other writers (who work for newspapers which shall not be named – but which might as well be named, given how many details he offers about their distribution patterns).

A proud and accomplished (or, seemingly so) writer, he is ever-aware of his audience.

“Some of you, my readers, have, I suspect, suddenly fallen into the giddy melancholy of déjà vu. With a disabused moue, you are asking one another, ‘What is Charles Filandreux talking about?'”

Take heed: storytellers and storyspinners are ever-ready to spin some more.

But the truth lies between the lies. Or in an addenda. Or a footnote.

Note: This is part of a series of posts on Mavis Gallant’s stories, as I read through her short fiction. This is the twelfth 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: “Night and Day”, as several of the other stories in the collection have been covered earlier in the reading project.

2017-12-03T17:07:24+00:00

2 Comments

  1. annelogan17 November 28, 2017 at 2:56 pm - Reply

    I’m continually surprised by the breadth of stories Gallant seems to have produced-it must make for a rewarding project reading through her stuff!

    • Buried In Print November 29, 2017 at 5:52 pm - Reply

      Yes, definitely! I was more familiar with Alice Munro’s stories when I started to read through her work, whereas I’ve only read a couple of Gallant’s collections, so it is proving to be a delightful and satisfying venture for sure.

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