Here readers return to the story of the man who married Magdalena, to “save” her during the war and who, then, married the colonel’s daughter, Juliette.
He is Edouard, the poet, but I persist in my belief that he is the character whom author Henri Grippes’ based on his accountant.
That Mavis Gallant is simply having fun with it all.
So that, when Edouard says that he “can’t wrench life around to fit some fantasy”, so that he turned his back on the draft of a novel he had written, I imagine that it is Henri Grippes who is complaining.
That it’s Henri riffing on those early drafts he previously mentioned, the drafts based on the character he’d invented after having met Poche, through the process of sorting out his taxation difficulties.
But, beyond that, I imagine that it is Mavis Gallant commenting directly on the fictional Henri Grippes and his efforts to wrench life around.
Commenting on a life which involves a pair of dissatisfying marriages (as, indeed, so many of Mavis Gallant’s stories revolve around). A life which involves a set of disappointed expectations (yes, that again, which I mean in the kindest way – I love stories about disillusionment, about that something-like-resignation, which feels both familiar and reassuringly distant).
This particular photo of Paris suits me for this story for two reasons.
First, because it recalls the character’s observations from the previous story, “Rue de Lille”, about the colour blue.
(I feel like these passages recall both this collection’s focus on artistry and, simultaneously, the first of the stories I read for this Mavis Gallant project, “The Other Paris”, about the contrast between a young woman’s ideas about Paris and courtship and the reality she discovers in the city as a single woman.)
“I daren’t measure against the expanse of Juliette’s life; it would give me the feeling that I had decamped to a height of land, a survivor’s eminence, so as to survey the point at which our lives crossed and mingled and began to move in the same direction: a long, narrow reach of time in the Rue de Lille. It must be the washy, indefinite colorations of blue that carpeted, papered, and covered floors, walls, and furniture and shaded our lamps which cast over that reach the tone of a short season. I am thinking of the patches of distant, neutral blue that appear over Paris in late spring, when it is still wet and cold in the street and tourists have come to early. The tourists shelter in doorways, trying to read their soaked maps, perennially unprepared in their jeans and then jackets. Overhead, there are scrapings of a color that carries no threat and promises all.”
I imagine these scrapings to be the kind of blue that appears in the photograph alongside. But I don’t actually believe that’s what’s described in this passage. Every time I read it, I imagine a different shade. And mostly it’s not a shade that I would call blue. Not a blue like the one in this photograph. But I like the idea of it being this kind of blue, the blue here. And I imagine that Grippes likes the idea of a man like Poche leading a life like this.
But that quote is from the previous story, from a time period earlier than readers witness here, in “The Colonel’s Child”. And, by now, we know more about how Juliette came to marry Edouard. We know more about that shared past.
Which is the other reason why I selected this photograph, not only for its insistent sort of blue, but because it is a view of a view, like a writer’s view of a writer.
And here we have this observation in the current musing: “You have to remember the period, and France occupied, to imagine how one could think and behave. We always say this ‘This of the times we had to live in’ – when the past is dragged forward, all the life gone out of it, and left unbreathing at our feet.”
If you were to imagine stories about France occupied, and how people thought and behaved, I don’t think one would be inclined to imagine stories like “A Recollection”, or that one would imagine stories like “Rue de Lille” and “The Colonel’s Child”, the stories which follow it.
But one can imagine unhappily married poets and women married too young to accurately predict where they might find a certain kind of happiness.
That’s all too easy to imagine.
Overhead in a Balloon‘s stories: Speck’s Idea / Overhead in a Balloon / Luc and His Father / A Painful Affair / Larry / A Flying Start / Grippes and Poche / A Recollection / Rue de Lille / The Colonel’s Child / Lena / The Assembly
Note: This is part of a series of posts on Mavis Gallant’s stories, as I read through her short fiction. This is the tenth story in Overhead in a Balloon. Please feel free to check the schedule and join in, for the series, or for a single story; I would love the company. Next story: “Lena”.