At first glance, I think that Digby, from the previous story “A Question of Disposal”, is a world apart from Colin Graves in this story.
Consider how Digby’s mother, Mrs. Glover, imagines him, carrying on after her death. She isn’t particularly complimentary: “He would continue driving about in hairy pullovers and gym shoes, and reading publications about motoring, and he would go on contributing to one of them – mostly paragraphs about restaurants in which he had luckily not been swindled.”
Nothing is said about Colin’s sweaters and footwear, but when he met Nathalie, he was in Paris, translating Jules Renard’s letters, so I’m guessing the motoring magazines are left for Digby’s sort.
Digby is older, too, at thirty-four. And although Colin’s age isn’t stated outright, he is nine years younger than Nathalie, who is married with two young children.
And Nathalie’s mother comments on how Colin is smart to be unmarried, as there is a tension between men and women once married.
Which suggests that she thinks of Colin as more of a boy than a man, someone in front of whom she can freely discuss the complications of marriage, hers and Nathalie’s.
Ascarat, southern France
Because Nathalie’s marriage is very much on Colin’s mind. Even though the other men in attendance at this weekend event are consumed by the hunt.
“He was the only foreigner here. He was a bad shot, and loathed killing. He supposed that everyone looked at him and guessed the situation. Why was he here? She had invited him; but she had not told him her husband was coming, too, or that she would be sleeping in another house. They were an odd couple.”
Learning of Colin’s position on hunting made me immediately more sympathetic towards him. I don’t even like to read about hunting stories. It’s something I associate with BBC television productions and Masterpiece Theatre viewing, classic English children’s stories, and a François Sagan short story that I read in French (so I didn’t recognize the hunting terminology until I’d gotten too far into the story to stop, heavily relying on my dictionary for vocabulary that I’d rarely encounter later).
But I do rather want to give him a little shake. What did he think Nathalie would be doing, attending a hunting weekend without her husband? Then again, Nathalie is acting on her whims, it seems, as she and Colin have a brief encounter in his bedroom. So perhaps Colin wasn’t entirely off base. But referring to them as a couple seems a bit of a stretch. As, at most, Colin seems to be a diversion, rather than a commitment.
Which leads me to believe that perhaps there are not so many differences between Digby and Colin after all. One in an unsatisfactory marriage and one observing an unsatisfactory marriage. One dreaming of a less complicated life and one dallying with a complicated wife.
In just six pages, Gallant paints a vivid scene. She begins with the cars and station wagons arriving at the estate of M. Maitrepierre Friday evening and Monday morning. He lets the property and hunting permits (hinting at the shifting class structure, post-war, when the aristocracy is no longer able to maintain their properties as they once did). The men who arrive are stout and middle-aged and they are dressed as though they’ve stepped from a recent issue of Adam, a men’s magazine published by Edmond Dubois between 1925 and 1973. The men are looking at the dogs, trodding on snails and acorns as they go.
Most of what readers learn about Colin is in contrast to the descriptions provided about the men who are attending in order to participate in the main event (and we see Nathalie through his eyes).
But there are plenty of predator and prey allusions (adulterous wife and young suitor) and references to freedom and agency to add another layer to these few pages.
And enough time for us to hope for a better match for Colin in future.
In Transit‘s stories: By the Sea / In Italy / An Emergency Case / Jeux d’Ete / When We Were Nearly Young / Better Times / A Question of Disposal / The Hunter’s Waking Thoughts / Careless Talk / The Circus / In Transit / The Statues Taken Down / Questions and Answers / Vacances Pax / A Report / The Sunday After Christmas / April Fish / The Captive Niece / Good Deed
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 In Transit. 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: “Careless Talk”.