Mavis Gallant’s “Treading Water” (1982)

Fans of E.M. Delafield’s Provincial Lady’s diaries will find many chuckles in this very short excerpt from the imagined diary kept by composer Richard Wagner’s mistress (who became his wife seven years after their relationship began).

The story is subtitled “More Sturm und Drang from Cosima Wagner’s Diaries” and it’s no surprise that there is a lot of drama and tension therein.

It’s not easy being an artist. Nor is it easy being an artist’s companion. Nor, I would hazard a guess, is it easy being one of his many children.

It is reported, for instance, in a later diary entry that all of the children have fallen out of a second-floor window. Cosima remarks that she heard the noise, but confused it with her heartbeat.

In the following excerpt, all of the children have a contagion. Parenting is one mess after the next. And Cosima appears to have one more child on her hands than his age would suggest. Richard is constantly hiding someplace out-of-the-way. As hard as the others may have it, clearly he has it worstest.

“Friday          R. still under bed. Sit on floor and analyze our love (quality, quantity, and life expectancy); also, describe long dream I had about the Thirty Years’ War. R. bursts into tears, says he no longer believes in the predominance of the string section and has run out of schnapps. It is sad indeed. Throw him a kiss. Children’s bath-water cold – probably the work of French critics.”

The children were probably crying that day too. Little did they know that they were all going to fall from the second-floor just a few days later.

Rank your miseries, dear characters!

Note: This is part of a series of posts on Mavis Gallant’s stories, as I read through her short fiction. This is the second last 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: “Malcolm and Bea”.

By Franz Hanfstaengl, Public Domain, Link
2018-02-26T11:37:30+00:00

2 Comments

  1. Naomi March 20, 2018 at 3:23 pm - Reply

    This one sounds really funny – I love that quote!

    • Buried In Print April 3, 2018 at 9:45 am - Reply

      It is! If there was one of these between each of the usual Gallant stories, I think that would be lovely!

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