The Light of Imagination
Mavis Gallant's FictionBook - 1988
Mavis Gallant's still growing reputation as one of the finestliving fiction writers in English rests on her work over the lastthirty-five years. A Canadian who has long made her home in Paris,Gallant has published over one hundred stories -- most of them in theNew Yorker -- as well as two novels, a play, and severalimportant essays.
The Light of Imagination is the first book to consider theentire range of Gallant's fiction. It includes biographical detail,discussion of her non-fiction writings, and substantial analyses of herbooks of short stories and her two novels. Besner shows howGallant's fiction evokes the tensions between North American andEuropean social, political, and historical perceptions more fully andsubtly than the work of any writer since Henry James. In Gallant'sstories the misapprehension of the past emerges from the variouscultural, social, and political upheavals which both precipitated andfollowed World War II. Her North Americans abroad encounter a postwarEuropean landscape which shows them to be living largely unaware ofhistory's more immediate European legacies. Her vision of NorthAmerican and European perceptions of history provides one framework forBesner's discussion of her work.
Another line of analysis traces the importance of figures of'return' when characters and cultures grapple with the past asit inhabits the present. Because her stories often eddy aroundsignificant moments in a character's memory or a culture'shistory, the plot device of the return exerts a strong shapinginfluence on her fiction. The book culminates by showing thatGallant's stories can be read as explorations of human time,stories which call the fragmented imaginative being of the past intofull fictional presence.
The title originates in a passage from a Gallant story when 'thelight of imagination' momentarily illuminates and unifies thecentral character's perception of the past. The significance ofthis 'light of imagination,' in Besner's study, opens a wayfor the understanding of the form and function of similar momentsthroughout Gallant's fiction.