Mavis Gallant’s ‘Hunger Diaries’

Beloved short story writer and Canadian ex-pat Mavis Gallant died on Tuesday at 91, at her home in Paris.

Mavis left her job as a journalist and moved to Paris to write when she was 28 years old. She published her first short story in the New Yorker when she was 29, and then traveled around Europe writing fiction. Word is, though, she always dreamed of being a pregnant blogger who was rejected from all the MFA programs she applied to. I know! I was as surprised as you are.

Anyway, in times such as these we visit the archives. Specifically her diaries from her first years abroad, when she was wandering around Spain, saving her pennies and waiting on checks from the New Yorker:

Frederick, wishing to offer me a treat, takes me to “Gone with the Wind,” when I would rather have had a meal. Five hours in the dark, at the mercy of gigantic faces in color. A crushing waste of a day. Either they were eating wonderful American meals or they were starving and gnawing raw potatoes. Frederick, very sentimental, says the Southern civilization reminds him of Hungary, and he suffers from being uprooted. Having no roots, I don’t know what he is talking about. I think, but do not say, that if Hungary were anything like the South I should want to be out of it.

———-

…Worked from coffee to dinner, ate very little, then too tired and ill to work again. Regret bitterly having promised to help Frederick with his book, particularly as I am doing the dullest part, research and typing. Have typed myself numb, and then my own work besides.

Found a place where I can have a meal for ten pesetas. Brown tiled walls, greasy soup I can’t get down, but a good cutlet. Place full of single, sad, youngish men, clerks from the look of them, gulping greasy macaroni. I glance twice at my wrist, forgetting the watch is gone.

By the time Mavis finally hears from the New Yorker that they’ve been sending her checks to the wrong address, she’s sold her alarm clock, her grandmother’s ring, and almost a green suit so that she buy enough food to eat. But it all works out in the end:

Chambrun has sent four hundred dollars and says he will send the rest later. The first thing I bought was good white bread.

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