Monday 31 October 2016

Flowers for Mrs Harris

I was in the mood for another Paris read after I read The President's Hat recently (see my review). Although I guess I'm quite often in the mood for another Paris read, and happily I had this little novella sitting about the house and knew the time had come.

Flowers for Mrs Harris is the slightly preposterous but rather charming story of a British cleaning lady scrimping and saving for several years to follow her dream to go to Paris and buy a Dior frock.

Up to that magic moment of finding herself hoisted off the face of the earth her life had been one of never-ending drudgery, relieved by nothing more than an occasional visit to the flicks, the pub on the corner, or an evening at the music-hall.

Mrs Ada Harris is a widow in her late 50s who despite her "drab and colourless" existence "had always felt a craving for beauty and colour" which had previously manifested in her "great love for flowers". This was to change dramatically after  after she sees two Dior gowns in the wardrobe of one of her clients, Lady Dant. 

It had all begun that day several years back when during the course of her duties at Lady Dant's house, Mrs Harris had opened a wardrobe to tidy it and had come upon the two dresses hanging there.  One was a bit of heaven in cream, ivory, lace and chiffon, the other an explosion in crimson satin and taffeta, adorned with great red bows, and a huge red flower. She stood there as though struck dumb, for never in all her life had she seen anything quite as thrilling and beautiful. 

I did enjoy Flowers for Mrs Harris, although I suspect that if Paris was not involved I might have not liked it quite so much. While much of it is about Dior and dresses it is also a shrewd study of character.

Mme Colber smiled a thin, sad smile. She might almost have guessed it. 'Temptation' was a poem created in materials by a poet of women, for a young girl in celebration of her freshness and beauty and awakening to the mysterious power of her sex. It was invariably demanded by the faded, the middle-aged, the verging on passé women.

I've come to realise that I've never been to Avenue Montaigne, and clearly I need to remedy this situation on my next trip to Paris tout de suite, even though I'm not going to be coming away with a Dior gown like Mrs Harris. But I could pop in to the Hotel Plaza Athénée  for lunch- a rather long held dream. 

Dior on Avenue Montaigne, so pretty

I do wonder at the timing of the story. Dior famously launched his New Look in 1947, and he was at the peak of his powers in the 1950s. Sadly Christian Dior was to die suddenly on a skiing trip to Italy in October 1957 aged only 52, and Flowers for Mrs Harris was published the following year in 1958. 

In America the book is known as Mrs 'arris Goes to Paris, and there is a 1992 telemovie starring Angela Lansbury as Mrs Harris. I'm going to have to watch it when I can find it, it seems pretty unavailable. There's even a new musical theatrical version this year in the UK!

Dreaming of France is a wonderful Monday meme
from Paulita at An Accidental Blog  

French Bingo 2016


Paulita said...

The American title cracks me up. This book sounds like an interesting read. Thanks for playing along with Dreaming of France. Here’s my Dreaming of France meme

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

I like this little story very much, probably because of the Paris theme and the theme of a woman who goes after her happiness.