This charming book was written in 1958 by Paul Gallico, and American writer better known for The Snow Goose and The Poseidon Adventure. It spurned a further 3 books about the ebullient English charlady, Mrs Harris.
In this first book of the series, Mrs Harris travels to Paris to buy the Dior dress that she has long dreamed of. The beautiful dresses are some of the stars of this book.
The Paris of the 1950s doesn’t seem so different to that of the 21st century; gallic charm seeps through the pages, and it is hard not to be excited by Mrs Harris’s enjoyment and wonder. For me, one of the most memorable sections, apart from the Dior viewing, is her visit to the flower market on Quai de la Corse in Ile de la Cité:“Here were streets that were nothing but a mass of azaleas in pots, plants in pink, white, red, purple, mingling with huge branches of cream, crimson and yellow carnations. …on the soft breeze that blew from the Seine came as well the intoxication of scent to transport the true lover of flowers to his or her particular heaven”. The market is still there for any flower lovers that want to visit (RER Saint-Michel Notre Dame, Metro Cité)
I fell in love with Mrs Harris with her “wonderfully jagged and impish grin” in just the same way as the people she meets in Paris. And Mrs Harris isn’t the only character that leaps off the page. Gallico deftly brings his characters to life, from the star Dior model, Natasha, to the brusque but kind Mme Colbert.
Read this book for a simple, romantic and memorable trip to Paris; read it if you like haute couture; read it for a glimpse of life in London and Paris in the 1950s. It is a joyous little book, part travelogue, part romance, but with a serious message about the dangers of succumbing to the lure of pride and vanity.
I shall certainly be reading more Mrs Harris adventures.
Flowers for Mrs Harris / Paul Gallico. – Michael Joseph, 1958.
This version is no longer in print in the UK, but is available through resellers such as Abe Books. The American version, under the title Mrs ‘Arris goes to Paris is still in print.
Originally published on our sister website Travel with Intent