Time to get out the bon-bons of books! I’m starting my Summer Fluff Fest with Paul Gallico’s Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris, a novel so lighthearted that it takes your mind off the heat. There you are, sun hat, iced tea, and assorted books, sitting on the lawn chair and reading about–oh, no, Mrs. Harris, a middle-aged charwoman, wants a Dior dress. I never liked this series when I was a teenager, and perhaps it’s because I couldn’t fathom a working-class woman’s worshipping Dior. (I must admit we were into handmade embroidered dresses back in the day and despised unenlightened capitalists who spent thousands of dollars on clothes. Oh dear!)
I read the first in the Mrs. ‘Arris series quickly-and it is charming in a way. This trippy little novel (adjective borrowed from Rolling Stone) takes a few chapters to get off the ground, but then optimistic, stoic, kind Mrs. Harris wins our affections. She falls in love with a client’s Dior dress and, although she has no intention of wearing an evening gown at her age, regards the gown as an object of art. She resolves to scrimp and save so she can buy one.
“She went without cigarettes–and a quiet smoke used to be a solace–and without gin. She walked instead of taking the bus or the underground and when holes appeared in her shoes she wadded them with newsprint. She gave up her cherished evening papers and got her news and gossip a day late out of the wastebaskets of her clients….”
In Paris, she has wonderful adventures. The folks at the Dior shop look down on her until she shows them her money–but they do appreciate cash and suddenly are helpful. The manageress, Mme. Colbert, becomes Mrs. Harris’ first Dior friend. Worried about her brilliant husband, who has never managed to rise in the Foreign Service, Mme. Colbert is snappy, until she realizes “the simplicity and courage that had led (Mrs. Harris) thither in pursuit of a dream…” An old wealthy gentleman in the audience of the fashion show, a true believer in “French democracy,” appreciates Mrs. Harris’ honesty and excitement, and becomes indignant when a nouveau riche wife objects to Mrs. Harris’ homey presence . Natasha, a model, becomes close to Mrs. Harris after she models the evening gown Mrs. Harris chooses. M. Fauvel, the auditor, who acts as host to Mrs. Harris during her week in Paris, is in love with Natasha,–and Mrs. Harris does some match-making while she waits for her dress to be made.
It’s really a very sweet story.
Instead of a Dior dress, I would like these ’50s PEDAL PUSHERS, surely the outfit Mrs. ‘Arris’ readers would have worn in 1959. Too bad I can’t sew! No, it’s not Dior, guys. Give that money to charity.
There are other Mrs. ‘Arris books, including Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to New York and Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Parliament–so I’ll be quite busy this summer with short fun books.