Book reviews

Posts tagged ‘Paul Gallico’

Ludmila and The Lonely by Paul Gallico


I found Ludmila and The Lonely by Paul Gallico to be slightly too soppy for my taste. I loved Mrs ‘Arris Goes to Paris by Paul Gallico and overlooked the soppiness in that story because I loved the movie starring Angela Lansbury as Mrs ‘Arris, but this time around the overblown sentimentality made me cringe.

Ludmila is a story about a poor little cow who doesn’t have much milk, who comes good and proves her worth to everyone after a miracle. The blurb on the back says the story is the retelling of “a charming pastoral legend of old Liechtenstein.” At least the story was short and the drawings by Reisie Lonette were sweet. (I know, I know, I’m such a cow for saying this. Moo to you too).

The Lonely is also a short story, and was the most unlikely match for Ludmila that I could have imagined. I expect they were only published together because of the suitability of their length.

The Lonely tells the story of Jerry, a young American man in England during WW2 who was forced by his superior officer to take leave. Jerry asked Patches, who was in the WAAF and who conveniently had leave due to her at the same time, to holiday with him in Scotland. The arrangement was that at the end of their holiday Jerry and Patches would wish each other good luck and go their separate ways, after their couple of weeks of ‘fun.’

This story was more complicated, as Jerry had a fiancé at home in the USA whom he thought of as a goddess. Patches was in love with Jerry, but like a good sport, hid her true feelings from him. In my opinion Jerry was an immature idiot, who needed a few more years to grow up before he launched himself on any woman.

Paul Gallico also wrote The Poseidon Adventure, the movie of which gave me nightmares for years afterwards. The scene where a character jumps and swings from a burning-hot wheel to open or shut something, I forget which, in order to save the other characters before falling into the fire below is something I have never managed to forget.

The Snow Goose is held up to be this author’s best work. I haven’t read this, but plan to some time.


Mrs Harris goes to New York by Paul Gallico


Mrs Harris, Paul Gallico’s creation from the 1950’s, goes everywhere! In the first book of this series, Mrs Harris goes to Paris, a London charwoman goes to Paris to buy herself a Dior frock. The story of Mrs Harris falling in love with a dress, working and saving for the dress and finally getting to Paris, where she makes friends with models and marquises, before coming home with her frock, is lovely. The movie starring Angela Lansbury is gorgeous too.

Mrs Harris goes to New York, from 1960, has a similar, simple charm.

Mrs Harris and her friend and neighbour, Mrs Butterfield, are having a cuppa together one evening listening to the radio, when they overhear their neighbours, the horrible Gussets, beating a child in their care. The child, little Henry Brown, is the son of an American GI, who divorced Henry’s English mother before returning to America. Henry’s mother remarried and farmed out her son, as her new husband didn’t want Henry around.

When one of Mrs Harris’s customers asks her to go with her to New York to set up her household, Mrs Harris wangles a job in America for Mrs Butterfield also, then kidnaps Henry with the intention of reuniting him with his father.

Getting Henry out of England without a passport was no trouble for Mrs Harris, but smuggling him into America would not have been possible without the assistance of the Maquis, (from Mrs Harris Goes to Paris), who luckily, was also on the ship on his way to America to take up the post of French Ambassador to the United States.

George Brown proved harder to track down than Mrs Harris expected, but after a number of adventures in America, predictably, everything turns out for the best for little Henry, Mrs Harris, Mrs Butterfield, the Marquis and the rest of the crew.

Mrs Harris Goes to New York is an easy and happy read.


Flowers for Mrs Harris by Paul Gallico


I’ve read Flowers for Mrs Harris (or Mrs Harris Goes to Paris) by Paul Gallico several times, and I’ve also seen the movie, which starred Angela Lansbury.

The story is corny and the romance between two of the characters (not Mrs Harris, thank goodness) is almost cringe-worthy at times but I still really, really like this story.

The story is set in London during the 1950’s. Mrs Harris (or ‘Arris, as she would say) is a hard working char lady, whose clients range from eligible bachelors and society women to actresses. While cleaning for Lady Dant, Mrs Harris opened a wardrobe and saw two Dior dresses. Lady Dant shows them off to Mrs Harris and told her the dresses cost 450 pounds. Mrs Harris, who is somewhere between middle and old age, is completely enamoured of these beautiful dresses and decides then and there, that somehow, she will buy a Dior dress of her own. It does not matter to her at all that she is unlikely to wear the dress, or that the cost is far more than she can afford. (This is the part where the book wins me over. I would probably sell a child to own a vintage Dior dress, even if it was a dress I could never wear).

Soon after determining to buy a Dior dress for herself, Mrs Harris wins just over 100 pounds in the football pools. The win sets Mrs Harris on her path to save the money for her dress. She has several ups and downs while she is saving, including attempting to win the remainder of the money she wins on the dogs.

Several years later, Mrs Harris has scrimped and saved the required 450 pounds, plus enough for her fare to Paris. Having bought a new hat for the occasion, she obtains her passport and flys off to Paris. This may not sound very exciting now, but believe me, at the time this book is set, a trip like this was a very unlikely, enormous and costly adventure for anyone to take, except for the Lady Dants of the world.

Not surprisingly, The House of Dior does not at first welcome Mrs Harris, whose appearance and manners clearly identify her as a cleaning lady. Mme Coulbert, Dior’s manageress, coldly advises her that there are no places available for any viewings of the collection for weeks. When Mrs Harris pleads with Mme, Mme recognises that Mrs Harris has set her heart on a Dior dress, and finds a spot on the stairs for her to watch the show. At the last moment, Mme seats Mrs Harris in the front row with the richest and most elegant women in the world.

Mrs Harris loses her heart to a dress named Temptation, a floor length black velvet gown with a cream, pink and white top. The dress is modelled by Dior’s top model, the beautiful Natasha.

Mme is disappointed that Mrs Harris has chosen Temptation, which was designed for young, beautiful women, but Mrs Harris tries on the dress regardless, which fits her. Mrs Harris had expected to return to London that afternoon with her dress, and was horribly disappointed to learn that the dress would have to be made for her over several weeks.

Dior’s accountant, M Fauvel, and Natasha, come to Mrs Harris’s rescue, offering her accommodation with M Fauvel. He is in love with Natasha, who had no idea he existed, although she is tired of social engagements with counts, dukes and politicians. Natasha is desperate to return to fall in love, have babies and return to her middle class background (huh???)

Over the next week, Natasha and M Fauvel spend time together with Mrs Harris, who engineers their engagement, as well as helping Mme Coulbert’s husband in his career.

Once the dress is made, Mrs Harris returns to London, where she impulsively loans the dress to one of her clients, a young actress, who ruins the dress.

The ending of the story is disappointing, because of the harm done to Mrs Harris’s heart and property, but doesn’t prevent this book from being a feel-good novel. I believe there are other books by Paul Gallico with Mrs Harris going to New York and Moscow, but I haven’t read them.

Flowers for Mrs Harris is full of morals and lessons and is very often twee, but it is still a charming read.

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