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Flowers for Mrs. Harris: 09/17/13

cover art

Flowers for Mrs. Harris by Paul Gallico is better known now a days as Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris. My grandmother had a pen pal in England (from my grandfather's time serving as a military police guard during WWII) who would send her books. She sent all of Paul Gallico's Mrs. Harris books but my grandmother loaned them out to friends and over the years, she only had her favorite of the lot, Flowers.

In 1992 she and I watched the made for TV movie adaptation staring Angela Lansbury and Diana Rigg. I'm including the scene I most remember from the TV movie. My grandmother enjoyed the movie but being a rabid fan of Gallico's slim volume, she too exception with certain changes. At the time, I hadn't read the book, so I found the TV movie quaint and charming (OK, I'm a sucker for pretty much anything featuring either Lansbury or Rigg).

When the film ended, my grandmother dashed off to her bedroom where she kept her stash of FAVORITE books. She returned with Flowers for Mrs. Harris and put it in my hands. She wanted me to have it, read it and keep it. Sadly college, multiple moves and children got in the way of reading it while she was still alive. Now twenty-two years (yikes!) after she gave me the book, I've finally read it.

Flowers for Mrs. Harris is just as charming as the TV movie, although I would say that Mrs. Harris isn't as frumpy as Angela Lansbury was playing her. If she had done more of a Jessica Fletcher (from first season before her fame had taken off) she would have been closer to how Mrs. Harris is described in the book. Work, class, and age have made Mrs. Harris a plucky and determined woman who for the last three years has had her mind set on something far afield of normal expectations (a Dior dress).

The change though that annoys me the most is the dress, "Temptation." It is described in the book as a black sequenced affair — something I would think of as an Audrey Hepburn dress. It's something that apparently every woman will at sometime in her lifetime desire to own (not there yet, myself, but hey). It's a dress that ultimately Mrs. Harris doesn't get to wear (beyond the fittings) but a young friend of hers desperately desires to wear. The white thing that they use as "Temptation" is neither tempting nor youthful. Yes — it looks good on Angela but it's not in keeping with her character, Mrs. Harris.

And finally there's the title. Yes, Mrs. Harris drops her Hs and yes, she does go to Paris and spend more time there than expected. But neither the trip to Paris nor her accent are the point of the book. The point of the book is that Mrs. Harris is of the same class level as the people she meets in the Dior showroom. Yes, she has cash to purchase (just barely) a dress and that does open the door for her, but ultimately it is her recognizability as a member of the serving class that makes buying the dress possible. Gallico goes into the minds of the other Dior employees, all of whom are scrimping and saving for a better life. They decide to give one of their own that last little push so she can purchase a Dior dress and for that brief week pretend to be upperclass.

The flowers that she receives at the end — well after the misadventure with the dress — represent each and every person in Paris that she met and befriended. The flowers are their personal gifts to her. That's why Flowers for Mrs. Harris is a better and more poignant title than the kitchier Mrs 'Arris Goes to Paris.

I think I need to track down the other Mrs. Harris books, preferable British editions, so I can recreate my grandmother's collection.

Five stars

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