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French Ways and their Meaning by Edith Wharton

February 24, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

French Ways and their Meaning by Edith Wharton. (134 pages)

Edith Wharton had been living in France since twelve years when she wrote these articles about France in 1917. These essays were aimed at American readers and their purpose was to explain how French people behave and think.

When I started to read Edith Wharton’s book, I had two available options: either take her uncontrolled enthusiasm for France literally and shut the book immediately or try to catch whatever was relevant in her exposé. Here is what I mean with “uncontrolled enthusiasm”

 French people “have taste” as naturally as they breathe: it is not regarded as an accomplishment, like playing the flute.

Or

As life is an art in France, so woman is an artist. She does not teach man, but she inspires him. 

I laughed at the possibility of being anybody’s Muse and mused over my above mentioned options with this book. I chose to keep on reading, taking what I was reading “au second degré”, which means with some distance and not literally at all.

It also took me a while to figure out how I would write about this book. Though it’s rather short, there’s a lot of material in it. So I decided to give an idea of the general tone of her essays and then unleash some of the spontaneous comments that came to my mind when I was reading. It is what we call in French a “liste à la Prévert”, which means a random list of items with no particular sequence or obvious link between them. I’m not sure it’s of interest to anyone but me, though. Anyway, back to the book.  

After a brief introduction, Edith Wharton details in six chapters the main particularities of French ways.

  1. First Impressions

  2. Reverence

  3. Taste

  4. Intellectual Honesty

  5. Continuity

  6. The New Frenchwoman

She is well aware that writing about a people is tricky and begs the reader to accept the use of “Anglo-Saxon vs Latin” conventions as it is convenient. I will use them too, even if it is simplistic. Her main argument when comparing France to America is that France is an adult country whereas America is only a child. I first thought this statement ludicrous then recalled the childish “Freedom Fries” and revised my judgement. Then in each chapter, she explains how great the French are. That’s it, the general tone is of an undeserved and ridiculous great praise of France. I will not cover all the generalizations she wrote.

However, as I’m reading and writing in English, I was very interested in her conclusion, where she discusses the meaning “the four words that preponderate in French speech and literature”: Amour, Gloire, Plaisir, Volupté and how their immediate translation, Love, Glory, Pleasure, Voluptuousness doesn’t convey the same images and background than in French. I wish she had added Séduction to her list, I would have loved to read her take on this one. I’m not going to rephrase everything but I think it’s worth reading for someone who enjoys French literature and wants to understand it better. She has a point here and it was very educational for me. I’ve experienced difficulties to translate the concept of “pleasure” and the verb “jouir”, either in posts or in comments. Here is what Edith Wharton writes :

And from their freedom of view combined with their sensuous sensibility they have extracted the sensation they call “le plaisir,” which is something so much more definite and more evocative than what we mean when we speak of pleasure. “Le plaisir” stands for the frankly permitted, the freely taken, delight of the senses, the direct enjoyment of the fruit of the tree called golden. No suggestions of furtive vice degrade or coarsen it, because it has, like love, its open place in speech and practice.

It’s something that can be applied for very different situations such as enjoying the sun caressing your face, spending an afternoon with a good book, quietly walking in the nature and of course to sex. Is she right to say it’s a different meaning than “pleasure”?  

In some ways, her enthusiasm blurred her vision but she does have a point on several subjects I don’t know if I must rejoice that these things are still relevant one century after she wrote them. Perhaps it proves her right when she assesses that the French are conservative. I don’t pretend to hold the truth. This is only my opinion and it should be taken as such.

Let’s start by clichés: wine and relationships between men and women.

 About Wine.

Above all, the rich soil of France, so precious for wheat and corn-growing, is the best soil in the world for the vine; and a people can possess few more civilising assets than the ability to produce good wine at home. It is the best safeguard against alcoholism, the best incentive to temperance in the manly and grown-up sense of the word, which means voluntary sobriety and not legally enforced abstinence. All these gifts France had and the French intelligently cherished.

Um. Has she read Zola or was he too dirty? Sure binge drinking – now coming here too and regularly worrying the authorities – is not a French custom. But to say we don’t have any problem with alcoholism is wrong.

 About casual relationships between men and women.

The French have always been a gay and free and Rabelaisian people. They attach a great deal of importance to love-making, but they consider it more simply and less solemnly than we. They are cool, resourceful and merry, crack jokes about the relations between the sexes. (…) They define pornography as a taste for the nasty, and not as an interest in the natural.

I can’t tell how it is abroad but what she writes about us is probably true. Take our presidents. One apparently died in action, meaning here, not arms at the ready but between the arms of his mistress. Another had a secret family. The current one got a divorce and married a former model when he’s still in charge. And no one is shocked.

About jokes about the relations between the sexes, sure, we have a lot of them. But I never considered this as a French thing. Should I?

As for the latest part, pornography, I’m sure comparing the rating of films regarding the age of the audience would be fascinating. Which makes me think I’ve always been astonished by the “explicit lyrics” stickers put on CDs in American stores.

About Theatre and Cinema.

“What the American public wants is a tragedy with a happy ending.”

This is exactly the sentence I was looking for to explain why Je vais bien, ne t’en fais pas would have had another ending if it had been shot in America. But I’d rather talk about “Hollywood films” vs “Indie films”, whatever their nationality.

About L’Académie Française and the fight for French language.

And Richelieu and the original members of the Academy had recognised from the first day that language was the chosen vessel in which the finer life of a nation must be preserved.

The Academy still exists and is still in charge with inventing new French words to address to new realities. Our government advertises about the proper way to say in French foreign words, mostly coming from the English. I blogged about that once here. I’m not sure that we keep a proper balance  between “preserved” and “kept in mothballs”, though.

 About Americans and Art.

It is the pernicious habit of regarding the arts as something that can be bottled, pickled and absorbed in twelve months (thanks to “courses,” summaries and abridgements) that prevents the development of a real artistic sensibility in our eager and richly endowed race.

Whereas I don’t agree with her on the last part of her statement and reject the word “race”, I chose this quote because it reminded me of the discussion about creative writing Max started on his blog. Somehow, Edith Wharton shows that a fertile soil for those classes has been there in America for a while.

In addition, when I first read it, I also thought about our position named “cultural exception” and the way our government usually refuses to consider art as any consumer goods in trade agreements.

About morality.

It distinguishes, implicitly if not outspokenly, between the wrong that has far-reaching social consequences and that which injures only one or two persons, or perhaps only the moral sense of the offender. The French have continued to accept this classification of offences. They continue to think the sin against the public conscience far graver than that against any private person. If in France there is a distinction between private and business morality it is exactly the reverse of that prevailing in America.

This reminded me I discussion I’ve had with Lisa from ANZ Lit Lovers on Madame Bovary. She asked me if it was taught in school and wondered how teachers would handle the moral/ethical issues in it with school kids”. My answer was “This is a very Anglo-Saxon question! For me, and I believe for a French, it’s not a moral or ethical question. It’s a personal matter. It’s private and unique as these people are unique.”

I couldn’t properly explain why “private” was the word that came to my mind. Edith Wharton has put words on this. Emma’s cheating on Charles has no consequences for the society. It is sure a misfortune for Charles but I can’t blame her or judge her – Flaubert doesn’t either. It’s a “sin against a private person”. Teaching about this can’t have consequences on the morality of the students. There is nothing subversive in openly talking about cuckooed Charles in class.

That’s also why we don’t care about our presidents being faithful to their spouse – I was about to write “wives” but let’s be optimistic, someday a woman will be president – or not. 

Women, men and business.

In small businesses the woman is always her husband’s book keeper or clerk, or both; above all, she is his business adviser. France, as you know, is held up to all other countries as a model of thrift, of wise and prudent saving and spending.”

This hasn’t changed and I see it everyday at work. Is that something really French? After the divorce rate exploded and left women working with their husbands without any money, the law was changed to give them a status. It is aimed at protecting women and giving them social protection and a retirement pension if they get a divorce after working “for free” in their husband’s business.

The second part explains our incomprehension regarding junk bonds and the sub-primes crisis in America and also strikes against any attempt to change the retirement system to an Anglo-Saxon one, ie with money invested in the stock markets.

 Leisure.

This point assured, they want only enough leisure and freedom from material anxiety to enjoy what life and the arts of life offer. This absence of financial ambition should never be lost sight of: it is not only the best clue to the French character, but the most useful lesson our own people can learn from contact with France. (…) The requirements of the average French man in any class are surprisingly few, and the ambition to “better” himself socially plays a very small part in his plans. What he wants is leisure to enjoy the fleeting good things of life, from which no one knows better how to extract a temperate delight, and full liberty of mind to discuss general ideas while pursuing whatever trade or art he is engaged in.

In presidential election of 1997, one of the slogans was “Work more to earn more.” OK, the candidate pushing that slogan won the election and put it into practice as soon as he could. He increased the possibility of doing overtime hours, allowed retired persons to work. It doesn’t seem to be a success. People would rather work less and earn less than lose free time. Somehow I thought it was a new tendency coming from a general eagerness for leisure. So I was surprised to discover this in Wharton’s little book.

 Fortunately, everything is not as perfect as she says.

 About the status of the Frenchwoman.

The French wife has less legal independence than the American or English wife, and is subject to a good many legal disqualifications from which women have freed themselves in other countries.

At least, some critic. Yes French women had to wait until 1944 to have the right to vote, years after American women (1919), British women (1928) or Brazilian ones (1932)

About politeness at tourists.

The complaint of Anglo-Saxons that, in travelling in France, they see little of the much-vaunted French courtesy, is not unjustified. The French are not courteous from any vague sense of good-will toward mankind; they regard politeness as a coin with which certain things are obtainable, and being notably thrifty they are cautious about spending it on strangers.

I’m sorry to say this hasn’t changed much. Stand in a street in San Francisco with a map and someone will come and help you. Do the same thing in Paris and see how long you wait until someone finally comes by you. I promise I don’t leave tourists in distress whenever I meet some.

In the end, she can’t avoid caricature, but it’s difficult to avoid short-cuts, clichés and generalizations in that matter. She’s really carried away by her enthusiasm, which is harmful to her thoughts. Most of the compliments are really undeserved. I far from agree with everything she says but it was interesting and thought-provoking anyway. So I’m glad I’ve read it.

  1. February 24, 2011 at 10:35 pm

    How fascinating! I haven’t read much by Wharton (only “Ethan Frome”, and “The House of Mirth”: the former was impressive, the latter, I thought a great masterpiece), and, although I knew she was Francophile, I had not even known about the existence of this book. Of course, generalisation about an entire country is bound to be approximate at best: one wonders how useful generalisations about that population can be when there is so much variety within a population. And on top of that, recent trends in cultural globalisation are eroding away many of the differences. My wife is from France, and I first knew her (back in the mid 80s), she used to say that fast food would never take off in France, as the French people care too much about the quality of their food: I have to remind her of that whenever we’re in France these days, and see a branch of Macdonalds in every street corner.

    Some of Wharton’s statements struck me as delightfully eccentric. for instance:

    ” … a people can possess few more civilising assets than the ability to produce good wine at home. It is the best safeguard against alcoholism …”

    Can this observation be applied to, say, malt whisky? Obviously not, since Scotland has very severe alcohol-related problems: alcohol abuse in Scotland is far more prevalent than it is in France. But it does seem to me rather eccentric to suggest that this difference is due to wine being a more “civilised” drink than whisky.

    But for all that, there do exist cultural differences, as is often apparent, say, in considering the arts and literatures of different countries, and, granted that some of Wharton’s analysis is eccentric and too Francophile to allow for objectivity, she does, it seems, hit the mark quite frequently.

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    • February 24, 2011 at 10:54 pm

      Thanks.
      I don’t think fast-food has taken off that much. Basically, there are McDonald’s and Quick and that’s it. Some other chains tried to settle but it’s not that easy. Most of fast-food for lunches are bought in bakeries (sandwiches and salads)

      I don’t agree at all with her take on wine and that sort of natural limitation coming from the beverage.

      Yes the cultural differences exist, you probably experience this everyday, being from Indian origin and married to a French woman. I’m often surprised when I read Anglophones’ blogs.

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  2. leroyhunter
    February 24, 2011 at 10:45 pm

    Great post bookaround – how much more worthwhile to have a French take on this. In turn, your list sparks off all kinds of thoughts in my own mind.

    There’s a long line of American writers in various states of awe, rapture and devotion to France and their ideal of French life. By chance I’ve just finished one of the later efforts, A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter, written in the early 70s. It’s not hagiographic in the way you describe Wharton, but a lot of the same qualities or assumptions are buried in it: about food, relationships, history, sex, all seen vis-a-vis the assumed “American” standard for those things. So there’s generalisation on both sides of the equation.

    I think we tend to forget on this side of the Atlantic how deeply the Puritan roots of America run (for the white population especially) and how much those values have become wrapped up in the American identity. Look at the Clinton / Lewinsky episode for an example that speaks to several of the points you made. Plus (for a visitor like Wharton) the consciousness of America’s relative youth and lack of cultural hinterland as against the dozens of centuries of custom and monument in France, that convey to mind permanence, superiority, confidence etc.

    That’s one of the funny things in Salter’s book, his narrator goes looking for a small town in the middle of nowhere (la France profond, I guess) and his Parisian friends think he’s off his head, they can’t understand how he’s not bored etc. Eventually they decide: he’s having an affair (he’s not, he’s observing one).

    On wine: lucky Wharton never had a night out with Rimbaud and Valery…

    Sorry this is a disorganised comment, there’s so much more to say. A final point: you’re quite hard on your country, which is itself an interesting point to explore…

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    • February 24, 2011 at 11:57 pm

      I’d love to have an Anglophone’s take on this book. I can only “see” one side of the argument.

      About that part : “a lot of the same qualities or assumptions are buried in it: about food, relationships, history, sex, all seen vis-a-vis the assumed “American” standard for those things.”

      Food is the obvious thing. The first time I stayed in America in the early 1990s, it was quite a shock. I had already been to Wales and I don’t remember anything bad about their cooking, despite all the things I had heard about British food. But there, eating sandwiches at home (for me, a sandwich meant picnic, outdoor), drinking only sodas (they looked at me as if I were mad when I drank water) and eating diner in restaurants at 5 or 6 pm or worse eating take away food in the car, on the parking lot of the fast-food, that was incredible. Things have changed since, both in France (we have more fast-foods) and in America (you can have water). Last year, I’ve read (and reviewed) Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and some things surprised me. How she considered that making her own mayonnaise was extraordinary just sounded strange.
      In important family meetings, like Christmas, lunches last several hours. Inviting friends to diner means you’re going to spend the whole evening around the table, eating slowly and talking.

      You’re right about the Puritan side. Seen from here, the Clinton / Lewinsky fuss was incomprehensible. Impeachment for a blowjob between two consenting adults??? I’m not sure about this, it’s only my analysis, but I think the big difference between Catholic faith and Prostestant faith is that a Catholic is responsible for their own soul and a Protestant is responsible for the collective soul of their community. So a French, with Catholic roots, minds his own business when a neighbour has an affair or gets drunk or whatever. You don’t feel you have to step in to put your neighbour on the “right” path.

      About relationships, what always strikes me is the vocabulary. I find English expressions like “I want you” or “you belong to me” or “you’re mine” or “I’m yours” very agressive and possessive. Do people really use them ? For example, I noticed in one of Max’s latest post a casual sentence “It captures a palpable sense of loneliness and the sheer need for another human being to call one’s own.” You wouldn’t say that in French. Too possessive. In French, the words convey the idea of asking for permission (“J’ai envie de toi” for “I want you”) or of sharing. In case in Max’s idea, I would have said “the sheer need to share your life with someone”.

      What Wharton says about casual relationships between men and women is interesting too. She sort of says they are possible in France but not in America. I didn’t mention it because I suppose things have changed in that area, everything is more relaxed now. Here she is about this and the positive consequences on marriage:

      At any rate, it acts as a greater incentive to the husband, since it rests with him to keep his wife’s admiration and affection by making himself so agreeable to her, and by taking so much trouble to appear at an advantage in the presence of her men friends, that no rival shall supplant him. It would not occur to any Frenchman of the cultivated class to object to his wife’s friendship with other men, and the mere fact that he has the influence of other men to compete with is likely to conduce to considerate treatment of his wife, and courteous relations in the household.

      Healthy competition is the key, apparently. And I wonder how the relations are at work.

      Something else. For a Parisian, every place that is not Paris is “la France profonde” and you can only get bored there. I used to live in Paris and it took so much time to do anything that it was discouraging. I go out a lot more now that I’m in Province.

      “A final point: you’re quite hard on your country, which is itself an interesting point to explore”
      I wanted to level the playing field, Wharton is so extatic. I’m really proud to be French, no problem. (Isn’t it another cliché about French people? Vain, smug, conceited or whatever the word? :-)) There are plenty of fantastic things here, as there are in many countries. I’m ashamed of my government, but that’s another story.

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  3. February 25, 2011 at 3:09 am

    After reading this, I went back and checked the date it was published. 1917. Prohibition was right around the corner for America.

    A lot of rich material here, and you are right when you said earlier that I should read this. I should. Don’t know when.

    When it came to the topic of pleasure, I thought of the phrase Joie de vivre–a French phrase but not exclusively belonging to the French. Would you find those two phrases interchangeable (Le plaisir & Joie de Vivre)?

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    • February 25, 2011 at 9:44 am

      I thought of you when I was reading this, because of all the French films you watch and all the French literature you read. You can find a copy online. It’s worth reading, at least the conclusion, with the vocabulary part. I thought about the discussion we’ve had about the word “seduction”, do you remember it?

      No, “joie de vivre” isn’t the same thing as “plaisir”. How can I explain that?
      Do you remember Poppy, the character in the film Happy-Go-Lucky ? She has what we call the “joie de vivre”. She has a wide grin that reaches her eyes. She’s sort of sunny. Despite her annoying way to neglect other people’s boundaries, she’s nice, cheerful, never ranting. She’s happy to be alive.

      “Plaisir” is something else and having “la joie de vivre” helps you feeling “plaisir”. How can I describe that emotion?
      Imagine. It’s a Spring day, one of the first warmer days after winter. It’s sunny. You’re in a public garden, sitting on a bench. You close your eyes, you disconnect your mind and you feel the sun on your face. You just enjoy the sensation of that sun, warming up your face and you just feel good. Can you imagine it ? That’s the sensation of “plaisir”, something you do for yourself, with no other intention than enjoying the present moment.
      Is it clearer now?

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  4. February 25, 2011 at 7:06 am

    I would like to comment but don’t even know where to start. I am astonished that many things she describes haven’t changed all that much and that other’s are just pure idealization. Let me stick with the man/woman relationship. Yes, I do believe that to this day French men treat their women differently, at least that is my experience. I utterly hated this aspect of being a muse and having to listen to stupid compliments while I wanted to discuss things of a more intellectual nature. The seduction part is omnipresent and I find it tiring. Having lived in different cultural environments I can assure you it is very French. I also see this at work. Picture a nice summer day and you are wearing a nice summer dress. No American man would compliment you for fear of being accused of sexual harrassment. A German man might stare but not say anything. A French man will immediately tell you you look very nice and comment on how much is or isn’t revealed. An Italian would tell you that you wear a very stylish dress. And a Swiss man? I’ll spare you this as it tends to be very explicit. I watched and tested it many times. What about the British? In my experience they would say something if they know you very well, if they don’t , they won’t. Sounds sensible, no?
    I hope you don’t mind my picking the most “shallow” part of the post but it is the one experience the most.

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    • February 25, 2011 at 9:10 am

      My first move after reading your comment was to say to my husband “Guess what, you’re not French” 🙂

      I was surprised to see how things haven’ changed that much too. Part of me is annoyed (are we staying still when the world moves on?) and part of me is proud to think we resisted the invasion of the American way of life. (this is my Asterix part)

      About relationships.
      I don’t have the same experience as you at all, probably because, being plain, my brain is actually the most attractive thing in me. So conversation was expected.

      At work, it depends what you do and where you work and how old the men are. You know where you are from the very first day, according to how people say “hello”. Either you’re in a non-touching formal company and you get a verbal “hello” or you’re in a more informal company and you get kissed on the cheeks even by the boss. I’ve worked in both environements.
      I’ve worked for an industrial firm very “vieille France” and complimenting a woman about her dress was off limits. Relationships were rather formal, except with my two closest collegues. They were my age, which helps too.
      Where I work now, things are more informal, relaxed. There’s a sort of casual friendship with my male colleagues. They can make comments on my clothes if they want, I can tell them I like them better without a beard. There’s nothing more than open teasing.
      They sometimes forget I’m a woman, so I get to hear comments on women passing by. When they get a bit nasty, I remind them that beer-built abs aren’t exactly the sexiest thing in the world. You know how feminist I am but this doesn’t bother me because I know they aren’t misogynistic at all. It’s just a game.

      What is annoying is when a man looks at you like you’re something to eat. (Or “vieux beaux”. I hate those.) But back to the beginning of my comment, my physical appareance is my best defense against this and I tend to think that younger men aren’t built that way.

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  5. Caroline
    February 25, 2011 at 11:24 am

    I think when foreigners talk about the French, they often mean Parisians. I have not many experiences outside of that area, maybe that contributes to the different perception. I never worked in a French company either. Since four years I work for a huge Swiss corporate company that just merged with an American one. The French people who work here are mostly from Paris or the South. Swiss people are highly informal, very unlike the Germans. Since everybody speaks English most of the time we all say “you”. The Swiss hardly use “Sie”, the Germans rarely, the Italians say Tu”, only the French use “Vous”. There is definitely a resistance to the American way of life that is also reflected in the language and the use of foreign words. Not a bad thing, right?
    I was asking myself, I cannot rememeber if you wrote it, whether Edith Wharton speaks about Parisians or the French in general?

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    • February 25, 2011 at 11:37 am

      The choice between “tu” and “vous” is tricky. Where I work now, we say “tu” to every one. Where I worked before, we said “tu” to people on the same level and “vous” to people of a higher level. But it doesn’t mean anything. Some “vous” are more friendly that some “tu”. It hard to change when you’ve started on a “vous” basis with someone.

      Edith Wharton writes about the French in general. But I understand she was involved with the high society of the Faubourg St Germain. Comparing her assessment of French ways with what Proust writes would be fascinating. They were contemporary and moved in the same circles. I’m thinking about it but I don’t know if I have time for this or enough English vocabulary to develop my ideas properly.

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  6. February 25, 2011 at 11:48 am

    This is fascinating. Normally, when people write about books I don’t really want to read, I skim through. Despite my relative lack of interest in reading this book (not a comment on French society, more my reluctance to get around to reading anything by Wharton…), every highlighted sentence here certainly got my brain working. I can’t add much to the cultural discussions, but this is an absolutely wonderful, thought-provoking article.

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    • February 25, 2011 at 12:01 pm

      Hello, thank you for visiting and thanks for your kind comment.
      Are you British ? This book is really worth reading for an Anglo-Saxon and particularly for an American who enjoys French literature. That narrows the scope of potential readers, doesn’t it?

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  7. leroyhunter
    February 25, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    I found it was the amount of food you’re given in an average US restaurant that’s the problem. Mountains! leading to either discomfort or waste.

    It’s interesting about the Catholic / private thing. Of course in Ireland those characteristics created a veneer of “respectability” in society that concealed vicious, secret abuses of children, women etc and collusion in keeping such matters quiet. So it’s not necessarily preferable to the American model.

    Have you read any other Americans on France and French life? Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast is very good, quite unlike the typical picture people have of a “Hemingway” book. A lot of it is score-settling with other writers, which I guess you could dismiss as gossip, except that it’s gossip about Joyce, Fitzgerald, Stein etc.

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    • February 25, 2011 at 2:14 pm

      Yes I forgot to mention that the servings are HUGE. (same experience in British Columbia, btw) It’s only waste for the tourists though, as the locals bring the left-overs at home so that they don’t have to cook. They’ve started to do that for wine in French restaurants, you can take the bottle at home.

      The only other books I’ve read about France are Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence and The Notebooks of Major Thompson by Pierre Daninos. No major works but the Daninos is huge, huge fun. I re-read some passage lately when I was thinking about this post, I was laughing out lout.
      Thanks for the tip on Hemingway. I wasn’t blown away by The Old Man and the Sea and I didn’t care to try another one.

      And there are comparisons between France and America in The Ski Bum by Romain Gary. (The French version is Adieu, Gary Cooper.)The main character, Lenny is American. As Gary lived in LA, he had a lot to say about this.

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      • leroyhunter
        February 25, 2011 at 10:27 pm

        I looked up Pierre Daninos, doesn’t seem to be easy to find an English version of his stuff. Sounds good though…

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        • February 25, 2011 at 10:45 pm

          There are used copies on Amazon. The chapter on the Tour de France is priceless.

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  8. February 25, 2011 at 5:04 pm

    My apartment in Paris was where Hemingway lived. You can see the place here: http://schoenheitisteineschlafendekatze.wordpress.com/2010/10/15/place-de-la-contrescarpe-in-paris/
    I like everything by Hemingway apart from The Old Man and the Sea that I found OK but every thing else is amazing. A Moveable Feast is by far the best. I just bought a Virago book called The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. Maybe it is totally bad but knowing the Virago collection it’s hardly possible. It’s about Hemingway and his first wife in Paris.

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    • leroyhunter
      February 25, 2011 at 9:13 pm

      That’s a wonderful coincidence Caroline! How long did you live there? (or do you still?) Nice picture, thanks.

      I read For Whom the Bell Tolls when I was pretty young and it put me right off Hemingway for about 25 years. I find I have a strong affection for him now, despite his many flaws, and I’ve read a load of his stuff recently and liked/loved it all. His short stories are superb.

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      • February 25, 2011 at 10:05 pm

        You seem to all agree to say The Old Man and the Sea isn’t the best one. I should try another one. Thank you all, my book pile just grew again.

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      • February 28, 2011 at 10:30 am

        Sorry, I didn’t see your comment. I lived there for a bit longer than two years but have since left Paris. The city I’m living in at present was the temporary home of people like Nietzsche, Hermann Hesse and Erasmus of Rotterdam. And the film producer Arthur Cohn lives one street away from me.

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  9. February 25, 2011 at 5:53 pm

    Like Biblio I was fascinated by this even though I’ve no desire to read the book (I can’t bear works of Francophilia, they’re always so gushing).

    It is interesting how little has changed. Even the tendency of Francophiles to romanticise and see everything as perfect hasn’t changed…

    Paris though does remain my favourite city on Earth. Oddly enough people were always very polite to me there. I’ve no idea why.

    We do use that possessive language in English Bookaround. I want you has a strong sexual implication but it’s not a rare usage. I hadn’t really thought about it but much of the language of love in English is the language of property.

    I must read A Moveable Feast. I’m rather fond of Hemingway (though I also found The Old Man and the Sea only ok) but haven’t read that one.

    Fascinating post. And yes, the portions in North America are vast. It staggered me too when I first saw it.

    Like

    • February 25, 2011 at 6:49 pm

      I’m glad you were interested, I really had doubts about the interest of this when writing it.

      Thanks for answering my question about the language of love. “j’ai envie de toi” has a strong sexual implication in French too. The approximate translation would be “I feel like having you” or “I feel like being with you”, so you see, it’s less agressive. Perhaps it’s a clue to explain the clichéed success of French lovers?

      Like

    • leroyhunter
      February 25, 2011 at 9:16 pm

      Of course it’s Wharton’s gush that bookaround singles out as well, and you’re both right – it’s offputting.

      A final thing about US food: in Las Vegas once I ordered a roast beef sandwich for lunch, but when it came out it was an entire joint of beef thinly sliced and placed between 2 slabs of bread. Easily the size of the Sunday lunch for 5 of us at home. It was obscene.

      Like

  10. February 25, 2011 at 8:02 pm

    Yes, BookAround The Corner, it’s clearer now. Plaisir has a sensuous element (the sun on one’s face)?

    Like

    • February 25, 2011 at 9:46 pm

      Yes, that’s it, in this case. But it can also name the warmth you feel when you give to someone a present that makes them really happy.
      There’s a book about this : “La première gorgée de bière et autres plaisirs minuscules” by Philippe Delerm. It was a huge success when it was published.

      Like

  11. Cristina
    June 7, 2011 at 9:33 pm

    You have such a bitter, unpleasant way of making an analysis. It’s terrible. I looked some of what you had written and I chose right away another analysis. Cristina

    Like

    • June 7, 2011 at 9:36 pm

      That’s the point of writing reviews: you don’t have to agree with me. I’m not a teacher, just a reader. I’m glad if you found an analysis that suited you better than mine.
      I’d be glad to read your analysis of that book.

      Like

  1. April 7, 2012 at 10:17 pm
  2. January 19, 2014 at 9:51 pm

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