Tuesday, April 9, 2013

"Despite the title, the book is an 'entree' to a literary feast of passion and heartbreak that I don't think will disappoint...." --Gerald

Oh, how the French love love! For hundreds of years, they have championed themselves as guides to the art de l'amour through their literature, paintings, songs, and cinema. A French man or woman without amorous desire is considered defective, like someone missing the sense of smell or taste. Now revered scholar Marilyn Yalom intimately examines the tenets of this culture's enduring gospel of romance.

Basing her delightfully erudite findings on her extensive readings of French literature, as well as memories of her personal experiences in la belle France, Yalom explores the many nuances of love as it has evolved over the centuries, from the Middle Ages to the present. Following along, step-by-step, on her romance-tinged literary detective hunt, the reader discovers how the French invented love, how they have kept it vibrant for more than nine centuries, what is unique in the French love experience, and what is universal.

Read an interview with the author HERE.

Gerald says:
"As Tolstoi reminds us at the beginning of Anna Karenina, nobody watches "The Bachelor" or "The Bachelorette" to see domestic bliss.  Likewise, the misleadingly titled How the French Invented Love by Marilyn Yalom is fascinating not because it presents a more desirable love than is found in English and American attitudes—with which the author often contrasts her theme of love in French literature and culture. The author, rather, introduces us to 'French love' as a fascinating prism of attitudes to erotic love, at times obsessively jealous or cruelly indifferent, but never dull. 

A popular introduction to literature (for me, this book is more a study of a literary theme in cultural context than a cultural study despite its occasional claims to the contrary) must do two things : it must whet our appetite for what we have not yet tasted and grant a context in well known classics for exotic reading pleasures  we may miss without a guide. As to the former, I discovered minor treasures now on my reading list.  The 20th century lesbian writer Violette Leduc's emotionally stunning description of women overcome by erotic exploration in La Batarde is just one example. (Ever really experienced a kiss like that?) As for the latter, the discussion of the intertextual dialogue between French authors on the theme of older women and their younger lovers enriched for me such classics as Dangerous Liaisons and Madame Bovary. Her discussions of the love letters of the worldly Julie de Lespinasse, on one hand, and the writings of the Republican women Elizabeth Le Bas and Madame Roland, on the other, are further examples of how Yalom makes the contemporaneous literary works more vivid for those of us with only a passing acquaintance with French cultural history.

Despite the title, the book is an 'entree' to a literary feast of passion and heartbreak that I don't think will disappoint—strict Calvinists and Puritans excepted."

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