Following on from my first read of a Bloomsbury Group reprint (“Miss Hargreaves”) I thought that it might be time I made the acquaintance of Mrs. Harris, who also comes highly recommended. It seems that Paul Gallico wrote four books of Mrs. Harris’s escapades, of which this book contains the first two, and it’s a very pretty Bloomsbury Group edition. I own three of these volumes now, and the design is super – a pastel cover with black silhouette design on the front, which varies and is relevant to the plot – very nice!

Anyway, Mrs. Harris (or ‘Arris, as she appears often) is a Cockney char from Battersea in London and has spent a straightforward, hard-working life, until she spies a Christian Dior dress in one of the client’s wardrobes. From that point on, her life changes – possessed with a need to own a Dior dress of her own, she scrimps and saves and has a small pools win until she has enough to fly off to Paris to find her dress. Needless to say, all does not go smoothly at first, but Mrs. Harris in her straightforward way affects people for the better – like a kind of magical creature she changes lives and attains her desires. while helping others with hers.

There’s a lovely array of supporting characters, some of whom are – Mrs. Butterfield, who is Mrs. Harris’s best friend, fellow char and back up when she needs help with her work; Mme Colbert, M. Fauvel and Natasha the model who all work at Dior; and the Marquis Hipolyte de Chassange, a venerable gentleman who has a pivotal role to play in the follow-up, “Mrs. Harris Goes to New York”.

The second volume, “Mrs. Harris goes to New York”, has a more convoluted plot, involving an attempt to get an orphan boy away from a hideous family and back to his American father, plus Mrs. Harris and Mrs. Butterfield helping Mrs. Schreiber, an American client, settle back into New York and get some proper staff. Along the way, Mrs. Harris explores a surprising amount of American and matters are eventually resolved, although once again, not in too predictable a way.

[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

These were fun books, an engaging read, but not quite what I expected. I suppose I thought they would be something like “Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day”, which is one of the best feel-good books I’ve ever read. I couldn’t quite work out what it was about the Mrs. Harris stories that didn’t feel quite like “Miss Pettigrew” and reflecting on it, I think it was the fact that Gallico had to keep sticking a moral in. The spoiling of the dress; the constant set-backs and problems that beset Mrs. Harris and all her endeavours; the fact that in the end, Mrs. Harris has to be kept in her place, despite the fact she could charm the birds down from the trees, and have the captain of a ship in the palm of her hand. She has all these fine qualities and all these wonderful effects on people, but somehow is always let down. I also found Gallico’s homilies and cultural comments to be just a tad patronising at times – but this could be due to my reading the books from a 21st century viewpoint and not from the 1950s/1960s.

Maybe I’m being a little hyper-critical – “Miss Pettigrew” had a wonderful resolution where you felt everything ended up quite as it should be, and there’s no doubt that the Mrs. Harris books I’ve read so far have had happy endings. I just didn’t get quite as big an emotional lift from them as I expected – but there was some lovely description, a lot of humour that had me actually laughing out loud, and I did enjoy them – it will be interesting to see the effect Mrs. Harris has on Russia when I get to read the later books!

(Just don’t mention the cringingly clichéd Cockney accent…….)

Advertisements