1 November 2022 Susannah

Dior in Literature

Dior in Literature

On a recent long flight I had the pleasure of watching the new and very delightful movie Mrs Harris Goes to Paris, starring Lesley Manville. On getting home, I decided to read the book. It’s the story of a London char woman who falls in love with a Dior dress owned by one of her clients. After some luck (on the football pools) and lots of scrimping and saving, Mrs Harris finds herself on a plane bound for the House of Dior so that she can buy a dress.

The novel is by American author Paul Gallico (1897 – 1976), best known for his wartime tearjerker The Snow Goose and for five books about cats. He also wrote The Poseidon Adventure, turned into a movie that started a whole string of disaster films. The tale of Mrs Harris, published in 1958 was such a success that Gallico followed it up with three more novels about the cleaning lady – Mrs Harris Goes to New York (1960), Mrs Harris, MP (1965), and Mrs Harris Goes to Moscow (1974). The first of the books was turned into a TV movie starring Angela Lansbury (recently deceased). Gallico once confessed “I am a rotten novelist”, but his books won awards, were critically acclaimed, many were turned into films, and he was clearly a highly accomplished story-teller. He began his writing career as a sports journalist and was successful in that too.

The new film version does make several changes from the book, especially at the end, but the scenes in Paris are gorgeous, Lesley Manville does a wonderful job in the part, and it is well worth watching. I adored all the Dior gowns on display.

On that same topic I recently read and was fascinated by a book by Justine Picardie called Miss Dior: A Tale of Courage and Couture. Catherine Dior was sister of the great fashion designer. She worked for the French Resistance during WWII, but her group was betrayed and she was captured and tortured by the Nazis. She was sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp, where she endured horrific conditions. Those chapters of the book were traumatic to read, but the information about the world of fashion and Dior’s famous clientele, the trials of those involved in the Nazi terror and Catherine’s role in those trials, all made for most interesting reading. Justine Picardie has also written an excellent biography of Coco Chanel (if you want to know more about Chanel, you might like to watch my video talk.

So why not enter the glorious world of Dior by watching the new movie and also reading the very charming novel, Mrs Harris Goes to Paris.

Do you own a Dior dress? Have you seen the Mrs Harris movie and what did you think of it? I’d love to know in a comment.

I love the society’s logo, which depicts Johnson imitating a kangaroo. He heard about the creature from Joseph Banks (later Sir Joseph Banks) and Johnson astonished the group then present by rising from his seat and attempting to imitate this strange creature. The logo was drawn by cartoonist and print-maker John Spooner.

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Featured image- Dior in literature, Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, 2022 screen adaptation, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5151570/; Paul Gallico, By Carl Van Vechten, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2766799; Justine Picardie, https://harpercollins.co.uk/blogs/authors/justine-picardie; Miss Dior: A Story of Courage and Couture, https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/56269251.

Comments (28)

  1. Robyn gooden

    Mrs Harris a lovely feel good movie. She achieved her goal . quite inspirational. B

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, her determination and resilience were fabulous. And I did adore her dress!

  2. Ros Russell

    I also saw Mrs Harris Goes To Paris on a recent long haul flight- to Paris. It was delightful, and a great vehicle for a wonderful actor, Lesley Manville.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I thought the book was better than the film, but it was such a fun movie to watch.

  3. Margaret Debenham

    I have just discovered there was a 1992 telemovie of Mrs ‘Arris Goes to Paris, with Angela Lansbury in the title role and the wonderful Diana Rigg as Mme Colbert. It would be interesting to compare the two movies.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, I briefly mentioned it in my newsletter – it would be really interesting to see.

      • Margaret Debenham

        Yes, you did mention it, and I was so excited about discovering Diana Rigg was in it I blanked on your mention of Angela. Apologies – but I’ve discovered the movie is available on YouTube!

        • Susannah Fullerton

          That’s exciting. I will seek it out when I get home and compare it with the new version.

  4. Penny Morris

    I too saw the movie as part of the Cunard British film festival in Sydney. A delightful light evening’s entertainment. If you haven’t seen Magpie Murders also starring Leslie Manville, do so as it is a good murder mystery series.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I also enjoyed The Magpie Murders. Yes, Mrs Harris is an enjoyable and beautifully visual film. I enjoyed the book more and also loved the sequel, Mrs Harris Goes to New York.

  5. Maria

    I love Dior couture from the mid twentieth century and I greatly enjoyed the fabulous exhibitions held by the Powerhouse in 1994 and the NGV in 2017. I hope to see the movie soon.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Dior dresses are so feminine and beautiful. I’m not surprised Mrs Harris fell in love with one. Sadly, I missed the exhibitions you mention.

  6. I really enjoyed Mrs Harris goes to Paris. A little bit of pathos, a smattering of humour and lots of nostalgia….a movie to see with girlfriends and chat over later.

  7. Aline

    Are you giving any talks in NZ? I must have missed that post! . My friend Jocelyn Harris (Austen expert) told me you were going to Dunedin, and now I realise it is your dad’s 90th birthday – hence your trip, and you must also be coming to Auckland.
    Bon voyage and welcome to Aotearoa.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I will be in NZ leaidng a literary tour which is mainly in the South Island, so I won’t be giving any talks. However, I will see Jocelyn who has kindly invited me for dinner. It will be fabulous to catch up with her. I will be in Auckland for one day only for my Dad’s birthday. I will be in Auckland for some talks next year though.

  8. Anne

    I too watched the movie ‘Mrs Harris goes to Paris! on a long haul flight home to Sydney from LA recently. I enjoyed the movie and the fashion but I have to share with you my joy at visiting the Dior Museum in Paris on this recent holiday. Wow, what a treat to see so many beautiful designs – the curved staircase display was amazing! Definitely a must visit for anyone interested in fashion and history!!

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I have never been there and it has now been added to my list. I am going to visit the Dior’s house on my next literary tour of northern France. Thanks for letting me know about the museum.

  9. Pam

    The Three Lives of Alex St Pierre by Natasha Lester her newest book describes the Dior Fashion House. She did an enormous amount of research but was unable to visit due to Covid.
    She was interviewed on Bubbles and Books by zoom.

  10. Christina Hicks

    Loved the movie and it’s positive message but found it fictionalised the book Flowers for Mrs Harris in a couple of significant ways.
    Read over 50 years ago and haven’t had the chance to re read so I may be misremembering but the top model was not assertive in the recognisable 20/21 century way she is portrayed and I don’t recall any romance/ sexual attraction centred on Mrs Harris ….the romance was the dress itself and the young French couple.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Well remembered! Yes, the only romance was the young couple and the Marquis, rather than insulting her and disappointing her romantic hopes, becomea a good friend and he reappeares in the sequel, Mrs Harris Goes to New York. There were quite a few changes to the ending which did mean some of the book’s message was lost, but it was still an enjoyable film.
      See you soon in NZ.

  11. Jan Clemson

    No Dior frock, unfortunately, but I have pleasant memories of accompanying a Miss Australia to a Dior parade whilst on a posting to Paris in the mid 1960s. However, my love is for the beautiful designs of Coco
    Chanel, especially the suits. For one of those I might have emulated Mrs Harris.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, those Chanel suits do take some beating. How gorgeous to go to a Dior parade – I am envious!

  12. Ann Robinson

    I loved Flowers for Mrs Harris , the book when I was a young girl and was very eager to see the film. It was absolutely delightful and essentially true to the book Like you I loved all the Dior gowns and the scenes in the atelier but wished for more scenes of Paris. Another of Paul Gallico books I loved and which my sister and I re- read many times was “Jennie.” Gallico has such a warm and optimistic view of the goodness of people that his stories remain a joy to read

    • Susannah Fullerton

      He does have a happy view of human nature, though I do remember weeping over The Snow Goose. I am glad you also enjoyed the new movie.

    • Anne Williams

      Missed seeing Mrs Harris in Sydney, there had been so many trailers when watching other movies I thought I had almost seen the entire show. But coming to NZ I was able to watch it on the plane and I though I have not read any of the books I did enjoy the film very much.
      I thought she was over generous lending her precious gown to that aspiring actress and to see it burnt without any offering of apology upset me.

      The other film worth seeing is See How They Run. I saw Mousetrap in London many years ago with my daughter and recently took her to see the production in Sydney. The film is set around the theatre showing the Mousetrap back in the early days, great acting and scenery. I do love Agatha Christie.

      • Susannah Fullerton

        I agree that the careless treatment of the dress and lack of an apology was really upsetting, but the ending of the movie was considerably changed form the ending of the book. I really enjoyed the book – delightful!
        Thanks for the other recommendation. Once my tour is over I am hoping to catch up on many movies I seem to have missed.
        Great to have you on tour again, Anne.

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