How the French Invented Love: Nine Hundred Years of Passion and Romance

Overview

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 ...

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How the French Invented Love: Nine Hundred Years of Passion and Romance

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this enchanting tour of French literature—from Abélard and Héloïse in the 12th century to Marguerite Duras in the 20th and Philippe Sollers in the 21st—Yalom attempts to unravel the mystery of how the French manage their romances, marriages, affairs, and obsession with love and sex. Former professor of French, current senior scholar at Stanford’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research, avowed feminist, confessed Proustian, admitted Simone de Beauvoir groupie, the erudite and charming Yalom is the perfect companion. Yalom (A History of the Wife) argues that it’s not only gender-specific traits and roles that are socially constructed, but love, too. For example, Les liaisons dangereuses (the most wickedly erotic book ever written, in Yalom’s opinion) is still on the list of required reading in French high schools. Her passion for French literature is palpable, and the analytical connections that she draws to the love lives of its writers (gay, straight, or just plain neurotic) are edifying and great fun to read. At the heart of this delicious book is Yalom the reader, whose fascination with the French way of love and pleasure in sharing her enthusiasms is highly contagious. Readers will want to run to the library and stay there for a year, reading everything she deconstructs. Illus. Agent: Sandra Dijkstra, Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. (Nov.)
Booklist
“This superbly realized and wonderfully engaging work of analytical cultural history creates a class by itself.”
Los Angeles Review of Books
“Marilyn Yalom’s new study, How the French Invented Love: Nine Hundred Years of Passion and Romance, reaches beyond the stereotypes by focusing on literature, making an erudite, elegant, and charming case for France’s love ‘invention.’”
New Yorker
“[An] amiable tour through changing French attitudes toward love during the past millennium....Engaging.”
Pamela Druckerman
“By the end of this book, it is hard not to feel both breathless and dowdy. Am I living sufficiently by my passions? Shouldn’t my husband be making more declarations? Perhaps the French are on to something.”
Diane Johnson
How the French Invented Love is absolutely marvelous, so lively and learned....Marilyn Yalom’s book is a distinguished contribution to our experience of a great literature, as well as an endearing memoir.”
Diane Ackerman
“Seductive and fascinating. Marilyn Yalom is the perfect companion for this delightfully candid tour de l’amour.”
Ellen Sussman
“Marilyn Yalom is a charming guide on an exploration of desire, romance, sex and passion à la française. Like a detective on a steamy case, Yalom digs through literature and life, uncovering the mysteries of l’amour. How the French Invented Love will surely seduce you.”
Pierre Saint-Amand
“Marilyn Yalom reclaims her enchantment with love stories from France. She explores the mysteries and complexities of love as they have been bequeathed by the French from centuries of their literature....She goes beyond the recognizable clichés to offer a comprehensive study, a rich psychological and cultural survey.”
Susan Rubin Suleiman
“Marilyn Yalom combines a witty and conversational style with impressive erudition….[She] is no misty-eyed idealist when it comes to love, or to the French, but her personal involvement in the story is part of the charm of this highly readable book.”
Kirkus Reviews
Cultural historian Yalom (Birth of the Chess Queen, 2004, etc.) explicates Gallic attitudes toward the not-always-so-tender passion. Tracing l'amour à la française "from the emergence of romance in the twelfth century until our own era," the author employs an enjoyably downright style, blending in her own experiences in France over the course of 60 years as well as the personal stories of French friends. She begins with the troubadour poetry that established the idealized conventions of courtly love in medieval France, then moves on to the more cynical trope of gallant love, which emphasized physical passion. The distinction between a true emotional bond and mere lust runs through all of French literature, but they are not necessarily in conflict; Yalom notes the culture's forthright acceptance of sexual pleasure, so much more problematic for puritanical Anglo-Saxons. The famous union of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, who maintained an "essential" love while enjoying "contingent" loves with others, is a 20th-century example of the pragmatic French acknowledgment that marriage and passion don't always go hand in hand. Yet Yalom finds many examples of French men and women (but mostly women) overwhelmed by all-consuming ardor, from Racine's Phèdre to the "irresistible force that penetrates through the skin, regardless of its color," in Marguerite Duras' novel, The Lover. Yalom also covers homosexual love in the works of Proust, Gide and Colette, and she devotes a chapter to the "yearning for the mother" that fueled some decidedly sexual affairs between young men and older women in the novels of Stendhal, Balzac and others. Yalom's prose occasionally seems a bit breathless for an octogenarian author, but her first-person confidences give this an engagingly informal tone that matches the relatively light treatment of its subject.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062048318
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/23/2012
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 492,879
  • Product dimensions: 5.48 (w) x 7.80 (h) x 0.99 (d)

Meet the Author

Marilyn Yalom is a former professor of French and presently a senior scholar at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University. She is the author of widely acclaimed books such as A History of the Breast, A History of the Wife, and Birth of the Chess Queen, as well as The American Resting Place: Four Hundred Years of History Through our Cemeteries and Burial Grounds, which includes a portfolio of photographs by her son Reid S. Yalom. She lives in Palo Alto, California, with her husband, the psychiatrist and author Irvin D. Yalom.

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