The House in Franceby Gully Wells
Gully Wells takes us into the heart of
Set in Provence, London, and New York, this is a daughter’s brilliant and witty memoir of her mother and stepfather—Dee Wells, the glamorous and rebellious American journalist, and A. J. Ayer, the celebrated and worldly Oxford philosopher—and the life they lived at the center of absolutely everything.
Gully Wells takes us into the heart of London’s lively, liberated intellectual inner circle of the 1960s. Here are Alan Bennett, Isaiah Berlin, Iris Murdoch, Bertrand Russell, Jonathan Miller, Martin Amis, Christopher Hitchens, Robert Kennedy, and Claus von Bülow, and later in New York a completely different mix: Mayor John Lindsay, Mike Tyson, and lingerie king Fernando Sánchez. We meet Wells’s adventurous mother, a television commentator earning a reputation for her outspoken style and progressive views, and her stepfather, an icon in the world of twentieth-century philosophy, proving himself as prodigious a womanizer as he is a thinker. Woven throughout is La Migoua, the old farmhouse in France, where evenings were spent cooking bouillabaisse with fish bought that morning in the market in Bandol, and afternoons included visits to M. F. K. Fisher’s favorite café on the Cours Mirabeau in Aix, with a late-night stop at the bullfighters’ bar in Arles. The house perched on a hill between Toulon and Marseille was where her parents and their friends came together every year, and where Gully herself learned some of the enduring lessons of a life well lived.
The House in France is a spellbinding story with a luminous sense of place and a dazzling portrait of a woman who “caught the spirit of the sixties” and one of the most important intellectual figures of the twentieth century, drawn from the vivid memory of the child who adored them both.
Memoir of the author's mother and stepfather and the luminous social and intellectual circles in which they moved.
Remembering her mother, American journalist Dee Wells, and stepfather, Oxford philosopher A.J. Ayer, Condé Nast Traveler features editor Wells flits from decade to decade and celebrity to celebrity without too great a concern for chronology. Dee Wells and Ayer were two of the original 20th-century bohemians/hippies/free spirits. Dee in particular was terribly gratified when the '60s finally caught up with their lifestyle. In her debut memoir, the author chronicles the many relationships—social and (mostly) sexual—of their set; the anecdotes are remarkable for their vivid attention to detail. All the tangential lives came together at La Migoua, the eponymous home which absorbed the characteristics of any and all who were welcomed there; the house reflected the spirit of Dee and her nonconformist outlook on life. The stories of Wells' mother and Ayer are a delight to read and revealing when dealing with the captivating personalities of their generation, which included, among many others, Christopher Hitchens, Alan Bennett, Bertrand Russell, Iris Murdoch and Martin Amis. However, the author's tendency to dwell on her own tiresome, personal tales, such as her quest to give up her virginity, slow the narrative and detract from the far more interesting story of Wells' parents and their friends.
Too much teenage angst and not enough of the vibrant intellectual society that Wells illuminates in many of the chapters.
The Washington Post
- Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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- 9.26(w) x 6.60(h) x 1.16(d)
Meet the Author
Gully Wells was born in Paris, brought up in London, educated at Oxford, and moved to New York in 1979. She is a features editor at Condé Nast Traveler magazine. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and children.
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My reaction... Phenomenally good read. I was extraordinarily impressed by the lives led by the subjects of this book. I'd definitely recommend buying this book. Only shortcoming is I feel a little short-changed on personal details of Gully's life. She mentions in her Thank You's that she was glad for editor-readers who kept her from revealing the most embarrassing parts. What a tease! Do tell us more!
Ms. Wells' stepfather, a great admirer of Jeremy Bentham, shared Bentham's belief in "felicific calculus," which she characterizes as allowing "you to do all the things that made you happy, as long as you didn't hurt anyone else." This memoir is a long love letter to people who embraced that principle with enthusiasm and to the house where they spent their summers for some 40 years. Ms. Wells rightly points their foibles and the hurt they sometimes caused, but she is unfailingly kind. And she writes like Nancy Mitford reincarnated -- which I intend as a huge compliment.
I enjoyed this book from beginning to end. Very real.