20 September 2012

How the French Invented Love; Marilyn Yalom

How the French Invented Love: Nine Hundred Years of Passion and RomanceHow the French Invented Love: Nine Hundred Years of Passion and Romance by Marilyn Yalom
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I felt privileged to have read this - and by that, I mean that the word "privilege[d/s]" appeared a little too frequently for my tastes (according to the Search feature on my Kindle, it was a mere 15 times, but a few of those times appeared in the same small Kindle window). As this was an ARC, perhaps that's changed in the final version.

My bigger quibble was that this was not really about the French inventing love, it was how French literature influenced and/or mimicked the state of love in France, starting with the courtly love of the Middle Ages and ending with the sexual revolution as described by Catherine Millet. In other words, literary social history. Now, that's not bad, but it felt like the title and subtitle were false advertising.

As for the contents, perhaps it helps if you've read many (most) of the books discussed (as I have, some in translation, some in the original). It added to my appreciation of how the works in question revealed something about the society at that time, although often I wondered what the "real" French were thinking and doing; literacy being a privilege of the upper classes in the earlier years, would peasants really have been aware of how Cyrano's words affected Roxanne? Or how best to woo a woman? Was adultery as accepted by those in the countryside as it was those in Paris and royal (or semi-royal) circles? These are questions that the author does not address. Obviously there's more evidence and discussion about how the non-literary/average classes feel about things once we move into the 1800s, but even at the end, when the question of Dominique Strauss-Kahn comes up, it feels like there's something missing.

ARC provided by publisher.

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