Review

France in Mind: An Anthology

by Alice Leccese Powers



"What is the draw of France to Anglo-Saxons?" To answer this
question, Alice Leccese Powers explores France through the works of
thirty-three British and American writers. She has compiled as
diverse a selection of writings as is possible to have on the same
topic, proving that every traveler experiences France in a
different way --- even novelist Tobias Smollet, who found more to
complain about than to embrace.

The selections in FRANCE IN MIND range from the eighteenth century
to the present, cover territory from Paris to the Pyrenees and
include fiction, nonfiction, letters and poetry. Some of the pieces
are familiar and worth re-reading in the context of this anthology
--- excerpts from Ernest Hemingway's A MOVEABLE FEAST, F. Scott
Fitzgerald's TENDER IS THE NIGHT and Joanne Harris' CHOCOLAT. Also
collected here are essays from noted travel writers like Peter
Mayle writing about social rituals in Provence, M.F.K. Fisher on
dining in Marseilles and Paul Theroux on exploring Arles in Van
Gogh footsteps.

It's the unexpected selections that make FRANCE IN MIND come alive
--- writings from James Fenimore Cooper, Mary McCarthy and David
Sedaris. One of the best selections in the anthology is an excerpt
from Washington Irving's TALES OF A TRAVELER. Irving, closely
identified with New York's Catskill Mountains, penned several
volumes of travel writing that were popular in both Europe and
America. Those who have read Irving's THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW
will see familiar elements in "The Adventures of My Uncle," in
which he spins a ghostly tale set in a chateau in Normandy.

The biographies that precede each selection provide interesting
details on the authors' connections to France. Thomas Jefferson
succeeded Benjamin Franklin as the U.S. Ambassador to France and
arrived at his post with his two daughters and a slave, Sally
Hemming. Gertrude Stein, most famous for the literary salons she
hosted in her Paris apartment for the Lost Generation of expatriate
writers, was of Jewish descent. She refused to leave Paris during
World War II and, not only was she forced to sell some treasured
paintings to survive, she narrowly escaped being sent to a
concentration camp. Journalist Stanley Karnow first went to France
as a U.S. Army soldier during World War II. He later returned on
the G.I. bill, enrolled at the Sorbonne and stayed for many years
working for the Paris bureau of Time magazine.

Edith Wharton, at first wary of Henry James because critics often
compared their work, became great friends with James and joined him
on a motoring tour of France. Both are represented in FRANCE IN
MIND: Wharton with a selection from one of her lesser-known novels,
THE REEF, on falling in love in Paris, James with an essay on the
cathedral town of Rheims.

Whatever the time or place --- whether it's Adam Gopnik in PARIS TO
THE MOON strategizing on how to convince a taxi driver to make a
U-turn to take his pregnant wife to the hospital to give birth,
David Sedaris earning a few laughs for his attempts at mastering
the French language, Ezra Pound on a walking tour of Southern
France, or even Thomas Jefferson penning a 1780 letter to James
Madison --- each selection brings us ever closer to understanding
the source of France's allure. "What is the draw of France to
Anglo-Saxons? It is the romantic possibilities. The manners, the
body language, the cuisine, the religion hold the promise of
another life away from the ordinary."

Reviewed by Shannon McKenna on January 22, 2011

France in Mind: An Anthology
by Alice Leccese Powers

  • Publication Date: March 11, 2003
  • Genres: Nonfiction, Travel
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • ISBN-10: 0375714359
  • ISBN-13: 9780375714351