Mrs Ada Harris (pronounced Mrs 'Arris by the lady herself) is a London charwoman and a widow; at the outset of the novella Mrs Harris is on her way to Paris to buy herself a Dior evening gown. Flowers for Mrs Harris by Paul Gallico (who I have waxed lyrical about once before) is a charming read; Ada Harris is vivacious and determined to fulfill her dream of acquiring couture whilst brightening up the lives of those she meets in the city of Dior. A light, frothy book, Flowers for Mrs Harris is about achieving one's dreams, the dedication that requires and, ultimately, the things that matter in life above material possessions.
Flowers for Mrs Harris could have been overly saccharine but its sweetness is well-balanced; in essence it is a sweet novel but it also comments on snobbery, on appearances being deceiving and of the friendships that arise out of surprising situations between disparate people. Mrs Harris has gumption, says what she thinks and goes for what she wants; I was reminded somewhat of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winfred Watson although Gallico's Mrs Harris didn't enter my heart like Miss Pettigrew did. However, my heart did break for Mrs Harris towards the end of the novella and the sudden poignancy turns an otherwise comic -Flowers for Mrs Harris is at times very funny and dryly witty- tale into a heartwarming one.
Published as Mrs 'Arris Goes to Paris in the US, it was the first in a series of four books; I was delighted to discover that Bloomsbury are publishing the first two, Mrs 'Arris Goes to Paris AND Mrs 'Arris Goes to New York, as one of their forthcoming Bloomsbury Group novels this summer. I look forward to discovering what the antics of Mrs Harris are in the Big Apple and the impression she makes.
[F]or she understood the fierce, wild, hungry craving of the girl to be something, to be somebody, to lift herself out of the rut of everyday struggle and acquire some of the good things in life for herself.
'Lady Dant 'as one of them in her 'er cupboard. She brought it up for the charity ball tonight. I've never seen anything like it in me life before except perhaps in a dream or in a book.' Her voice lowered for a moment as she became reflective. 'Why, even the Queen ain't got a dress like that, ' she said, and then loudly and firmly, 'and I mean to 'ave one.'
Mrs Harris's lip began to tremble and her little eyes screwed up as the implications of the disaster became clear. Here, in this apparently empty, hostile building, before cold hostile eyes, the unimaginable seemed about to happen. They didn't seem to want her, they didn't even appear to want her money. They were going to send her away and back to London without her Dior dress.
She found herself in a curtained-off cubicle on a corridor that seemed to be a part of an endless maze of similar corridors and cubicles. Each cubicle held a woman like a queen bee in a cell, and through the corridors rushed the worker bees with the honey - armfuls of frilly, frothy garments in colours of plum, raspberry, tamarind, and peach, gentian-flower, cowslip, damask rose, and orchid, to present them where they had been ordered for trial and further inspection.