BOOK REVIEW: “Every Frenchman Has One” by Olivia de Havilland

If you have been following my blog at all, one look at the cover of this book should tell you why I felt obligated to procure a copy for myself. For those who may be new here–first off, welcome. Second, I am 1) obsessed with Olivia de Havilland, a longtime resident of Paris, and 2) obsessed with Paris itself. I studied there for 5 months, and I love everything about the city and Parisian culture. More about my time there, and my meeting Olivia de Havilland (yes, I did!) later on in this post, but first, let me give you a brief history of this book, what it is, and why it exists.

Olivia de Havilland wrote this book in 1961 as a sort of disjointed memoir about her life in Paris. It has no plot, follows no sequence of events, but rather is a series of vignettes relating to life as she has experienced it, as a foreigner abroad, and all the joys, difficulties, miscommunications and funny stories she has encountered along the way.

De Havilland moved to Paris in 1953 to start life anew after a divorce from her first husband, Marcus Goodrich. She fell in love with  Pierre Galante, the editor of the prominent French magazine Paris Match, and they soon married, planting her in the home where she still lives today, almost 60 years later.

But being a foreigner (de Havilland was born in Japan to English parents, and became a U.S. citizen in 1943) proved rather daunting at first. The title of the book, in fact, refers to the French liver–and its capacity for consuming alcohol, something she was not accustomed to. In another particularly funny chapter, she recounts her problems learning French:

“Not long after [being] intoxicated by a really brilliant showing at my lesson, I gave some quite detailed instructions to  another taxicab driver as to where I wanted him to stop. This time I made a splendid bouillabaise of “la crepe” (pancake), “le crepe” (widow’s weeds) “arret” (stop), “arete” (fishbone), and rather authoritatively asked him to put me down at the fishbone of the autobus where the lady was standing wearing the pancake. He did, too.”

She goes on to say:

“Then there was the day I shook my professor. I’d been on a household shopping excursion and had been rather dismayed at the high cost of things. Well, I don’t know if you see much difference between “matelot” and “matelas,” and I don’t know how you’d complain about the price of a mattress. But anyway I rushed in to my professor at lesson time in a state of outrage and indignantly proclaimed that I had discovered that French sailors were VERY expensive!”

This is the tone of Every Frenchman Has One. Olivia de Havilland is an immensely talented and entertaining writer, and each chapter of the book is laugh-out-loud funny. It is evident to the reader just how much de Havilland loves Paris, the French, and living abroad. It’s also interesting to read about her devotion to her children, Benjamin (12 years old at the time of the writing) and Gisele (5 years old). She mostly talks about Benjamin in this book, truly gushing about his intelligence, his fluency in French, and how much Gisele adores him. It’s really sweet.

She even briefly mentions Joan in this book, which is something I was looking for when I first read it. When talking about her religious background and how it pertained to the French way of practicing religion, she related this anecdote from her school days at the Convent of Notre Dame high school:

“When I entered the convent, I did so under a decided handicap. My sister Joan, fifteen months younger than I, had been there for six months before me, and with the really beastly shrewdness that younger sisters are wont to have, she had a VISION. Right there, during Mass, she had seen the Virgin Mary, and had immediately fainted. Of course, the nuns were in a dither of excitement about it, and Joan, who had already earned among them the gentle appellation “duckie,” departed from the convent at Christmastime with their tender blessings, leaving behind her an aura of unsurmountable prestige. Now, you just try following to a convent a younger sister who has had a Vision. Just try it.”

It’s a wonderful, funny book, and I read the 200 pages in about 24 hours. I literally couldn’t put it down. If you can find it, I highly recommend it–it’s long out of print, and it only had two printings, so you’re going to really have to search to find a copy. They go up for sale on Amazon every now and then, but they’re always ridiculously expensive. I got my copy on Amazon, for a bargain price of $60.

So if you do get a chance to read her book, please do. You’ll have a fantastic time with this great read. Next line of business–waiting for Olivia’s autobiography to come out!! It should be pretty soon now, I’ve heard through the publishing grapevine that she’s finished with it. I’m excited to read her perspective on the latter part of her life in France–her son Benjamin sadly passed away from cancer in 1991, and Gisele now lives in Los Angeles, but Olivia still lives in the lovely house on that “attractive, tranquil street” that she describes in Every Frenchman Has One. She has led a remarkable life, indeed.

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6 responses to “BOOK REVIEW: “Every Frenchman Has One” by Olivia de Havilland

  1. Judging by those excerpts, Olivia de Havilland was every bit as witty and sophisticated as I imagined her to be. Thanks for posting!

  2. That definitely sounds like an awesome read! I never knew she wrote any books. Memoirs involving Paris never fail to charm me, and with someone as charming as de Havilland holding the pen…yeah. Great. I’ll definitely keep a look out for it, though sounds like it’s pretty hard to find.

  3. I can’t wait for her autobiography!!!!

  4. She truly is an inspiring woman! I’ve always been a fan, and have also recently fallen in love with Paris, so will definitely try to find her book. Thank you!
    Melanie – a first time visitor 🙂

  5. She really is! This book is really awesome, if you can find it–try looking on Amazon, sometimes they pop up there 🙂 Have you ever been to Paris?

  6. Pingback: 2015 Summer Reading Classic Film Challenge: EVERY FRENCHMAN HAS ONE – Now Voyaging

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