How the French Invented Love by Marilyn Yalom

Title: How the French Invented Love: Nine Hundred Years of Passion and Romance
Author: Marilyn Yalom

Genre: Non-Fiction (Literary Criticism / Sociology / Romance / Sex / Love / France / French Cultural)
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper Perennial (10/23/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Liked.
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: A breezy, accessible look at French attitudes toward love through 900 years of French literature.
Reading Challenges: Dewey Decimal Challenge

Do I like the cover?: I do -- it is quite French, and quite passionate. Appropriately enough, it has French flaps.

I'm reminded of...: Diane Ackerman, Molly Peacock

First line: How the French love love!

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy -- gift for the bookish Francophile in your life!

Why did I get this book?: I saw the word 'French' and said, 'oui!'.

Review: I'm a Francophile and I love reading; I love romance and I love -- for the most part -- the dramatic tensions that come with romantic stories. Writers on reading bring me joy and I get giddy delight when anyone geeks out about great books.

This book is a breezy, accessible look at French attitudes toward love through nine hundred years of French literature. The subtitle of this book -- Nine Hundred Years of Passion and Romance -- is a little more accurate than the title, I think, although the title is nice and catchy. Yalom argues that the French and French culture swims with a cultural understanding of love, sex, lust, desire, and everything that comes with those feelings due to centuries of literary appreciation of love.

Beginning with Abelard and Héloïse, Yalom combines biography, literary analysis, and her own opinions and observations on French life to argue that the vaunted concepts of love -- and the art of the love affair -- were created and perfected by the French. Chronologically, from the Medieval era on to the 21st century, she discusses the great authors and their works with passion and admiration, interspersing her commentary with personal stories and anecdotes.

While reading, I was reminded a bit of Pamela Druckerman's Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting, which my wife has just finished and won't stopped talking about. Among the many cultural tidbits Druckerman shared was the revelation that French don't believe motherhood has to be a part of a woman's core identity. The concept of the MILF, for example, doesn't exist in France because all women are sexy, whether they're mothers or not.

Yalom echoes some of that sentiment in this book as she compares contemporary French cultural attitudes about sex and love with American attitudes. I can't say how nuanced her commentary is -- and I suspect she's referring to liberal urban centers more so than other parts of France -- but it was interesting to see more than one book echo this sentiment.

Alas, I am prudish enough that Yalom's admiration for her French friends and their affairs didn't convince me that infidelity is romantic. But I loved her delight in French literature and the authors and books she discussed. Many have said you should keep a notepad while reading as you'll want to begin a list (I have!). Those interested in women in academia might enjoy this as well as Yalom often talks about her professional experience with these writers and works as well as her emotional connection to them.

*** *** ***


I'm thrilled to offer one lucky reader a copy of How the French Invented Love! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/CA readers, ends 11/2.


  1. Hm, I'm not sure about this one. The French people I know and have known didn't seem any more passionate than the American people I've known.

    1. I think Yalom runs in an interesting circle -- certainly, everyone is very open with her -- so it might just be a mix of her romanticising the French and just having a kind of social group that is more...inclined? ... to be 'passionate'.

  2. This one sounds like a fun read. I love all things French. So much so that I took four years of French and can't speak a word of it. I can understand it some though.

    1. I took four years of French, too, and can barely speak a word! And despite feeling insecure about myself while reading, this book also made me want to move to Paris, stat!

  3. Bah to open relationships. But I like survey books...and the cover of this is real swell...hmmm.

    1. Yeah, I don't get it -- she discusses famous 'open' relationships -- I use quotes b/c of course, many of these folks didn't, like, discuss the boundaries of their polyamory or anything, they just slept around. But whatev, the book is titillating!

  4. This sounds interesting, especially the part about French literature as well as culture. Bringing up Bebe is on my wishlist too!

    1. They'd make for interesting companion reads, I think -- certainly to get a sense of one kind of contemporary French culture!

  5. I love you "why"! It's an interesting topic, and I'm loving that non-existence of MILF. I think it's weird we have that phrase when really it's more about the older woman. Yes, definitely for the TBR.

    1. I should have properly referenced that second book you mentioned. Both of them sound interesting.

    2. My wife went into "Bringing up Bebe" thinking it'd be a very superficial look at twee Parisian life but found it far more astute, observant, and interesting than that. To see Yalom's opinions/articulations of French culture echo what my wife repeated to me from "Bringing Up Bebe" made me feel that there might be something to this 'French' style of love and sex and desire, etc.

  6. How the French Invented Love sounds like an interesting read, though I wouldn't like infidelity being romanticized either.

    I love your "MILF" comment, something my husband playfully calls me (though it does make me raise an eyebrow!). It does seem that Americans have a hard time accepting moms as sexy.

  7. I'm with you - infidelities might be fun to read about but they are not something I admire in others. Still, this sounds like a fascinating look at literature in France - I know my TBR list will grow once I read this one!

    Thanks for being on the tour.

  8. This book looks like a lot of fun and romance :) Thank you for the chance to win!

  9. The French have always been all about infidelity, and, while in the time of arranged marriages, it did make some amount of sense, I cannot support it. Sorry, nope. Can't. This cover and title called to me, but I don't know how much I would enjoy it. Besides, I read The Origins of Sex last year, so I've probably had enough history of sex for a while. :-p


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Goldilocks by Laura Lam

The Overstory by Richard Powers

Weekend reads, or quaran-weekend