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How the French Invented Love: Nine Hundred Years of Passion and Romance

3.66  ·  Rating details ·  535 ratings  ·  92 reviews
“Absolutely marvelous…lively and learned….Marilyn Yalom’s book is a distinguished contribution to our experience of a great literature, as well as an endearing memoir.” —Diane Johnson, author of Lulu in Marrakech and Le Divorce

“[An] enchanting tour of French literature—from Abelard and Heloise in the 12th century to Marguerite Duras in the 20th and Philippe Sollers in the
Paperback, 416 pages
Published October 23rd 2012 by Harper Perennial
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Feb 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
So I was led astray by the title of this book How the French Invented Love--doesn't that suggest a sociological explanation of the significance of love in French culture? Now of course, love is important in every culture. But to my romantic American Francophile mind, the French seem to have cornered the market on love. Stereotype or not, it seems to me that the French, both throughout history and today, are much more devoted to the pleasures of love. I was expecting a sociological exploration of ...more
Sydney Young
Sep 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, having been fascinated with the French and French literature and culture since I pilfered Angelique off of Mom's bookshelf when I was too young to read it (what an American sentiment!). I then proceeded to find and buy all the books in the series, and later managed to study law in France for a summer. I believe that a number of French concepts in those books greatly influenced my life for the better. I have always sought out French classics but, of course, have no ...more
Aug 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
I received a copy of this book from Harper Collins through a First Reads giveaway, thank you!

I was slightly mislead by the title How the French Invented Love and maybe even a little by the description. This book is a quick review of the major novels about love, affairs, sex, desire, and anything related that Yalom felt described the time in which they were written. With stories about their authors and her own personal stories in between, this gives us a picture of France for the last 900 years o
Dec 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: french-history
The title of this book is somewhat misleading. This is not an exploration of how the French idea of love has influenced the Western world through novels, films, theatre, poetry, philosophy and art. There is no argument at all to this effect, and the book never strays outside of France to look at the impact of all of this cultural romantic outpouring. What it is, is a history of love as portrayed via French novels, films, theatre, poetry, philosophy and art. And as such it succeeds admirably.

Mar 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Interesting review of 900 years of French literature, culture and outlook towards Love
Nov 02, 2014 rated it liked it
As the wife of a Frenchman, I was very curious to read this book. It will be very enjoyable for history and literature lovers as Yalom traces French history and literature relating to love from the times of the troubadours up to the present day. Yalom gave a comprehensive overview of literary movements in France and I have a much better understanding of French literary history. That said however, there is not much more to this book.

While I enjoyed the book, one thing I didn't like was all the s
Audra (Unabridged Chick)
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 ti
Sep 11, 2012 rated it liked it
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 Fran
Natalie E. Ramm
Nov 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
How the French Invented Love is a non-fiction book of epic proportion! Not in size but in length of time that it covers. Marilyn Yalom takes an in depth look at love in fiction and poetry over a period of 900 years, starting circa 1100 AD through the 20th century, and she even touches on the 21st century! It is amazingly informative without being pedantic or boring. Her literary examples were the kind that really stick with you and encourage you to explore texts that you normally wouldn’t (unles ...more
Vassilis Christakis
Aug 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of the best essays on the history of French romantic literature. Erudite, humane, deep, and insightful. A must for those into French lit.
Mikey B.
Apr 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Page 252 (my book) attributed to Marie de France who lived in the 12 century
“Ni vous sans moi, ni moi sans vous” – “Neither you without me, neither I without you”.

Page 155
To love excessively, wildly, madly to sacrifice and even humble oneself for love is a radical but not unrepresentative expression of French culture.
The ability to love ... a reliable measure of worth.

Page 195
Love was worth living and dying for. In novels and plays, women and men died of broken hearts, even as the authors recove
Bryn (Plus Others)
Oct 29, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: cultural-history
This was a really annoying book!

It starts out being just what the title says -- Yalom argues that the concept of romantic love was unknown (at least in the Western world) until the French invented it during the 13th century. Okay, fine, I don't think this is true, but I was willing to read along with it, and the first few chapters are interesting looks at medieval love stories like Abelard and Heloise set into the context of their times. It was a fun mix of things I knew & things I didn't with
Margaret Sankey
Dec 02, 2012 rated it liked it
Taking as a starting point the observation that classic English novels *end* with the main characters marrying, but that French novels *start* there, Yalom, a feminist French literature scholar leads a tour of the key books and their linkage to French tolerance of personal arrangements (I usually show the photo of the Mitterand mistress and wife at his state funeral to my 20th century Europe class and they are stunned)Brits and Americans find bizarre. Does reading Dangerous Liaisons and the Prin ...more
Megan Chance
Dec 29, 2012 rated it liked it
I was expecting a rather more scholarly treatise here, but this book is not really that. It never really enters into the conversation posed by the title--instead, Yalom looks at French literature through the centuries, summarizing the books she's chosen, talking a bit about the authors and their lives. While there is some talk of how these books reflected French culture, she doesn't really draw conclusions, nor does she talk much about how they influenced the culture, or if they did (with a few ...more
Jan 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
The surprise of this book is it's really a cross century examination of French literature. And I don't remember who said it or where i read it originally, but in France if you want to change the world, all you have to do is write a novel. Their fiction has more power than the government over it's people. And this book really made that clear just how close the culture is linked to its written words. I never thought about how much the atmosphere of romance was also linked into their books, until Y ...more
Aug 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
As a Francophile and avid reader of cultural history, I found this book perusing my library's ebook selection and what a treasure! It is a literary history of the French concept of love from the chivalry code that started in medieval France to the current cynical view of love in twenty-first century French culture. At first hesitant that this book would read more like a tome for a comparative literature course (the author does teach at Stanford after all), Marilyn Yalom's writing style of very a ...more
Mar 22, 2013 rated it did not like it
Stopped reading this book when I wasn't even halfway done because of the multitude of annoying sidebar statements about her personal opinions or life anecdotes, many of them barely relevant to the topic or surprisingly sexist. Here's where I had to stop: "I've heard enough personal stories in my life to know that some people, mostly men, get their sexual highs by manipulating, abusing, or beating up on women." This was the second or third blatantly sexist statement based on "personal stories" in ...more
Mar 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio-1000
From the title of this book, I thought it was going to be a sociological exploration into the romance and courting habits of the French. I was pleasantly surprised to find out it was about French romantic literature. There were a few sociological-type personal anecdotes from the author about herself as well as friends and associates. I thought the anecdotes were distracting from what really interested me--the changing views of love and romance in French literature. I found the scope of the liter ...more
Eh. I wanted to like this a lot more than I did and thought I would. Bought the book a few months ago and decided to move it to the front of my "to read" list with the rather timely events of French President Francois Hollande's romantic entanglements.

The book is not so much a history but rather how love is portrayed in many pieces of French history and literature. Some of it is fascinating and is sure to intrigue people interested those who have an interest in French history, literature, etc.
Apr 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
This scholarly and passionate review of love, sex and romance was wonderfully readable. Presenting the idea of love as a cultural inspiration not unlike the literary influences on Don Quijote, Marilyn Yalom shows how romance has changed over the ages and what has remained the same. I take great delight in knowing that the book's author, who can write so passionately about what gives life meaning, is married to one of the best known existential therapists, Irvin Yalom, who writes about loneliness ...more
Marck Rimorin
Sep 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
Picked it up on impulse (noticed how people were staying away from it, lol), but this is a very fantastic read. A long (sometimes meandering), but very entertaining and illuminating crash course on love and amorous relationships from the French POV: how the physical cannot be divorced from the emotional. All this is told in over 900 years of French literary, artistic, and cinematic history. Awesome must-read nonfiction.
Jan 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
Think of love. Think of Paris. Think of sweet coffeeshop loves. Thing of burning passion of the unapologetic adulteress. Think the chastity of ancient courts. Think of the poems and the myths and the legends. Think of revolutions. Think of the Gay Nineties. Think of France.

Think of love, and read the book.
Wyndy Carr
Feb 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
While appalled by the lack of “people skills” or “emotional intelligence” displayed by certain world leaders in the news and stiff-upper-lipped British characters in films of Remains of the Day and Sense and Sensibility at Berkeley Public Library, I looked up and saw the title of Marilyn Yalom’s book on my shelf. Nine Hundred Years of Passion and Romance! Well, YEAH! PLEASE! As the Doobie Brothers sang, “Without love/ Where would you be now?”

Yalom’s a senior scholar across the Bay at Stanford’s
Amni Yusoff
Jan 23, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, literature, love
One of the required reading novels for high school students in Malaysia is Leftenan Adnan, a story about a national military hero. In the US, it’s Animal Farm, an allegorical tale about politics and power. In France, it’s Dangerous Liaisons, a story about two aristocrats who are in a race to see who can bed the most people.

This single example illustrates why we often think of France as the country of love. Since 900 years ago, the country and its people have been obsessed with love, so much so t
Mallory Gillespie
Feb 04, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book. Very pleasantly surprised. I don't gravitate to french literature or anything really about France but this book kept me captivated. The author is very detailed and provides imagery that really showcases the French culture and their depiction of love. I also have a better understanding of the french and the culture differences and why they are so much more calm about affairs and infidelity. Would recommend to anyone wanting to know more about France. Can't believe I fo ...more
Stars Above Jess
This was not what I was expecting going in! Rather than focus on the questions presented by the title, this book is more of a presentation of Yalom’s studies in French romantic literature throughout the ages. I would have loved to dive more into how the French idea of romance influenced their culture or vice versa. While I did enjoy the history and themes that were discussed in this book, it was also quite dry and not easily consumable.
Aug 02, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: love
The book sort of presents itself as a sociological or historical exploration into the development of romantic ideas in France, and while it kind of succeeds at that endeavour, it is primarily a brief exploration in French literature regarding romantic love. Not really what was I looking for, personally. The best parts were when the author wrote about personal experiences of her and her friends.
Rachel Moyes
Jul 04, 2018 rated it liked it
It was fine, but also, how were the chapters related?
Alyssa King
Mar 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
I loved the section on both gay & lesbian love! I now have a new found interest in 1900's Parisian LGBTQ+ romance. It was well written book and I highly recommend it! ...more
Mar 10, 2020 rated it it was ok
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Marilyn Yalom grew up in Washington D.C. and was educated at Wellesley College, the Sorbonne, Harvard and Johns Hopkins. She has been a professor of French and comparative literature, director of an institute for research on women, a popular speaker on the lecture circuit, and the author of numerous books and articles on literature and women's history. ...more

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