Martha in Paris by Margery Sharp

Martha in Paris is the second book in Margery Sharp’s trilogy based on the character of Martha. Find the review for the first book in the series, The Eye of Love here.

  • Title: Martha in Paris
  • Author: Margery Sharp
  • Published: 1962 by Little, Brown and Company Toronto
  • Location of the story: Paris
  • Main Characters: Martha (an art student), Eric Taylor (an English bank employee in Paris), Eric’s Mother, Madame Dubois(Martha’s guardian in Paris).

Martha in Paris picks up the story of Martha nearly a decade after where the The Eye of Love left us. At that juncture, Martha (an orphaned child living with her aunt Dolores) and her artistic talent had been discovered by a rich patron, Mr Joyce, a friend of the family. In the subsequent years Martha’s talent has been nurtured with special art training.

Martha in Paris recounts Martha’s student years in Paris. Here, for two years she studies art under the guidance of one of France’s most eminent art instructors. Her tuition and expenses are met by the kind aegis of Mr Joyce, Martha’s wealthy benefactor.

Mr Joyce aptly observes:

“These next two years will show,” thought Mr. Joyce. “Sink or swim!”

Whilst in Paris, Martha meets an Englishman by the name of Eric Taylor. They meet each other regularly under the tromp l’ oeil’ statue of Tragedy and Comedy in Tuileries Garden where Martha sits on the exact same bench everyday to enjoy her half-French loaf stuffed with delicious charcuterie. Eric, hungry for companionship with a fellow English person tries to engage Martha in lively discourse. He mistakes her lack of conversation for reticence, little knowing that Martha would rather shun any kind of interaction whatsoever.

After a week of one-sided discourse on Eric’s part, he invites her to dinner to meet his mother on Friday night. Nothing can persuade her to accept his invitation until she hears of the bathroom renovations the Taylor’s have installed in their apartment. Martha in desperate need of a comforting, hot bath quickly changes her mind and accepts Eric’s invitation with great alacrity.

“Is the bath vitreous?” asked Martha.

“If you mean is it a sort of china, yes,” said Eric.”Pale green.”

Her defences pierced at last-

“What time on Friday?” asked Martha.

Martha arrives at the Taylor’s apartment at the appointed time on Friday, with a mysterious paper packet. Eric mistakes the packet as a thoughtful hostess gift but notices that Martha fails to bestow the gift to Mrs Taylor. Promptly upon arrival Mrs Taylor shows Martha around, based upon the understanding that Martha has a keen interest in viewing the apartment.

As soon as they enter the bathroom and Martha has admired the facilities she laments that she has not had a proper hot bath in months! One thing leads to another and before very long, in fact the ten minutes remaining before dinner, Martha  decides to take a hot bath much to Mrs Taylor’s astonishment.

“I’ll have it now,” said Martha, swiftly opening her packet, which in fact contained one clean vest and a pair of clean knickers.”

Despite Martha’s unconventional behaviour, Mrs Taylor tolerates and indeed welcomes Martha’s weekly visits. This is because Mrs Taylor does not find Martha’s appearance or personality intimidating.

The weekly Friday visits and baths become a ritual and Martha and Eric find themselves in a situation which is too close for Martha’s comfort. How Martha deals with the resultant circumstances of her relationship with Eric forms the theme of the remainder of this novel.

Sharp’s writing is at her wittiest best in this novel. The stolid, determined and somewhat selfish artistic temperament of Martha is fully manipulated to render moments of extreme comedic humour in the novel.

Quite disconcertingly, however, Martha’s  ‘artistic temperament’ fills us with dismay as we notice a complete absence of love and compassion.

I enjoyed the quirky book and the unusual ending made me immediately put in a library requisition for the third book in the trilogy- Martha, Eric and George.

Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans

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  • Title: Madeline
  • Author and Illustrator: Ludwig Bemelmans
  • Published: 1939
  • Main Characters: Madeline (a young girl), her eleven friends, Miss Clavel, their teacher at the convent.

Short Synopsis of the Story: This is the story of a little French girl called Madeline who is schooled at a Parisian convent along with eleven other girls. Miss Clavel is their primary teacher and caregiver and oversees their meals, their daytime walks around Paris, their visits to the Zoo and other places and of course their bedtimes. Once, in the very middle of the night Miss Clavel is awoken by crying from the girl’s dormitory and finds that Madeline is in considerable pain. She is rushed quite suddenly to the hospital where she has her appendix taken out. Madeline’s friends visit her at the hospital and are delighted to see the toys, gifts and attention that is being lavished on Madeline by her Papa. Moreover, Madeline shows them her operational scar with great pride.

The next day, in the middle of the night Miss Clavel awakens most fearfully and rushes to the girl’s room. All the girls cry that they are in great pain and need to visit the hospital too!

Notes: The tale is told in rhyming verse and it is quite enjoyable to read and follow the pictures and verse.

Particularly attractive are the vivid illustrations of famous monuments and buildings in Paris: the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Opera House, the Luxembourg Gardens and more…

There are a series of Madeline books, some of them set in different cities (like Madeline in London) and with different themes (Madeline’s Christmas). I think these books are a nice way to get children acquainted with different places around the globe and global traditions.