Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Books and Culture

Lessons From Madame Chic: A Review
by Laura Scanlon

Not long ago, on a whim, I read Lessons From Madame Chic, by Jennifer L. Scott. On the surface, it's a fluffy chick-lit, self-help sort of thing. It was literary eye candy that caught my eye when I saw it on the library shelf. The author describes lessons she learned while living as an exchange student in Paris, in the household of an aristocratic, middle-aged, French lady, whom she dubs "Madame Chic."

As I read the book I realized that its themes--the hallmarks of French chic as the author describes them--are many of the things I have been striving for lately (and I suspect I'm not alone in my striving):

  • Creating a classic, stylish, minimalist wardrobe;
  • Eating delicious foods in an utterly satisfying yet temperate way;
  • Enjoying beautiful things while rejecting materialism;
  • Maintaining a beautiful, clutter-free home;

 And most of all:

  • Creating a routine to one's life—or even just a rhythm--and enjoying the peace that comes with it.

As the mother of young children, most days I feel that I battle entropy with every breath.

Simplicity? Elegance? Peace? Order? Oui, s'il vous plait! I’ll take some of what Madame Chic over there has.

As I think over this purported "French" way of life and the attraction I feel to it, I wonder: does this comport with the Christian life? Or is it all hedonism--the "museum life," as Jennifer Fulwiler describes it?

On the one hand, there is virtue, to be sure, to realize that one isn't in control of one's life, to accept the chaos and clutter and know that one has to let go and let God and what have you. At the same time, I’m quite positive that simplicity, order, and temperance are beneficial to a virtuous life. And surely God's command to fill the earth and subdue it includes bringing order to one's own little corner of the earth?


Certainly, not every "lesson" from Madame Chic is profound. And no one point in this book is really new. It is but one in a long line of books riding the recent wave of Francophilia among American readers (though it is my favorite of those that I have read). Nevertheless, it's remarkable to read one fluffy little book and find that it describes so much worth striving for. And the whole point of the book is that these objects of my striving are obtainable.

I am encouraged.

Laura is a Catholic Christian, a mother, a part-time lawyer, and a recovering overthinker. She writes monthly here at Atelier on books and culture, and blogs regularly at This Felicitous Life


  1. I really like this review, Laura! This sounds like something I'd like to read. :)

  2. Thanks, Lisa. I think you'd enjoy it.

  3. You and Mary really are kindred spirits! Thank you for your relatable words that also inspire that little push toward a little more structure amidst that daily chaos! Cheers to that!

  4. Thanks, Ann. :-)


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