Paris Journal, 1944-1965 Critical Essays

Janet Flanner


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Flanner began her career with The New Yorker as a modestly experienced professional writer, but as she herself recorded, she had much to learn. Her letters therefore trace her progress toward accomplished reporting and, simultaneously, toward the development of a distinctive style. Aware that Ross wanted her writing to reflect what the French thought, not what she thought, she tried from the outset to compose her letters without the inclusion of editorial comment, impressionism, or personal remarks: goals, critics noted, that she did not always reach. Almost immediately, she eschewed the first-person singular, the “I” that involved writer with subject. To garner a basic range of information as well as to grasp opinion, she consistently read a dozen or so French newspapers each day. Because of the precision of the French language—an exactitude that made it the language of international diplomacy for two centuries—she learned to make her sentences athletic, her imagery sharp. Meanwhile, she met everyone and read omnivorously.

Somehow, in the process of disciplining herself and pleasing Ross and his successor, William Shawn (both of whom she greatly admired), the chic, gruff-voiced, chain-smoking Flanner left many readers sensitive to the tone and rhythms of her evocative descriptions and precise, intelligent speech—one reason that she habitually read drafts of her work to companions. Regardless of her subject or its impact on her, the tenor of her work was commonsensical and lively. Shawn commented the year after her death that she was “a stranger to fatigue, boredom, and cynicism,” that “she met the world with rapture and wrote about it with pleasure.” A brilliant individualist, she nevertheless subordinated her natural vivacity to the essences of her information and to what she believed this hard substance meant.

The twenty-odd years...

(The entire section is 770 words.)