Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Janet Flanner’s Paris Journal, 1944-1965 is a collection of her “Letters from Paris” assembled by her esteemed editor, William Shawn. The two decades of letters in this collection were originally published fortnightly—and with fair regularity—in The New Yorker, which for many years was widely regarded as the most literate, sophisticated, and intelligent of America’s magazines. The letters here are companions flanking in time those that Flanner collected for her Paris Was Yesterday, 1925-1939 (1972) and Paris Journal, 1965-1971 (1971). Together these letters earned “Genêt” (Flanner’s pen name) an extraordinary readership not only because of their acute, precise journalism but also for the unique literary qualities that also distinguished her perceptions of a broad swath of French life during the half century of her reportage. In circles where intelligence and style counted, Flanner was easily the most admired woman journalist of her day.

Harold Ross, the energetic young founder of The New Yorker, hired Flanner in 1925. She was already living in Paris on a marginal income. At the time, Ross was struggling to launch his fledgling magazine, and Flanner appeared to him as his “great white hope”: a bright, experienced writer who knew the Paris scene. Ross had only sketchy notions of what he expected from Flanner. He wanted anecdotal and incidental “stuff” on places and people familiar to Americans, something on the arts and fashion (but not too...

(The entire section is 623 words.)