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...

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(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Genêt’s letters rarely touched specifically on feminist issues or women’s rights. Rather, Janet Flanner’s lifestyle was a sufficient testimonial to her own version of independence. Early in life, she had rebelled against her comfortable, upper-middle-class Indianapolis origins and, via the dissident bohemianism of Greenwich Village, found in Paris the shelter required to nourish her dreams. It was in her novel, The Cubicle City (1962), a thinly disguised personal account, that she proclaimed, through the words of her heroine, adherence to her own version of feminine liberation and the precepts of the “New Woman” of the 1920’s. This meant, in part, “natural” sexual freedom, of the kind that tradition had vouchsafed to males alone.

All Flanner’s abiding lovers were women. With them, she experienced the “healthy eroticism” and “lusty tenderness” embodied in the intimacies of purely feminine relationships. Sometimes without abandoning one companion, she simultaneously loved others, suffering, she recounted, the painful guilt entailed by her inevitable deceptions, for she remained a morally responsible person affected always by traces of her midwestern puritanism. In this context, America represented maleness, although there were aspects of American life that she respected and admired. Paris, on the other hand, was feminine: a city with “an old girl’s countenance, shaded by a trollop’s gay wig.”

While at times she perceived of herself as stereotypically female—passive, easily distracted, lacking willpower, and unable to create anything lasting—and pondered the desirability of a third sex, she recognized these as traps that failed to expose the source of her problems. It was Paris, with its freedom-loving appreciation of the art of living and its civilized tolerance toward creativity, that most warmly nurtured her self-comprehension. Public comprehension earned her the 1966 National Book Award and the undying affection of her readers.


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Drutman, Irving, ed. Janet Flanner’s World. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979. A splendid assemblage of Flanner’s uncollected letters, many of which were datelined London, Berlin, Budapest, Cologne, and Nuremberg and complemented her Paris letters, including her usual analyses of personalities and important political and cultural events. Contains an extensive index and photographs. Informative and characteristically delightful.

Flanner, Janet. An American in Paris. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1940. Classic depictions of a wide sampling of French, Parisian, and foreign personalities during the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. Engaging, with anecdotes and pen-portraits at their best.

Flanner, Janet. Darlinghissima. Edited by Natalia Danesi Murray. New York: Random House, 1985. Flanner’s intimate letters to her “most darling” friend, the editor of this volume. They are gems of commentary and pithy, relatively unguarded expressions of opinion—something Genêt eschewed in her published works. Well edited and delightful reading. An extensive index is provided, mostly to the scores of personalities to whom she alluded. Many photographs are included.

Flanner, Janet. Paris Was Yesterday, 1925-1939. New York: Viking Press, 1972. An essential prologue to Paris Journal, 1944-1965. Filled with vivid descriptions of the expatriates’ Paris, along with colorful as well as important personalities of the French version of the Roaring Twenties. Fascinating, and a fine social history. Includes an index.

Wineapple, Brenda. Genêt: A Biography of Janet Flanner. New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1989. The author’s first book and a solid, well-written, and well-researched study, one unlikely to be replaced for excellence and sensitivity. Offers many photographs, a fine bibliography, and a very extensive index. Particularly strong on evidence of Flanner’s constant self-analysis.