Janet Flanner
February 15, 2012 8:31 PM   Subscribe

Janet Flanner began her career at The New Yorker composing evocative and cogent dispatches from Europe, writing nearly seven hundred Letters from Paris under the nom de plume Genêt, from 1925 to 1975. In between these, she contributed Profiles, Reporter at Large dispatches, and other Letters from around the globe. In a Postscript published after she died, in 1978, editor-in-chief William Shawn wrote of his prolific correspondent: "Her eye never became jaded, her ardor for what was new and alive never diminished, and her language remained restless. She was a stylist who devoted her style, bedazzling and heady in itself, to the subtle task of conveying the spirit of a subtle people."

Three years before the start of the Second World War, Flanner wrote a comprehensive three-part series titled “Führer”, on Adolf Hitler’s rise to power. She later told the fiction editor Katherine White, “The only job on the magazine that I am really proud of was the fact that I had sufficient apprehension … to propose to write about Hitler as an important man.” In Part III of the series, which ran March 14, 1936, Flanner superbly anatomizes Hitler’s dogmatic persona:
Lacking the cerebral faculty of creating new public ideologies, as a fanatic [Hitler] has developed his unusual capacity for adapting those of others. Being self-taught, his mental processes are mysterious; he is missionary-minded; his thinking is emotional, his conclusions material. He has been studious with strange results: he says he regards liberalism as a form of tyranny, hatred and attack as part of man’s civic virtues, and equality of men as immoral and against nature.
posted by Trurl (7 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
"Genius is immediate, but talent takes time." (People Archive)
posted by adamvasco at 9:21 PM on February 15, 2012

...liberalism as a form of tyranny, hatred and attack as part of man’s civic virtues, and equality of men as immoral and against nature.

I know, Godwin, Godwin, Godwin, but who are saying things like that right now?
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:30 PM on February 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Another great post, Trurl. I sincerely apologize for bitching about it last year. Keep 'em coming.
posted by Sphinx at 10:26 PM on February 15, 2012

Janet Flanner was a really neat woman (although honestly her politics leave a bit to be desired, some irritatingly sniffy anti-radicalism in there). Paris Was Yesterday is a book of her short New Yorker pieces from the twenties through before the war; it's an amazing, sharp little set of snapshots of art, culture and daily life, with various interesting bits along the lines of "and there is this young playwright named Jean Paul Sartre who..." She could be patronizing and condescending about people of color, very much in the mushy liberal vein of her time...although unlike many white US folks, she did write about revue stars like Josephine Baker as seriously as she wrote about white actors.

Also, the big giant book of her writing from immediately post-war through the late sixties is a simply fantastic easy-yet-detailed way to learn some events in recent French history. She was very smart and cultured and knew a lot of important modern literary and artistic figures - Gertrude Stein among others.

It's difficult not to use her as a stick to beat the present with - while I've certainly read and enjoyed a fair number of recent New Yorker articles, I can't think of a contemporary journalist with her ease, culture and overall smarts. She wasn't patronizing or simpy and she had her own prose style. When I read her work, I feel not that I can trust her to be unbiased but that I can trust her as a mind, where so often when I am reading journalists today I am frustrated by the shallowness of their knowledge and the shallowness of their politics and philosophy. She was not a radical by any means, but it's easy for me to engage with her work because when I read her I feel that she's sincerely interested in ideas. (I mean, if she were of the right, I wouldn't enjoy her work no matter how smart she was.)

She was also either a lesbian who occasionally slept with men or bisexual. She had two (I believe) serious long-term relationships with women. One of the reasons that her arts coverage is so good is that she was part of this intellectual queer women's social scene which included Stein, Toklas, Sylvia Beach and several other important women publishers and bookstore owners whose names escape me at this hour. Her work is a sort of stealth record of that milieu.
posted by Frowner at 11:39 PM on February 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

bookstore owners

Adrienne Monier, Beach's partner.

Great post! I love Flanner.
posted by OmieWise at 5:43 AM on February 16, 2012

Do you need to be a New Yorker subscriber to get to the Fuhrer article? When I click that link I get a weird and garbled page that looks like a goofed up paywall signup page.
posted by bukvich at 5:48 AM on February 16, 2012

She was also either a lesbian who occasionally slept with men or bisexual.

Coincidentally, I was flipping through Darlingissima, Flanner's correspondence with her long-term partner Natalia Danesi Murray, this morning while I ate breakfast. For a book published in 1985, I'm struck by how discreet it is about the precise nature of their relationship. All very old-school "my friend" and "our intimate friendship" kind of thing. For a more contemporary perspective, Murray's son William, who also went on to a career with The New Yorker, published his own memoir of his mother and Flanner in 2000.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:35 AM on February 16, 2012

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