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literature

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Flanner, Janet (1892-1978)  

Janet Flanner was a novelist, translator, and journalist, best known for her fortnightly "Letter from Paris," which she wrote for the New Yorker from 1925 to 1975.

She was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, on March 13, 1892. She matriculated at the University of Chicago in 1912, but left the University after two rocky years, worked for a time in a girls' reformatory, then in 1916 became a drama and art critic for the Indianapolis Star.

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Toward the end of World War I, Flanner, married to a man she did not love, moved to New York City where she became acquainted with Harold Ross and his wife Jane Grant. They introduced her to the most profound and enduring love of her life, Solita Solano, drama editor for the New York Tribune.

In New York, Flanner explored her sexuality, participated in the suffrage movement and early feminist organizations, and moved in the circle of the Algonquin Round Table. As she began to find her own place among the strong and stimulating professional women of Greenwich Village and as her relationship with Solano intensified, the illusion of her marriage became increasingly difficult to maintain.

When Solano was sent on assignment to Greece in 1921, Flanner went with her. By the time the two women settled in Paris in 1922, Flanner was divorced. Flanner lived almost all the rest of her life in France, returning to the United States only for the duration of World War II and again near the end of her life. She died on November 7, 1978, in New York City.

In Paris, Flanner knew virtually all the major figures of the literary expatriate community on the Left Bank. She regularly wrote to Jane Grant of Parisian personalities and cultural happenings. When Ross started the New Yorker in 1925, Grant encouraged him to include Flanner's letters as a regular feature.

On October 10, 1925, Ross published the first "Letter from Paris," signing it "Genêt" without Flanner's knowledge. Her "Letters" had no journalistic model or precedent, but soon Flanner was developing and refining a new genre of analytic commentary that, as she described it in Paris Was Yesterday (1972), "instinctively leaned toward comments with a critical edge, indeed a double edge, if possible."

Her instructions from Ross were to present to an American audience life as the French perceived it. He wanted the writing to be "precisely accurate, highly personal, colorful, and ocularly descriptive," the style that came to define the New Yorker itself.

Although none of Flanner's journalism or fiction develops in any real depth overt lesbian content or themes, she was a prominent figure in the lesbian community of expatriate Paris. She was a regular guest at Natalie Clifford Barney's famous lesbian salon, and she and Solano appear in Djuna Barnes's satire of that community, Ladies Almanack (1928), as "Nip and Tuck," a pair of plucky journalists.

Although she wrote one novel, The Cubical City (1926), translated two novels for her friend Colette, and published in dozens of journals, magazines, and newspapers, Flanner's position as a journalist set her apart from the other literary Americans in Paris.

She considered herself only a "minor Left Banker" and admits that F. Scott Fitzgerald was "the only one of [her] writer friends who ever gave [her] the mutual identification of . . . having any literary sensibilities." She nonetheless won a National Book Award for Paris Journal: 1944-1965 in 1966 and received an honorary Ph.D. from Smith College in 1958.

Carolyn Leste Law

     

 
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    Bibliography
   

Benstock, Shari. "From the Left Bank to the Upper East Side: Janet Flanner's Letter from Paris." Women of the Left Bank: Paris, 1900-1940. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986. 99-140.

Castle, Terry. The Apparitional Lesbian: Female Homosexuality and Modern Culture. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.

Rood, Karen. "Janet Flanner." American Writers in Paris, 1920-1939. Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 4. Detroit: Gale, 1980. 151-161.

Wineapple, Brenda. Genêt: A Biography of Janet Flanner. New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1989.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Law, Carolyn Leste  
    Entry Title: Flanner, Janet  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated August 10, 2002  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/flanner_j.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  
 

 

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