Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Paris was Yesterday by Janet Flanner

This is a post for Paris in July hosted by Tamara, Karen, Adria & Vicki, Bellezza and Nicole.

Janet Flanner arrived in Paris in 1922 and foresaw for herself a future in literature as a writer of fiction. Jane Grant, a friend of hers had married a journalist named Harold Ross, who in 1925 became the editor of the newly founded New Yorker. He probably had shared Flanner's letters to his wife, and liked them, since he offered her to send fortnightly articles from Paris. Grant wrote back to Flanner that he "wants anecdotal and incidental stuff familiar to Americans...dope on fields of the arts and a little on fashion, perhaps...there should be lots of chat about people seen about and in it all he wants a definite personality injected. In fact, any of your letters would be just the thing. Her letters became very popular and she gave her views, often in a humorous and satirical way, about French political, social and cultural life. This books covers some of her 'Letters from Paris' during the years 1925-1939. During this Paris in July month I will choose some of the most famous people, and quote from her letters. It covers 15 years so I will take one/two year(s) at a time.

We start with 1925 and 1926. What happened then in Paris, France?

Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker has arrived at the Théatre des Champs-Èlysées in La Revue Negre and the result has been unanimous. Paris has never drawn a colour line. Covarrubias did the sets, pink drops with cornucopias of hams and watermelons, and the Civil War did the rest, aided by Miss Baker. The music is tuneless and stunningly orchestrated, and the end of the show is dull, but never Miss Baker's part. It was even less dull the first night, when she did what used to be, what indeed still should be called, a stomach dance.

Anatole France (1844-1924)

As a literary note, it must be commented that the anniversary of Anatole France's death passed absolutely ignored. A year ago, his funeral furnished one of the biggest, most pretentious spectacles modern Paris has ever seen... Victor Hugo's famous cortege was a family affair beside the thousands that followed France. But in his grave a twelvemonth, he failed to get a line in most of the daily papers. His books even failed to sell better on that day than any other in the year. The truth is, he is infinitely more popular in the United States than in his own land.


Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826) and Madame de Sévigné (1626-1696)

Anniversaries are natural to an old capital, but Paris at the moment is indulgin in a recollective orgy. Two immortals are being revived. Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, who died a hundred years ago, only three weeks after his Psysiology of Taste was printed, this being the first book ever to make a hero of the palate, and Madame de Sévigné (1626), whose endless polite, intelligent correspondence with her daughter is included in part nowadays in the curriculum of upper-class  prep schools, as classics in courtesy and To eat is a necessity: to eat well is an art.' 'Dessert without cheese is like a pretty girl with only one eye.' It is said that he never talked during his famous dinner parties and went to sleep at table immediately after. One of his dinner menus is to be repreated as part of the government's official festivities in his honour.
psychology. Of the two, Brillat-Savarin, the world's perfect gourmet and a spicy philosopher, easily wins first place in the public eye. The best of his classic aphorisms are still repeated as gospel today: '
But famous as the gourmet was, it is Madame de Sévigné who really wins the momentary palm. Last month the Chamber of Deputies sat up all on night, figuring on how the could cut the national budget. By dawn thirty-five thousand francs' worth of coffee, sandwiches, and brandy had been consumed gratis from the state bar, and statesmen, still patriotically determined to cut expenses somewhere, fortunately went home before deliberation cost any more. But a few days later they voted thirty thousand francs to help celebrate de Sévigné's anniversary without even asking for a glass of water.

The Steins

Leo Stein, Gertrude Stein's brother, is finishing a book called Aesthetic Responses, and she, after the intellectual success of her The Making of Americans, is at work on Portraits and Prayers. A new verbal picture of Carl Van Vechten is to be included. No American writer is taken more seriously than Miss Stein by the Paris modernists.

The Sun Also Rises
The appearance here of Ernest Hemingway's roman à clef, The Sun Also Rises, has stirred Montparnasse, where, it is asserted, all of the four leading characters are local and easily identifiable.* The titled British declassée and her Scottish friend, the American Frances and her unlucky Robert Cohn with his art magazine which,, like a new broom, was to sweep aesthetics clean - all these personages are, it is maintained, to be seen just where Hemingway so often placed them at the Select. Not being amorously identified with the tale, it should be safe to say that Donald Ogden Stewart is taken to be the stuffed-bird-loving Bill. Under the flimsy disguise of Braddocks, certainly Ford Madox Ford is visible as the Briton who gives, as Mr. Ford does, dancin parties in the bal musette behind the Panthéon.

* Lady Duff Twysden, Pat Guthrie, Kitty Cannell, Harold Loeb


  1. I loved The Sun Also Rises after gaining a whole new appreciation for Hemingway when I read The Paris Wife a few years ago, it even highlighted Gertrude Stein's influence. I know next to nothing about Josephine Baker so that will be fun to read about here.

  2. I never knew that Gertrude had a brother!
    How did I miss that?

    Fascinating period of history - did you enjoy the book - or did you find her conversational letter style a tad annoying?

  3. Hi Brona, I don't know too much about Gertrude Stein, but it seems she is the youngest of five children. I guess the others didn't make it to the limelight!

    I find it quite fascinating as well. The twenties has somehow of a shimmer over it. I think one has to put her writing into the context, which is articles published every fortnight. It is for Americans about expat Americans in the very romanticised city of Paris. I find her writing ironic, sarcastic and humorous. I would say that it is rather typical expat writing and views. It is her own thoughts about what is happening and what she probably would discuss with a friend in a café. A little bit of literary and art gossip but written in a better way than our gossip papers today.
    I have not yet read the whole book. I take a couple of years at a time. I mostly enjoy hearing about what people were occupying themselves with, how life was in Paris in those days.

  4. This is so interesting... I love glimpses into my favorite time in Paris history!