How Janet Flanner’s “High-Class Gossip” about Paris and Europe Changed America

Bar in Hotel Scribe by Floyd MacMillan Davis. In Paris in 1944, the bar at the city’s Hotel Scribe became a favorite haunt for journalists. Janet Flanner is seated at a table (lower center). / via Flickr, Creative Commons

The journalist’s witty Paris Letters for the New Yorker helped establish Americans’ feelings of superiority over Europe.

By Matthew Wills

Janet Flanner, part of that famous group of ex-pats in Paris that included Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, was a significant journalist in her own right, though she once described herself as “a high-class gossip columnist.” She served as the New Yorker’s Paris correspondent until 1975, writing her “Paris Letters” under the pen name Genêt. But her years between the two World Wars were her most definitive, argues English professor and novelist Lindsay Starck, and had more cultural significance than a mere gossip column. Starck writes that Flanner’s “high class gossip” worked to “solidify Americans’ feelings of cultural, economic, and political superiority over the European continent.”

Starck says Flanner’s “ironic, sharp, and witty observations, juxtaposing French and American culture helped to set the tone for Franco-American relations between the war years” for the “culturally elite readership” of the New Yorker. “She approaches economic crises, new artistic productions, and fancy weddings with the same cool distance. Nothing is serious; everything is ironic, clever, sophisticated.”




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