From the back of the book: In 1925 Janet Flanner began dispatching her famous New Yorker ‘Letters from Paris’, from which most of the pieces in this collection are drawn. I read this book as I wanted to get some idea of what American ex-pats of the time thought of Paris. The second Salazar book features Americans in particular. There were also a lot of them in Paris: there numbers started to dwindle after the stock market crash of 1929 but many remained until the War of 1939.
This book did give me what I wanted – although these would be ex-pats who don’t need to work. Or their husband’s work in well paid jobs and their wives don’t need to think too much about money. They don’t need to, but they think about it all the time.
At first I quite liked it. Flanner does have a good way with words. Then it started to grate. Perhaps because, as the years moved on from the 1920s to the 1930s there was no sense of the poverty or the sheer hard work of life. There is a piece on Chanel from 1932 admiring her brilliance in encouraging people to wear real diamonds. This brings a bit of glitz to these otherwise desperate times. And so we might imagine the washer woman in Saint-Denis scrubbing the factory floors dressed in a tiara and weighed down by sparking ear-rings.
Then there are the clowning obituaries of the Grand Old Dames of the last century who are choosing the mid-1930s to finally give up the ghost. Flanner will wax lyrically about their taste, charm, and style, and their elegance. These old ladies were so much more refined than today’s women who wear trousers and smoke cigarettes in public. The old ladies are not so very much behind the times though: The anti-Semitism of these anti-Dreyfusards is very much still in vogue and becoming much more popular just across the border.
Paris Was Yesterday, 1925-1939, Janet Flanner.
Paperback: 320 pages.
Publisher: Virago Press Ltd; New edition (4 Dec 2003)