Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London
Part memoir, part biography, part cultural meander, an irresistibly intelligent literary walk through the lives of wandering women: about how, by putting one foot in front of the other, we can sometimes stumble upon different routes in our lives
*Shortlisted for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay*
Selected as a Book of the Year 2016 by the Financial Times, Guardian, New Statesman, Observer, The Millions and Emerald Street
'Flâneuse [flanne-euhze], noun, from the French. Feminine form of flâneur [flanne-euhr], an idler, a dawdling observer, usually found in cities.
That is an imaginary definition.'
If the word flâneur conjures up visions of Baudelaire, boulevards and bohemia – then what exactly is a flâneuse?
In this gloriously provocative and celebratory book, Lauren Elkin defines her as ‘a determined resourceful woman keenly attuned to the creative potential of the city, and the liberating possibilities of a good walk’. Part cultural meander, part memoir, Flâneuse traces the relationship between the city and creativity through a journey that begins in New York and moves us to Paris, via Venice, Tokyo and London, exploring along the way the paths taken by the flâneuses who have lived and walked in those cities.
From nineteenth-century novelist George Sand to artist Sophie Calle, from war correspondent Martha Gellhorn to film-maker Agnes Varda, Flâneuse considers what is at stake when a certain kind of light-footed woman encounters the city and changes her life, one step at a time.
“An uplifting, gender-bending critique of how women negotiate public space”
Deborah Levy, Guardian, Book of the Year
“Deliciously spiky and seditious, she takes her readers on a rich, intelligent and lively meander through cultural history, biography, literary criticism, urban topography and memoir… I defy anyone to read this celebratory study and not feel inspired to take to the streets in one way or another.”
Lucy Scholes, Observer
“Well researched and larded with examples, this picaresque account of a picaresque longing successfully paints women back into the city... Elkin reboots the appetite to go walking and thinking in the city, which can only be a good thing.”
“Flâneuse is not simply a reclaiming of space, but also of a suppressed intellectual and cultural history. Finding ways to reframe images of women walking and to reverse male gazes, Flâneuse builds on recent work by Rebecca Solnit and the artist Laura Oldfield Ford, among others, with striking intellectual vigour and clear, enrapturing prose. ”
“The thoughtful urban stroller Lauren Elkin is a self-appointed heir to Woolf's 'street haunter'. A memoir, a travelogue and an eminently likeable work of literary criticism, Flaneuse is more like a song sung under Elkin’s breath. [...] At its best, her book evokes reading aloud... reading your own life through the novels that form part of it.”
Gaby Wood, Daily Telegraph
“Wonderful… a joyful genealogy of the female urban walker. The book’s narrative meanders brilliantly and appropriately across several times periods at once… Elkin’s Flaneuse does not simply wander aimlessly, any more than Elkin does herself in this elegant book: she uses her reflection to question, challenge and create anew the life that she observes.”
Lara Feigel, Guardian
“An intense meditation on what it means to be a women and walk out in the world. Flaneuse encourages its readers to lace up their shoes and go for a walk. Elkin lets the reader become a companion to many women who have thought seriously about the relationship between a woman and the path she chooses to tread.”
Erica Wagner, New Statesman
“I've been waiting for years to see the history of women walkers in the city added to the critical literature of the flaneur--and here, in Lauren Elkin's really smart and lovely book”
“Engaging, inspiring and vigorous... The persuasiveness with which she urges us to rethink and expand our understanding of the art of flânerie, together with the force of her insights and the strength and weight of her voice, leaves us with a contribution to the field that feels singular. Buy it, read it, talk about it. And carry it with you in your mind when you next go walking in the city.”
Matthew Adams, The National
“Flâneuse offers a rich engagement with the “psychogeography” of 20th-century literature and the contemporary city… A rich, rewarding pedalogue”
Martin Doyle and Sara Keating, Irish Times
“In her richly evocative and absorbing debut, cultural critic Elkin homes in on the female version of the flaneur . . . In this insightful mix of cultural history and memoir, Elkin emerges at the protagonist as she mines her personal journey from the suburbs of Long Island to her current home in Paris”
“Marvellously eclectic and erudite”
“An appealing blend of memoir, scholarship, and cultural criticism . . . Elkin's own story runs through the text like a luminous thread. She tells us the woman-in-the-street stories of Jean Rhys, Virginia Woolf, George Sand, Sophie Calle, Agnès Varda, and Martha Gellhorn, but all sorts of other cultural figures appear, including Barthes, Rilke, Baudelaire, Hemingway, Derrida, Dickens, and numerous others . . . Enlightening walks through cities, cultural history, and a writer's heart and soul”
“This is a book about wandering women, the author included, who build relationships with their cities by walking through them . . . Women can and do make feminist statements simply by strolling through their stomping grounds; Elkin creates an interesting and inarguable case for this. She, too, is a wanderer and provides compelling anecdotes about her own journeys, interspersed with those of literary heavy-hitters George Sand, Jean Rhys, Virginia Woolf, and others . . . This is ultimately a celebration of women. You'll want to take a stroll by the end”
“Told in a light and humorous way, Elkin’s cultural meander provides plenty of food for thought.”
“A fascinating way to write about George Sand, Virginia Woolf and others, plus Elkin’s own artistic explorations of Paris, London, Venice and Tokyo. It makes us all want to be London wanderers.”
Culture Whisper, Book of the Year
“Elkin delivers a prococative yet light and humorous read, mingling her own memories with those of the female artists she portrays.”
French Property News
“With this book, Elkin hopes to track down the female equivalent – the flâneuse – to ‘see where a woman might fit into the cityscape’… It is a timely effort: in the Trump era of manspreading and male privilege, it is especially vital that we pay attention to notions of gendered space. Elkin’s prose is wry, insightful and saturated with detail”
Sam Ford, Totally Dublin
“Elkin is a beguiling writer, and resolutely female, her sentences doing what Virginia Woolf wanted women's sentences to do, which is to "hold back the male flood"… Flâneuse is a riposte to all that macho stomping about… Flâneuse is so rich with shining trinkets and wise thoughts that not a single page disappoints or bores. It's that rare thing these days - a work of feminism which is enthused by literature and art and ideas rather than pop culture.”
Ellis O'Hanlon, Irish Independent
“Elkin explores the history of people and places in astonishing detail. She writes with a passion and personality that creates the kind of familiarity which encourages us to believe that the women she studies were close friends of hers… Elkin's first person, colloquial yet witty style lets you into the recesses of her imagination and invites you to be her travel companion”