Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London

I was disappointed by this, especially after eagerly awaiting it to arrive in my library queue. As an avid walker, a flâneuse/flâneur in my own right, I have yet to find a book that captures the gloriousness of hoofing it around the city, and had fully expected this book to do that with a heavy dash of feminist theory. Elkin’s book attempts to give us the literary history of women walking, but it falls flat as she lectures and gives us recycled containers of Virginia Woolf, Jean Rhys, George Sand, Sophie Calle, and Martha Gellhorn—all of whom are much better reading directly from the primary sources than Elkin’s curiously bland recaps. There is nothing new here for anyone who has even the barest pulse of exposure to those sources.

Very surprised that Gail Scott makes no appearance in these pages, her My Paris the closest writing to perfection about flâneusing. Perhaps jealousy prevented Elkin from including? And instead of bringing in Walter Benjamin from the get-go, she tucks him in on page 188, sliding him in and hoping that we won’t notice his absence so far?

Terrible section on Tokyo which served to reveal how unwilling Elkin was to merge with her surroundings, a chapter that goes on interminably about a bad relationship that (of course!) ends with an engagement that (of course!) is ultimately broken. Food has a strange smell, “like the ground-up contents of a rabbit cage made into a broth,” things taste like “the underarms of an old man’s tweed jacket.” A few pages into this chapter, I’m rolling my eyes and telling her to get back to Paris already.

I will say that her chapter on Venice is the best in the book, where she reveals more of herself than anywhere else, alongside already-known-info about Sophie Calle.

The one thing I got out of it is a list of bread crumbs to track down of possible interest:

  • ‘The Man of the Crowd,’ E.A. Poe’s 1840 short story
  • Jane Marcus’s ‘Storming the Toolshed’ in Art & Anger: Reading like a Woman
  • The films of Agnès Varda (Cléo de 5 à 7 – 1962)
  • Suite Vénitienne by Sophie Calle