I speak to author and academic Lauren Elkin about women walking in the city, and the pioneering writers who influenced her
Lauren Elkin, Flâneuse (Penguin Books, 2016)
Lauren Elkin, Flâneuse (Penguin Books, 2016)

I wonder if you could say a little bit about your title. What exactly is a “Flâneuse”? And what motivated you to write the book?

A flâneuse is quite basically the female conjugation of a “flâneur,” or a kind of idly curious stroller in the city, a man-about-town. As Baudelaire wrote: “The crowd is his domain, just as the air is the bird’s, and water that of the fish. His passion and his profession is to merge with the crowd.”

The flâneur is this really resonant archetype in our culture; you come across it really frequently when magazines or other brands (most recently Hermès) want to lend a kind of worldly, nonchalant, urban intellectualism to their enterprise, or to whatever it is they’re selling. However – and this is going to answer your second question as well – this figure is usually male, or male-identified; only men have historically (and this is arguably still true today) had that kind of access to the city, where they could walk around observing and “merge with the crowd”; women have been, or are, generally too conspicuous in the city, we’re viewed either as a threat or as someone who needs protection; we’re told to smile, our appearances are commented on. Or, for women who don’t conform to some idea of youth or beauty, made to feel functionally invisible. In neither case do we have the kind of neutrality the flâneur needs to have. So the “flâneuse” is a figure who’s kind of impossible to conjugate. (more…)

Lisa Stead discusses the influence of cinema on a generation of interwar women writers
Lisa Stead, Off to the Pictures: Cinema-going, Women's Writing and Movie Culture in Interwar Britain (EUP, 2016)
Lisa Stead, Off to the Pictures: Cinema-going, Women’s Writing and Movie Culture in Interwar Britain (EUP, 2016)

A new book by Lisa Stead uncovers the vital role cinema played in the work of interwar women writers. Entitled Off to the Pictures: Cinemagoing, Women’s Writing and Movie Culture in Interwar Britain, the study explores a range of important but often overlooked figures, from Jean Rhys to Elinor Glyn and C. A. Lejeune. Stead delves into archives and unearths hidden treasures from newspapers and magazines of the time, not to mention a range of literary texts from popular middlebrow fiction to experimental modernism. I caught up with Lisa Stead to discuss her interest in this crucial period for women’s writing, and to ask how cinemagoing still influences the way women construct their own identities.

What led you to write Off to the Pictures?

It all started with magazines. As a postgrad, I got to be fascinated with early film magazines and their address to women. I started looking through hundreds of old issues of 1910s and 1920s fan papers – designed to promote stars and review the latest films and generally keep the cinema alive for their readership by offering gossip and glamour beyond the auditorium. Whilst these papers are crammed full of fascinating period details – fashion tips, advertising etc.— it was the ‘unofficial’ writing inside that hooked me. Fan magazines at this time published letters and poetry from self-professed ‘ordinary’ women, who talk not just about their love for screen stars, but also offer their critical commentary on the cinema, considering its relation to their everyday lives and the distinctly British experience of cinemagoing. (more…)