peggy-guggenheim
Kim Rae Taylor, Peggy Guggenheim, 1898–1979. Oil on birch panel, 12 x 12″, 2015

Jade French talks to artist, educator, and feminist Kim Rae Taylor about The Modernism Project, a series of painted portraits documenting some of the leading women of twentieth-century modernism. When asked what prompted the work, Taylor responded:

“My primary area of interest is the modernist period, and about three years ago I began to take notice of just how many women lived long lives, beyond the designated period of twentieth century Modernism. I wanted to learn more about the work from their later years and this became something of a visual quest because I was just so curious to see how they looked as elderly women. Once I had a running file of images, I started making these loose pencil sketches, but then a 1967 photo of Peggy Guggenheim, by photographer Ron Galella, really grabbed my attention. I was intrigued by the confrontational way she stared into the camera’s lens, without her usual oversized sunglasses, and I loved this idea that she was reversing the gaze. It felt powerful to me in an unexpected way.”

— Medium

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
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.

(more…)

Writing for The Guardian, Grant names Jean Rhys as her writing hero
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Jean Rhys

Rhys is mainly known for her novel Wide Sargasso Sea, a retelling of Jane Eyre from the perspective of the mad wife in the attic, and I scandalised an audience at the British Library a few years ago by claiming it was a greater novel than Charlotte Brontë’s. Rhys in recent years has most often been seen her in the context of post-colonial writing, but it was the novels written and set in Paris in the 1930s that chilled me to the bone. [Read More]

Olivia Laing (The Guardian) offers a brief history
Jane Bowles
Jane Bowles

If you write a book about alcohol and male writers, as I did, the one question you’ll be asked more than any other is: what about the women? Are there any alcoholic female writers? And are their stories the same, or different? The answer to the first question is easy. Yes, of course there are, among them such brilliant, restless figures as Jean Rhys, Jean Stafford, Marguerite Duras, Patricia Highsmith, Elizabeth Bishop, Jane Bowles, Anne Sexton, Carson McCullers, Dorothy Parker and Shirley Jackson. Alcoholism is more prevalent in men than women (in 2013, the NHS calculated that 9% of men and 4% of women were alcohol-dependent). Still, there is no shortage of female drinkers; no lack of falling-down afternoons and binges that stretch sweatily into days. Female writers haven’t been immune to the lure of the bottle, nor to getting into the kinds of trouble – the fights and arrests, the humiliating escapades, the slow poisoning of friendships and familial relations – that have dogged their male colleagues. Jean Rhys was briefly in Holloway prison for assault; Elizabeth Bishop more than once drank eau de cologne, having exhausted the possibilities of the liquor cabinet. But are their reasons for drinking different? And how about society’s responses, particularly in the lubricated, tipsy 20th century; the golden age, if one can call it that, of alcohol and the writer? [Read More]