Letters from Paris: Janet Flanner’s Love Affair with the City of Light

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Letters from Paris: Janet Flanner’s Love Affair with the City of Light
September 1922: two women disembark from their train at the Gare de l’Est. One is Solita Solano, already an established journalist and critic in the United States. The other is Janet Flanner, still relatively unknown despite some journalistic success in her native Indianapolis. They have just spent two months touring Europe while Solita writes articles for National Geographic. Now arrived in Paris, the City of Light was to remain Janet’s home, off and on, for the next 55 years and become the wellspring of her fame and prestige. Through her “Letters from Paris” in The New Yorker magazine, she carved a unique niche in journalism and nurtured a love of the French capital in the hearts of millions of Americans. Janet was born in 1892. After expulsion from the University of Chicago for “rebelliousness,” in 1916 she started working as a journalist on her local newspaper the Indianapolis Star and quickly gained a reputation as a theater and early movie critic. In 1918 she married an old university friend called Lane and moved to New York. She quickly discovered that she and Lane had virtually nothing in common. He was a typical banker while Janet discovered Harlem’s jazz clubs, Greenwich Village’s bohemian scene and the salon of artist Neysa McMein. Fatefully, Janet met Solita Solano at one of Neysa’s parties and fell in love. After an amicable separation from Lane, she traveled to Europe with Solita and thus found herself in a tiny hotel room on the Left Bank. Solita Solano, born Sarah Wilkinson, was an American writer. Unknown author. Public domain. 1922 was the perfect time to be an American in Paris. Hundreds of ex-soldiers had stayed after the war (especially Black soldiers who found the lack of segregation liberating), bringing jazz and new dances like the Charleston. Other new arrivals also made an impact on the city’s cultural scene. People like Sylvia Beach, who arrived in 1917, opened her famous bookshop Shakespeare & Co. two years later and, in 1922, had just published James Joyce’s untouchable novel Ulysses. Ernest Hemingway was scratching out a living as a journalist and living modestly with his wife Hadley while trying to become a novelist. The Americans brought a kind of showy glamour far removed from the reserved elegance of upper-class French Paris. Le Select in 2008. Photo credit: Airair / Wikimedia Commons

Lead photo credit : Janet Flanner at Les Deux Magots, during the Liberation of Paris, 1944, with Ernest Hemingway. Unknown author. Public domain.

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Pat Hallam fell in love with Paris when she was an adolescent. After many years of visiting, in 2020 she finally moved from the UK to live here and pursue her passion for the city. A freelance writer and history lover, she can spend hours walking the streets of this wonderful city finding hidden courtyards, bizarre and unusual landmarks and uncovering the centuries of history that exist on every street corner (well, almost). You can find the results of her explorations on Instagram @littleparismoments.


  • Joanna Rainbow
    2022-01-29 10:00:18
    Joanna Rainbow
    I really enjoyed this article and wonder whether there is any edition of Ms Flanner's collected writings that you could point me to.


    • Pat Hallam
      2022-01-29 10:02:08
      Pat Hallam
      Thank you. There isn't a single Collected Works that I know of, but 2 volumes of her Paris Letters have been published: Paris Journal 1944-1965 and 1965-1971. Also 'Janet Flanner's World: Uncollected Writings 1932-1975' and 'Paris was Yesterday' - a collection of extracts from The New Yorker between 1925-1936.