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

3.60  ·  Rating details ·  1,953 ratings  ·  326 reviews
'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
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published 2015 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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 ·  1,953 ratings  ·  326 reviews

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Aug 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I've always thought of myself as a flaneur- the passionate street wanderer who learns the city by foot- ever since the first day I moved to a city (Montreal) six years ago for undergrad. I've since transplanted to Boston, but the feeling is the same: this city is mine, it knows my feet, we trust one another, we know each other's forms, we are familiar with the sensation of physical contact with each other. There is no better way to befriend a city than to walk it.

It has taken me a year, a year
Julie Ehlers
Ugh, Flâneuse was such a disappointment. It doesn't really deliver what it promises; it just reads like a bunch of research papers Lauren Elkin has written and strung together with a flimsy scaffold of personal reflections. The writing is not nearly as lively as I'd hoped and neither is Elkin; at one point she describes herself as "no rebel," and she's right, she isn't. I'm giving this 3 stars because there were a few interesting sections and some insights worth underlining, but I don't ...more
Feb 27, 2018 rated it it was ok
Historical retrospective of cities and the literary women who haunted their avenues with overlays of Elkin's experiences.

This is more biographical than geographical. Elkin explores feminism through the lens of authors' lives and their writings. Specifically, women's use of city space or exclusion from it. It has strong associations to arguments of female confinement and the interiority of their lives, but Elkin emphasizes the subversion of it by artists and writers from historical periods.

The first problem with this book is that I've read better versions of it multiple times. Maeve Brennan's The Long-Winded Lady, Vivian Gornick's The Odd Woman and the City, Kate Bolick's Spinster -- even Edmund White's The Flaneur does a better job discussing marginalized groups walking the streets of Paris. My favorite flânerie, I think, is about looking outward: observing others, watching the buildings and the streets. Elkin's book seems to be primarily about how much she loves France, how much ...more
In her new book, abridged for radio by Penny Leicester, the author Lauren Elkin strolls great cities, thinking about distinguished women who did the same..

1/5: She loves the word FLANEUR and then the female version - FLANEUSE. But historically who were these types, and is there a flaneuse today? She also recalls her youthful struggles to walk the New York suburbs.

2/5: She describes her own walks through London's Bloomsbury, which takes her back to when Virginia Woolf covered the same route, in
Raised in New York and now a Paris resident, Lauren Elkin has always felt at home in cities. Here she traces how women writers and artists have made the world’s great cities their own, blending memoir, social history and literary criticism. In a neat example of form flowing from content, the book meanders from city to city and figure to figure. My interest waned during later chapters on protesting (‘taking to the streets’) and the films of Agnès Varda. However, especially when she’s musing on ...more
William Southwell-Wright
Feb 12, 2017 rated it did not like it
20% of this book is about what you think it would be about, and what is has largely been sold as: an account of the way notable women artists/writers have experienced urban space. The other 80% is some very narcissistic, self-mythologising, and uninteresting accounts by Elkin of her own privileged and uninteresting life. I was very disappointed by this book.

Description: '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
Mikey B.
This was a disappointment, more so because it started off so well. It’s about the love of the art of walking and gazing in a large city – from the perspective of women. The author presents much on the history of women walking in Paris and London (not much on New York). One woman, George Sand (she changed her name), during the mid-1800’s dressed as a man so as to be less conspicuous in the street.

So the first five chapters were delicious! There were many wonderful observations and witticisms on
Mar 20, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, memoir, 2017
I've been looking forward to this book for so long, with such joy at the prospect of finding myself and my experiences in the text, that I've struggled with trying to parse my objective disappointment from my subjective. My two main problems are 1) structural: I don't think Elkin goes deep enough into either history or memoir, and the insistence on the conflation of the two narrows and shallows her exploration of either; and 2) historical/political: Elkin completely elides the danger women face ...more
Alex Sarll
I’ve seen it argued from various angles that the flâneur is a purely male figure, and not just because of how French works. Some writers seem implicitly to accept psychogeography as the sort of spoddy pursuit which, allegedly, only boys are sad enough to love; others focus on how much easier it is for men to walk the streets unobjectified and without threat. But, without entirely dismissing the latter argument, Elkin is having none of it. Here she tells her own story, beginning (like so many of ...more
Dec 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
Here's my review for the Chicago Tribune:

Flaneur is one of those fancy-sounding French words that tend to freak Americans out, but its meaning is unintimidating and should be a lot more widespread. Although, as with any word, there are debates about its nuances, simply put, it means: one who wanders aimlessly through a city as an inveterate pedestrian. In fact, plenty of people drift on foot through urban landscapes taking great pleasure in the activity
Jessica Miller
Mar 26, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: french, arc
This is one of the most disappointing and most misleading books I have read in a very long time. Actually, I don't think I have ever been so mislead by a book before. The full title is
Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London but very little of the book is actually about the art of walking. Really, this book is a history of several women writer's lives of the past with a mishmash of topics thrown in between them, including but not limited to: immigration,
Jun 07, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: cities-we-love
Truth be told I didn't read all the way to the end, but I read enough to convince me there would be more of the same had I stuck with it. Disappointing. The premise holds so much promise and in those few moments when the author sticks to it the book is quite good. Unfortunately the majority of the book is a narcissistic excercise to impress us with her worldly travels and privileged youth while demonstrating her retention of everything she researched to get her PhD. Lacks cohesion to the premise ...more
Jay Green
Nov 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I wish there were more books like this: immensely informative, erudite without being obscure, elegant and articulate without burdening the reader with ornateness. I came away feeling enlightened and motivated to learn more. Dr. Lauren Elkin provides an episodic look at women walking the city/cities, including Paris, London, Tokyo, Venice and New York, combining biography, autobiography, history, psychology, and literature. There isn't a great deal of theory differentiating women's walking from ...more
Jul 11, 2018 marked it as didntfinish-yet
Oh agh jeez I don't know... I liked this, I did, I do, I just got restless. She is very smart! And I don't know what I was expecting! But instead of some kind of broad survey of how women have walked through the world, this was that certain kind of smart-but-accessible academic-ish book that delves quite deeply into the oeuvres of several people the author has clearly studied deeply, and I hadn't heard of most of them, and I just... I just put it down one evening several months ago and never ...more
‘Flâneuse’ wasn’t quite what I expected. I thought it would more systematically consider the history of women walking in cities, while it turned out to be mostly personal memoir with regular digressions concerning specific female figures. This is purely personal taste, but the digressions were much more interesting to me than the memoir parts. Perhaps because the author’s romantic life depressed me; I didn’t like the theme of women following dysfunctional men around. Nonetheless, Elkin is an ...more
Oct 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
"Space is not neutral. Space is a feminist issue," Lauren Elkin writes towards the end of this incredibly rich and detailed book about women who walked out of their homes and claimed space in cities such as Paris, London, New York and more. With its mix of memoir and literary/artistic biography, Elkin's book shows how just being a woman alone on the street is a revolutionary act, tracing the stories of icons like Virginia Woolf, who battled Victorian social mores to walk freely alone in London, ...more
Elizabeth Judd Taylor
I didn't hate this book, and I didn't love it either. I think I mainly wanted more--more of the theme it promised, more women walking and more city. To be fair, the author did chronicle some women who did like to walk the city streets, but I wanted more of that, and less recaps of books (especially novels) and movies. I wanted to know more about why these women loved the cities they walked, more about the cities themselves. So, yes. It was OK, but I'm not sure it really delivered on its premise. ...more
L.H. Johnson
I wanted to like this more than I did, and indeed, the first few chapters dazzled me. I loved it. I was fever-reading; that tight, desperate urge to deny the world and simply have the read; that was me, and yet, it did not last. Flâneuse is a book of two halves and the first is transcendent, and the second is- lesser. I will not say poor nor bad, because I think they're almost empty words, sometimes, laden with a redundancy that doesn't, or will it ever, capture the nature of book. But the ...more
Stephen Goldenberg
Apr 14, 2018 rated it liked it
I love the word ‘flaneur/flaneuse’. It’s one of those words that can’t be translated into English mainly because it has no cultural connection to the English speaking world. The closest to it is the more recent branding of the likes of Ian Sinclair and Will Self as ‘psychogeographers’ (though it doesn’t have the same sense of romance, does it?). I’ve always fancied myself as a flâneur and, since retiring, that’s what I’ve become for much of my time wandering the streets of London.
While Laura
Feb 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
It’s difficult to describe this thoroughly entertaining and illuminating book – part memoir, part cultural history, part biography, part psycho-geography – but its many parts add up to a very satisfactory whole. Lauren Elkin likes to walk around cities, to be a flaneuse and to discover the soul of places on foot. Although we don’t often hear about other women walkers, they have always been around, from Mrs Dalloway to George Sand to Martha Gellhorn, and Elkin’s wide-ranging exploration makes for ...more
Mar 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
I am fascinated by flanerie; I had several lectures based around the very act whilst studying at King's College London, and loved every moment of them. I read a couple of good books about streetwalking at the time, and whilst Elkin does repeat a lot of the details from them, I still found Flaneuse engaging and enjoyable. I very much liked the way in which she wove in her own experiences of living and walking in different cities around the world. All in all, it was a splendid volume to read ...more
Oct 02, 2017 rated it liked it
I learned a lot in this curious amalgam of literary criticism, personal memoir and feminist tract. Elkin counter poses her own relation to city spaces with that of key female literary and artistic figures: Virginia Woolf, Jean Rhys, George Sand, Sophie Calle, Martha Gellhorn. She expands Woolf's staking out a "room of one's own" to an every expanding female occupancy of urban settings throughout history. She plays with the creative potential of "street haunting," as Woolf called it.
Elkin starts
Auderoy Lin
Feb 16, 2017 rated it liked it

Perhaps the answer is not to attempt to make a woman fit a masculine concept, but to redefine the concept itself.

Walking is mapping with your feet.

The city is life itself.

Being able to walk anywhere she liked was empowering enough, but to do it in the beauty of Paris was a gift.

Twenty years old is like forty, that way. The person we’re losing always feels like the last person who’ll want us. We’re always staring off the edge of the cliff, even before the lined face and the grey hair.
Dec 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Really fascinating and inspiring, but the Tokyo chapter is perfunctory at best and orientalist at worst. Whereas Elkin writes of the other cities with clear passion and adoration, it seems like she is unable to make any effort to find a single female Japanese author, artist, or filmmaker who roamed the streets of Tokyo? Really? Sofia Coppola, who merely uses Tokyo as the strange, foreign backdrop against which her self-absorbed white characters "discover themselves" and does nothing to humanise ...more
Aug 05, 2016 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Wanda by: Bettie
5 AUG 2016 - a recommendation through Dear Bettie. Many thanks.
Aug 14, 2017 marked it as to-read
Recommendation from Laura (@circleofpines) - 8/14/2017
Nov 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
When I was 19, I went to France by myself to stay with strangers and do research for a week. I had never been in Europe. I had never traveled on my own. I had never had to rely on my French. I had never stayed with strangers. When I got there, I expected my host to show me around. Instead, she passed me a map and her metro pass and encouraged me to wander. “It’s fun,” she promised. And it was. And it changed my life.

A year and a half later, I returned to France, this time to Paris for six months
I loved, loved, loved the first chapter of this book, because I related so closely: I also learned the word "flaner" while studying abroad in Paris, having already spent much of the trip walking around aimlessly, let loose after a suburban childhood. As a city-dweller who has never paid car insurance and gets increasingly anxious behind the wheel, I also prefer to consume the world through my feet (and kind of judge others if they'd rather run all their errand by car). So if that's you, read the ...more
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Originally from New York (the suburbs, then the city), I moved to Paris in 1999, settling here for good in 2004; since then I’ve spent varying periods of time in London, Venice, Tokyo, and Hong Kong. Recently transplanted to the Right Bank after years on the Left, I now spend most of my time tramping around Belleville.

My essays on books and culture have appeared in many publications, including
“I walk because it confers- or restores- a feeling of placeness...I walk because, somehow, it's like reading. You're privy to these lives and conversations that have nothing to do with yours, but you can eavesdrop on them. Sometimes it's overcrowded; sometimes the voices are too loud. But there is always companionship. You are not alone. You walk in the city side by side with the living and the dead.” 7 likes
“We all have our own signals we're listening for, or trying not to hear.” 6 likes
More quotes…