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

Written by Lauren Elkin
Review by Douglas Kemp

It’s quite difficult to classify this book. Part memoir of Lauren Elkin’s love affair with the city as a locus of history, architecture and meaning, it is also (and predominantly) a study of how literary women have recorded their experiences of walking around their cities. Jean Rhys and George Sand in Paris, Virginia Woolf in London, Sophie Calle in Venice and others have all recorded their essentially transgressive feminist activities of claiming the city for themselves, being independent and engaged with the pulsing life all around them. Lauren Elkin bases her narrative upon the fact that the 19th-century male flâneur owned the city in a way that a woman could never at the time. A bit like the very act of being a flâneuse, the writer wanders around rather, meditating upon urban life and her relationship to the cities she has lived in and loved in. It is a learned, interesting read.