A flaneur is a person who explores, examines and watches life as an idle bystander. Flaneurs can be found sipping coffee at a cafe, watching the people stroll down the street. The flaneur will aimlessly walk about town, with no destination in mind, but always on the lookout for something new.
Using the flaneur as a vehicle, author Edmund White takes us through six distinct sections and social groups of Paris: the acceptance of black Americans, the position of Jews, Baudelaire and Gustave Moreau, homosexuals, and monarchists.
To be honest, I had a difficult time seeing how the flaneur fit into all these different chapters. The flaneur I learned about in college did nothing other than watch other people. This is often proclaimed as a French past time, sitting in cafe’s watching the world pass you by. Nearly each chapter begins with the flaneur walking this way, or that way, so I suppose the flaneur’s walks about town lead us into the vast history of social strifes and successes in Paris.
I did enjoy learning about the history of each group. I loved the literary history chapter, discussing Colette, Baudelaire, & Balzac. I enjoyed the chapter on the acceptance of blacks, especially in contrast to the lack of acceptance in America during the same time frame of the 1920s. This book reminded me a lot of Parisians by Graham Robb because of the bits of trivia in each chapter. Although at 210 pages, the book is small, its 4″ x 8″. Each chapter is a quick read, and although White discusses the history and the social context heavily, he does infuse his own experiences in each chapter, giving this a bit of a memoir feel.
Book 59 of 2011
Read A Likes
- Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris by Graham Robb
- The Most Beautiful Walk in the World by John Baxter
- The Flaneur and his City by Richard D.E. Burton