Monday, March 13, 2017

Women's History Month Birthday: "I keep going over a sentence. I nag it, gnaw it, pat and flatter it."

The Writer's Almanac reminds us of a birthday worthy of celebration from 125 years ago:
It's the birthday of Janet Flanner, born in Indianapolis, Indiana (1892). She moved to New York City in her 20s to become a writer, and became friends with Jane Grant. Grant's husband, Harold Ross, was an editor, and he was thinking of starting his own magazine. In 1922, Flanner took a trip to Paris, and decided to settle there, one of several American expatriates that included Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. She wrote letters home to Grant and her other friends. Harold Ross, who was just launching his new magazine, asked if she would write for The New Yorker. So she began her Letters from Paris column, which ran for 50 years, from 1925 to 1975. Through her column, Flanner introduced her American readership to such rising Parisian artists as Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Edith Piaf. Her style fit the magazine's aesthetic well; her prose was sophisticated, witty, and urbane. 
She's best known for the Letters from Paris column, but she also provided commentary during World War II. She wrote about European politics and culture, published a piece about Hitler's rise to power in 1936, and covered the Nuremburg trials in 1945. 
She once said that of all the work she did for the magazine, she was most proud of her 1936 piece on Hitler. 
In her profile, titled "F├╝hrer," she wrote: 
"Being self-taught, his mental processes are mysterious; he is missionary-minded; his thinking is emotional, his conclusions material. He has been studious with strange results: he says he regards liberalism as a form of tyranny, hatred and attack as part of man's civic virtues, and equality of men as immoral and against nature. Since he is a concentrated, introspective dogmatist, he is uninformed by exterior criticism. On the other hand, he is a natural and masterly advertiser, a phenomenal propagandist within his limits, the greatest mob orator in German annals, and one of the most inventive organizers in European history. He believes in intolerance as a pragmatic principle. He accepts violence as a detail of state, he says mercy is not his affair with men, yet he is kind to dumb animals. ... His moods change often, his opinions never. Since the age of twenty, they have been mainly anti-Semitic, anti-Communist, anti-suffrage, and Pan-German. He has a fine library of six thousand volumes, yet he never reads; books would do him no good — his mind is made up."
A lesbian who married, then amicably divorced, a New York artist "to get out of Indianapolis", Flanner had a fifty-year relationship with another writer, Solita Solano based in Paris, where they were close familiars of Getrude Stein and her companion, Alice B. Toklas. Flanner was also a noted, if quiet, philanthropist- she set up a trust to ease Toklas' impoverished last years and was a longtime caregiver along with several other friends.

At nearly 80, she was also the frosty observer of one of Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer's 1971 catfight on The Dick Cavett Show:

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