Castle, Terry. 1993. The Apparitional Lesbian. Columbia University Press, New York. iSBN 0-231-07653-3
Chapter 8 – The Gaiety of Janet Flanner
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This chapter looks at mid-20th century journalist Janet Flanner, publishing in the New Yorker under the ambiguous pen name “Genêt”, who worked in an era when being open about her homosexuality was not a practical option. But evasiveness and compartmentalization was also a feature of her life and work more generally.
Here Castle returns to her theme of the “ghosting” of lesbian identities, noting that later biographies of Flanner – even those that were otherwise detailed – appear to have found her sexuality at best uninteresting, if not taboo, even though those biographies were written at a date when attitudes were more open about sexuality.
Having embedded herself in the bohemian expatriate Parisian society of the Left Bank, that aspect of her life seems unlikely to have been uninteresting. Castle makes an effort to fill that biographical gap to some extent.
Flanner’s move to Paris was not only to pursue literary interests as an aspiring novelist, but to escape a stifling home situation. There she met the women who would be her partners, and her sexuality provided entry to the Parisian artistic circles dominated by American and English lesbians such as Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas.
Flanner found her stride writing “Letters from Paris” that combined travelogue and artistic commentary. (Castle provides a detailed summary of topics and personages, and a description of Flanner’s literary style.)
Flanner’s official biographer not only skims over the evidence of her several romantic relationships, but inflates – or perhaps invents – Flanner’s internal conflict over her sexuality. This idea of conflict is contradicted by the pervasive gay content and subject matter of her public writing. The writing is riddled with cues and only semi-coded references to the sexuality of the community she moved in.
Castle concludes that a biographer cannot do justice to the life of a lesbian subject without engaging with the sensual aspects of her life.