Saturday, September 22, 2012

Literary Journal Extraordinaire

Paris Was Yesterday, 1925-1939Paris Was Yesterday, 1925-1939 

by Janet Flanner

Reading Janet Flanner's unique journal is addictive. The material in Paris Was Yesterday includes selections from Janet Flanner's fortnightly "Letter from Paris" in The New Yorker, which she started transmitting in 1925, signed . . . with her nom de correspondance, Genet. This is a book you must read if you have any interest in art, literature, music, French culture, European history of the late nineteen-twenties and thirties. Here is an excerpt from her notes on one of the greatest musicians of the century:
"With the death of Maurice Ravel, France has lost its greatest petit maitre of modern music. He was still a prodigy pupil at the Conservatoire when he composed two of the three works for which he was most famous--the "Pavane pour une Infante Defunte" and "Jeaux d'Euax," regarded as the most perfectly pianistic piece since Liszt. The hypnotic Iberian quality of "Bolero" is partially explained by his having been born at Ciboure, near the Spanish border."(p 181)

Reading the brief items I was continually impressed with the literary and philosophical references embedded in her prose.  For example her note on Jean Cocteau's Les Enfants Terribles:
"Cocteau has always been a writer in the tradition of the great medieval mountebanks who worked with the charlatans of the Pont Neuf: as tightrope  walker he gathers his crowd, and as soothsayer-dentist he pulls teeth and illusions, he dazzles and delights, and sells moon-powder guaranteed to cure any human ill--and truly cheap at the price."(p 60)

Paris Was Yesterday by Janet Flanner.  Irving Drutman, editor. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1988 (1940)

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