It doesn’t take much for a woman to be subversive, says Lauren Elkin: ‘Just walk out your front door.’ Female pedestrians are dangerous: the evidence is everywhere. Remember in Pride and Prejudice the appalled response of Miss Bingley to the arrival at Netherfield of Elizabeth Bennet, who had waded through mud in order to see Jane? Or the astonishment of Walter Hartright, in Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White, at the sight of Anne Catherick wandering around Hampstead Heath at midnight?
If setting foot in a field can turn the world upside down, what happens when women pound the pavements? The answer, Lauren Elkin concludes, is not enough. ‘Space’, she argues, ‘is a feminist issue’ and women should inhabit more of it: ‘Beware fixity. Beware the creeping feeling that you belong. Embrace flow, impurity, fusion.’
A flâneuse, Elkin explains, is a female flâneur, a woman wanderer. But while the flâneur typically blends into the crowd (‘It is crucial for the flâneur to be functionally invisible,’ writes Luc Sante), the flâneuse is at the same time too visible – in as much as a walking woman