What Is a ‘Flâneur’ and How Can You Be One?

Let us take a few moments to consider some characters who loved to saunter, flâneur if you will. Don’t know what that means? Read on to find out!

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When I was a senior in college, I took a grad-level class about the every day. Literature of the every day is exactly what it sounds like; stories that depict the very ordinary lives of everyday people. This might seem jarringly obvious, but we forget that most of the time, stories have a set plot and, most often, fanciful elements. These stories make it their mission to describe the hardships of the characters, how they live, what they eat, and just how agonizing work and money may be to their livelihood. It leaves no stone unturned.

Now, what does this have to do with a flâneur? Well, a flâneur is a French term coined by the French poet Charles Baudelaire. In his message, The Painter of Modern Life (1863), he says,

His passion and his profession is to merge with the crowd. For the perfect idler, for the passionate observer, it becomes an immense source of enjoyment to establish his dwelling in the throng, in the ebb and flow, the bustle, the fleeting and the infinite. To be away from home and yet to feel at home anywhere; to see the world, to be at the very centre of the world, and yet to be unseen of the world, such are some of the minor pleasures of those independent, intense and impartial spirits, who do not lend themselves easily to linguistic definitions.

Charles Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life

I know that was a bit wordy, but let’s break that down. A flâneur is a stroller, saunterer, or observer. The added touch is that as they stroll about they intersect with the lives or actions around them. Baudelaire saw these people as being tied specifically to art and poetry, as was he.


In truth, you may already be a flâneur. Literature is a form of art, so when I am deeply entranced in a book and put it down for a walk, it sticks with me. As I walk, I feel intrinsically connected to others and often think of how they are leading their very own beautiful lives. When I lived in New York City, one of my favorite pastimes was putting on my headphones and book in my tote as I wandered the city. No exact goal in mind for my destination; just letting myself wonder and enjoy the life around me. It feels like a very powerful, artistic form of people-watching.

By doing all this wandering, it becomes an inspiration for my own work, which is what Baudelaire intended when defining the term. The aimless walking was supposed to clear your mind and inspire you at the same time.


paris-street;-rainy day-by- gustavee-caillebotte

Baudelaire saw a flâneur as a white male. This is no longer the case, as we can consider this figure through a feminist lens. Virginia Woolf calls it “street haunting,” which I think is absolutely brilliant. The title character of Mrs. Dalloway by Woolf was out only to buy flowers for a party, but the story diverges into a long journey. She starts to think about how her life intersects with others and where her own life may have started to transition. To walk among strangers is to consider their lives and, more importantly, one’s self. It feels so natural to start thinking this way when I go on a leisurely walk with no agenda.


To make sure people know just how passionate I am about wondering, “flâneuse,” the female form of flâneur, is in my Instagram bio! I hope we can all take from these characters and find joy in a stroll.

Interested in Mrs. Dalloway? Click here for more books like it!