Flâneusing the City: Cape Town through the Eyes of an Unnamed Female Narrator in Patricia Schonstein-Pinnock’s Skyline

Carol Leff


Up until fairly recently, the literary figure of the flâneur, an aimless wanderer and detached observer of urban life, has generally been regarded as male. However, feminist critiques of the flâneur can be seen in the work of Wolff (1985; 2006), Ferguson (1994), Wilson (1995) and Scalway (2006), amongst others, and the female version of this literary figure has started to garner attention through publications such as Catherine Nesci’s Le Flâneur et les Flâneuses (2007) and cultural critic Lauren Elkin’s Flâneuse (2016). This paper focuses on the gaze of the young narrator-flâneuse in Patricia Schonstein-Pinnock’s Skyline (2000), a novel set in the city of Cape Town in post-apartheid South Africa. Through the eyes of the unnamed narrator, who describes a city of contrasts and displaced individuals, the African humanist notion of ubuntu is seen to connect the marginal inhabitants of “Skyline”, a fictional apartment building that becomes home to African diasporic immigrants and refugees. Cape Town is a city in flux, and the youthful narrator-flâneuse questions the ambiguous spaces that she encounters. Despite various contradictions such as belonging or not belonging (she herself comes from a broken family and keeps company with refugees and social outcasts), the narrator-flâneuse chooses to embrace hybridity and entanglement. Running parallel to the young flâneuse’s narrative is that of Mozambican refugee Bernard, whose paintings are described ekphrastically at the end of each chapter. Drawing upon De Certeau’s work on cities as well as Sarah Nuttall’s concept of entanglement, I argue that Schonstein-Pinnock’s novel suggests alternative, inclusive ways of feeling at home in a city that is constantly changing and can sometimes feel unwelcoming. The paper concludes with reflections on what it means for displaced individuals to finally feel “at home” in an Afropolitan city such as Cape Town.

Full Text

PDF (English)

Riferimenti bibliografici

Acott, Heather Margaret. 2009. “Tactics of the Habitat: the Elusive Identity of Nat Nakasa.” MA diss., University of South Africa.

Araya, Kinga. 2009. “Walking the Wall: Global Flâneuse with Local Dilemmas.” Wagadu 7 (Fall): 55-74.

Bagheri, Nazgol. 2015. “The Emancipated Flâneuse in Tehran’s Shopping Malls.” In Walking in Cities: Quotidian Mobility as Urban Theory, Method, and Practice, edited by Brown, Evrick Brown and Timothy Shortell, 83-99. Pennsylvannia: Temple University Press.

Baudelaire, Charles. 1961. Les Fleurs du Mal: Les Épaves-Bribes-Poèmes divers Amoenitas Belgicae. Paris: Editions Garnier Frères.

Benjamin, Walter. 1973. Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism. London: New Left Books.

Bentley, Nick. 2014. “Postmodern Cities.” In The Cambridge Companion to the City in Literature, edited by Kevin R. McNamara, 175-187. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Boutin, Aimée. 2012. “Rethinking the Flâneur: Flânerie and the Senses.” Dix-neuf 16 (2): 124–32.

De Certeau, Michel. 1984. The Practice of Everyday Life. Translated by Steven Rendall. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Elkin, Lauren. 2016. Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London. London: Chatto & Windus.

Ferguson, Priscilla Parkhurst. 1994.“The Flâneur on and off the Streets of Paris.” In The Flâneur, edited by Keith Tester, 22–42. London: Routledge

Heddon, Deirdre, and Cathy Turner. 2012. “Walking women: shifting the tales and scales of mobility.” Contemporary Theatre Review 22 (2): 224-236.

Kim, Ha-Eun Grace. 2011. “Marginality in post-TRC texts: storytelling and representational acts.” MA diss., University of Stellenbosch.

Kreuiter, Allyson. 2015. “The Flâneuse and the City as Uncanny Home in Lawrence Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet.” Literator 36 (1): Art. #1165, 8 pages. http://dx.doi.org/10.4102/lit. v36i1.1165

Matheolane, M. 2015. “Representations of the Postcolonial City through the Eyes of the African artist as Flâneur.” MA diss., University of the Witwatersrand.

Nesci, Catherine. 2014. “Memory, Desire, Lyric: The Flâneur.” In The Cambridge Companion to the City in Literature, edited by Kevin R. McNamara, 69-84. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Nord, Deborah Epstein. 1991. “The Urban Peripatetic: Spectator, Streetwalker, Woman Writer.” Nineteenth-Century Literature 46 (3): 351-75.

Nussbaum, Barbara. 2003. “Ubuntu: Reflections of a South African on Our Common Humanity.” Reflections: The SoL Journal 4 (4): 21-26.

Nuttall, Sarah. 2004. “City Forms and Writing the ‘Now’ in South Africa.” Journal of South African Studies 30 (4): 731-48.

O’Shaughnessy, Emma Vivian. 2012. “History Lives In These Streets: Reading Place and Urban Disorder in Three Post-Apartheid Johannesburg Novels.” PhD diss. University of Cape Town.

Pretorius, Jana Lorraine. 2015. “Picturing South Africa: an Exploration of Ekphrasis in Post-Apartheid Fiction.” MA diss., University of Stellenbosch.

Scalway, Helen. 2006. “The Contemporary flâneuse.” In The Invisible Flâneuse? Gender, Public Space, and Visual Culture in Nineteenth-century Paris, edited by A. D’Souza and T. McDonough, 168-71. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Schonstein-Pinnock, Patricia. 2015 (second impression). Skyline. Cape Town: African Sun Press.

Solnit, Rebecca. 2002. Wanderlust: A History of Walking. London: Verso.

Whitworth, Michael H., ed. 2007. Modernism. Australia: Blackwell.

Wilson, Elizabeth. 1995. “The Invisible Flâneur.” In Postmodern Cities and Spaces, edited by Sophie Watson and Katherine Gibson, 59-79. Oxford: Blackwell;.

Wolff, Janet. 1985. “The Invisible Flâneuse: Women and the Literature of Modernity.” Theory, Culture & Society, 2: 37-46.

Wolff, Janet. 2015 [1994]. “The Artist and the Flâneur: Rodin, Rilke and Gwen John in Paris.” In The Flâneur in Social Theory, edited by Keith Tester, 111-37. London: Routledge.

Woolf, Virginia. 2005. Mrs Dalloway. New York: Harcourt.







ISSN 2465-2415


Rivista pubblicata con il contributo di

Dipartimento di Scienze Politiche




Licenza Creative Commons
Licenza Creative Commons Attribuzione - Non commerciale - Non opere derivate 4.0 Internazionale


Header: "Ally McBeal's Washroom". Ph. Enrica Picarelli