My favorite book of this trip is “Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation: A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties” by Noël Riley Fitch. Sylvia Beach was, of course, the owner of that famous English bookstore in Paris, Shakespeare & Company. The book details the lives of Sylvia and her bookstore during the 20s and 30s, when Paris was the home of the “Lost Generation”of English-language writers: Hemingway, of course, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos, Ezra Pound, and many, many others.
What I didn’t realize until I read this book was how important Sylvia Beach was to this time and place. She provided a place for all these authors to meet and get to know each other and work together and read each others’ work. She encouraged many, often loaning them money to get through tough financial times. And, of course, she published James Joyce’s Ulysses, against lots of advice. She was instrumental in the development and later success of many, if not most, of America’s early-20th century writers.
Now, most Americans of a literary bent will stop by the current Shakespeare & Company on Rue de la Bûcherie, across the Seine from Notre Dame.:
In 1951 George Whitman wanted to open a bookstore in Paris. Somehow, he met Sylvia Beach, who still lived in the city, though Shakespeare & Company had been closed by the Nazis in 1941. At dinner, Sylvia said George could use the name -or so he said – and he opened a bookstore at the current location and has since encouraged writers there, with a place to sleep in exchange for working in the store. Though it has the name, it has no direct lineage back to the real Shakespeare & Company.
Not a word about its history!
Sylvia moved Shakespeare & Co. around the corner to 12, rue de l’Odeon about 18 months later. This was a larger location, and across the street from the French-language bookstore of Adrienne Monnier, Sylvia’s life-long love.
This location has a reference to its history; the plaque between the two upper windows:
Not a word about the location’s center of English writers for twenty years, but at least Sylvia gets a mention for publishing Ulysses here.
After the Nazis closed Shakespeare & Co. in 1941, Sylvia remained in Paris – she was the first person Hemingway visited after he liberated Paris (in his always-humble opinion) in 1944. She died in 1962, in the apartment above the rue de l’Odeon site of Shakespeare & Company.