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Tuesday, November 19, 2019


CENTURY AGO—Sylvia Beach, an American ex-pat in Paris opened Shakespeare & Company Bookstore in Paris on November 19, 1919.  Above, is her 2nd location at 12 Rue de L'Odeon (far right), which she operated from 1922 to 1941 shown here in 1939.  
 Shakespeare & Company, the bookstore founded by American ex-pat Sylvia Beach opened its doors on November 19, 1919.  For the next 20 years the shop became the vortex of a literary whirlwind, which transformed literature in France, England and the United States. Located in Paris at 12 rue de l’Odéon, the shop was half bookstore and half lending library. It attracted the great expat writers of the time—Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Eliot, Pound—including some of the century’s most compelling female voices: Djuna Barnes, Gertrude Stein, Janet Flanner, Kay Boyle, and Mina Loy.

The bookstore was also frequented by celebrated French authors, such as André Gide, Paul Valéry, and Jules Romains.
CIRCA 1920--Sylvia Beach poses with Irish author James Joyce in Paris in front of her original shop at 8 Dupuytren. She is credited with providing the funds, printing acumen, which led to her publishing the first edition of Joyce’s novel “Ulysses.” 
Beach’s shop served as the writers’ home away from home, postal address, and—when they were desperate—a loan service. Beach also helped usher in modern literature: she published her friend James Joyce’s Ulysses in 1922 when no one else dared.

In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway wrote of Beach: “Sylvia had a lively, sharply sculptured face, brown eyes that were as alive as a small animal's and as gay as a young girl's . . . She was kind, cheerful and interested, and loved to make jokes and gossip. No one that I ever knew was nicer to me.”

SHOP No. 1—Posed with her “best customer,”Ernest Hemingway, after he returned wounded from his role in WWI, is bookstore owner Sylvia Beach at her original 8 Duputuren shop.  She moved the store in 1922 to 12 Rue de L’Odeon in 1922.

And French author André Chamson said that Beach “did more to link England, the United States, Ireland, and France than four great ambassadors combined.”Beach’s bookstore was open until 1941, when the Germans occupied Paris. One day that December, a Nazi officer entered her store and demanded Beach’s last copy of Finnegans Wake. Beach declined to sell him the book.
HIMSELVES—Among those who hung out at Sylvia Beach’s bookstore, included Ezra Pound (left to right) John Quinn, Ford Maddox Ford and James Joyce.

The officer said he would return in the afternoon to confiscate all of Beach’s goods and to close her bookstore. After he left, Beach immediately moved all the shop’s books and belongings to an upstairs apartment. In the end, she would spend six months in an internment camp in Vittel, and her bookshop would never reopen.

In 1959, Beach published her memoir, Shakespeare and Company, which begins with her childhood in America and ends with the liberation of Paris after the Second World War. Beach passed away in 1962 in Paris.

TODAY readers will find a third location for Shakespeare & Company in Paris.  This one is located at 37 Rue de la Bucherie—not far from the Seine.  This location, owned by the Whitman Family, was not associated with Sylvia Beach.

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