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Posts Tagged ‘Sylvia Beach

“To pore upon a book, to seek the light of truth”*…


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Gertrude Stein. James Joyce. Ernest Hemingway. Aimé Césaire. Simone de Beauvoir. Jacques Lacan. Walter Benjamin.

What do these writers have in common? They were all members of the Shakespeare and Company lending library.

In 1919, an American woman named Sylvia Beach opened Shakespeare and Company, an English-language bookshop and lending library in Paris. Almost immediately, it became the home away from home for a community of expatriate writers and artists now known as the Lost Generation. In 1922, she published James Joyce’s Ulysses under the Shakespeare and Company imprint, a feat that made her—and her bookshop and lending library—famous around the world. In the 1930s, she increasingly catered to French intellectuals, supplying English-language publications from the recently rediscovered Moby Dick to the latest issues of The New Yorker. In 1941, she preemptively closed Shakespeare and Company after refusing to sell her last copy of Joyce’s Finnegans Wake to a Nazi officer.

The Shakespeare and Company Project uses sources from the Beach Papers at Princeton University to reveal what the lending library members read and where they lived…


The Project is a work-in-progress, but you can begin to explore now.  Search and browse the lending library members and books.  Read about joining the lending library. Download a preliminary export of Project data. (And in the coming months, check back for new features and essays.)

Recreating the world of the Lost Generation in interwar Paris: The Shakespeare and Company Project.

* Shakepeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost


As we know them by what they read, we might recall that it was on this date in 1830 that Sarah Josepha Hale published Poems for Our Children, which included “Mary Had a Little Lamb” (originally titled “Mary’s Lamb”); later in the decade Lowell Mason set the nursery rhyme to music.  While Hale is probably best remembered for this, she was also a successful novelist and magazine editor, a fierce and effective abolitionist and champion of women’s rights, the founder of several charities, and the leader of the successful campaigns to create Thanksgiving Day as a holiday and to complete the Bunker Hill Monument.

Hale retired in 1877 at the age of 89– the same year that Thomas Edison spoke the opening lines of “Mary’s Lamb” as the first speech ever recorded on his newly invented phonograph.

220px-Sarah_Hale_portrait source


The noblest of pursuits…

Emily is a self-proclaimed Luddite:

I use the term because that’s what most people, my own parents included, call me.  Fun Fact: the term “Luddite”, although it has now come to mean one who fears and resents progress, originally referred to a movement that developed during the first Industrial Revolution in the factory towns of Northern England where workers feared that new technology would threaten their livelihoods.  They weren’t anti-progress; they were just pro-humans.

She has turned her passion for books and bookshops— “the joy of book-hunting, of going in with no idea what you want and finding that hidden gem or that old favourite recalled from a foggy memory”– into a calling: The Matilda Project.  Emily wanders London, finding and reporting on the independent book stores that graces its streets.  From The Southbank Book Market to Stoke Newington Bookshop, she delivers “by a book lover, for book lovers” reviews and rankings.

It’s altogether enchanting– and inspiring.  For while Emily’s is a disciplined London-specific focus, her example could– and surely should– be replicated worldwide.


As we delight in the feel of yellowed pages between our fingers, we might send modern(ist) birthday greetings to Nancy Woodbridge Beach (or, as she was better known later in life, Sylvia Beach); she was born on this date in 1887.  An American expat in Paris to do bibliographic research, Beach met and fell in love with Adrienne Monnier, one of the first women in France to own her own bookstore.  Inspired by her partner, Beach open a small English-language bookshop at 8 rue Dupuytren (in the 6th); she called it Shakespeare and Company.

The shop quickly became a gathering place for both French and American writers, and succeeded sufficiently that Beach had to move to larger premises across the street. She made occasional forays into publishing (e.g., when James Joyce couldn’t find an English-language publisher for Ulysses, Shakespeare and Company put it out). Beach’ memoir, Shakespeare and Company, recounts her experiences with Joyce, D. H. Lawrence, Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Thornton Wilder, André Gide, George Antheil, Robert McAlmon, Gertrude Stein, Stephen Benet, Aleister Crowley, Harry Crosby, Caresse Crosby, Berenice Abbott, Man Ray, and many, many other icons of Left Bank intellectual and artistic life in the years between the two world wars.

Shakespeare and Company was closed during the German Occupation of Paris; Beach was interned for 6 months, but hid her books in a vacant apartment above the store.  When the war ended, Hemingway symbolically “liberated” the store; but it never re-opened.   The Shakespeare and Company that operates today (as featured, e.g., in Richard Linklater’s and Woody Allen’s films) is a different operation, in a different location, renamed in 1964 “in honor” of Beach and her creation.

Beach, center, with James Joyce and Adrienne Monnier in the store; 1920


Happy Einstein’s Birthday!

(Be sure to celebrate with a slice of pie: it’s 3.14– Pi Day)

Written by LW

March 14, 2013 at 1:01 am

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