Shakespeare and Company
When Ernest Hemingway entered Paris for the first time, he understood the city was a magnate for important people that would ultimately affect his career. The author, not so famous at the time, also believed that geography played a major role in the lives of well-known writers, so he focused on Paris, the adopted home of American expatriates of the Lost Generation of the 1920s.
One of the most influential people Hemingway would meet on his initial trip to the City of Light, (Paris so dubbed during the Age of Enlightenment), was Sylvia Beach. Beach was also an American expatriate, and in 1919, opened a bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, on rue Dupuytren, the site of a former laundry. The store met with immediate success, because it doubled as a lending library, and soon was moved to a larger location.
Shakespeare and Company became the center of literary culture in Paris, where writers such as Ezra Pound, James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein gathered regularly – to Hemingway’s delight. The volumes on the bookstore shelves were selected based on Beach's literary taste and were considered of high quality. Many of the selections had been banned in the United States and the United Kingdom, which sparked the interest of Lost Generation personalities. One such book published by Sylvia Beach in 1922 was James Joyce's masterpiece, Ulysses.
The original Shakespeare and Company bookstore was closed in June 1940 during World War II as a result of the German occupation of France. It never re-opened, despite Hemingway’s claim that he had "personally liberated" it.
In 1951, American George Whitman opened a similar bookstore on Paris' Left Bank, which became the literary epicenter of Bohemian culture in Paris, frequented by Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and other writers of the so-called Beat Generation.
Following Sylvia Beach's death in 1964, Whitman changed the bookstore’s name to Shakespeare and Company as a tribute to the original influential entrepreneur. George Whitman died last year, but his daughter, Sylvia Beach Whitman, is now running the bookstore with a fascinating history behind it.