Shakespeare and Company

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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.

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Comments

  1. Wow, lots of interesting information that I can't say I've heard much about in the past.
    I am also left wondering about one thing... if the store doubled as a lending library, then how did that effect their book sales? Just curious how something like that might work out.

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  2. I made a point of visiting the bookstore whist I was in Paris with University. I adore bookshops and one with such history was a MUST SEE for me!

    C x

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  3. Jasmine: That is actually part of why the store became so famous. It was a different era, when someone's word was a bond. She would lend books to writers and artists and when they became famous, they frequented her shop and she sold their books. In fact, she gave Hemingway a loan of $100 to go to Pamplona, Spain. When he returned, he wrote his great novel,The Sun Also Rises, and hung out in her bookstore, where people came to see him and buy books from her.

    Carol: If I were living abroad, I would visit often. I am convinced all bookstores in Paris provide memorable experiences.

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  4. Definitely a romantic bookstore story. We failed to see it when we were in Paris. When we were there, the French were a anti-American and we decided to have as little to do with them as possible. The rude ones called Americans the rude ones! (We accuse others of what we are guilty of ourselves is an appropriate description) So we missed out on Hemingway's and Stein's hang out, but did manage to stumble into other interesting spots on our own walks. Beautiful city/obnoxious people BACK THEN in the seventies.

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  5. OMGosh! I went in September last year! Just for a few minutes to say I was there because buying a book or two was too tempting (and already needed an extra luggage to get home).

    If you wish to learn more about Sylvia Beach, there is an historical fiction book called Chasing Sylvia Beach by author Cynthia Morris. Book was just published this summer. The main focus is not on Sylvia Beach, but the Sylvia and the bookstore are a huge part of the setting and story.

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  6. Linda: I never found them to be rude, but there are all sorts of opinions on that. Some of the best experiences are wandering off on your own.

    A-M: I thought of you when I wrote this. I know you would have had to drop a few bucks there if you stayed. Thanks for the book tip.

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  7. Hi JJ .. fascinating post - I didn't know about the bookstore - but when I go to Paris .. I'll definitely make a plan to visit - and that book A-M recommends above 'Chasing Sylvia Beach' sounds very interesting ..

    Cheers Hilary

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  8. Hilary: I am also going to read Chasing Sylvia Beach.

    Miriam: I can never pass one up!

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