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Shakespeare and Company (1956)

by Sylvia Beach

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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6641134,837 (3.88)17
Sylvia Beach was intimately acquainted with the expatriate and visiting writers of the Lost Generation, a label that she never accepted. Like moths of great promise, they were drawn to her well-lighted bookstore and warm hearth on the Left Bank. Shakespeare and Company evokes the zeitgeist of an era through its revealing glimpses of James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, Sherwood Anderson, Andre Gide, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, D. H. Lawrence, and others already famous or soon to be.   In his introduction to this new edition, James Laughlin recalls his friendship with Sylvia Beach. Like her bookstore, his publishing house, New Directions, is considered a cultural touchstone.… (more)
  1. 30
    A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway (bertilak)
  2. 30
    Time Was Soft There by Jeremy Mercer (Ronoc, sneuper)
    sneuper: Books about the bookstore Shakespeare and Company in Paris
  3. 20
    The Very Rich Hours of Adrienne Monnier by Adrienne Monnier (ijustgetbored)
    ijustgetbored: Monnier fades a bit to the back in S&Co., but this book does outline her life (before, during, and beyond the bookstore years) in reasonable depth.
  4. 10
    The Letters of Sylvia Beach by Sylvia Beach (ijustgetbored)
    ijustgetbored: If you want to immerse yourself even more in this moment and also enjoy reading correspondence, this is one to track down.
  5. 00
    Wise Men Fish Here: The Story of Frances Steloff and the Gotham Book Mart by W. G. Rogers (lilithcat)
    lilithcat: Two books about great bookstores and the women who ran them.

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» See also 17 mentions

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Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
It was a lot of fun to read a first person account about the literary ferment that went in in Paris of the early and mid 20s. James Joyce, T S Eliot and Ernest Hemingway were determined to change the English language into something they found more agreeable. There contributions to literature and poetry certainly left a major mark. We think and speak differently now at least partly because of them. The real test is whether our understanding of human nature was enhanced by there communicating skills. We may each have an answer for that question but time will be the final judge. ( )
  waldhaus1 | Oct 24, 2022 |
The story of Sylvia Beach and her expatriot American clientele (such as Hemingway)
and the publication of James Joyce's Ullyses. Literary figures abound at this time which is interesting, though many authors of the time don't interest me so much.

Gertrude Stein, Andre Gide, Paul Vallery, Sylvia Plath.

1920's Paris. Fashionable place to be then. ( )
  Bruce_Deming | Feb 5, 2016 |
Ebook - read via Open Library here.

Sylvia Beach and her bookstore Shakespeare and Company are legendary now - but were also quickly popular in her time, as the bookshop became a meeting place for visitors to stop in and perhaps use its address to forward their mail. It was as much a club and a writers' meeting place as it was a bookstore and lending library.

Since Beach was so immersed in the society of authors, poets, and other famous folk, and often doesn't give you much more than their names and where she bumped into them, so I did find myself stopping to look up many names (and as usual adding books to my reading list) - and enjoying that.

As usual I find it sad that there are so many notable people in French history that you end up having to go to websites in French to learn about them, and/or find there are few translations of certain French authors. I find this a problem repeatedly, and it's especially annoying to check French booksellers and find plenty of books, but no English translations - mainly I assume because there's no market for it. (Which again makes me sigh.) An example of such a historic person: one of the first to visit Shakespeare and Company was Thérèse Bertrand-Fontaine (p. 22), the first woman in France to became "Medecin des Hopitaux." And the link is to the French wikipedia because there's nothing about her in English. Sad. Many of the notable French authors Beach mentions are also hard to track down - in English that is, because there are plenty of French versions you can access. (I can actually read French, it's just that I'm still so dang slow at it. So I'm lazy and hunt for translations.)

Anyway, this "why don't we value/translate works from other countries" rant is a familiar one for me. Substitute many other countries for France and the lack of translations of famous authors and notable histories is probably the same. - And end of tangent!

Beach has a really fun style of writing, very much as if she were writing a letter to someone she knows. Since it's a bit hard to describe I'll just add quotes, as those are more fun to read than descriptions anyway. Am also adding many bits about Joyce that seem to be good descriptions about his personality and family, since Beach was very much a part of Joyce's life story. Also I've long been fascinated with John S. Sumner and his crusade against obscenity - may history books continue to mock him (and Comstock) for eons. There are descriptions of many, many other writers as well, but of course I can't quote everything. (I go a bit quote-happy as it is.)

After reading so much about Beach's close friend and fellow bookshop owner Adrienne Monnier, I'm particularly sad that it seems difficult to find a book about her. She seems to be mentioned in quite a few books, but few dedicated completely to her - and those seem hard to track down outside of libraries. Which makes me suspect that I should check for books in French. (I am trying to get my hands on The Very Rich Hours of Adrienne Monnier and Rue de l'Odeon.) Meanwhile because Beach wrote Shakespeare and Company around 1956 what isn't mentioned is that Beach and Monnier were partners in every sense of the word, and were together for 36 years. So there's a love story in there that I wish Beach had been able to write (though of course you can read it in this book - between the lines - once you're aware of it).

What kept this from being a four star - there was much that seemed to be left out, and left me with questions as to what happened to people who Beach mentioned and then who disappeared from the narrative. Much of the book is short anecdotes and character sketches, and much deals with people around Beach when you often wish to know more about Beach herself or her feelings. (Not that you can't often tell from context how Beach feels!) Still, it was both interesting and a great window into a period that I've read about before, but as history - Beach does give a very personal look at the time and the people. I'd give it 3 1/2 starts, and still am wavering about 4. But that may have more to do with the outside reading I did on Beach and Monnier, and the fact that I love that they were a couple who were bookshop owners (with shops right around the corner from each other).


p. 4, Loie Fuller, speaking to a group of American students:
"She came not to dance but to talk about her dancing. I remember her as stumpy, rather plain girl from Chicago, wearing glasses, the schoolmarm type, telling about the experiments she was making with radium in connection with her lighting system. She was dancing at the Moulin Rouge at the time, as I remember, and making a sensation. When you saw her there, the stoutish woman you knew as Loie Fuller was transformed. With two outstretched sticks, she manipulated five hundred meters of swirling stuff, flames enveloped her, and she was consumed. Finally, all that remained were a few ashes."
After looking at the posters and photos on the wikipedia page I'm dying to find a book about Loie Fuller. So far I've located Fifteen years of a dancer's life, with some account of her distinguished friends, written by Fuller herself.

p. 8:
"A friend in Princeton who shared this passion [for France] was Margaret Sloan, the daughter of Professor William Sloane, who had written a life of Napoleon. Margaret was delighted when, on a hot Sunday morning at the First Presbyterian Church, she saw my sister Cyprian seat herself in our front pew and open a large fan decorated with a black cat and the name of a famous cabaret in Paris, Au Chat Noir."

p 12:
"...drawing me into the shop, greeted me with much warmth. This was surprising in France, where people are as a rule reserved with strangers, but I learned that it was characteristic of Adrienne Monnier, particularly if the strangers were American. "I like America very much," she said. I replied that I liked France very much. And, as our future collaboration proved, we meant it."

p. 23:
"I was too far from my country to follow closely the struggles of the writers there to express themselves, and I didn't foresee, when I opened my bookshop in 1919, that it was going to profit by the supressions across the sea. I think it was partly to these supressions, and the atmosphere they created, that I owed many of my customers - all those pilgrims of the twenties who crossed the ocean and settled in Paris and colonized the Left Bank of the Seine.

The news of my bookshop, to my surprise, soon spread all over the United States, and it was the first thing the pilgrims looked up in Paris. They were all customers at Shakespeare and Company, which many of them looked upon as their club. Often, they would inform me that they had given Shakespeare and Company as their address, and they hoped I didn't mind. I didn't, espcecially since it was too late to do anything about it except to try to run an important mailing office as efficiently as possible."

p 41:
""Mr. Joyce" was also rather quaint when it came to the mention of certain things in the presence of ladies. He blushed scarlet over the stories that Leon-Paul Fargue used to tell to mixed audiences at Adrienne's bookshop. The ladies themselves, in a vountry where the men don't get off by themselves, were not at all disturbed. I'm sure Joyce regretted that his nice lady editress should be exposed to such things, but I fear I had become inured by many a Fargue session.

Yet Joyce had no objections to putting Ulysses into the hands of ladies, or to ladies publishing it."

p 42, ellipses in the original:
"Joyce enjoyed being called a good-for-nothing by Nora; it was a relief from the respectful attitude of others. he was delighted when she poked and pushed him.

Nora would have no truck with books, and that, too, amused her husband. She declared to me that she hadn't read a page of "that book," pointing to Ulysses; nothing would induce her to open it. I could see myself that it was quite unnecessary for Nora to read Ulysses; was she not the source of his inspiration?

Nora grumbled about "my husband"; he never stopped scribbling...reaching down when he was only half awake in the morning for his paper and pencil on the floor beside him...never knowing what time of day it was! And how could she keep a servant if he left the house just at the moment when she was putting lunch on the table? "Look at him now! Leeching on the bed, and scribbling away!" The children too; they wouldn't lift a finger to help her, she said. "A good-for-nothing family!" Whereupon the whole good-for-nothing lot of them, including Joyce, would burst out laughing. Nobody seemed to take Nora's scoldings very seriously.

She used to tell me that she was sorry she hadn't married a farmer or a banker, or maybe a ragpicker, instead of a writer - her lips curled as she mentioned this despicable kind of person. But what a good thing for Joyce, I thought, that she had chosen him. What would he have done without Nora? And what would his work have done without her? His marriage to Nora was one of the best pieces of luck that ever befell him. His was certainly the happiest marriage of any writer I knew."

p 43:
"Then there were his superstitions, which were shared by the family. ...Opening an umbrella in the house, a man's hat on the bed were ill omens. Black cats, on the contrary, were lucky. Arriving one day at the Joyce's hotel, I saw Nora trying to induce a black cat to go into the room where her husband was lying, while through the open door he anxiously observed her efforts. Cats were not only lucky, Joyce liked having them about, and once, when a kitten of his daughter's fell out of the kitchen window, he was more upset about it as she was."

p 46:
"Miss Weaver explained to me why English printers are so finicky. Their prudence is indeed quite excusable. If a book is found objectionable by the authorities, the printer as well as the publisher is held responsible and must pay the penalty. No wonder he scrutinizes every little word that might get him into trouble. Joyce once showed me the proofs of Mr. Jonathan Cape's new printing of A Portrait of the Artist, and I remember my amazement at the printer's queries in the margins."

p 46-7:
"A big fight was going on between the Little Review and the American authorities. Joyce brought me disturbing news from the battlefield.

Three seizures of the magazine by officials of the United States Post Office, on the grounds of obscenity, failed to break the spirit of the editors, Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap; but a fourth one, which was instigated by John S. Sumner of the Society for the Suppression of Vice, put an end to the magazine. Eventually Miss Anderson and Miss Heap were tried for the publication of obscenity. Thanks to the brilliant defense of John Quinn, they got off with a fine of one hundred dollars, but by that time they were ruined financially. Sad was the disappearance of the liveliest little magazine of the period!"

p 94:
"Aleicester (pronounced Alester) Crowley was as peculiar as he sounded in the tales told of him, and, of course, in his own Diary of a Drugfiend. His clay-colored head was bald except for a single strang of black hair stretching from his forehead over the top of his head and down to the nape of his neck. The strand seemed glued to the skin so that it was not likely to blow up in the wind. A self0mummified-looking man, he was rather repulsive. My acquaintance with him was brief. I wondered, looking at him, whether what some of my English friends hinted was true - that he was in the Intelligence Service. I thought someone less conspicuous might have been chosen.

...It was quite alarming to see the blonde lady open a portfolio and produce a prospectus announcing the "Forthcoming Memoirs of Aleicester Crowley" under my imprint and the draft of a contract with Shakespeare and Company requiring only a signature. Everything had been taken care of in advance, even to the provision that Shakespeare and Company turn over 50 per cent of the book's earnings to Mr. Crowley, and give him our mailing list as well!"
Needless to say, Beach said no.

p 158:
"...I have a vague recollection of a story [Andre] Gide told me about himself and one of his friends when they were schoolboys, and a trick they played on his concierge. He gave me leave to tell it in my memoirs.

It seems that his concierge had a medium-sized turtle in her loge. The boys got a larger one, and when the woman's back was turned removed her turtle and put the new on in its place. She didn't notice the difference. They went on getting larger and larger turtles. They heard the concierge exclaiming over the remarkable growth of her pet and wondering at the ways of turtles. The thing got enormous. It took up a great deal of room. Then it stopped growing, as the boys, though they searched all over Paris, couldn't find a larger one. Now they decided it was time for the turtle to shrink - which, to the poor concierge's dismay, it did, visibly. Finally, her turtle was a mere button.
The concierge disappeared shortly afterward, and upon their anxious inquiries, the boys were told that she had gone away for a rest."

Problems with pirating Joyce's work in the US:
p 179-180 "I first heard of pirates boarding Joyce's craft was when an unauthorized edition of Chamber Music was brought out in Boston in 1918. Much more serious was the rape of Ulysses in 1926. It took years, and publication by Random House, to restore the book to its author.

Ulysses was not protected by copyright in the United States. To secure the copyright, a book had to be set up and printed in our country, an impossibility for a banned work. Of course, no reputable American publisher dreamed of taking advantage of the situation of Joyce and of innumerable other European writers. But footpads were lurking.

In 1926, full page advertisements appeared in English and American weeklies announcing the publication of Ulysses in a magazine called Two Worlds and of a "new un-named work by James Joyce" in a magazine called Two Worlds Quarterly, both under the editorship of Samuel Roth...

...And now someone was printing Ulysses in book form. The spurious edition, though it bore the imprint of Shakespeare and Company and the printer's name, was easily recognizable if you were familiar with the authentic one - the text was altered, the paper and type were not the same. Thus, for the next few years, some pirate succeeded in putting into his pocket the earnings of a writer who had not only spent a long time on his work and was losing his eyesight, but whose financial problems were becoming more and more serious."

p. 182 "...Someone was always grabbing something. Joyce was continually the prey of pirates. Invariably, they declared themselves to be "great admirers"; and proved it by their acts. He had his "admirers" as far away as Japan; I was sent four fat volumes of the Tokyo Ulysses with greetings from the publishers! And when I protested against these thefts, I was usually accused of being grasping."

Vacationing with Adrienne Monnier at Les Deserts, Savoy, France, staying with local folk:
"...a couple of the inhabitants, who partitioned off a little bedroom for us in their hayloft. You went up to it by a ladder outside. We were right over the stables, so that we never missed any important events taking place there: a cow having a calf at three in the morning by lantern light, with everybody present... At daybreak the stable doors were opened and out poured the cattle like a crowd leaving the theatre. To prevent our being wakened, Adrienne's cousin Fine stuffed paper in the cowbells, but the barking of the dog as he hustled his herd along to the fields - how could she muffle that?"
( )
1 vote bookishbat | Sep 25, 2013 |

The third book read in my project to learn more about literary expatriates in 1920s and 1930s Paris, Sylvia Beach's memoir was in many ways the most enjoyable reading experience to date. Beach was an American woman who operated an English language lending library and bookstore called Shakespeare & Company on Paris' Left Bank from 1919 to 1941*. During that period, her store was a hub for expatriate writers including Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, F Scott Fizgerald and, most signficantly, James Joyce. While not at all literary - Beach had no pretensions to be a writer and in the memoir describes herself as a "plain reader" - the work comes across as honest and heartfelt. Unlike Ernest Hemingway in [b:A Moveable Feast|4631|A Moveable Feast|Ernest Hemingway|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1356407015s/4631.jpg|2459084], Beach was not mean spirited, nor was she self-obsessed as Gertrude Stein demonstrated herself to be in [b:The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas|527495|The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas|Gertrude Stein|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348225160s/527495.jpg|2285834]. Instead, the image of Beach which emerges from the work is of a modest, warm, devoted, patient, principled, persistent and humourous woman, who was loyal to her friends and committed to promoting contemporary literature.

In addition to running her bookstore, Sylvia Beach published the first edition of James Joyce's [b:Ulysses|338798|Ulysses|James Joyce|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1346161221s/338798.jpg|2368224] in book form. This was in 1922, at a time when Joyce could not secure a publisher because the book had been banned in the US and the UK following its publication in periodical form. Beach, who was devoted to Joyce and recognised his literary genius, not only published the book, but acted as Joyce's agent, secretary, banker and adviser. This was ultimately to her financial disadvantage. Joyce must have been extraordinarily frustrating to deal with, but nothing more than a hint of exasperation emerges from Beach's account of their friendship.

Beach has a clear and accessible conversational style. The middle section of the book is somewhat bogged down in an account of less well-known writers and somewhat obscure literary reviews with which Beach was associated. However, it picks up again when Beach recounts how the bookstore was saved from closure during the 1930s by the efforts of French and expatriate literary figures. The final section is particularly moving. In this section Beach describes her experiences in occupied Paris, when she closed down the bookstore after refusing to sell her last copy of [b:Finnegans Wake|11013|Finnegans Wake|James Joyce|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1336408055s/11013.jpg|322098] to a German officer. The narrative ends with the "liberation" of the store by Ernest Hemingway, who arrives in the Rue d'Odéon accompanied by American soldiers, who then go on to "liberate" the cellars of the Ritz Hotel. It left me with a positive image of Hemingway, which was welcome after the negative impression I gained from reading [b:A Moveable Feast|4631|A Moveable Feast|Ernest Hemingway|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1356407015s/4631.jpg|2459084].

Overall, this was a most enjoyable read, notwithstanding the less than compelling middle section. However, as interesting as the anecdotes Beach included in her memoir are the things she left out. For example, Beach was in a long-term relationship with bookseller Adrienne Monnier. Beach does not directly refer to the nature of her relationship with Monnier in her memoir. Nor does she expand on the difficulties she must have endured because of Joyce's thoughtless exploitation of her devotion to his interests. These are the sorts of things I hope to read about in [b:Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation: A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties|46153|Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties|Noël Riley Fitch|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1347709475s/46153.jpg|45304]. With luck, I will also discover whether my impression of Beach's character is accurate.

Clips of interviews with Sylvia Beach (the first in English with German subtitles and the second - which is specifically about James Joyce - in French) can be seen here and here.

*The Shakespeare & Company which currently exists in Paris is unconnected with Beach's bookstore otherwise than in name. It was named in Beach's honour by its founder, George Whitman. ( )
  KimMR | Apr 2, 2013 |
Reading her conversational and sometimes witty prose is like having a glass of wine or cup of coffee with a really smart, book obsessed friend of a certain literary bent. Plus, Now I'm on a Joyce kick and getting even mir excited for Paris 2012. ( )
  beckydj | Mar 30, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
Med sina anspråkslösa memoarer har hon bevarat en litterär epok, frusit ner den så att också eftervärlden kan göra ett nedslag i 20-talets litterära Paris.

» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Beach, SylviaAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Alfons, HarrietTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Andersson, ErikTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Sylvia Beach was intimately acquainted with the expatriate and visiting writers of the Lost Generation, a label that she never accepted. Like moths of great promise, they were drawn to her well-lighted bookstore and warm hearth on the Left Bank. Shakespeare and Company evokes the zeitgeist of an era through its revealing glimpses of James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, Sherwood Anderson, Andre Gide, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, D. H. Lawrence, and others already famous or soon to be.   In his introduction to this new edition, James Laughlin recalls his friendship with Sylvia Beach. Like her bookstore, his publishing house, New Directions, is considered a cultural touchstone.

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