Sylvia Beach was an American expatriate who lived her adult life in Paris during a time of overwhelming literary creativity in which she played a huge part. In 1919, Beach opened the first lending library and bookstore in Paris that sold books in English. She called it Shakespeare and Company. Her bookstore remained open until the Nazis shuttered it during World War II.
Author Kerri Maher brings Beach to vivid life in “The Paris Bookseller.” This historical fiction novel provides a fascinating look at Paris in the 1920s when Paris was the center of artistic activity. The book provides an absorbing and intimate glimpse into the lives of early authors whose works are now known worldwide.
Beach’s bookstore stood directly across the street from that of her partner, Adrienne Monnnier, who sold books in French. Together they hosted readings and soirees that were attended by up and coming writers who might benefit from endorsements from Beach and Monnier.
Beach backed the publication of Ernest Hemingway’s first book, “Three Stories and Ten Poems.” Hemingway was a frequent visitor to Shakespeare and Company.
Other luminaries, young and just beginning their life’s work, included Somerset Maugham, E.M. Forster, George Bernard Shaw, Archibald MacLeish, Gertrude Stein, T. S. Eliot and others. Ezra Pound repaired furniture for Beach on a regular basis.
Beach is best known for her publication of James Joyce’s book, “Ulysses,” in 1922. He could not find a publisher who understood its unique stream-of-consciousness form. Beach recognized it as a masterful story and at great personal financial expense agreed to publish it in France. Shakespeare and Company gained renown for selling the first several editions of “Ulysses.”
Beach lost more money when Joyce sold the rights to the American company Random House after a ban of the book’s publication was lifted (it was perceived to be too lewd for American tastes). It took Beach years to forgive Joyce’s disloyalty.
Beach’s papers are held at Princeton University. Karri Maher cites a newly developed searchable database from the Princeton University Library through which one can access the books lent to many authors who frequented Shakespeare and Company.
I have had much delight accessing the cards to discover the early reading habits of Joyce, Hemingway, Stein and others. I am so grateful to the author for sharing the website. https://shakespeareandco.princeton.edu/
About the Author: Kerri Maher also is the author of “The Girl in the White Gloves” and “The Kennedy Debutante.”