Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Shakespeare and Company is the name of two independent bookstores on Paris's Left Bank. The first was opened by Sylvia Beach on 19 November 1919 at 8 rue Dupuytren, before moving to larger premises at 12 rue de l'Odéon in the 6th arrondissement in 1922. During the 1920s, it was a gathering place for writers such as Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce and Ford Madox Ford. It closed in 1940 during the German occupation of Paris and never re-opened.

The second is situated at 37 rue de la Bûcherie, in the 5th arrondissement. Opened in 1951 by George Whitman, it was originally named "Le Mistral" but renamed to "Shakespeare and Company" in 1964 in tribute to Sylvia Beach's bookstore. Today, it serves both as a regular bookstore, a second-hand books store and as a reading library, specializing in English-language literature. The shop has become a popular tourist attraction, and was featured in the Richard Linklater film Before Sunset and in the Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris.

Sylvia Beach's bookstore

Sylvia Beach, an American expatriate from New Jersey, established Shakespeare and Company in 1919 at 8 rue Dupuytren. The store functioned as a lending library as well as a bookstore. In 1921, Beach moved it to a larger location at 12 rue de l'Odéon, where it remained until 1940. During this period, the store was the center of Anglo-American literary culture and modernism in Paris. Writers and artists of the "Lost Generation," such as Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, George Antheil and Man Ray, spent a great deal of time there, and it was nicknamed "Stratford-on-Odéon" by James Joyce, who used it as his office. Its books were considered high quality and reflected Beach's own taste. The store and its literary denizens are mentioned in Hemingway's A Moveable Feast. Patrons could buy or borrow books like D. H. Lawrence's controversial Lady Chatterley's Lover, which had been banned in Britain and the United States.

Beach published Joyce's book Ulysses in 1922. It, too, was banned in the United States and Britain. Later editions were also published under the Shakespeare and Company imprint.

The original Shakespeare and Company closed on 14 June 1940, during the German occupation of France in World War II. It has been suggested that it may have been ordered shut because Beach denied a German officer the last copy of Joyce's Finnegans Wake. When the war ended, Hemingway "personally liberated" the store, but it never re-opened.

George Whitman's bookstore

In 1951, another English-language bookstore was opened on Paris's Left Bank by American ex-serviceman George Whitman, under the name of Le Mistral. Its premises, the site of a 16th-century monastery, are at 37 rue de la Bûcherie, near Place Saint-Michel, just steps from the Seine, Notre Dame and the Île de la Cité. Much like Shakespeare and Company, the store became the focal point of literary culture in bohemian Paris, and was frequented by many Beat Generation writers, including Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and William S. Burroughs. Whitman modeled his shop after Sylvia Beach's and, in 1958 while dining with George, she publicly announced that she was handing the name to him for his bookshop.

In 1964, after Sylvia Beach's death, Whitman renamed his store "Shakespeare and Company" in tribute to the original, describing the name as "a novel in three words". He called the venture "a socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore". Customers have included the likes of Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin, and Richard Wright. The bookstore has sleeping facilities, with 13 beds, and Whitman claimed that as many as 40,000 people have slept there over the years.

From 1978-1981, a group of American and Canadian expatriates ran a literary journal out of the upstairs library, called Paris Voices. The journal published young writers such as the Welsh poet, Tony Curtis, and the Irish playwright and novelist, Sebastian Barry. The editor-in-chief was Kenneth R. Timmerman and the editorial team included Canadian Antanas Sileika among others. Timmerman went on to become a novelist and political writer in the USA and Sileika went on to be a Canadian novelist. The journal hosted readings that attracted aspiring literary travelers as well as a scattering of voices from the past such as the beat poet Ted Joans and the journalist Jack Belden.

Whitman was awarded in 2006, the "Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres" medal, one of the France's highest cultural honors. His daughter, Sylvia Beach Whitman, after staying for 10 years in London and Edinburgh with her mother, joined him in 2006, and soon started revamping the store and the rooms for writers. The marketing plan included sponsored events and university students, invited as writer-in-residence.

George Whitman died at the age of 98 on 14 December 2011. His daughter, Sylvia Beach Whitman, named after Sylvia Beach, now runs the store. Regular activities are Sunday tea, poetry readings and writers' meetings.

The four Shakespeare and Company bookstores in New York City, which opened starting in 1981, are not affiliated with the Paris store.

Sylvia Whitman

Sylvia Whitman continues to run the store in the same manner as her father, allowing young writers to live and work there. She started a literary festival, FestivalandCo, which is held biennially at the shop. It has hosted such writers as Paul Auster, Siri Hustvedt, Jeanette Winterson, Jung Chang and Marjane Satrapi. She appeared on the Paris episodes of The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, which aired the week of 1 August 2011.

In popular culture

The store and the owner George Whitman has been the subject of Portrait of a Bookstore as an Old Man, a 2003 documentary film directed by Benjamin Sutherl and Gonzague Pichelin.



External links

  • Official website
  • Portrait Of A Bookstore As An Old Man
  • John Affleck, "Hemingway at Shakespeare & Company". Literary Traveler.
  • C-SPAN tour of Shakespeare & Co., 6 December 2002
  • Finn, Christine (17 December 2011). "Shakespeare and Co: A writer's haven on the River Seine". BBC. Retrieved 17 December 2011. 

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