Literary Landmarks: The Epicenter of Literary Life in the 1920’s – A Paris Bookstore

In 1920’s Paris Shakespeare and Company, a bookstore on the Left Bank, was the epicenter of literary life in Paris. The likes of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and James Joyce would hang around the store daily with other members of the literary elite to work, read, and gossip.  James Joyce used it as his office and personal mailing address. Hemingway called himself the store’s “best customer” and mentioned it in his book A Moveable Feast. It was the place to be if you were into literature and art in the 1920’s and 30’s.

The shop first opened in 1919 under the management of an American ex-patriot named Sylvia Beach. The books were known to be of a high quality, reflecting Beach’s own literary tastes, and she eventually came to use the store to support some of the great artists of the time. She offered them a place to eat and sleep and work and she held readings that only a select few “subscribers” could attend. At one point the store was one of the only places a reader could find banned books like D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Joyce’s Ulysses.

Unfortunately the store was closed in 1941 during the German occupation of Paris and it never re-opened. Though Hemingway did symbolically “liberate” the store in person at the end of WWII in 1944.

Sylvia Beach and James Joyce outside of Shakespeare & Co.

Shakespeare and Company Today

A new Shakespeare and Company has since opened in Paris, carrying some of the allure and legendary status of the original. The store’s founder, George Whitman, was a friend of Beach’s and shared some of her beliefs about literature and how to run such a store. He even named his daughter after Beach. In fact, Sylvia Beach Whitman is the current proprietor of store in 2012 Paris. It can found at 37 rue de la Bûcherie, in the 5th arrondissement.

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