Expatriate Biographies | Starting a Bookstore with Sylvia Beach

Sylvia Beach, neé Nancy Woodbridge Beach

Born: March 14, 1887, Baltimore, Maryland

Died: October 5, 1962, Paris, France

Sylvia Beach was a businesswoman, writer, publisher, literary matchmaker, daughter of a Presbyterian minister, and friend to many. She was perhaps best known as the founder of Shakespeare and Company, an English-language bookstore and lending library, which opened in 1919 in Paris at 8 rue Dupuytren. This, only a few years after Beach’s stint with the Serbian Red Cross during the latter part of World War I. Three years after its opening, the store moved to larger quarters, this time at 12 rue de l’Odeon. Beach went on to publish James Joyce’s Ulysses, no small feat. He repaid her by signing with another publisher a few years hence. No matter, Shakespeare and Company had become the the Lost Generation’s headquarters. All sorts of characters frequented the place including, but not limited to, the likes of T. S. Eliot, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Man Ray, and Beach’s companion Adrienne Monnier. While studying French literature in Paris, Beach came across the name of Monnier’s rue de L’Odeon bookstore and decided to pay a visit. She did, and the two stayed together for nearly four decades until Monnier’s suicide in 1955.

“My loves were Adrienne Monnier and James Joyce and Shakespeare and Company.” — Sylvia Beach

ARREST RECORD

Under the Nazi occupation in 1941 and before her arrest, Beach had shuttered her store and hid its stock in an upstairs apartment. Good thinking. Not long after, German soldiers arrested Beach after which she spent six months in an internment camp in Vittel, France. Two years later, a uniformed Ernest Miller “Papa” Hemingway came by and symbolically liberated Shakespeare and Company, although Beach never reopened her shop.

ESTABLISHMENTS HONORING SYLVIA BEACH

Shakespeare and Company
In 1951, New Jersey born George Whitman opened a bookshop, Le Mistral, on rue de la Bûcherie. In 1964, after Beach’s death, he renamed it Shakespeare and Company.

Sylvia Beach Hotel
Located at 267 NW Cliff Street, Newport, Oregon, just down the street from Nanana’s Irish Kitchen and Pub. Its guest rooms are named after various and sundry authors, such as Gertrude Stein.

BOOKS BY SYLVIA BEACH

Shakespeare and Company (1959)

SOURCES

Fitch, Noel Riley, Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation: A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc, 1985.

Garner, Dwight, “Ex-Pat Paris as It Sizzled for One Literary Lioness”, “The New York Times,” April 18, 2010

Walsh, Keri. Editor. The Letters of Sylvia Beach, 2011

Chelsey Clammer
Chelsey Clammer is an award-winning essayist who has been published in The Rumpus, Essay Daily, The Water~Stone Review and Black Warrior Review among many others. She is the Essays Editor for The Nervous Breakdown. Her first collection of essays, BodyHome, was released from Hopewell Publishing in Spring 2015. Her second collection of essays, There Is Nothing Else to See Here, is forthcoming from The Lit Pub. You can read more of her writing at chelseyclammer.com.