One hundred years ago this month, the Shakespeare and Company bookshop opened its doors for the aboriginal time in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. As we bless the centennial, the accepted adventure of the shop’s founding is abiding to be retold. The agent adventure of the boutique generally goes as follows: during the 1920s, Sylvia Beach, a adherent enthusiast for the arcane ability of her time, absitively to set up boutique a few accomplish from the Luxembourg Gardens. From there, Beach’s adventures is generally affected as a Cinderella adventure of Modernism. Aback James Joyce asked her, an abecedarian bookseller, to broadcast Ulysses, and she rose to the occasion, she underwent a transformation from an bearding shopkeeper into an internationally acclaimed figure. Beach again provided a home for expatriates like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald who came to Paris during “Les Années Folles,” France’s adaptation of the Roaring Twenties. Beach has appropriately been memorialized as the “midwife to Modernism.”
“Certain bodies are meant to be midwives—not mothers of invention. Sylvia was one,” wrote Noël Riley Fitch, columnist of Sylvia Beach and the Absent Generation (1983), in the best contempo addition to a accumulating of Beach’s letters. Yet to characterize Beach as abandoned a “midwife” and to bethink her primarily for bringing into actuality the assignment of Great Men is to adulterate her and the accustomed assignment of her shop. Revisiting the adventure abaft Shakespeare and Company’s conception reveals that its roots lie in aboriginal beat feminist activism and, in particular, Beach’s own abiding confidence that women had a appropriate to an bookish life.
When Sylvia Beach confused to Paris in 1916, it was a ability of a constant fascination. She had brash Paris “the atom in the world” anytime aback she confused to the French basic with her family, which relocated there from New Jersey in 1902 aback Sylvia’s ancestor became an accessory pastor at the American Church in Paris. One of his capital tasks was to run cultural seminars for American acceptance active in the Latin Quarter, and through this work, Sylvia was alien to the city. In her memoir, appear in 1959, she writes about encountering, through her father’s work, not abandoned opera singers and classical musicians but additionally abstracts like Loie Fuller, a acclaimed ballerina at the Moulin Rouge bistro and a beat of beat dance. The Paris that Sylvia encountered was aberrant and avant-garde, and she acutely admired to apperceive it. By the time the ancestors had to acknowledgment to the United States so that her ancestor could booty up a position at Princeton, she was already bent to acknowledgment to Paris one day.
Back in the United States, Sylvia became added absorbed in feminist ideas. This culminated in the 1910s, aback Sylvia, forth with her two sisters and her mother, abutting the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage, afterwards accepted as the Civic Woman’s Party. As a allotment of her assignment for the organization, Sylvia and her sister Cyprian lobbied admiral in New York, advertisement aback to the civic address Washington, D.C. At the aforementioned time, Sylvia grew added afflicted at the amusing constraints imposed on women. In clandestine letters, she appear how afflicted she was that her accompany brash alliance to be their abandoned advantage in life; in one case, she wrote to one of them, Marion Peter, a constant connection, about her apropos apropos addition acquaintance who “seem[ed] to anticipate there’s abandoned one affair a woman can do, and that is to get married.”
Sylvia’s eyes for her own approaching was clear: she would address and participate in the arcane world. She confused to Europe in 1916 to accompany this ambition. She started aboriginal in Spain, area she researched Spanish feminist movements and wrote an commodity about her findings. Her sister Holly helped her in her attempts to acquisition a administrator for the piece, but in animosity of the accommodating efforts of the Beach sisters, Sylvia met with rejection. A year later, she confused to Paris, area she approved to abide her assignment in the women’s movement. This time, as Apple War I arena on, she hoped to accretion access to the Finley Unit of the Red Cross as a translator. Sylvia wrote home to her mother that the Finley Unit, which was fabricated up abandoned of American women, was a “triumph for feminism.”
Although that achievement went unrealized, aback the Unit was abounding and no best in charge of recruits, she eventually abutting addition area of the Red Cross, the Balkan Commission, in 1918. This assignment took her to Serbia, area she acclimated her contacts in the Red Cross to seek out Serbian feminists. “We are active all day and of (sic) an evening,” she wrote in a letter aback home, “take a Serbian assignment with the adolescent adult of the house, which isn’t so bad aback you accede that she is out-&-out ONE OF US area the Emancipation of the Sex is concerned.”
Despite these connections, Sylvia ultimately begin this time in Serbia frustrating. She was annoyed by the way some of the admiral about her joked about the bareness the war had brought to Serbia, and she was angered by the way women were shut out of the important controlling processes. “So frequently the administration could be bigger aloft but as every atom of it is done by men—no women ascendancy annihilation whatsoever in it—they accept no one to accusation but themselves aback it ALL goes wrong,” Sylvia wrote home to one of her sisters.
Back in Paris in 1918, Beach’s assignment with the anti-war French feminist Hélène Brion provided a arrangement for how Sylvia could agglutinate her arcane and feminist visions. So abolitionist were Brion’s backroom that she was arrested in 1917 for the abomination of “defeatism” in her pacifist-feminist writing. Forthright in her own defense, she opened her annual at balloon by declaring: “It is because of my feminism that I am an adversary of war.” To be a feminist, she argued, was to be an adversary of all forms of oppression, injustice, and violence; it was this, not pacifism, she insisted, that bent her views. The cloister disqualified that Brion was absolutely a “subversive,” but gave her a abeyant sentence.
Beach abounding her friend’s balloon and took in the media circus, which antiseptic for her how feminist agitation was apparent as a destabilizing and aggressive force to civic assurance during the war. Alike afore Brion was arrested for “defeatist” writing, the French badge had been tailing her and befitting a book on her activities. In historian Suzanne Grayzel’s annual of the trial, she addendum that the French badge recorded Brion as a “woman of bedraggled behavior, agitated in chat and pen, who stimulates the avidity of her syndicalist assembly throughout the territory.” Clearly, any overlap amid feminist and left-wing movements was brash abnormally dangerous.
Nevertheless, Brion connected to broadcast her destructive tracts in the account La Lutte féministe (“The Feminist Struggle”). Abstract was axial to Brion’s mission, as she editorialized: “To adviser us in our astronomic task, we accept the writings of feminists, men and women, who accept appear afore us.” Beach formed with Brion to advance lists of English-language women writers whom La Lutte féministe should animate its readers to booty up. It was absolutely by account women’s literature, Beach and Brion believed, that women would be empowered to apprehend their bookish potential. Account was appropriately both emancipatory act and feminist practice.
The attempt went on afterwards the war, aback women in Paris were still beat from accommodating in the apple of books. This gendered access to arcane ability was not new in the postwar era—notions of the dangers of women’s account had broadcast throughout France throughout the absolute nineteenth century. Women were brash abnormally affected to a abnormality alleged “Bovarysme”—the appearance that, afterwards Gustave Flaubert’s charlatan in his 1856 atypical Madame Bovary, books could abject a woman and untether them from their acceptable roles. Alike doctors brash in, accouterment medical explanations of “Bovarysme,” some arguing that aback women a “lower brain-weight” than men, they were physically not constituted for bookish pursuits. Aback women spent hours and hours reading, these medical experts averred, they were entering into an aberrant accompaniment and were decumbent to accident their minds. Women should abstain reading, others advised, as the overstimulation of their accuracy could advance to dysfunction of the changeable organs: a woman who apprehend too frequently would acquisition it absurd to conceive.
Shortly afterwards accession in Paris, Beach approved out La Maison des Amis des Livres (The Abode of Accompany of Books), run by Adrienne Monnier, one of the abandoned woman booksellers in beat France. The listing, as able-bodied as all of the announcement for La Maison des Amis des Livres, referred to the freeholder as “A. Monnier.” This was a affected tactic for Monnier, to adumbrate that the “A” stood for “Adrienne.”
In 1938, Monnier addressed the altered means women and men were accomplished to collaborate with books in a radio allotment titled, “Les Amies des Livres” (The changeable accompany of books):
Women are asked to booty affliction of their bodies and their homes aloft all; they are accepted for devoting themselves to bed-making and it is not brash able for them to become absent in books, whether these books be barmy or serious… But admit with me that the men who abuse women for not affection books are ailing founded in their criticism aback it is they themselves who accumulate women in that accompaniment of mind.
Sharing insights gleaned as a bookseller, Monnier accompanying how, alike in the mid-twentieth century, women were still actuality socialized to abstain the apple of books. As Virginia Woolf would so abundantly altercate in “A Allowance of One’s Own,” appear a decade afterwards Sylvia opened Shakespeare and Company, women charge advance and cultural amplitude to apprehend and address in adjustment to accept the aforementioned opportunities as men to accord to society. Woolf questioned how altered the apple would be if women were brash bookish and artistic and were accustomed the amplitude to accomplish that potential.
In 1919, Beach exemplified her own adaptation of this angle by aperture Shakespeare and Company and active it in accordance with the feminist attempt she had acquired. From the start, Shakespeare and Company was congenital on Sylvia’s access with added women. Her mother, Eleanor, active Sylvia money from her accumulation to alpha her business; Monnier helped Sylvia acquisition a area for the shop, and again helped her body her abject of French readers.
Beach and Monnier became romantically involved. When, in 1922, Beach confused Shakespeare and Company to the architecture adverse La Maison des Amis des Livres on the rue de l’Odéon, Monnier wrote that a new, added across-the-board arcane apple in Paris—“Odéonia,” as Monnier alleged it—had begun.
The anatomy of “the lending library” echoed abounding of the capacity of Beach’s feminist assignment for La Lutte féministe that the purpose of the account was to accommodate “an bookish life” for “women and for banal people.” The account was beginning in attributes and was created not to be purchased, but to be adopted for a baby fee and anesthetized on—a appraisement action that advised to accomplish the actual attainable to all, abnormally banal women. On a account of “borrowers” in the aboriginal copy of La Lutte féministe, which was absolutely handwritten, Beach’s accurate English-style calligraphy stands out, anecdotic her as the abandoned non-French actor in the project.
In abundant the aforementioned way, Shakespeare and Company was, from the start, added a lending library than a store. This arrangement fabricated accessible alien English-language books that would contrarily accept been acutely expensive. Books in accepted were brash a affluence account in interwar France. Once the amount of importing them was added on, English-language books became alike added unattainable. As Beach wrote in her memoir: “Our moderns, decidedly aback pounds and dollars were translated into francs, were luxuries the French and my Left Bankers were not able to afford. That is why I was absorbed in my lending library. So I got aggregate I admired myself, to allotment with others in Paris.”
Word of Beach’s cold to “share with Paris” catholic fast. “In those canicule there was no money to buy books,” Ernest Hemingway recalled in A Moveable Feast, his annual of active in Paris as a disturbing biographer in the 1920s. “I adopted books from the rental library of Shakespeare and Company, which was the library and bookstore of Sylvia Beach.” The bookshop’s library cards, which are calm in Princeton University’s archives, adjure to the agog acknowledgment that Beach’s activity elicited from women active in Paris. As her annal reveal, the majority of her readers were women and they came from every adjacency of Paris, from the richest boulevards of the Appropriate Bank, to the best bashful apprentice and immigrant communities of the Left.
The 1930s ushered in a decade of ambiguous banking affairs for Beach, as abounding Americans alternate home to the United States, and the all-around banking crisis accomplished her shop, but with the advice of her association of readers, who organized contest to accession money, she persevered. Alike afterwards the German army active Paris in 1940, and, as Beach recalled in her memoir, “day and night, bodies streamed through the rue de l’Odéon” to abscond from Paris, the boutique kept running. She banned to leave, and she banned to capitulate to the Nazis’ regulations and chase laws. While adjoining theaters and cafés angry abroad Jewish Parisians, Sylvia’s assistant, Françoise Bernheim, who was Jewish, connected to assignment at Shakespeare and Company. Sylvia accompanied Bernheim everywhere and abhorred places her abettor would be barred from.
Even when, in 1941, Beach beneath to advertise a Nazi administrator a aboriginal copy of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake that was on affectation in her window and he threatened to acknowledgment afterwards and “confiscate” her books, Beach did not waver. Instead, she and the women who assisted her accomplished article astonishing: they fabricated the absolute boutique abandon in protest. “My accompany and I agitated all the books and all the photographs upstairs, mostly in clothes baskets; and all the furniture. We alike removed the electric-light fixtures. I had a carpenter booty bottomward the shelves. Within two hours, not a distinct affair was to be apparent in the shop, and a abode painter had corrective out the name, Shakespeare and Company, on the advanced of 12 rue de l’Odéon.” There was an abandoned accommodation in Sylvia’s building, which the babysitter opened for her to abundance Shakespeare and Company’s stock. The ability of the operation ensured that her adored accumulating would never be bedeviled by the Germans.
The administrator did, however, accomplish acceptable on his blackmail and Sylvia was arrested the abutting day. She was brought to an bondage affected congenital in the Bois de Boulogne, area one of the esplanade zoos had been fabricated into a makeshift affected for American women. Released afterwards six months’ apprehension there, she went into ambuscade at Le Foyer des Etudiantes, a auberge run by a acquaintance of chastening for changeable acceptance in Paris. Beach survived the war, but Shakespeare and Company never reopened on the Rue de l’Odéon. She connected to alive in the accommodation she had kept aloft Shakespeare and Company until her afterlife and formed on her annual of the shop.
It was acknowledgment to addition American, George Whitman, that the arcane association Beach fought so adamantine to bottle lives on in Paris today. On August 14, 1951, Whitman opened a baby bookshop, Le Mistral, in the historic, yet run-down, Latin Quarter of Paris. Le Mistral, too, became a acquisition point for artists from the start. Some, like Richard Wright, were a allotment of the old Shakespeare and Company circle, but there were new choir actuality as well, such as James Baldwin and Anais Nin. Aloof as Shakespeare and Company had been a acquisition amplitude for the Absent Generation, as the Apple War I survivors were known, Le Mistral became a amplitude area the Beat Generation congregated. “It was actual abating to accept a point of advertence area you could get books, and if you were starving, you knew you could get a abode to beddy-bye and a basin of soup. It was absolutely like a affectionate of affectionate cow somehow. Alike if you had abundant money, there was consistently that abode in the accomplishments area you could booty ambush aloof in case. There were a lot of just-in-cases who did booty ambush there,” the artist Allen Ginsberg said of the shop.
According to Whitman, it was Beach who accustomed and appointed Le Mistral as the airy almsman to her Shakespeare and Company. Afterwards accessory a account at Le Mistral at George’s invitation, Sylvia became a approved customer. Eventually, she offered him the name “Shakespeare and Company.” Later, she fabricated him a applique that he displayed in the window: “Shakespeare and Company—Writer’s Guest House.” George eventually did booty up Sylvia’s action and Le Mistral was rechristened Shakespeare and Company on William Shakespeare’s 400th altogether in 1964.
Like Beach, Whitman had not abandoned a adulation of literature, but additionally an abstracted eyes for amusing change. To friends, Whitman was accepted for adage that his business was, in truth, “a little left-wing utopia masquerading as a bookshop.” From the aperture of his shop, George arrive adolescent writers to stay, to beddy-bye and to alive at Shakespeare and Company in barter for a little advice about the shop. These writers were dubbed “tumbleweeds” by Whitman, and aback 1951, over 30,000 such tumbleweeds accept alleged Shakespeare and Company home.
Whitman did not abandoned name the boutique in account of Sylvia’s work. George Whitman’s daughter, Sylvia Whitman, now runs Shakespeare and Company and to this day welcomes tumbleweeds to alive amid the books. The shop, beneath Sylvia Whitman’s direction, has done abundant added than artlessly advance her bequest of Beach and her father. Through the shop’s accessible programming, today’s best arresting authors discussing feminist issues accept had a platform. In the aftermost year alone, Shakespeare and Company has accustomed writers such as Lauren Elkin, Salena Godden, Caroline Criado-Perez, and Rachel Cusk to altercate their writing. Sylvia Whitman’s Shakespeare and Company is not aloof a cairn to the past, but still a abode area writers and readers accumulate and articulation their adulation of abstract to the apple about them.
In Shakespeare and Company today, there is a allowance committed to Sylvia Beach: accomplish your way through the ground-floor coil of floor-to-ceiling bookcases, arise the age-old red staircase, area you’ll apprehend a adduce from Hafiz accounting on anniversary footfall in white paint, “I ambition I could appearance you aback you are abandoned or in black the amazing ablaze of your own being,” and you will acquisition it. The Sylvia Beach Memorial Library is the amplitude appointed in the bookshop for reading. Here, readers can analyze the not-for-sale books, and apprehend in one of the armchairs or absorptive benches, generally with Aggie, the boutique cat. In the prologue to the shop’s 2016 history book, Shakespeare and Company: A Rag and Bone Boutique of the Heart, Jeanette Winterson acclaimed the activity of this space. “The bustle is the active affectionate of the activity of the mind,” she noted. Aloft the access to the Sylvia Beach Memorial Library, George Whitman corrective the afterward injunction: “Be not brusque to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise.”
Beach has continued been acclaimed for actuality “not brusque to strangers.” But “lest they be angels in disguise” speaks to the affection of her work: as a feminist and as a bookseller, she was adherent to the abstraction that there were concealed possibilities in those about her. Through her work, Shakespeare and Company became a abode area that abeyant would be encouraged, behindhand of a person’s gender, and admitting the actuality that the ability surrounding her insisted otherwise. So, as we bless one hundred years of Shakespeare and Company in Paris, we should bless not aloof her advertisement of Ulysses, but the way that Beach’s eyes opened up new worlds of befalling for women beyond Paris.
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