The First ‘Shakespeare and Company’ Bookshop in Paris

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A tenuous link to the bard’s 400th anniversary!

When planning my recent trip to Paris, I read two books. Firstly Love from Paris, by Alexandra Potter, see here for a recent book review; and secondly Americans in Paris by Charles Glass.

‘Love From Paris’ is a love story wove around an abandoned flat, with secret love letters and a link to The Shakespeare and Company bookshop, both during WW2 and also in present times. Delighted with myself for securing a romantic short break to the city of love, plus the opportunity to really explore places I wanted to go, the Shakespeare and Company was going on my list for places to visit.

Then I started reading ‘Americans in Paris’ because I love history and I was desperate to see were there places to visit specifically connected to the Resistance and the liberation of Paris, and I stumbled on the chapters relating to Sylvia Beach and the Shakespeare and company bookshop.  For me, non-fiction books can be far more exciting than any fiction novel.

I hadn’t realised that the position of the Shakespeare and Co bookshop was different during the war to its location now.

Sylvia Beach opened the first bookshop in no. 8 rue Dupuytren in 1919 just after the First World War. It was the first English language bookshop and lending library in Paris. In 1921 she moved into no. 12 rue de l’Odeon, very close to her friend and lover, Adrienne Monnier’s bookshop at no. 7.

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Sylvia wrote her own memoirs, ‘Shakespeare and Company’ and it details so many of the great writers she came into contact with during the inter-war years. James Joyce, Earnest Hemmingway,  D.H. Lawrence and Gertrude Stein to name but a few.

 

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At the top of rue de l’Odeon is a theatre, Theatre de l’Odeon and higher up, very close by are the Jardins de Luxembourg. When Paris was occupied by the nazis in 1940, Sylvia notes how she could look down their street and see the Germans arriving, marching along the boulevard  Saint-Germain as it crossed just below them.

 

During the war, once America declared war on Germany, Sylvia, like many Americans was interned, being released after six months. She closed her bookshop and hid the books upstairs. Hemingway arrived back in 1944 amid the confusion of the first few days when Paris was liberated. He was working as a War Correspondent for  Collier’s magazine. The accounts are fascinating when reading through ‘Americans in Paris’, more so when I was actually able to stand in the rue de l’Odeon and actually ‘feel’ it for myself.  I know the photo above is very messy, with modern road works etc, but imagine if you can, Hemingway roaring up with four jeeps and with him  various freedom fighters and resistance fighters all clutching weapons including machine guns. Hemingway and his bodyguard and one other  man headed into Adrienne’s apartment to see Sylvia and her and the other fighters stayed outside in the rue de l’Odeon. One of their intentions was to rid the city of the multitude of German snipers who were still on rooftops in the area and in particular the rue de l’Odeon. Adrienne gave Hemingway her last bar of soap before he and his men left to go up on her roof to rid them of the last of the Germans.

Sylvia never reopened the bookshop after the war, but after she died in 1962, another American George Whitman renamed his bookshop ‘Shakespeare and Company’ in her honour. You can visit it now close to Notre Dame.

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