Shakespeare and Co.

Beach and Joyce outside the bookshop.

If you have ever been to Paris or have read about Hemingway, Joyce, or Gertrude Stein, to name a few, then you have heard of Sylvia Beach's bookstore, Shakespeare and Co., which opened in Paris in 1914. It was part bookshop, part lending library, and it became a gathering place for some of the greatest writers of the day. I was reading The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop (review to follow) yesterday by Lewis Buzbee and learned a little more about this famed shop, particularly about its closing, which I thought was a touching tale.

Beach decided to remain in Paris during World War II. Like many Parisians, she wanted to stay with the city. She was not apt to give up so quickly to the Germans. Many of her friends were still around, and she wanted to keep an eye on her shop. One day a German officer drove up in his large, shining car and asked about the copy of Finnegan's Wake in the bookshop window. Beach answered that this particular copy was not for sale because it was her personal copy and the only one she had. (This was actually one of five copies that the shop had available at the time, but Beach did not want the officer to have anything from her.) The German officer demanded the book. Beach refused. The officer became irate and vowed to return to the shop later to retrieve the book. He said that he was a great fan of James Joyce, a man Beach herself helped when she persevered to publish Ulysses, and that Finnegan's Wake would help him improve his English. (Perhaps for his hopes of the Germans invading England.) Beach refused him again. The man drove away, promising to return that afternoon to take it by force.

After the German left, Beach contacted her landlord who had a vacant apartment above the bookstore. With the help of a few friends, Beach moved every single one of her 5,000 volumes upstairs to the apartment. She then blacked out the windows and painted over the name on the shingle. When the German returned, he sat in his car and looked around for the bookshop, but it had disappeared. Beach observed him from an upstairs window, laughing.

Sylvia Beach never reopened Shakespeare and Co. The bookshop by the same name that can be found on the Left Bank across the river from Notre Dame is a tribute to the famous shop of the Lost Generation, but is not the original, and it is not in the original location.


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