Sylvia Beach standing with author Stephen Vincent Benét in the doorway of the Shakespeare and Company store.
PU Digital Project Explores the Iconic Bookstore’s Influence in Literary History
By Wendy Greenberg| Images courtesy of Shakespeare and Company Project, Princeton University shakespeareandcompany.princeton.edu
It was a place where writers and artists — many of whom were expatriate Americans — met and formed a community of their own. The Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris in the 1920s and ’30s was a home to many, a place to replenish the intellect and refresh the spirit, and even a place where mail was delivered. It was where literary luminaries such as Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Archibald MacLeish may have crossed paths.
Shakespeare and Company was the creation of Sylvia Beach, who in 1919 arrived in Paris via Princeton, recognized a market for English language books, and offered encouragement and support to the writers who bought, browsed, and borrowed.
The bookstore closed in 1941, but Princeton University’s digital humanities venture, the Shakespeare and Company Project (shakespeareandcompany.princeton.edu), has brought the iconic shop to life once again.
A meticulous record-keeper, Beach kept addresses, logbooks, and lending cards that show what her lively community was reading between the two World Wars: James Joyce was reading about Oscar Wilde; Simone de Beauvoir was reading Ernest Hemingway; and Hemingway himself was reading about bullfighting. The information originated in the Sylvia Beach papers — 180 boxes in the Department of Special Collections, Manuscripts Division, Princeton University Library.
Besides running a bookstore and lending library for more than a thousand members (the lending library has cards for 653 individuals, but the logbooks reveal many, many more), Beach gained celebrity by publishing James Joyce’s Ulysses in 1922, when it was banned in the United States and England. In tribute to her, the road behind the Princeton Public Library is named Sylvia Beach Way. When she lived in Princeton, Beach resided on Library Place.