SHAKESPEARE AND COMPANY: Memory lane…

When recently WordPress reminded me that this, my second blog, had reached its ninth anniversary, I decided not to re-post the original post but to share once again a place that is special to me.


Upon arriving in Paris, many are drawn to such destinations as The Eiffel Tower, Cathedral Notre Dame, La Louvre or one of many other Parisian landmarks. However, when I first arrived in Paris my first stop was to a landmark English Book Store in the Latin Quarter.

Located across the Seine from Cathedral Notre Dame, this haven for readers and writers is a living legend. The focus of this bookstore is English-language literature. It has served as not only inspiration but also home to writers for decades. In its current incarnation, it honors the past and the work of the original owner, Sylvia Beach. Miss Beach was responsible for publishing authors who had previously been unsuccessful in their attempts to be in print such as James Joyce. The advent of WWII closed the doors of the original Shakespeare & Company begun by Miss Beach. Miss Beach managed to keep the bookstore open through 1941 and the fall of Paris. However, the war had taken its toll.

After the war, American, George Whitman was not eager to return immediately. Instead, he enrolled in French classes at the Sorbonne. He amassed a large collection of books and his apartment became a lending library. After discussions with a friend, he found an apartment in the location where the bookstore still stands and turned that into a bookstore library. He used the name Shakespeare and Company in honor of Miss Beach and all that she had achieved.

There is a sign that you will see when you enter the shop that sums up George’s philosophy in life. “Be not inhospitable to strangers least they be angels in disguise.” George Whitman took in many hungry writers and shared his home and his life. There were beds among the books and often pancakes with George himself. His story is truly amazing and bears future reading.  The list of authors who have received inspiration and support at Shakespeare and Company is like reading a list of who’s who in the literary world for the past century. George and his daughter continue to support writers. Visiting authors, late night poetry readings are just some of the delights that are waiting for you.

In his novel, Time Was Soft There, Canadian journalist Jeremy Mercer chronicles his time living and working in the bookstore. It is food for any reader or writer’s soul. Unless the copy you find, of Jeremy’s book, is as old as mine, the re-printed edition is under a different title, Books, Baugettes, and Bedbugs. When you are planning that trip to Paris, put it on your list of musts.

This writer was thrilled when the shop took a few of my first poetry chapbooks on consignment and still have the receipt as a treasured souvenir of my first trip to France. I look forward to returning to Paris and to Shakespeare & Company. Fortunately, this time I won’t have to worry about buying more books than will fit in my suitcase…

Sadly, shortly after the original posting of this article, George Whitman traded the flesh and literally became one of those angels. His daughter continues her father’s work and I encourage everyone to check out the website put together by George’s daughter, Sophie, and the group who has banded to support the ideals that George and Sylvia Beach shared. https://friendsofshakespeareandcompany.com/

Company.

Bisous,

Léa

Author: Léa

A wanderer who has found home and herself in the South of France.

4 thoughts on “SHAKESPEARE AND COMPANY: Memory lane…”

    1. I had meant to ask about it but was so excited when they took my chapbooks for Poet’s Corner and the intoxication of my surroundings, I simply forgot. Perhaps I will do better next time? 🙂 I’m trying to get caught up with my email. I’ve been without a connetion for about a week. C’est la vie.

  1. Cold and quiet. I live in a small village (Pop: 700) which is the largest in our Commune of thirteen villages. As of yet, our Commune has been very vigilant, and as far as we know, free of Covid-19, One of the things you can count on in a small French village is that if there was a reported case, the entire commune would know quickly. Those of us who have SMS, get messages from the mayor’s office additionally, my friend Rolande lets me know everything she is afraid I may have missed. We look out for each other and wearing masks and distancing, though difficult particularly in France, for the duration. We all want to be here, together when this is over. How are you fairing?
    From friends in Sacramento and my son in Las Vegas, it is disquieting, to say the least.

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