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Adrienne Monnier was born in Paris on 26 April 1892. Her father, Clovis Monnier, was a postal worker (postier ambulant), sorting mail in transit on night trains; her mother, Philiberte (née Sollier), was "open-minded" with an interest in literature and the arts. Adrienne's younger sister, Marie, who became known as a skillful embroiderer and illustrator, was born two years later. From an early age, the girls' mother encouraged them to read and frequently took them to the theatre, opera, and ballet. In 1909, aged 17, Monnier graduated from high school, with a teaching qualification (brevet supérieur). Within months, she moved to London, officially to improve her English but in reality to be close to her classmate, Suzanne Bonnierre, with whom she was "very much in love".
"La Maison des Amis des Livres"
In 1915 when she opened her bookshop called "La Maison des Amis des Livres" at 7 rue de l'Odéon, Adrienne Monnier was among the first women in France to found her own book store. While women sometimes assisted in a family bookstore, and widows occasionally took over their husband’s bookselling or publishing business, it was unusual for a French woman to independently set herself up as a bookseller. Nonetheless Monnier, who had worked as a teacher and as a literary secretary, loved the world of literature and was determined to make bookselling her career. With limited capital she opened her shop at a time when there was a genuine need for a new book store, since many book sellers had left their work to join the armed forces. As the renown of her shop spread, Monnier's advice was sought out by other women who hoped to follow her example and become booksellers.
Monnier offered advice and encouragement to Sylvia Beach when Beach founded an English language bookstore called Shakespeare and Company in 1919. During the 1920s, the shops owned by Beach and Monnier were located across from each other on the rue de l'Odeon in the heart of the Latin Quarter. Both bookstores became gathering places for French, British, and American writers. By sponsoring readings and encouraging informal conversations among authors and readers, the two women brought to bookselling a domesticity and hospitality that encouraged friendship as well as cultural exchange.
Monnier also published a French language review, le Navire d’Argent, in June 1925, with Jean Prévost as literary editor. Along with the works of French writers who frequented her bookshop in rue de l'Odéon, Monnier published a translation which she and Sylvia Beach had done of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" — T. S. Eliot’s first major poem to appear in French. Monnier’s review was international in its scope and published lists of American works in translation as well as devoting an issue (March 1926) to American writers including Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams and E. E. Cummings. She also introduced Ernest Hemingway in translation to French audiences. After twelve issues, Adrienne had to abandon the Navire d’Argent, since the effort and the cost was more than she could manage. Through their two shops and their publishing and translating ventures both Adrienne Monnier and Sylvia Beach did a great deal to make new American writing known in France. Violette Leduc describes meeting her in her autobiography La Bâtarde.
Although Beach closed her store during the German Occupation, Monnier remained open and continued to provide books and solace to Parisian readers. For ten years after the war Adrienne Monnier continued her work as an essayist, translator and bookseller. Plagued by ill health, Monnier was diagnosed in September 1954 with Ménière's disease, a disorder of the inner ear which affects balance and hearing. Further, she also suffered from delusions. On 19 June 1955, she committed suicide by taking an overdose of sleeping pills.
Notes and bibliography
- Benstock, Shari (1986). Women of the Left Bank, Paris, 1900-1940. Austin: University of Texas Press. ISBN 978-0292790407.
- Beach, Sylvia (1991) . Shakespeare & Company (First Bison Books ed.). Lincoln NE: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 978-0-8032-6097-9.
- Glass, Charles (2009). Americans in Paris: Life and Death Under Nazi Occupation. London: Harper Collins. ISBN 978-0-00-722853-9.
- Monnier, Adrienne; McDougall, Richard (1996) . The Very Rich Hours of Adrienne Monnier. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 978-0-8032-8227-8.
- Monnier, Adrienne (2009). Rue de l'Odéon (in French). Paris: Editions Albin Michel. ISBN 978-2-226192271.
- Murat, Laure (2003). Passage de l'Odéon: Sylvia Beach, Adrienne Monnier et la vie littéraire à Paris dans l'entre-deux-guerres (in French). Paris: Fayard. ISBN 978-2-213616629.
- Schiff, Stacy (2006) . Saint-Exupéry: A biography. New York: Henry Holt. ISBN 978-0-8050-7913-5.