Shakespeare and Company (bookstore)

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Shakespeare and Company
"Shakespeare and Company" store, Paris, 2004
"Shakespeare and Company" store, Paris, 2004
Location Paris, France
Owner Sylvia Beach Whitman
Type Bookstore
Opened 1951

Shakespeare and Company is the name of two independent English-language bookstores that have existed on Paris's Left Bank.

The first was opened by Sylvia Beach, an American, on 19 November 1919, at 8 rue Dupuytren, before moving to larger premises at 12 rue de l'Odéon in the 6th arrondissement in 1922.[1] During the 1920s, Beach's shop was a gathering place for many then-aspiring writers such as Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, Djuna Barnes, James Joyce and Ford Madox Ford.[1] It closed in 1941 during the German occupation of Paris and never re-opened.[2]

The second bookstore is situated at 37 rue de la Bûcherie, in the 5th arrondissement, and is still in operation today. Opened in 1951 by American George Whitman, it was originally called "Le Mistral," but was renamed to "Shakespeare and Company" in 1964 in tribute to Sylvia Beach's store[3] and on the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's birth. Today, it continues to serve as a purveyor of new and second-hand books, as an antiquarian bookseller, and as a free reading library open to the public.[4] Additionally, the shop houses aspiring writers and artists in exchange for their helping out around the bookstore. Since the shop opened in 1951, more than 30,000 people have slept in the beds found tucked between bookshelves.[5] The shop's motto, "Be Not Inhospitable to Strangers Lest They Be Angels in Disguise," is written above the entrance to the reading library.

Sylvia Beach's bookstore[edit]

12 Rue Odéon, Paris, location of the original Shakespeare & Co., with memorial plaque on the right

Sylvia Beach, an American expatriate from New Jersey, established Shakespeare and Company in 1919 at 8 rue Dupuytren. The store functioned as a lending library as well as a bookstore.[6] In 1921, Beach moved it to a larger location at 12 rue de l'Odéon, where it remained until 1941.[1] During this period, the store was the center of Anglo-American literary culture and modernism in Paris. Writers and artists of the Lost Generation, such as Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, as well as Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, George Antheil, Djuna Barnes, Mina Loy, and Man Ray, among others, spent a great deal of time there. The shop was nicknamed "Stratford-on-Odéon" by James Joyce, who used it as his office.[7] Its books were considered high quality and reflected Beach's own taste. The store and its literary denizens are mentioned in Hemingway's A Moveable Feast. Patrons could buy or borrow books like D. H. Lawrence's controversial Lady Chatterley's Lover, which had been banned in Britain and the United States.

Beach published Joyce's controversial book Ulysses in 1922.[8] It, too, was banned in the United States and Britain. Later editions were also published under the Shakespeare and Company imprint.[9] She also encouraged the publication in 1923, and sold copies of Hemingway's first book, Three Stories and Ten Poems.[10]

The original Shakespeare and Company closed in December 1941 during the German occupation of France in World War II.[2] It has been suggested that it may have been ordered shut because Beach denied a German officer the last copy of Joyce's Finnegans Wake.[11] When the war ended, Hemingway "personally liberated" the store, but it never re-opened.[12]

George Whitman's bookstore[edit]

In 1951, a new English-language bookstore was opened on Paris's Left Bank by American ex-serviceman George Whitman under the name of "Le Mistral." Its premises, the site of a 16th-century monastery,[13] are at 37 rue de la Bûcherie, near Place Saint-Michel, just steps from the Seine, Notre Dame and the Île de la Cité.[13] Much like Sylvia Beach's Shakespeare and Company, Whitman's store quickly became the focal point of literary culture in bohemian Paris. Early habitués included writers of the Beat Generation--Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and William S. Burroughs, who is said to have researched sections of Naked Lunch in the medical section of the bookstore's library.[13] Other visitors were James Baldwin, Anaïs Nin, Julio Cortázar, Richard Wright, Lawrence Durrell, Max Ernest, Bertolt Brecht, William Saroyan, Terry Southern, and editors of The Paris Review, such as George Plimpton, Peter Matthiessen, and Robert Silvers.

George Whitman had modeled his shop after Sylvia Beach's. In 1958, while dining with Whitman at a party for James Jones who had newly arrived in Paris, Beach announced that she was handing the name to him for his bookshop.[14] In 1964, after Sylvia Beach's death and on the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's birth, Whitman renamed his store "Shakespeare and Company," which is, as he described it, "a novel in three words."[3]

Shakespeare and Company, Paris, 2013

Whitman called his venture "a socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore".[15] Henry Miller called it "a wonderland of books."[5] The shop has beds tucked among the shelves of books where aspiring writers are invited to sleep for free in exchange for helping around the bookshop, agreeing to read a book a day, and writing a one-page autobiography for the shop's archives. These guests are called "Tumbleweeds," after the rootless plants that "blow in and out on the winds of chance," as Whitman described.[5] An estimated 30,000 people have stayed at the shop since it opened in 1951.

Several literary publications have had their editorial address at the bookstore, including the avant-garde journal Merlin, which is credited for having discovered Samuel Beckett, it being the first to publish him in English. Among the journal's editors were Richard Seaver, Christopher Logue, and Alexander Trocchi. Jane Lougee was the publisher. From 1959 to 1964, Jean Fanchette published Two Cities from the bookshop; the journal's patrons included Anaïs Nin and Lawrence Durrell, and it published, among others, Ted Hughes and Octavio Paz. From 1978 to 1981, a group of American and Canadian expatriates ran a literary journal out of the upstairs library, called Paris Voices. The journal published young writers such as Welsh poet Tony Curtis and Irish playwright and novelist Sebastian Barry. The editor-in-chief was Kenneth R. Timmerman and the editorial team included Canadian Antanas Sileika. Other publications established from the bookstore include Frank magazine, edited by David Applefield with contributions from writers such as Mavis Gallant and John Berger, and Whitman's own The Paris Magazine (or "The Poor Man's Paris Review," as he called it), with contributors including Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Jean-Paul Sartre, Marguerite Duras, Pablo Neruda, and—in a more recent edition--Luc Sante, Michel Houellebecq, and Rivka Galchen. The first issue debuted in 1967, the most recent in 2010.

Shakespeare and Company, Entrance to Reading Library, 2015

George Whitman was awarded the Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2006, one of France's highest cultural honor.[16] He died at the age of 98 on 14 December 2011 in his apartment above the bookstore.[17]

Whitman's only child, Sylvia Whitman, named after Sylvia Beach, began helping her father with management of the bookstore in 2003. She now runs the shop with her partner, David Delannet, in the same manner as her father did.[18] Regular activities are a Sunday Tea Party, writers' workshops, and weekly events that have included writers such as Dave Eggers, A. M. Homes, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Naomi Klein.[18]

In 2003, Sylvia Whitman founded FestivalandCo, a literary festival that was held biennially at the park next-door to the bookstore, Square René-Viviani. Participants included Paul Auster, Siri Hustvedt, Jeanette Winterson, Jung Chang, and Marjane Satrapi.[19][18]

In 2010, the bookstore launched The Paris Literary Prize for unpublished novellas, with a top prize of 10,000 euro provided by the de Groot Foundation. The winner of the first contest was Rosa Rankin-Gee, whose entry, The Last Kings of Sark, was subsequently published by Virago. The winner of the second prize was C. E. Smith; his entry, Body Electric, was co-published by the bookstore and The White Review.

Partnering with Bob’s Bake Shop, Shakespeare and Company opened a café in 2015, located next door to the shop in what had been, since 1981, an abandoned garage. The café serves primarily vegetarian food, with vegan and gluten-free options. George Whitman had been trying to open a literary café in the same space since as early as 1969.

Shakespeare and Company, Paris, 2011

In 2016, the bookstore published its own history in a book titled Shakespeare and Company, Paris: A History of the Rag & Bone Shop of the Heart, edited by Krista Halverson with a foreword by Jeanette Winterson and an epilogue by Sylvia Whitman. Other contributors to the book include Ethan Hawke, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, Anaïs Nin, Robert Stone, Ian Rankin, Kate Tempest, and Jim Morrison. The book features an illustrated adaptation of Sylvia Beach’s memoirs. It also includes a selection of George Whitman's letters and journals written along his “hobo adventures” during the Great Depression. The kindness he received from strangers along the way inspired the founding ethos of the bookstore: "Give what you can; take what you need."[5]

The bookstore was a sanctuary for some twenty of its customers during the November 2015 Paris attacks.[20][21]

The four "Shakespeare & Co" bookstores in New York City, which opened starting in 1981, are not affiliated with the Paris store.

In popular culture[edit]

Shakespeare and Company features in Richard Linklater's film Before Sunset and in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris.[22]

The store and the owner George Whitman were the subject of Portrait of a Bookstore as an Old Man, a 2003 documentary film directed by Benjamin Sutherl and Gonzague Pichelin.[23]

Shakespeare and Company is showcased in the Hong Kong TVB drama Triumph in the Skies 2 when characters Ron and Myolie Wu are reading and sleeping in the store.[24]


  1. ^ a b c Glass (2009), pp. 24–27.
  2. ^ a b Glass (2009), pp. 33 & 415.
  3. ^ a b Glass (2009), p. 415.
  4. ^ Jo Lennan. "Paris: 10 Things to Do — 4. Shakespeare and Company Bookshop". TIME. Retrieved 14 October 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c d Halverson, Krista (2016). Shakespeare and Company: Paris: A History of the Rag & Bone Shop of the Heart. Shakespeare and Company Paris. ISBN 979-10-96101-00-9. 
  6. ^ Kert (1999), p. 112.
  7. ^ Glass (2009), p. 24.
  8. ^ Silverman, Al (2008). The Time of Their Lives: The Golden Age of Great American Publishers, Their Editors and Authors. Truman Talley. ISBN 9780312350031. 
  9. ^ Meyers (1985), p. 82.
  10. ^ Meyers (1985).
  11. ^ Glass (2009), pp. 205–207.
  12. ^ Garner (2010).
  13. ^ a b c Sharkey (2002).
  14. ^ Winterson, Jeanette (15 December 2011). "Jeanette Winterson remembers George Whitman". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 October 2014. 
  15. ^ Mercer (2005).
  16. ^ A. Craig Copetas (7 June 2009). "Hemingway's Hangout Spruces Up to Defy Amazon". Bloomberg. Retrieved 2014-10-14. 
  17. ^ Simons, Marlise. "George Whitman, Paris Bookseller and Cultural Beacon, Is Dead at 98", The New York Times, 14 December 2011.
  18. ^ a b c Mulholland (2010).
  19. ^
  20. ^ Jarry Lee, "Paris Bookstore Shakespeare & Co. Sheltered Customers During Attacks", BuzzFeed, 14 November 2015.
  21. ^ Claire Phipps and Kevin Rawlinson, "Paris attacks kill more than 120 people – as it happened", The Guardian, 14 November 2015.
  22. ^ Berger (2011).
  23. ^ Anita Gates (10 October 2005). "What's On Tonight: Sundance". New York Times. Retrieved 14 October 2014. 
  24. ^ "Places to Visit - Shakespeare and Company Bookstore; Paris", Little and Random Thoughts, 18 August 2013.


  • Spitzer, Mark. ''After the Orange Glow. Monkey Puzzle Press, Boulder, 2010.
  • Spitzer, Mark. Writer in Residence: Memoir of a Literary Translator. University of New Orleans Press, 2010.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 48°51′09″N 2°20′49″E / 48.85250°N 2.34694°E / 48.85250; 2.34694