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 bookstores that have existed on Paris's Left Bank.

The first was opened by Sylvia Beach 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 young writers such as Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce and Ford Madox Ford.[1] It closed in 1940 during the German occupation of Paris and never re-opened.[2]

The second is situated at 37 rue de la Bûcherie, in the 5th arrondissement. Opened in 1951 by George Whitman, it was originally named "Le Mistral", but was renamed to "Shakespeare and Company" in 1964 in tribute to Sylvia Beach's store.[3] Today, it serves both as a regular bookstore, a second-hand books store, and as a reading library, specializing in English-language literature.[4] The shop has become a popular tourist attraction,[4][5] and was featured in the Richard Linklater film Before Sunset, and in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris.[6]

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.[7] In 1921, Beach moved it to a larger location at 12 rue de l'Odéon, where it remained until 1940.[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," including Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, George Antheil and Man Ray, among others, spent a great deal of time there, and the shop was nicknamed "Stratford-on-Odéon" by James Joyce, who used it as his office.[8] 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. 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 on 14 June 1940, 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]

Interior Shakespeare & Co
Shakespeare & Co Books, Paris, 2011.

In 1951, another 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 Shakespeare and Company, the store became the focal point of literary culture in bohemian Paris, and was frequented by many Beat Generation writers including Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and William S. Burroughs.[13] Whitman modeled his shop after Sylvia Beach's and, in 1958 while dining with George, she publicly announced that she was handing the name to him for his bookshop.[14]

In 1964, after Sylvia Beach's death, Whitman renamed his store "Shakespeare and Company" in tribute to the original, describing the name as "a novel in three words".[3] He called the venture "a socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore".[15] Customers have included the likes of Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin, and Richard Wright. The bookstore has sleeping facilities and Whitman claimed that as many as 40,000 people have slept there over the years.[15]

From 1978-1981, 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, among others. Timmerman became a novelist and political writer in the USA and Sileika a Canadian novelist. The journal hosted readings that attracted aspiring literary travelers as well as a scattering of voices from the past such as Beat poet Ted Joans and journalist Jack Belden.

Awarded the Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2006, one of France's highest cultural honors,[16] George Whitman died at the age of 98 on 14 December 2011.[17] His daughter Sylvia Beach Whitman, named after Sylvia Beach, joined him at the bookstore in 2006 after living for 10 years in London and Edinburgh with her mother. She began revamping the store and the rooms for writers. The marketing plan included sponsored events along with university students invited as writer-in-residence.[16] She now runs the store in the same manner as her father, allowing young writers to live and work there.[18] Regular activities are Sunday tea, poetry readings and writers' meetings.[18] In 2008 she founded FestivalandCo, a literary festival held biennially at the shop and which has hosted Paul Auster, Siri Hustvedt, Jeanette Winterson, Jung Chang and Marjane Satrapi.[19][18] She appeared in the Paris episodes of The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson which aired on 1 August 2011.[4][20][21]

The bookstore was a sanctuary for some twenty of its customers during the November 2015 Paris attacks.[22][23]

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

Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and young Sylvia Whitman in front of Shakespeare and Company, Paris, 1991

In popular culture[edit]

The store and the owner George Whitman has been the subject of Portrait of a Bookstore as an Old Man, a 2003 documentary film directed by Benjamin Sutherl and Gonzague Pichelin.[24]

The bookshop features in the 2004 Richard Linklater film Before Sunset and in Woody Allen's 2011 film Midnight in Paris.[6]

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.[25]


  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. ^ a b c Jo Lennan. "Paris: 10 Things to Do — 4. Shakespeare and Company Bookshop". TIME. Retrieved 14 October 2014. 
  5. ^ "Shakespeare & Company". Time Out Paris. 16 November 2011. Retrieved 14 October 2014. 
  6. ^ a b Berger (2011).
  7. ^ Kert (1999), p. 112.
  8. ^ Glass (2009), p. 24.
  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. ^ a b Mercer (2005).
  16. ^ a b 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. ^ Leah Hyslop (9 November 2012). "Turning the page at Shakespeare and Company". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 14 October 2014. 
  21. ^ (Handy 2014)
  22. ^ Jarry Lee, "Paris Bookstore Shakespeare & Co. Sheltered Customers During Attacks", BuzzFeed, 14 November 2015.
  23. ^ Claire Phipps and Kevin Rawlinson, "Paris attacks kill more than 120 people – as it happened", The Guardian, 14 November 2015.
  24. ^ Anita Gates (10 October 2005). "What's On Tonight: Sundance". New York Times. Retrieved 14 October 2014. 
  25. ^ "Places to Visit - Shakespeare and Company Bookstore; Paris", Little and Random Thoughts, 18 August 2013.


External links[edit]

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