Shakespeare & Company


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.

The Wishing Well...

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. 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.

The Poets Corner

Bisous,

Léa

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17 thoughts on “Shakespeare & Company

  1. Great post about Shakespeare & Company. When I was still an undergrad and studying French and English, I took my first trip to Paris. My French prof told me that I should absolutely take the time to go to this Left Bank treasure. I’m a big Hemingway fan, and learning that Miss Beach also played a big role in keeping him fed, among other things, contributes even more to my fascination with this shop.

    1. Hi Jennifer,
      It seems Shakespeare & Company is Mecca for many of us. I was thrilled to death when they took copies of my first chapbook and added them to The Poets Corner. The receipt is still my favorite souvenir from the trip. You were here much more than I was before moving. In 2006, I flew over with a back-pack and rail-pass for six weeks. On arrival I knew I was home. It took over a year to get my house sold and it was agony! But it happened and I am HOME!
      Léa

  2. Hi, Leamuse,

    Thank you for the great post! I know what was going on in your mind when you visited the shop, because I was very moved as you was. It is a really great book store, I think. I’ll read the book you recommended to me.

    Thank you again, Leamuse.
    Best,

    1. Thank you! Jeremy Mercer now lives in France here in the South. If you have trouble finding the book, it was also published under another title in the UK. Books, Baguettes and Bedbugs was the UK publication but it is the same book. I would love to hear what you think of it. You can find Jeremy Mercer at http://www.jeremymercer.net Happy reading! I hope you stop by this or my other blog again. http://poetryphotosandmusingsohmy.wordpress.com or https://foundinfrance.wordpress.com
      Léa

    1. It could possibly be my second favourite place in Paris… alas there is so much on offer. Thank you for your kind comment. I was thrilled when they accepted copies of my first chap book for the Poet’s Corner. I still have the receipt and it remains my favourite souvenir from that trip. I keep it inside the small black journal I carried in my backpack for six weeks.

      1. Ah, the sooner the better. There is no ‘bad’ time to visit Paris. I hope to head back up there again in the new year.

    1. Cindy, I believe I could just move in there and die happy! Have you read Jeremy Mercer’s book, Time Was Soft There? It had a different title in the UK edition. Jeremy was a young Canadian journalist who spent nine months living there and writing about his experience. He now lives here in Marseilles. If you are back in Shakespeare and Co. and glance in Poet’s Corner, they may still have a copy of my first chapbook… 😉 xx

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