The Labyrinthine

October 17, 2010

Shakespeare and Company

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — thelabyrinthine @ 2:51 pm

Shakespeare & Co. Antiquarian Books, Paris.  Probably the most photographed bookstore of the world. Photography by Simple Dolphin Flickr.com

A view from inside the bookstore Shakespeare & Co in Paris. Photo by Toshio Kishiyama Flickr.com

On the third floor of the bookstore Shakespeare & Co. in Paris, you’ll find this bed and the motice board behind. Photography by Glynnis Ritchie Flickr.com

Down and out in Paris

For half a century, a crowded bookshop on the Left Bank has offered food and a bed to penniless authors – the only rule is that they read a book a day. Jeanette Winterson revisits Shakespeare and Company

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The Guardian, Saturday 7 March 2009

“Way back, in 1913, the original Shakespeare and Company was opened by a young American called Sylvia Beach. Her shop in rue de l’Odéon soon became the place for all the English-speaking writers in Paris. Her lover, Adrienne Monnier, owned the French bookstore across the road, and she and Beach ran back and forth, finding penniless writers a place to stay, lending them books, arranging loans, taking their mail, sending their work to small magazines and, most spectacularly, publishing James Joyce’s Ulysses in 1922 when no one else would touch it.

Hemingway was a regular at the shop, and writes about it in his memoir A Moveable Feast. His spare, emotional prose makes a poignant story of those early days, when material things weren’t so important, and if you could get time to read and write, and live on cheap oysters and coarse bread and sleep by a stove somewhere, then you were happy.

It was Hemingway, as a major in the US army, who at the liberation of Paris in 1945 drove his tank straight to the shuttered Shakespeare and Company and personally liberated Sylvia Beach. “No one that I ever knew was nicer to me,” he said later, rich, famous and with a Nobel prize.

But after the war, Beach was older and tired. She didn’t reopen the shop that had been forced into closure by the occupation. It was George Whitman who took over the spirit of what she had made, but not the name – until 1962, when Beach attended a reading by Lawrence Durrell at the bookstore and they all agreed that it should be renamed Shakespeare and Company.

George took in the beat poets Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso. Henry Miller ate from the stewpot, but was too grand to sleep in the tiny writers’ room. Anaïs Nin left her will under George’s bed. There are signed photos from Rudolf Nureyev and Jackie Kennedy, signed copies of Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs.

George opened his doors midday to midnight, and the deal then is the deal now: sleep in the shop, on tiny beds hidden among the bookstacks; work for two hours a day helping out with the running of the place; and, crucially, read a book a day, whatever you like, but all the way through, unless maybe it’s War and Peace, in which case you can take two days.

George still reads a book a day, and gets very cross if he hears that anyone is wasting his time. You can be bawled out of Shakespeare and Company just as suddenly as you are invited in. The spirit of the place has to be honoured, and there are no exceptions.”


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