Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Born In Baltimore

Sylvia Beach was born in her father's parsonage in Baltimore on March 14, 1887. In her early years the family lived between Baltimore and New Jersey but in 1901 the family moved to France due to her father's church ministry there. They lived in Paris from 1902 - 1905 but then returned to the States. She made frequent trips back to Europe, living two years in Spain before finally being drawn back to Paris in the later years of World War I to study contemporary French Literature. She found the name of Adrienne Monnier's bookshop in a French literary journal and decided to seek it out. Sylvia at first wanted to open a branch of Adrienne's bookshop in New York City to bring French Literature to America, but she could not afford to do it. So she decided to open an English language bookshop in Paris. She named the bookshop Shakespeare and Company. It became an immediate hit with French and American readers. many expatriate authors came to Sylvia for encouragement and hospitality.

In 1922 the bookshop gained fame for publishing James Joyce's Ulysses, it was banned in American and England for being obscene and he could not get an English version published. James Joyce was only one of many famous authors who were customers others included Ernest Hemingway, who mentions the shop in his book A Moveable Feast (one of CharmCityGirl's most favorite books), F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, Thornton Wilder and Gertrude Stein. I can only imagine hanging out in Paris in the 1920's with this group!

The bookshop struggled through the depression only with the help of friends. During World War II it is said that the bookshop was closed after refusing to sell the last copy of Finnegan's Wake to the Nazis. Sylvia hid her books before taking refuge with friends during the remainder of the war. In 1944 the shop was liberated personally by Ernest Hemingway, but would never reopen.

Sylvia published her memoirs titled Shakespeare and Company in 1956. She died in Paris on October 5, 1962 and is buried in Princeton, New Jersey.

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