View From the Left Bank

After the Great War, Sylvia Beach founded, with money from her mother, Shakespeare and Company, an English-language bookshop and lending library on the Left Bank in Paris.  As the American expatriate wrote much later, “I have always loved books and their authors.”  She was encouraged by another woman bookseller, Adrienne Monnier, well known to French literary historians.  They were long-term lovers.  Sylvia had been baptized Nancy, but renamed herself—presumably after her father, Sylvester, a Presbyterian minister.  She had two sisters, one of whom likewise changed her name—to Cyprian—and took up with a woman.

Beach’s shop became a gathering place for the Lost Generation and other American expatriate authors, whose writing she fostered.  She is best known, however, as the publisher of James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922).  She took on that task after Joyce, then living in Paris, found no one in England willing to print the entire work.

Beach’s endeavors have been known to the literary world for decades.  Numerous studies, reminiscences, and correspondences, some familiar to Chronicles readers, have documented her role; they include two volumes of Joyce’s letters (1957), Stanislaus Joyce’s memoir (1958), Beach’s Shakespeare and Company (1959), Richard Ellmann’s biography of Joyce (1959), Hemingway’s...

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