Beach, Sylvia

BOne of the more important people in EMH’s early years in Paris was Sylvia Beach. She was the proprietress of Shakespeare and Company when it was on rue Dupuytrenat and later at 12, rue de l’Odéon on the Left Bank. Sylvia Beach opened her bookstore/lending library on November 17, 1919. EMH and Hadley arrived in Paris in 1921. EMH heard about Sylvia’s place and became a good friend and customer. At Shakespeare and Company, Ernest checked out and read a plethora of books and made friends with James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Ford Madox Ford and Gertrude Stein.


–Sylvia Beach


–Sylvia Beach and friends with EMH (after a head injury from a light falling on him)

Two books I have read and recommend are Beach’s own book entitled Shakespeare and Company and Noel Riley Fitch’s book Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation: A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties. In her own book, Sylvia recounts the long and painful process of publishing Joyce’s Ulysses. However, I was more interested in the other characters who frequented her place, namely EMH. When World War II was coming to a close, Beach recounted how EMH came directly to rue de l’Odéon to liberate the shop. Unfortunately, Sylvia had closed the shop and moved all the books to the fourth floor supposedly when a Nazi officer wanted her only copy of Finnegan’s Wake and she refused. He threatened to confiscate all her merchandise. She remembers when EMH arrived:

I heard a deep voice calling: “Sylvia!: And everybody in the street took up the cry of “Sylvia!” “It’s Hemingway! It’s Hemingway!” cried Adrienne. I flew downstairs; we met with a crash; he picked me up and swung me around and kissed me while people on the street and in the windows cheered. We went up to Adrienne’s apartment and sat Hemingway down. He was in battle dress, grimy and bloody. A machine gun clanked on the floor. He asked Adrienne for a piece of soap, and she gave him her last cake. He wanted to know if there was anything he could do for us. We asked him if he could do something about the Nazi snipers on the roof tops in our street, particularly on Adrienne’s roof top. He got his company out of the jeeps and took them up to the roof. We heard firing for the last time in the rue de l’ Odeon. Hemingway and his men came down again and rode off in their jeeps — “to liberate,” according to Hemingway, “the cellar at the Ritz.”

If you want to read an excellent essay on Sylvia Beach click HERE.

  6 comments for “Beach, Sylvia

  1. April 2, 2016 at 5:41 AM

    I love that we both posted about Sylvia Beach today, Denise!!

    • April 2, 2016 at 5:44 AM

      I know, Martha! We might overlap more than just this time in the coming month. 🙂

  2. hilarymb
    April 2, 2016 at 6:11 AM

    Hi Denise – fascinating – and yes sometime I will definitely read about her. I didn’t know the story/stories …

    I’ve had to withdraw from the A-Z .. but I’ll stick pick up some posts – cheers Hilary

    • April 2, 2016 at 8:25 AM

      Good to hear from you, Hilary! Sorry you had to withdraw . . . I was wondering. Do post what you can!

  3. April 2, 2016 at 1:53 PM

    And to think I knew so little about her. What a force. She played such an important role in literature from Shakespeare to Hemingway and more. Thankful for women like Sylvia. Thank you for presenting her in such great detail, Denise

    • April 2, 2016 at 1:57 PM

      I think James Joyce took her for granted! She certainly was a force!

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