In a previous post I wrote about what was the first “Shakespeare & Co.” shop in Paris, close to the Odeon theatre, owned by Sylvia Beach who published James Joyce and where Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and others were regular visitors. That shop closed during WW II after Sylvia Beach had refused to sell a Joyce book to a German officer.
The present one, well-known to many of us, but perhaps more especially to all English speaking visitors (you may recognise an American lady blogger on one or two of the pictures below), is situated close to Notre Dame, just after crossing one of the bridges to the left bank. This shop opened in 1951 by an American, George Whitman. It first got the name “Le Mistral”, but when Sylvia Beach died in 1962, the bookshop took over the name of “Shakespeare & Co.”
This bookshop and library is an institution, full, really full, of new and old books.
Maybe the best way to learn about the philosophy of how the shop has been run is to read what George Whitman has written, January 1, 2004, on the back of some window-shutters:
SOME PEOPLE CALL ME THE DON QUIXOTE OF THE LATIN QUARTER BEACAUSE MY HEAD IS SO FAR UP IN THE CLOUDS THAT I CAN IMAGINE ALL OF US ARE ANGELS IN PARADISE. AND INSTEAD OF BEING A BONAFIDE BOOKSELLER I AM MORE LIKE A FRUSTRATED NOVELIST STORE, HAS ROOMS LIKE CHAPTERS IN A NOVEL AND THE FACT IS TOLSTOI AND DOSTOYEVSKI ARE MORE REAL TO ME THAN MY NEXT DOOR NEIGHBORS AND EVEN STRANGER IS THE FACT THAT EVEN BEFORE I WAS BORN DOSTOYEVSKI WROTE THE STORY OF MY LIFE IN A BOOK CALLED “THE IDIOT” AND EVER SINCE READING IT I HAVE BEEN SEARCHING FOR THE HEROINE, A GIRL CALLED NASTASIA FILIPOVNA. ONE HUNDRED YEARS AGO MY BOOKSTORE WAS WINESHOP HIDDEN FROM THE SEINE BY AN ANNEX OF THE HOTEL DIEU HOSPITAL WHICH HAS SINCE BEEN DEMOLISHED REPLACED BY A GARDEN. AND FURTHER BACK IN THE YEAR 1600 OUR WHOLE BUILDING WAS A MONESTRY CALLED LA MAISON DU MUSTIER. IN MEDIEVAL TIMES EACH MONESTRY HAD A FREE LAMPIER WHOSE DUTY WAS TO LIGHT THE LAMPS AT NIGHTFALL. I HAVE BEEN DOING THIS FOR FIFTY YEARS. NOW IT IS MY DAUGHTER’S TURN.
Henry Miller, Allan Ginsberg, William Burroughs... were frequent guests. You must have a look at the second floor. There are several beds and against a few hours work in the shop you can sleep over here.
George Whitman is now some 96 (or 98?) years old and since 2004 his quite young daughter, Sylvia Beach Whitman, has taken over the business, running it in a similar way her dad did, but also introducing a book festival, wishing to create a small theatre in the cellar....