Shakespeare and Company is an anglophone bookstore in Paris. It’s unusual, because you can sit and browse a book without a hurry. Time seems to have stopped in this lovely place with its bohemian atmosphere. The shop was featured in the Richard Linklater film “Before Sunset” and in Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris”.
George Whitman, the bookstore’s owner, died on December 14, 2011, at the age of 98, at home in the apartment above the bookshop. The place is now run by his daughter Sylvia Beach Whitman.
Regular activities that occur in the bookshop are Sunday tea, poetry readings and writers’ meetings.
Sylvia Beach, an American expatriate from New Jersey established the original Shakespeare and Company in 1919 at 8 rue Dupuytren. The store functioned as a lending library as well as a bookstore. Beach moved to a larger location at 12 rue de l’Odéon in 1921, where the store remained until 1940.
During this period, the store was the epicentre of Anglo-American literary culture and modernism in Paris. Writers and artists of the “Lost Generation,” such as Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, George Antheil and Man Ray spent a great deal of time at Shakespeare and Company, and it was nicknamed “Stratford-on-Odéon” by James Joyce, who used it as his office.
Shakespeare and Company, as well as its literary denizens, was mentioned in Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast”. Patrons could buy or borrow books like D. H. Lawrence’s controversial “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”, which had been banned in Britain and the United States.
Beach initially published Joyce’s book “Ulysses” in 1922, which was banned in the United States and in the United Kingdom. Subsequent editions of “Ulysses” were published under the Shakespeare and Company imprint in later years.
The original Shakespeare and Company was closed in 14 June 1940, under the German occupation of France during World War II.
In 1951, another English-language bookstore was opened on Paris’s Left Bank by an American George Whitman, under the name of Le Mistral. Thirteen years later, after Sylvia Beach’s death, Whitman changed his store’s name to Shakespeare and Company in tribute to the original venture.
Much like the original Shakespeare and Company, the store became a focal point for literary culture in bohemian Paris, and was frequented by many Beat Generation writers, such as Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and William S. Burroughs.