And there was also Sylvia Beachs Bookstore in Paris in the 1920s and 30s. Shakesperare and Company acted like a magnet for that other phenomenon that also had a sustained and forceful effect in both European and American culture. I can imagine that this cheap way of broadening ones mind by traveling had had a similar effect to the Europeanization that the InteRail had on the youth of the 1970s preparing them for embracing later the EEC. Her S&Co was a strange combination of a bookstore, a library, a publishing house, a refuge, a social club, a 'pension', a post office, a political hideaway, a cultural repository, a literary family in which mostly Anglo and French artistic circles could exchange their views and works. If I ever feel I do not know what to read next, I can always open it on any of its pages, and pick one of the many authors who visited Sylvia Beach in her extraordinary bookstore.
The other was Sylvia Beach, an American woman who came to Paris in the beginning of the 20th century and stayed in France for the rest of her life. As other reviewers have pointed out, the main focus of this book is Beach's relationship with James Joyce. Like, this book should have been called Slyvia Beach and James Joyce. Other famous 1920's artists and authors make appearances, but it's clear that Fitch is most interested in exploring the Beach/Joyce dynamic. I don't like James Joyce's writing, and I definitely don't like James Joyce the person (a dislike that was only confirmed by the stories in this book - Slyvia Beach, despite barely keeping the bookstore in business, would frequently give Joyce money for food and rent, and he would frequently stop by the store and help himself to cash from the register). When the book is good, it's very good, like when she's discussing Beach's efforts to keep the bookstore open during the Nazi occupation (at a time when, I might add, Gertrude Stein was busy taking vacations and helping the Vichy government) or telling stories about the artistic scene in the 1920s. Nor did she, at the other extreme, choose to live within an American community in Paris, avoiding the French people and customs." Ultimately, this was a frustrating read, not just because of the (over)emphasis on Joyce, but also because Fitch can't seem to find a narrative to focus on.
An afternoon not too long ago, for a reason unknown to me-which is how my reading has been successfully guided for some time-I picked it up and opened it. The bookstore in this shift in time, Shakespeare and Company, is opened by a small energetic woman who lives true to herself, knowing no other way. Her consciousness is not focused on herself but expressing her true talent of, developing and nurturing friendships, bringing, American, British, French writers and literature together, tending to her bookstore, tending to the care of James Joyce. Many of these struggling writers are leaving with books or reading there. She and her small bookshop, after your lifetime work is shutdown by the courts, will publish your book. Riley-Fitch is the perfect author for Sylvia Beach who never considered fame because she was too busy doing what she loved. It provided literatures warmth of touch to help numerous young writers; Dos Passos, Pound, Joyce, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Wright, Elliot, Beckett, Ford Maddox Ford, Valery, Michaux, William Carlos Williams, Gide, Robbe-Grillet, Wyndham Lewis, her lover of many years and owner of the bookshop across the street, Adrienne Monnier, and others. Sylvia finding time which did not exist to be there for each as well as her network of friends and social engagements. Riley-Finchs ten years of studying Beachs well documented diaries, letters, interviewing friends and writers still with us willing to lend their memories of this magic time, allowed me to meet each not as chimeras of idol worship but people condemned to fight the battles we all face. The question is left unanswered or not possible to answer if any of these writings would have found publication, which was important to him and to an ego in need of filling, if not for Beach and the others who provided constant financial support over a period of years. He readily asked for and accepted money as an act of entitlement in the service of genius. There is though an argument to be made that his special talent was the understanding from an early age that he was born with genius. A woman determined to lead a life which brought about creativity no matter what the sacrifices, bonds which fostered the spread of new revelatory means of writing . Shakespeare and Company made little if no profit during much of her life but that life proved profitable by the spawning of great literature into the world. Unfolding herself into the work to bring it about, Sylvia Beach who had no time or thirst for fortune or fame, brought us so much of our literature. If it werent for Noel Riley-Finch who in her ten years of dogged research and plain spoken manner, set the record straight bringing us onto the left bank streets of Paris, we would not know of Sylvia. Not lost, much of their writing has paved the way for further creation. It dives firmly into the debate whether a writers life need be considered in their work or is the text a separate entity? This book along with being an astonishing biography about a woman with a vision and the verve and strength to bring it about, much to the advancement of literary works and the lifting of the enjoyment of readerly sensibilities to the public, is also a reflective examination of what spawns genius. Is it their experience, discipline and hard work or is their gift, as it appears Beach believed, was provided at birth.They do not need to be muffled by the conventions of the bustle of the world or its daily errands. An inspiring biography of Beach, a person who declared no goals, simply following what she knew tirelessly yet without effort, created the portrait of leading a life of meaning, while building a bookshop which shed its light across the reading world.
I am sorry to report that after the initial coverage of Sylvia's background and the initial drawing together of the major characters around her shop.... Especially as things became more and more focused on Joyce and the publishing of Ulysses. God, his histronics got old fast- there was the odd good anecdote, but it was absolutely buried in a mound of details that were not edited for readability or use.
Earlier this year I read Sylvia Beachs memoir of the 1920s and 1930s in Paris, Shakespeare and Company, named for the English language bookshop and lending library she founded in 1922. I found it an engaging work overall, although my lack of familiarity with less well-known English and American writers of the period and with French literary figures of the early 20th century made some parts of the work significantly less interesting than others. The extent to which Joyce took advantage of Beachs good nature and the growing distress his selfishness caused her is expanded upon in this work, in which Fitch uses sources including parts of her memoir which Beach suppressed. The casual reader who is not totally familiar with the writers and the publications of the period is likely to find some parts of the work much less interesting than others.
Earlier this year, I read Richard Ellman's James Joyce, a painstaking biography of the man and his time and, above all, his writing. Integral to Joyce's key work Ulysses meeting the world was the effort of an ex-patriot American, Sylvia Beach. For history, Sylvia's larger legacy may have been the nurturing of James Joyce during the torturous creation and birth of Ulysses.
Sylvia Beach had stated there were three loves in her life: Adrienne Monnier, James Joyce and Shakespeare and Company and this is the story of her three loves. She met Ms. Monnier, her life companion in 1917 and two years later Shakespeare and Company opened its doors operating as an English language bookshop and lending library.
She tells the story of Sylvia Beach and her Nautilus...Shakespeare & Co. on the Rue de l'Odeon. "'My loves were Adrienne Monnier and James Joyce and Shakespeare and Co, proclaims Sylvia Beach.' This book is the story of those three loves." Immersed in the universe of Sylvia's Nautilus...the world journeyed to us.
Every book Fitch has written has some connection with Paris and the artists who lived and worked there, including her biographies of Sylvia Beach, Anaïs Nin, and Julia Child.