Shakespeare and Company

There's a fascinating bookstore in the Latin Quarter of Paris, Shakespeare and Company.  It has a long, interesting history.

Sylvia Beach founded the original Shakespeare and Company in 1919, a lending library and bookstore, beginning in a small location then moving to larger space in 1922.  It was a place at which writers gathered, including Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Man Ray, and others, and was famously mentioned in Hemingway's A Moveable Feast.  Beach was noted for making controversial books available, such as Lady Chatterly's Lover, and publishing James Joyce's Ulysses, both banned in the United States and Britain.  The original bookstore closed in mid-1940 during the German occupation of Paris and did not reopen.

Fast forward eleven years to 1951, when George Whitman, an American living in Paris, was encouraged by a friend to open a bookstore.  He founded Le Mistral on rue de la Bûcherie, a small apartment across the Seine from Notre Dame de Paris, the front of which he converted to his bookstore.  He changed the name to Shakespeare and Company in 1964, having been inspired by his encounters with Sylvia Beach and in honor of the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's birth.  Beach died that year.  Inspiration from Beach along with Whitman's personal travels led him to create a place that welcomes writers and artists, often inviting them into his home.  Among the many of Whitman's era are Henry Miller, Anäis Nin, Lawrence Durrell, and Allen Ginsburg.  He lived in his apartment above the bookstore until his death in 2011.  His daughter, Sylvia Beach Whitman (obviously named in honor of Sylvia Beach!) assumed responsibility for Shakespeare and Company in 2004 and continues to operate it today.

Not only is it a destination for writers and artists, Shakespeare and Company is a destination for visitors to Paris.  It's a fairly small, multi-story space, with virtually every spot crammed with books.  They request that no photos are taken inside of the store, so it was challenging to capture the essence of the place from the exterior.  Benches and tables outside of the store serve as places for reading, reflection, or meeting.  Visitors gaze at the storefront, often awestruck at what they're seeing.  New and old books line the windows, and occasionally cases with books for sale are moved to the sidewalk.  It's the kind of place at which I could spend hours - even days - poring through the stacks.  I captured a small set of images that conjure up the memories I have and make me look forward to returning.  With the quotation displayed in the store, "Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise," I know I'll be welcome!

The facade of Shakespeare and Company invites people to explore the thousands of books inside.

The facade of Shakespeare and Company invites people to explore the thousands of books inside.