Display Case 2: Sylvia Beach & Adrienne Monnier

“My loves were Adrienne Monnier and James Joyce and Shakespeare & Company”

Sylvia Beach

Sylvia Beach

Sylvia Beach was influential in James Joyce’s life. She was a young American, who, after inheriting $3000, moved to Paris and started a small English-language lending library and bookstore. It was called Shakespeare & Co., and it became famous as the home away from home for some of the greatest writers of the 20th century.

In 1922, after years of editorial labour, Sylvia Beach under the imprint of her bookstore, published James Joyce’s Ulysses

It was often a thankless task (Joyce was notoriously hard to work with), and the venture almost bankrupted her, but because of Beach and her bookstore, James Joyce’s masterpiece was able to see the light of day. She was the long-time partner of Adrienne Monnier, whose French bookstore was located just across the street.

“Her dress was a cross between a nun’s and a peasant’s…she was grey and white like her bookshop.”

Sylvia Beach on Adrienne Monnier

Adrienne Monnier

Adrienne Monnier ran one of the busiest bookstores in Paris: La Maison des Amis des Livres [the home for the friends of books]. She was not only the friend of books, but almost every other literary person in Paris as well. Monnier "embraced literature 'as other people embrace religion.'"

The bookshop played an unusual role in French literary history: it was a "bookshop, circulating library, and publishing house, but also a rendezvous where young writers could hear lectures by famous authors and meet them afterward for lively informal discussions." 

When Sylvia Beach came to Paris, she came across a pamphlet published by Monnier and sought out her bookstore on 7 rue de l’Odeon. They became lifelong friends, and for many years, partners.

In 1929, Monnier published the French translation of Ulysses, and her magazine included selections from Finnegans Wake. 

When Gisèle Freund fled to Paris in 1933, Monnier took her under her wing and introduced her to Paris’s literary figures, including André Malraux.

"The rue de l'Odéon had the tranquility of a village; it was here that the bookshop La Maison des Amis des Livres was located; if one watched carefully, the owner, Adrienne Monnier, could be seen in the doorway, her hair cut short, her dress long and flowing.” 
– Simone de Beauvoir

Although Freund would replace Beach as Monnier's partner, the three of them remained close friends and often lunched together. 

In 1956, Sylvia Beach wrote thanking Freund for letting her freely use Freund's photographs in her memoir, Shakespeare & Company. Sylvia asks Freund to charge at least a little money for the rights to print the photographs and then offers advice on how Freund might cure the migraines from which she suffered. Beach ends with, "Yours affectionately."

See the full letter below: 

Freund and Joyce in front of Shakespeare & Co.

This is the only photograph of Gisèle Freund in UVic's collection–we catch her head turning quickly, camera in hand, ready to shoot a photograph of Joyce entering Shakespeare and Company. 

Inscription verso: “Gisèle Freund photographing Joyce and Adrienne Monnier before Sylvia Beach’s bookshop Shakespeare and Co. rue de l’Odéon”

Joyce inside Shakespeare and Co. 1938

Freund captured some of the only images of Joyce in Shakespeare & Co. with his publishers. By this time, the story of the plucky young American bookstore owner, who published the most famous novel of the 20th century when no one else would touch it, had already become legendary.