Paris between the Wars – “B” is for Sylvia Beach

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Between 1919 and 1939, Paris experienced a cultural and intellectual boom. This blog will feature artists, writers, composers, musicians, and designers. Paris was at its cultural peak.

Sylvia Beach
Sylvia Beach

Sylvia Beach was born as Nancy Woodbridge Beach in Baltimore, the daughter of a clergyman. When she was 14, her family moved to Paris upon her father’s appointment to the American Church in Paris. She lived for many years between the United States and Europe, until, at the end of World War I in 1918, Beach returned to Paris to study French literature.

Her first intention was to open a book shop in New York and offer contemporary French works to American readers, but financial challenges prevented her from achieving her dream. Instead, she took advantage of cheaper rents in Paris and opened an English-language bookstore, Shakespeare & Company. The store functioned as a lending library as well as a bookstore, and was the center of Anglo-American literary culture and modernism in Paris. Writers including Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein spent a great deal of time there, and the shop was nicknamed “Stratford-on-Odéon” (referring to its street address) by James Joyce, who used it as his office.

Though her business suffered during the Great Depression of the 1930s, her support for and encouragement to both American and French writers paid off, as they rallied around to keep the shop open.

Beach and Hemingway

She died in Paris in 1962.

17 thoughts on “Paris between the Wars – “B” is for Sylvia Beach

  1. M…….looking back at history helps “us” see legends as everyday people including small business owners; of a bookstore no-less. I wonder if anyone screamed at James Joyce; ” Hey Jimmy, earn your keep around here and go get us some pastries!”


  2. Hi there!

    I’m stopping by from the #AtoZChallenge. Nice post!

    I have two blogs in this challenge…my author blog at THE STORY CATCHER ( and my KICKS Kids Club blog (

    If you get a chance, check them out and good luck with the challenge!


  3. What an amazing woman, Martha. Thank you for writing about her. Like Anabel above, I didn’t know a woman was behind such important cultural enterprise. Thankful for Sylvia and others like her.


  4. I didn’t know Shakespeare & Co was started by a woman. I’m very interested in finding out about women’s history in general and the many hidden achievements that have gone unsung.


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