A Novel in Three Words

Today, you can find the bookstore Shakespeare and Company in the 5th arrondissement of Paris at 37 rue de la Bûcherie. However, there was a bookstore with this exact time at a different location earlier. The first Shakespeare and Company was opened by Sylvia Beach in 1919 at 8 ru Dupuytren, also in the 5th arrondissement, but then later moved o 12 rue de l’Odéon which is in the 6th arrondissement. It was a place where famous writers would gather such as Ernest Hemingway. So from the very beginning, Shakespeare and Company has been more than a bookstore: it has been a place for social gathering. Unfortunately, Beach had to close the bookstore in 1940 because of the war and was never able to reopen it.

George Whitman was an American who did not want to go back to the U.S. immediately after World War II. Instead he rented an apartment and used his room as a library with a large collection of English books where he also taught himself French. It wasn’t until he talked with Lawrence Ferlinghetti, a friend of his, that he considered to start an independent bookstore. Whitman chose a small apartment (which had earlier been occupied by a monastery) in the Latin Quarter located near the Seine River and right across from Notre Dame for the location of his bookstore. His English-language bookstore called Le Mistral, opened in 1951. It was a very good time to be starting a new business because that same year the Treaty of Paris (establishing the European Coal and Steel Community) was established and helped to establish diplomatic as well as economic stability. This location was also the perfect for a bookstore such as this. The Latin Quarter was, and still is, known as the center creativity and intelligence in Paris. It is called the Latin Quarter because that is the language that was widely spoken there when it was formed in the Middle Ages. There are also a lot of universities in this area so the student population is vast and still is today. When George Whitman first chose this building to start what would soon become Shakespeare and Company, he may have just seen it as a space, but it soon became a specific place. Cresswell stated that “places don’t just exist but they are always and continually being socially constructed by powerful institutional forces in society” (57). Place is something that is socially constructed. George Whitman bought a building and made it into his own space by putting himself into it and creating a place where he welcomed others.

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It wasn’t until after Sylvia Beach’s death in 1964 that George Whitman changed his bookstore’s name to Shakespeare and Company as a way of showing tribute to Beach. He described the name as “a novel in three words.” Whitman wanted Shakespeare and Company to be more than a bookstore; he wanted it to be a kind of sanctuary for writers, whether they were well-known or just starting out so he has welcomed writers to share his bookstore and home. There are thirteen beds throughout the corridors of the bookstore where many famous writers have slept. Some include Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, James Baldwin, Richard Wright, and many more. Many of the visiting writers were of of the Beat Generation. Many people say that you can see the history of the bookstore on the shelves because famous writers have stood where customers have stood, browsed those same shelves, and possibly even signed one of their own books before replacing it where others could find it.

George Whitman wanted his bookstore for new and experienced writers to come and feel comfortable. He held events like teas, readings, and others on a regular bases. These events as well as having famous writers there and having the history of that in the shop could be a way to reach out to people and get them into the store and enjoy books. Books are a way for us to reach out to one another and “books we love reach out to other books” as well so it creates a community (Morely 64).

In 2002, George Whitman turned the ownership of Shakespeare and Company over to his daughter. She took over the running the shop and did the day-to-day managing duties. Sadly, on December 14, 2011, George Whitman passed away at the age of 98. Although the store has changed hands, it stays very much the same in a changing world. People who were there while George ran it and then return today will find it almost identical.

Of course, Sylvia Whitman has modernized a few things and has added her personal signature. In 2003, she launched the literary festival, FestivalandCo. It is usually a four day event that features approximately 30 renowned authors from different countries, readings, panels, and two large parties. The festival was a way to get more people interested in Shakespeare and Company and showing that the store is new and improved, get the name out there more, and to get the community involved. The festival is held every other year in the summer and each year has a new theme and different authors.

In addition to this, Whitman has also installed a computerized inventory system and in 2009, she bought the space next door so she can expand and put in a café. Although she doesn’t want to change the store too much, she wants to keep things fresh. According to Whitman, her father always intended to put in a café.

Shakespeare and Company is now listed as one of the top places to visit in Paris. It is in a very pretty area with a lot of sights to see. There are also hotels and cafés on the street. It was also named one of the most beautiful bookstores. In addition, it has been featured in poems by Lawrence Ferlinghetti as well as others, and has been seen in films like Julie & Julia. Shakespeare & Co is still thriving and is definitely somewhere not to be missed.

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Maps embedded from Google

Timeline embedded from Dipity http://www.dipity.com/galloway/History-of-Shakespeare-and-Company/


George Whitman. “Wikipedia.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Whitman

Shakespeare & Company Literary Festival. “festivalandco.” http://www.festivalandco.com/index.php?page=701

Sylvia Beach. “Wikipedia.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sylvia_Beach


RIP Shakespeare & Company’s George Whtiman, “The Paris Blog.” http://www.theparisblog.com/rip-shakespeare-cos-george-whitman/

Sylvia Whitman, “flickriver.” http://www.flickriver.com/photos/poisonbabyfood/4182531861/

Images in Timeline

Campbell, James. George Whitman Obituary, “The Guardian.” http://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/dec/14/george-whitman-obituary

Festivalandco 2010 at Shakespeare and Co. http://keziahplummer.com/tag/books/ Shakespeare and Company Bookstore. “Crowd Source DC”. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/dec/14/george-whitman-obituary

Shakespeare and Company (bookstore). “Les Stimuli De Martine.” http://www.martinestimuli.com/814/

Shakespeare and Company-Librairie. “Wikimedia Commons.” http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Shakespeare_and_Company_-_Librairie.jpg Sunsurfer. http://sun-surfer.com/shakespeare-and-co-antiquarian-bookshop-paris-france-7707.html

Sunsurfer. http://sun-surfer.com/shakespeare-and-co-antiquarian-bookshop-paris-france-7707.html


Cresswell, Tim. Place: A Short Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub, 2004.

Foy, Nathalie. Shakespeare and Company: A Chronology. http://nathaliefoy.wordpress.com/2010/06/14/shakespeare-and-company-a-chronology/

History. “Shakespeare and Company.” http://www.shakespeareandcompany.com/index.php?categories=113:1

Latin Quarter. “Wikipedia.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latin_Quarter,_Paris

Morely, Christopher. “Escaped Into Print,” in Ex Libris Carissimis. New York: A.S. Barnes, 1961.

Shakespeare & Company. “festivalandco.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Paris_(1951

Shakespeare and Company (bookstore). “Wikipedia.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shakespeare_and_Company_(bookstore)

Treaty of Paris (1951). “Wikipedia.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Paris_(1951

Wong,Ming E. A Storied Bookstore’s Continueing story; In the digital age, Paris’ legendary Shakespeare & Co. bookstore remains a literary hub. “LIFESTYLE; Go.” http://www.lexisnexis.com/lnacui2api/auth/checkbrowser.do;jsessionid=14A11D9BF86B055706479021FF65CCA7.MgHXAlEnyyAHeuzKo6U4A?ipcounter=1&cookieState=0&rand=0.42786932450326753&bhcp=1