Sylvia Beach: Joyce, Hemingway, and Shakespeare & Company

Yes this great event of James Joyce Tower opening brings me back to the days in 1922 when I published Ulysses by James Joyce in my little bookshop called Shakespeare & Company in Paris; yes I started life in a Presbyterian parsonage in Princeton New Jersey where my father was a pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, and we lived on a street called Library Place, and in the pews of church you’d see ex-president Grover Cleveland and future president Woodrow Wilson; yes I left Princeton and went to Paris during the first world war, and I was studying and teaching a little too, and it was my French friend Adrienne Monnier yes who encouraged me to open a bookshop in Paris; I didn’t imagine such a thing as having a James Joyce frequenting it, going in and out the door, nor Hemingway, nor any of those people; well yes I opened my book shop and already I had all these young Americans who were pouring into Paris from America, and they were disgusted with America because they couldn’t get drink, it was prohibition, and they couldn’t get Ulysses, I used to think those were the two causes of their discontent; it was always women who were publishing Joyce yes, and they were trying to publish this thing, and it was suppressed, and finally their review was suppressed, and they were hauled off to prison on account of Joyce; yes, you see I met Joyce one day at a party I wasn’t supposed to attend at all as I wasn’t invited, but in the end Monnier took me; I was so scared, and I imagined Joyce up in the clouds somewhere with the gods you see; yes, never did I think I could meet him in the flesh, and yes I went into a room where a lot of books were piled up in a little library yes, and leaning in the corner against the bookshelves was James Joyce drooping, and I went up to him boldly, and we had a conversation together, and he said, “what do you do?,” and I said, “I have a book shop,” “Oh you have, give me the address,” and I told him it’s Shakespeare and Company at 8 Rue Dupuytren Paris Six, and he took this all down peering very closely at it because his eyes were not good; and finally he came one day to show me this little review, and he said see this is now being completely suppressed, and my book will never come out, so he sat there with his head in his hands, and I said to him, “Would you like me to publish Ulysses?,” and he said, “Yes, I would”; he seemed very much relieved in fact, why I don’t know, because it wouldn’t inspire confidence in anyone who had such a book that he’d taken seven years to write, to put it in the hands of someone so inexperienced and young yes, and a little bookshop, not a publishing house at all, so that’s the way I started publishing Ulysses; and then Joyce being a member of my library checked out Riders to the Sea, that was the first book he borrowed; he began to frequent the bookshop like all these other people who had adopted it as their headquarters, yes, and Hemingway and all the young writers used to practically live in my bookshop, I could hardly get any work done, and the newspapers called me mother hen of The Twenties yes, and they seemed to come to me about everything; and I met Ernest Hemingway when he came from the wars in Italy where he was very badly wounded, and he had still the scars on his leg and his foot, and he said, ‘would you like to see my wounds,’ and I said, ‘yes indeed,’ and he took off his shoe and showed me all these dreadful scars on his leg and foot; and I decided to stay in Paris although the Germans were coming fast nearer and nearer, and Paris was emptied, none were left hardly, and packs of hungry dogs were running through the streets yes, and the Parisians prayed; I saw them passing on foot, retreating, and the Germans were coming in, and tears were streaming down our cheeks yes, and it was a very awful experience, horrible; and the Germans of course didn’t like me yes but I kept my shop open for a while until their German officer came in and said, ‘I want that copy of Finnegans Wake you’ve got in the window,; well I said, “That’s the only copy left in Paris and you can’t have it” yes, and he was very angry yes, and he went out and got into his great military car surrounded with other fellows and helmets and drove away; then he came back again in about ten days, and he said, ‘your copy of Finnegans Wake has gone from the window what did you do with it?,’ and I said, ‘Yes I’ve put it away, it’s for me,’ and he was so furious he said, “Well you know, we’re coming this afternoon to confiscate,” and he said, “now will you sell Finnegan’s Wake,” and I said, “Not at all,” so he disappeared in a rage, booming down the street yes, and I immediately had everything removed from my shop in about two hours, everybody, all my friends came rushing to the rescue, and we hid everything upstairs, and when the Germans came that afternoon, I peered out the windows that were all shuttered up, and I had Shakespeare and Company painted off the house by painters, and carpenters took down the shelves and the shutters were up, so the Germans must have come and saw nothing left at all yes; and I retired upstairs; well, they kept track of me because I had to sign at the commissaries once a week as an enemy alien, and so I signed in a big book that they could never find, I used to find it for them, yes, and I’d sign in this book, and it said opposite my name: has no loss, yes, and I never knew why, and I think they were trying to trace the horses yes in France, and then the Gestapo kept track of me; then they’d say you have a Jewish girl helping you in the bookshop and we have a black mark against you yes and I said okay okay and then they said well we’ll come for you and I’d say well okay—I always said okay to them yes, and then one day they did come, it was rather frightening, and they came with a big truck, and the soldier stood there with his tin plate around his neck, and waited, and gave me very little time to prepare to go off as a prisoner, and they hustled me onto a truck and took me off with other American friends, then they drove us, and we didn’t know why, couldn’t see where we were going, but when we got there, found out that we were in the zoo, yes out in the Jardin d’Acclimatation; well, we spent ten days in the zoo, in what we called The Monkey House yes, and in this house we were all in a big room of over 200 American women, and on these cot beds with the water dripping from the roof, and the Germans were up on this gallery above, and they were checking on us all the time; all night long they would flash the light on our faces to count us, and they went around counting us, and we were never the same number yes, and they found us a great bore, and then they took us out to a camp in these awful old trains stuffed with what the French said were donkey’s feathers yes, and we landed in this prison where we were kept, I stayed there only about five or six months, and then I was let out on sick leave, and I came back to Paris, and hid in a student’s home, and they never let on, nobody let on; I used to go back and forth in the streets while the liberation was going on, and they were shooting at us in the streets; and Adrienne and I went out one day because we heard that the enemy was leaving us; yes everybody was cheering, and the Germans were retiring with all their mechanized forces down the street and they got so angry because people were so happy waving WC brushes yes that they began to shoot their machine guns along the sidewalk and my friend and I had to lie on our stomachs until this was over; when we raised our heads, we saw stretchers taking the wounded away; well then after that we were liberated by Ernest Hemingway, yes, and Hemingway was the first American that we saw that we knew who arrived in Paris he was with the first ones, with General Leclerc; then I heard noise out in the rue de l’Odéon and looked out the window, and I saw a string of Jeeps and then I heard people calling and calling, and I heard this big boy yes saying, ‘Silvia, Silvia’ and it was Ernest Hemingway yes and his men, and I rushed down the stairs, and he picked me up and swung me around and swung me around yes, and then everybody was looking out of the windows, and they cheered, and then I took him up to Adrienne’s apartment, and he sat down with his clanking machine gun, and he was all bloody in battle dress, and we asked him what he would like us to do for him and he said, “Soap, soap, I’d like some soap,” and soap was very rare by that time yes but everyone got out her last piece of soap, and then he said what can I do for you and we said, ‘Oh liberate us liberate us’ yes because the enemy was still firing from the roofs, and the resistance was firing also from the roofs, and this shooting was going on all the time day and night and especially on Adrienne’s roof, so Ernest’s timing is with us and he signaled his men to come up out of those jeeps, and they went up on the roof, and we heard a great deal of shooting going on for a few minutes yes, and then the shooting stopped forever yes.

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