Sylvia Beach: Censorship & Company
by Isabella Marie Garcia
Though not born in France, Sylvia Beach’s presence in Paris remains palpable through the legacy of Shakespeare and Company, an independently runned bookstore that was reopened by George Whitman in honor of Sylvia’s influence. Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Sylvia made her way to France through her father’s occupation as a minister in the American Church in Paris, and studied French literature at Paris Sorbonne Universite. Her mixed experience of working for the Red Cross, and learning various languages, including Spanish and Italian, aided her in moving to live in Paris and open her shop up to visiting writers and customers.
Prior to opening her shop, Sylvia met Adrienne Monnier, a young French bookshop owner who soon become her close friend and lover, and the woman who ultimately pushed Sylvia to open Shakespeare and Company. Though the presence of Left Bank Lesbians and the gay community in Paris was prevalent, Sylvia and Adrienne’s relationship was just another aspect of who they were as individuals and young women, and they opened their shops up to anyone who shared a similar love for literature and good company.
During the German occupation in France, Sylvia faced trials but kept on a persistent face through it all, including having to paint over her shop’s sign and pack up all the books in order to avoid confiscation, which ended in Shakespeare and Company’s ultimate closing in 1941. Along with the troubles of war, Sylvia faced the personal trouble of helping publish Ulysses, a work by James Joyce, a close friend of hers, that had been censored in the United States and England. Though he was offered a $40,000 grant for the book, he never gave any physical reimbursement to Sylvia, despite her great sacrifice in getting the censored book published.
As a student who is seeking a degree in English literature, learning about Sylvia Beach’s work to endorse censored books and her kindness to those who would come into her store has made me realize the importance of not silencing your voice or restraining your words. To be able to physically go into Shakespeare and Company, though not in its original establishment, during my time in Paris this July will surely be memorable, just as Sylvia has been for the literary world.
To honor Sylvia Beach’s legacy and her work in endorsing censored literary works, I made a zine (/ziːn/ ZEEN), which is defined as an inexpensively produced, self-published, underground publication.
Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Sylvia Beach.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 8 Mar. 2018, http://www.britannica.com/biography/Sylvia-Beach.
Garner, Dwight. “’Letters of Sylvia Beach,’ Edited by Keri Walsh.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 18 Apr. 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/19/books/19book.html.
Halford, Macy. “Books and Their Makers: Sylvia Beach and James Joyce.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 19 June 2017, http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/books-and-their-makers-sylvia-beach-and-james-joyce.
Moriarty, Ani, et al. “Americans in Paris: Sylvia Beach, Founder of the Influential Bookshop, Shakespeare & Company.” Bonjour Paris, 30 Aug. 2017, bonjourparis.com/history/sylvia-beach/.
“Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare and Company, 1919-1941.” Shakespeare and Company, shakespeareandcompany.com/35/history/95/sylvia-beachs-shakespeare-and-company-1919-1941
Isabella Marie Garcia