The Literary Right Bank


Unsurprisingly, the majority of the members of the Shakespeare and Company Lending Library lived on the Left Bank. As an umbrella term, the Left Bank or Rive Gauche, refers to several neighborhoods in Paris: the Latin Quarter—named for its many universities, including the Sorbonne; the area south of the Seine at the Louvre, traditionally associated with the publishing industry and the book trade; the wealthy Faubourg Saint-Germain; and finally Montparnasse, home, in the 1920s and 1930s, to the avant-garde. Shakespeare and Company, at 12 rue de l’Odéon, was perfectly located at the intersection of these neighborhoods.

Yet an analysis of the addresses on the Shakespeare and Company lending library cards reveals that a significant number of members lived on the Right Bank. Indeed, there are 80 addresses in the 16th arrondissement alone, a residential neighborhood built around the old village of Passy to the west of the city. The 16th has been popular among the wealthy and the rising bourgeoisie ever since its expansion and Haussmannization under the Second Empire.

Although one doesn’t usually associate the 16th arrondissement with the Lost Generation, there are several good reasons why one should. As the map above shows, the American Embassy had its offices at 5 rue de Chaillot from 1913 to 1933, and the American ambassador lived at 2 avenue d’Iéna. Other important American expatriate institutions include the American Hospital, still located at 63 boulevard Victor Hugo, and the American Ambulance Field Service Headquarters at 21 rue Raynouard, which was responsible for dispatching the American Ambulance Corps during World War I. (Many influential writers served in the Corps, including John Dos Passos, e.e. cummings, Ernest Hemingway, and Dashiell Hammett.) Yet another attraction was the American Women’s Club at 61 rue Boissière, which, according to Arlen Hansen, counted 1,200 members in 1929. F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald kept their last apartment in Paris at 10 rue Pergolèse, from October 1929 to April 1930.

(The map focuses on the 16th arrondissement. Zoom in and out. Explore. The major institutions have red dots; the remaining addresses, all derived from the lending library cards, have green dots if discussed in this essay and blue dots if not. The map uses a lightly edited 1944 map of Paris created for use by the British War and Navy Department agencies during World War II.)

The 16th was also home to Paul Valéry, who, as the most celebrated French poet of his generation, was a one-man literary institution. An early supporter of Shakespeare and Company and Sylvia Beach, he lived in the same apartment at 40 rue de Villejust from 1900 until his death in 1945. That year, rue de Villejust was renamed rue Paul Valéry in his honor.

The arrondissement also contained a large assimilated Jewish community, which included lending library members. Henri Maspero, a prominent academic and sinologist, and son of the Egyptologist Gaston Maspero, lived at 45 rue Scheffer. Nathalie Sarraute, a founder of the “Nouveau-Roman” movement in French letters, lived at 12 avenue Pierre 1er de Serbie. Sarraute got many of her radical ideas for breaking with the French novel from reading the Anglophone modernists she discovered at Shakespeare and Company.

The lending library cards are a valuable but imperfect guide for tracking the movements of Shakespeare and Company members. The Lost Generation was a notoriously nomadic community, and it is not unusual to find lending library members with three or more addresses. Archibald MacLeish’s cards, for example, record five addresses in Paris, two in the 16th—8 rue Emile Augier and 41 avenue Foch—two in the Latin Quarter, and the last at 14 rue Guynemer, next to the Luxembourg Gardens and around the corner from the apartment Hemingway shared with his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, at 6 rue Férou. In addition to these locations, MacLeish had forwarding addresses in Cap d’Antibes; Granville, Normandy; the Berkshires; and New York City at 135 East 42nd Street, the offices of Fortune magazine, where he worked in the 1930s. The cards do not represent a precise chronology of MacLeish’s movements.

The patronage of wealthy expatriates supported bohemian writers, but it also helped keep Beach’s bookshop and lending library afloat. Notable patrons who lived in the 16th include Carlotta Welles-Briggs at 31 boulevard Suchet, a Beach childhood friend who eventually married a wealthy banker; and Tania Whitman, at 10 avenue Alphonse-XIII, the daughter of a prominent San Francisco banking family.

The lending library cards with addresses in the 16th also record the names of a surprising number women from aristocratic families: the countesses de Vogüé, de Noailles-Wendel, de la Foret-Divonne, and de Raousset, as well as the countess Marthe de Fels, a noted translator who kept a celebrated literary salon at her home at 31 rue Octave Feuillet. The writer Elisabeth de Roos lived with her husband, the Franco-Dutch aristocrat and writer Edgar Du Perron, at 14 rue de l’Yvette.

One of the most intriguing aristocratic women living in the 16th—at 40 rue Spontini—was Elvira de Alvear, an Argentinian heiress, writer, editor, muse to Jorge Luis Borges, and founder, in 1931, of the literary review Imán. “Imán” is Spanish for “magnet,” and as a magazine title refers to the drawing together of north and south literary poles. Not unlike many other modernist little magazines, Imán was ephemeral but influential. It produced one issue only, but was reprinted in four editions and distributed in bookstores in Paris, Madrid, and Buenos Aires.  Alvear’s lending library cards include her home address and the address of the editorial offices of Imán at 5 avenue Frédéric-Le-Play in the equally posh 7th arrondissement.

The lending library cards raise many questions. Who was Irène Wissotzky, who contributed to the journal transition and lived at 37 rue Davioud in the 16th? Was Lady Marjorie Williams, who lived at 33 rue de la Tour, the popular children’s book writer, Margery Williams Bianco, author of The Velveteen Rabbit, who lived in Paris in the late 1920s while translating a collection of African children’s tales by Blaise Cendrars? These two examples illuminate the many mysteries that remain to be solved.

Perhaps the most relevant connection between Shakespeare and Company and the 16th is that Sylvia Beach first met James Joyce on July 11, 1920 at a supper held at 34 rue du Bois de Boulogne, the home of the French poet André Spire. Joyce was invited to Spire’s home at the behest of Ludmila Savitzky, a Russian emigré and translator and habituée of French literary circles, who lived close by at 22 rue de Boulainvilliers. Savitzky, who went on to translate A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man into French in 1924, provided lodgings for Joyce at number 5 rue de l’Assomption, also in the 16th. This was to be the first of many addresses Joyce would keep in Paris, and it is the one he gave Beach the next day when he paid seven francs for a one month membership at her newly opened bookshop, Shakespeare and Company.

Jesse McCarthy

Works Consulted

  • Sylvia Beach. Shakespeare and Company. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1991.
  • Olivier Bernier. Fireworks at Dusk: Paris in the Thirties. New York: Little Brown, 1993.
  • Scott Donaldson. Archibald MacLeish: An American Life. New York: Houghton, 1992.
  • Noel Riley Fitch. Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation: A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties. New York: Norton, 1985.
  • Nancy L. Green. The Other Americans in Paris: Businessmen, Countesses, Wayward Youth, 1880–1941. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014.
  • Arlen J. Hansen. Expatriate Paris A Cultural and Literary Guide to Paris of the 1920s. New York: Arcade, 1990.
  • Patricia Hutchins. James Joyce’s World. New York: Methuen, 1957.
  • Adrienne Monnier. The Very Rich Hours of Adrienne Monnier. Translated by Richard McDougall. New York: Scribner’s, 1976.
  • Bernard Rouleau. Paris: histoire d’un espace. Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1997.
  • William Wiser. The Twilight Years: Paris in the 1930s. New York: Avalon, 2000.