Membership Numbers, 1919–1927


To recreate the world of the Lost Generation, MEP analyzes the information contained in two sets of documents in the Sylvia Beach Papers: lending library cards and logbooks.

From these documents, we can learn what the members of the lending library read and where they lived; we can also learn about how the library’s membership changed from the end of World War I to the beginning of World War II. The documents thus present a portrait of the community memorialized in countless memoirs, films, and non-fiction books: from Gertrude Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933) to Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast (1964), and from Noel Riley Fitch’s Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation (1985) to Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris (2011).

So far, the MEP team has transcribed and encoded the logbooks from the opening of Shakespeare and Company on November 19, 1919 through the end of 1927. The data from these eight plus years reveal the library’s steady growth—and suggest the beginning of its decline, well before the Great Depression and the exodus of American expatriates from Paris. The numbers also reveal the library’s seasonal rhythms: membership peaks in the late fall and early winter, and falls off in the summer.

Here is a graph of active members of the library by month:

Membership in the library grows steadily over its first six years, culminating in January 1926 with 315 active members. During this period, Beach moved the bookshop and lending library from 8 rue Dupuytren to 12 rue de l’Odéon, published James Joyce’s Ulysses under the Shakespeare and Company imprint, and gave moral and financial support to Hemingway as he wrote The Sun Also Rises (1926). These were the golden years of the Lost Generation.

Later in 1926, there is a drop in membership. Is this decline a sign of things to come? Did Hemingway’s first novel mark the end of an era as it was being immortalized? We do not yet know. This coming year, MEP will complete the transcription and encoding the logbooks for 1928 to 1941, and post the results.

In the coming year, the MEP team will also attempt to answer a series of other questions about the lending library’s membership. For example, what percentage of the American expatriates in Paris were members of the library? We can begin to address this question by comparing the membership numbers to the names listed in Americans in France, a directory published annually by the American Chamber of Commerce in France. How do the membership numbers compare to the membership numbers of other lending libraries in interwar Paris? We will investigate whether data are available for Adrienne Monnier’s La Maison des Amis des Livres, the French-language lending library that was a model for Shakespeare and Company, and the Turgenev Library, a Russian-language lending library.

The MEP team will also continue to collect demographic information about library members. As we transcribe and encode the logbooks, we are creating a detailed personography of names, addresses, and other relevant information. What percentage of the library’s membership were American—or French or British or Canadian or Swiss, etc.? What percentage were women? Where did they live in Paris? Did the demographics of the lending library change dramatically over its twenty-two year existence? Check back here for answers to these questions.

And when we launch the next version of this site in 2018, users will be able to generate and analyze data from Beach’s archives for themselves.

Joshua Kotin