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 across the Seine from 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. Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare and Company, at 12 rue de l’Odéon, was perfectly located at the intersection of these neighborhoods.
Yet an analysis of Shakespeare and Company Project data reveals that 195 lending library members lived in one particular district on the Right Bank—the 16th arrondissement. (To compare, 895 members lived in the 6th arrondissement on the Left Bank, the most popular arrondissement and the location of Shakespeare and Company.) 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 United States embassy had its offices at 5 rue de Chaillot from 1913 to 1933, and the United States ambassador lived at 2 avenue d’Iéna. Other important American institutions include the American Women’s Club at 61 rue Boissière, which, according to Arlen Hansen, counted 1,200 members in 1929, 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.) F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald kept their last apartment in Paris at 10 rue Pergolèse from October 1929 to April 1930.
The 16th arrondissement was also home to Paul Valéry, who, in the interwar years, 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. The 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 pioneer of the “Nouveau-Roman” movement in French letters, lived at 12 square Henry Paté and then at 12 avenue Pierre 1er de Serbie. Sarraute’s lending library cards are of particular interest as they show a flurry of activity during the period when she wrote her first experimental novel Tropismes (1939).
Shakespeare and Company Project data is 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 and Ada MacLeish, for example, have no fewer than 11 addresses! Six are in Paris proper: two in the 16th—8 rue Emile Augier and 41 rue du Bois de Boulogne—two in Saint Germain, one in the Latin Quarter, and one next to the Luxembourg Gardens, just around the corner from the apartment Hemingway shared with his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, at 6 rue Férou. In addition to these locations, the MacLeishes had forwarding addresses in Cap d’Antibes; Granville, Normandy; Cricket Hill Farm in Conway, Massachusetts (they are buried in Conway); and New York City at 135 East 42nd Street, the offices of Fortune magazine, where Archibald worked in the 1930s. The addresses do not represent a precise chronology of the MacLeishes' 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.
Lending library members with addresses in the 16th also include a surprising number women from aristocratic families: the countesses de Vogué, de Comminges, de Noailles, de Berteux, de Lubersac, 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. Elisabeth de Roos, a prominent Dutch journalist and translator lived with her husband, the Franco-Dutch aristocrat and writer Eddy du Perron, at 14 rue de l’Yvette. One of the most impressive society figures to hold a library card was Élisabeth de Gramont, Natalie Clifford Barney’s lover and an intimate of the social circles of Robert de Montesquiou and Marcel Proust. De Gramont was arguably the doyenne of the postal code’s high society, and a merciless chronicler of its foibles and crepuscular atmosphere in her voluminous memoirs.
One of the most intriguing aristocratic women living in the 16th—with addresses at 40 rue Spontini and 44 avenue Kléber—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”—a magnet appeared on the cover, referring metaphorically to the drawing together of north and south literary poles, as well as to André Breton and Philippe Soupault’s Surrealist ur-text Les Champs magnétiques (1919). Soupault (himself a library member residing at 4 avenue Erlanger) was a key collaborator and contributor to Imán, as were Alejo Carpentier, Miguel Ángel Asturias, and Arturo Uslar Pietri.
Not unlike many other modernist little magazines, Imán was ephemeral but influential. It produced only one issue (April 1931), but was reprinted in four editions and distributed in bookshops in Paris, Madrid, and Buenos Aires. Alvear’s lending library cards remind us that Shakespeare and Company was a hinge, a conducting wire, connecting modernist currents that originated in Latin America and the Caribbean and which were fusing during the interwar years in Paris with their Anglo-Americans counterparts and successors.
The addresses of lending library members on the Right Bank also reveal that the cosmopolitan cultural milieu that sustained the bookshop was particularly vulnerable. The republic of vanguard arts and letters was headed for a disaster few could imagine until it was too late. Indeed, a large number of the Jewish members of the lending library appear in the Holocaust Survivors and Victims Database. Irene Wissotzky, who contributed to the journal transition and lived at 37 rue Davioud was deported from Drancy on July 19 and died at Auschwitz on July 24, 1942. Maspero died at Buchenwald in 1945. (His son François, a leftist publisher who defied the French government by publishing Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth in 1961, was active in the Resistance.) Rachel Bespaloff, who lived at 2 rue Gustave Zédé, fled France in 1942 and took up a position at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. She wrote a celebrated essay on the Iliad—republished in 2005 by NYRB Books alongside Simone Weil’s well-known The "Iliad," or the Poem of Force (1939)—before ending her life in 1949. Sarraute was forced to go into hiding because of her Russian Jewish ancestry. As her biographer Ann Jefferson details, Sarraute obtained false papers and lived in the small village of Janvry, where she took in Samuel Beckett after his branch of the Resistance was compromised by an informant.
Sylvia Beach’s assistant Françoise Bernheim, whose heavily inked lending library cards testify to her passion for literature, was likewise interned at Drancy and deported on Transport 59 on September 2, 1943. Her tragically brief correspondence with Beach from various locations in hiding before her arrest, show a closeness between the two women that was particularly affectionate and personal. Sylvia Beach learned in late June of 1945 that Françoise died at Birkenau in December of 1943 at the age of 31.
By looking through the Right Bank addresses, we open the archive to fresh interpretations, casting the social network it represents in a new light. Sorting the addresses doesn’t only illuminate individual lives and relationships; it reveals relays of class, intellectual affiliations, and ethnic markings that we are unlikely to appreciate without analytic tools.
In the end, however, the most significant connection between Shakespeare and Company and the 16th arrondissement is the classic one at the center of the bookshop and lending library’s legacy and cultural mythology. For it was there that Sylvia Beach met James Joyce on July 11, 1920 at a supper held at 34 rue du Bois de Boulogne, in the home of the French poet André Spire. Joyce was invited to Spire’s at the behest of Ludmila Savitzky, a Russian emigré, 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 (1916) into French in 1924, found 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.
Jesse McCarthy wrote the text of this article. Moacir P. de Sá Pereira created the map. The article uses data from Shakespeare and Company Project Dataset: Lending Library Members, Books, Events, version 1.1.
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Cite this document
“The Literary Right Bank.” Shakespeare and Company Project, version 1.5.6. Center for Digital Humanities, Princeton University. April 5, 2021. http://shakespeareandco.princeton.edu/analysis/2021/04/literary-right-bank/. Accessed January 30, 2023.