Overview


Founder of the Left Bank bookstore Shakespeare and Company and the first publisher of James Joyce's Ulysses, Sylvia Beach had a legendary facility for nurturing literary talent. In this first collection of her letters, we witness Beach's day-to-day dealings as bookseller and publisher to expatriate Paris. Friends and clients include Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, H. D., Ezra Pound, Janet Flanner, William Carlos Williams, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, and Richard Wright. As librarian, publicist, publisher,...

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The Letters of Sylvia Beach

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Overview


Founder of the Left Bank bookstore Shakespeare and Company and the first publisher of James Joyce's Ulysses, Sylvia Beach had a legendary facility for nurturing literary talent. In this first collection of her letters, we witness Beach's day-to-day dealings as bookseller and publisher to expatriate Paris. Friends and clients include Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, H. D., Ezra Pound, Janet Flanner, William Carlos Williams, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, and Richard Wright. As librarian, publicist, publisher, and translator, Beach carved out a unique space for herself in English and French letters.

This collection reveals Beach's charm and resourcefulness, sharing her negotiations with Marianne Moore to place Joyce's work in The Dial; her battle to curb the piracy of Ulysses in the United States; her struggle to keep Shakespeare and Company afloat during the Depression; and her complicated affair with the French bookstore owner Adrienne Monnier. These letters also recount Beach's childhood in New Jersey; her work in Serbia with the American Red Cross; her internment in a German prison camp; and her friendship with a new generation of expatriates in the 1950s and 1960s. Beach was the consummate American in Paris and a tireless champion of the avant-garde. Her warmth and wit made the Rue de l'Odéon the heart of modernist Paris.

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Editorial Reviews

Dwight Garner
Beach's story has been told before…But the missives in The Letters of Sylvia Beach, edited by Keri Walsh, have an unvarnished charm all their own. Written to friends, writers, customers and family members, they depict a witty and resourceful woman struggling to keep her business, her writers and her precarious existence afloat…This lovely book, scholarly and well annotated, is a pleasure to hold. It documents what Beach once called "my missionary endeavor" and also what she called, correctly, her "interesting life."
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
A respectable and resourceful young American woman christened Nancy Woodbridge Beach (1887-1962) would become famous as the revolutionary publisher of Ulysses. and proprietor of Shakespeare and Company, the bohemian Left Bank lending-library and bookstore to the literary stars. Sylvia Beach left behind a trail of correspondence with major figures: Joyce, of course,and his ever-patient benefactor, Harriet Weaver; Gertrude Stein; Marianne Moore; Hemingway;the Fitzgeralds; Ezra Pound; William Carlos Williams; Richard Wright; and Alfred Knopf among them. Beach’s most historically significant letter appears as an appendix—a protest againstthe pirating of Ulysses by one Samuel Roth, signed by dozens of noted literati, from T.S. Eliot to Jose Ortega y Gasset, which created an international sensation and serves as a reminder of the centrality of intellectual proprietorship long before the Internet age. Letters about her falling out with the Joyce camp will be of interest to today’s scholars. While overall, many of these letters are slight, others reveal the difficulties faced head on by this patron saint of independent booksellers who altered the course of expression in print. The footnotes and editing by Walsh, an assistant professor of literature at Claremont McKenna College, are top-drawer. 30 photos. (Apr.)
Library Journal
"I have always loved books and their authors…," Beach writes in a letter to her longtime friend Marion Peter. This preference for "art" rather than "business or sport" inspired Beach to pursue a career as the proprietor of a "bookshop-lending library" in Paris, France, in the 1920s and 1930s. The bookshop she established, Shakespeare and Company, became famous as a "resort of writers" owing largely to Beach's charm, generosity, and intelligence. Ernest Hemingway, Thornton Wilder, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, as well as Gertrude Stein, T.S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound, were friends and patrons of Beach and her shop. Undoubtedly, the event that elevated Beach most dramatically among the literary intelligentsia of the period was her publication of Ulysses by James Joyce in 1922. As editor Walsh suggests in her helpful introduction, "…her role in bringing modernism's master work to the public meant that after 1922 her opinions commanded respect and her circle of influence grew." Walsh organizes the letters chronologically beginning in 1901 and ending in 1962, just months before Beach's death. Brief footnotes identify people mentioned in each letter with an occasional explanation of an event or situation. The letters reveal Beach's positive nature and her clever, witty persona. Her accounts of working for the Red Cross in Serbia during World War I, arranging to smuggle the banned Ulysses into the United States, and selling her beloved Joyce collection to the University of Buffalo provide details that allow readers to appreciate this interesting woman and her life. VERDICT Academics and students interested in literary culture, especially of writers of the Lost Generation, will find thisbook valuable.—Kathryn R. Bartelt, Univ. of Evansville Libs., IN
New York Times - Dwight Garner

This lovely book, scholarly and well annotated, is a pleasure to hold. It documents what Beach once called 'my missionary endeavor' and also what she called, correctly, her 'interesting life.'

The Vancouver Sun - Robert J. Wiersema

The consummate portrait of an incredible woman.

Pop Matters - Diane Leach

Keri Walsh has produced a commendable work.

The Nation - John Palattella

With The Letters of Sylvia Beach... we now have an unvarnished view of life from the bookshop floor.

Publishing Research Quarterly - David Emblidge

Beach's letters are crisp, detailed, patient, and articulate. Editor Walsh's meticulously orchestrated scholarly apparatus--footnotes, appendices, glossary, and index--all work well to enhance the material.

New York Times
This lovely book, scholarly and well annotated, is a pleasure to hold. It documents what Beach once called 'my missionary endeavor' and also what she called, correctly, her 'interesting life.'

— Dwight Garner

The Vancouver Sun
The consummate portrait of an incredible woman.

— Robert J. Wiersema

Pop Matters
Keri Walsh has produced a commendable work.

— Diane Leach

The Nation
With The Letters of Sylvia Beach... we now have an unvarnished view of life from the bookshop floor.

— John Palattella

New Criterion

Keri Walsh's compact and revealing volume introduces Beach as a character's character

Bookforum - Matthew Price

The patron saint of independent booksellers everywhere and the spunky proprietress of Shakespeare and Company, the famed Left Bank bookshop, Beach was a one-woman clearinghouse for literary modernism, 'a culture hero of the avant-garde,' as Keri Walsh writes in her fine introduction to this collection.... Beach was an animated correspondent.

Bookforum
The patron saint of independent booksellers everywhere and the spunky proprietress of Shakespeare and Company, the famed Left Bank bookshop, Beach was a one-woman clearinghouse for literary modernism, 'a culture hero of the avant-garde,' as Keri Walsh writes in her fine introduction to this collection.... Beach was an animated correspondent.

— Matthew Price

The Barnes & Noble Review

My friend Manan Ahmed, a professor at Freie Universität in Berlin, is giving a lecture called "Situating a Universal: Liminal Sindh in Medieval and Early Modern South Asia." I am in the back, but my brain is in 1920s Paris, with Manan's maps of the 11th-century Middle East layered in the background. I have been gorging on the letters of Sylvia Beach and the memoirs of Margaret Anderson so when Manan pauses and asks, "What does it mean to situate yourself in the frontier?," instead of port cities and conquerors on horseback, I think of these two women, joined by a mad love for James Joyce's Ulysses, exploring the world of modernism and bringing its treasure to the empire's doorstep.

Because when Manan says "frontier," he means in opposition to the empire. To be in the frontier means to be in exile from the kingdom's purview, to hack through uncharted territory rather than walk the paved streets of the capital city. Both Beach and Anderson felt drawn to the world of letters, but lacking a smoldering desire to put pen to paper, and without an introductory letter that might lead to a publishing job, each planted her flag in her own plot of literary land. Anderson transformed herself from a small-town Indiana girl to founder and editor of the incomparable Little Review, the whole start-up funded by a friend's pawned wedding ring. Beach flung herself into the arms of Paris, after realizing she could never afford to open a bookstore in New York; with a small storefront, the help of fellow bookstore owner Adrienne Monnier, and one telegram to her mother -- "Opening bookshop in Paris. Please send money" -- Shakespeare & Company was born. Anderson wrote in her memoirs that there was "something cosmic in the air, a feeling of worlds in the making."

Beach and Anderson are often referred to as two of the midwives of Modernism, although I prefer to think of them as its electrical infrastructure. What they did seems modest now -- a little wiring, the construction of a transformer or two -- but they changed the culture. Beach's bookshop became the way station between English and French letters. She stocked her beloved Blake, Sherwood Anderson, Hemingway, and Joyce, and on her shelves they ran smack into Valéry, Artaud, and Genet. Neither language has yet recovered from the collision. Anderson recognized the period as a low point for American letters -- all of America's magic at the time was tied up in thought and speech, the Emma Goldman lectures, the rise of the workers' movement, suffragists and journalists. Overseas the shake up was in language, and she brought Yeats, Pound, and yes, Joyce, to American shores. The influence spread thickly. As Christine Stansell puts it in American Moderns, "Theirs was a milieu where smart women could find power in the margins and then emerge at the center as authorities to be reckoned with." Of course, power in the margins is not the same as power in the center: it's more reputation than riches, swagger instead of respect. They will name a street after you when you're dead, but they won't do much to help you sustain your life.

In Manan's map of South Asia, the margins of the kingdom sort of fade out into vagueness. The mapmakers live in the center, and it gets fuzzy too far past that. "The Empire has no sense of the frontier," he says, and indeed, no one in the empire asked those who lived out there what their land looked like, or just what it took to live on it. Or what creatures it hid. Ulysses, the book that the lives of these two women would revolve around, certainly seems like it came from some lawless frontier, doesn't it? Or maybe crawling out of the sea all scaly and be-gilled, from one of those cartographic regions marked Here Be Monsters.

Because while Sylvia Beach saw Ulysses and thought it was worth creating a wholly new publishing enterprise for, and Margaret Anderson thought, "This is the most beautiful thing we'll ever have. We'll print it if it's the last effort of our lives," the authorities looked down from their imperial heights and yelled, "obscene." When Anderson began serializing Ulysses, issues of Little Review were confiscated and destroyed. When Beach published Ulysses in her little bookshop and began exporting copies to the United States, they were seized at the border, and she had to develop new trade routes. She cleverly sent a man on a ferry between Canada and the United States, "a copy of Ulysses stuffed down inside his pants," over and over and over again. Anderson was brought up on obscenity charges, accused of "being a danger to the minds of young girls," but the American literary empire did not mount a protest or come to her aid. Stansell writes, "The trial provoked only mild interest in the press and brought no outcry whatsoever from New York literary critics." They lost in court, they were fined and fingerprinted, and Little Review never recovered. Anderson moved to Paris. The kingdom didn't know what it was missing, until, the groundwork laid, the market flooded with pirated copies and the reputation built, Random House came sweeping in to rescue Ulysses.

"As the empire expands, the frontier attracts the center towards it," Manan says. In order to survive, the center of power must be "grafted," in the words of Walt Whitman, "on newer, hardier, purely native stock." In her final memoir, Margaret Anderson wrote of the "strange necessity" that art brings. A book that sets your toes on fire, a painting that peels off your skin, and suddenly you need to build your life around that feeling. It's a power that can move you transatlantically. Makes you stage a coup against the empire that tells you your love is obscene or marginal or foolish.

Except the coup never really takes. The empire absorbs you, it takes your name and your property and it becomes what you once were, with all the fire and the bravery and the gunslinger attitude that it required stripped away. But the live wire that is Ulysses remains, and despite its seeming domesticity -- fatly grazing on college syllabi, taught by people without a feel for the gutter of it -- it can still shock you straight. It remains a danger to the minds of young girls, and thank heavens for that. But more than that, Ulysses is a monument to the resourcefulness of Sylvia Beach and Margaret Anderson, two women who found their place in the literary world -- by building it from the ground up.

--Jessa Crispin

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231517843
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 6/1/2010
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 376
  • Sales rank: 727,153
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author


Keri Walsh is assistant professor of Literature at Claremont McKenna College in Los Angeles.

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Table of Contents

List of IllustrationsPreface by Noel Riley FitchAcknowledgmentsIntroductionReferencesChronologyTHE LETTERS OF SYLVIA BEACH I. Friendship and Travel II. World War I III. Shakespeare and Company: Expatriates IV. Shakespeare and Company: 1930s V. Postwar VI. Old Friends and True VII. LegaciesAppendix 1. Morrill Cody's Article on Shakespeare and Company for Publishers Weekly (April 12, 1924) Appendix 2. Beach's Letter of Protest against the Pirating of Ulysses (February 2, 1927) Appendix 3. Beach's Unsent Letter to James Joyce (April 12, 1927) Appendix 4. Beach's Speech for the Institut Radiophonique d'Extension Universitaire (May 24, 1927) Glossary of Correspondents Index

Columbia University Press

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