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Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation: A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties
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Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation: A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties

4.01  ·  Rating Details  ·  662 Ratings  ·  61 Reviews
The story of Sylvia Beach's love for Shakespeare and Company supplies the lifeblood of this book.
Paperback, Reprint, Illustrated, 447 pages
Published May 17th 1985 by Norton (first published 1983)
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Jul 07, 2015 Kalliope rated it it was amazing

I have always been fascinated by those episodes in history during which a very particularly fertile and creative environment develops for the production of outstanding works of art and literature. The circumstances vary with the times and with the places. There is always an interaction between imaginative and skilled individuals and their patrons. The location of where this interaction takes place is also determinant, and it can be more or less openly physical or instrumental or virtual.

Stephen P
May 22, 2015 Stephen P rated it really liked it

I do not read non-fiction, especially history and including biographies. This book was placed aside to dip into. There it sat waiting, silent and patient. An afternoon not too long ago, for a reason unknown to me-which is how my reading has been successfully guided for some time-I picked it up and opened it. Even started to read.

I found myself on the left bank in Paris. I was there in 1972 but now it is 1920, between the wars. The bookstore in this shift in time, Shakespeare and Company, is open
I am sorry to report that after the initial coverage of Sylvia's background and the initial drawing together of the major characters around her shop.... things got very tedious. Especially as things became more and more focused on Joyce and the publishing of Ulysses. God, his histronics got old fast- there was the odd good anecdote, but it was absolutely buried in a mound of details that were not edited for readability or use. It was like she was reporting every. single. last. thing that she cou ...more
Mar 18, 2013 Kim rated it really liked it

Earlier this year I read Sylvia Beach’s memoir of the 1920s and 1930s in Paris, Shakespeare and Company, named for the English language bookshop and lending library she founded in 1922. I found it an engaging work overall, although my lack of familiarity with less well-known English and American writers of the period and with French literary figures of the early 20th century made some parts of the work significantly less interesting than others. In her memoir, Sylvia Beach comes across as a thor
Jul 02, 2015 Sue rated it it was amazing
Earlier this year, I read Richard Ellman's James Joyce, a painstaking biography of the man and his time and, above all, his writing. Integral to Joyce's key work Ulysses meeting the world was the effort of an ex-patriot American, Sylvia Beach. Noel Riley Finch has performed quite a service to the reading public in producing this biography which opens up those years of experimentation in the arts in Paris, years when the world seemed to congregate there and many, if not most, arrived with hope an ...more
Lynne King
Jan 15, 2013 Lynne King rated it really liked it
This book was written back in 1983 but it’s so good to see that it is still readily available. For anyone interested in literary Paris of the twenties and thirties, this is a must read. It is also quite evident that Noel Riley Fitch has thoroughly researched her subject.

Sylvia Beach had stated there were three loves in her life: Adrienne Monnier, James Joyce and Shakespeare and Company and this is the story of her three loves. But the first thing to be said is that if she had not been such an ad
Attend the birth of a literary masterpiece and feast on art, music and literature ... oh, and have I mentioned literature?

I don't have anything noteworthy to add to the excellent reviews that have been posted here, of which Kalliope's review is a fine example:
Ce Ce
Jul 07, 2015 Ce Ce rated it it was amazing
Jules Verne wrote of a world 20,000 leagues under the sea.

Noel Riley Fitch wrote of a lost generation...literary Paris between the wars. She tells the story of Sylvia Beach and her Nautilus...Shakespeare & Co. on the Rue de l'Odeon. A century extraordinary American woman in Paris...deeply committed.

"'My loves were Adrienne Monnier and James Joyce and Shakespeare and Co, proclaims Sylvia Beach.' This book is the story of those three loves."

Immersed in the universe of Sylvia's Nauti
Jun 30, 2011 Cat rated it really liked it
A scrupulously researched and elegantly written history of literary Paris between the wars. The finest favor Fitch does her readers is to introduce them to the redoubtable Sylvia Beach, a woman whose devotion to Joyce was both unbelievably unwavering (given his abject solipsism and blatant exploitativeness, which Fitch communicates with barely concealed annoyance, which was also fun). Beach founded and ran Shakespeare and Company, a bookshop and lending library for the American expats, French ar ...more
Feb 05, 2013 Maria rated it liked it
Recommends it for: those interested in biography and literature
1. I liked the introduction of Sylvia's life as her life in Paris was a logical progression from her childhood.
2. I liked how Shakespeare and Co was like a magnet. Even though the author detailed the struggles Sylvia experienced, ultimately, the bookstore was a great introduction for many readers and writers, whose works will last longer than the store.
3. I liked how the intrigue of the James Joyce/Sylvia Beach story was written, in particular regarding the publishing of Ulysses. The book made J
Stephen Gallup
Sep 30, 2010 Stephen Gallup rated it liked it
Here’s a rewrite of my earlier review, since I’ve continued to think about the book.

This history does for the Paris literary scene between the world wars what Mark Anderson's book does for Shakespeare's era. Both provide background material to well-known literature, which is fascinating despite the unavoidable fact that in both cases the relentless accumulation of detail can become dry. Fitch's book is more a distillation of letters, unpublished memoir drafts, and personal recollections than a n
Jun 04, 2011 David rated it really liked it
Anyone interested in Paris literature in the twenties and thirties needs to read this book. I was totally hooked on so many of these writers who changed the course of English literature and yet lived the Bohemian life to see the artist struggle as a way of life.
I jumped ship when Joyce took over the entire narrative—I can only take so much Jimmy (and his whole involvement here is just so damn depressing). Otherwise a fascinating account of a fascinating person.
May 18, 2013 Nancy rated it really liked it
Fascinating literary biography by Noel Riley Fitch focusing on the 20 years during which Sylvia Beach's English bookstore in Paris and her lover Adrienne Monnier's French bookstore located directly across the street served as a cultural crossroads for French, American and English men and women of letters. Everybody is in here: Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, Christopher Isherwood, W.H. Auden, T.S Eliot, Ezra Pound, H.D., Janet Flanner, and on and on. But the central literary relationship is be ...more
John Mchugh
Jul 18, 2016 John Mchugh rated it liked it
You have to admire the research. The writing, not so much. I'm sure Carlos Baker, Malcolm Cowley and Leon Edel (they all have blurbs on the back cover) enjoyed reading this 400+ page book. I did plow through it, and found it interesting and revealing in places. Having been a Joyce believer, and having lived in Paris in 1960-61, the subject was irresistible. I have a new respect for Sylvia Beach, and considerably less so for Joyce as a person.
Kelly Cooke
Mar 22, 2008 Kelly Cooke rated it really liked it
this book is not for everyone. i say that because i have given it to two of my most book-loving friends and they both have given it back to me, unfinished, with a withered look.

but what's not to like? this is a book about sylvia beach, who owned 'shakespeare and company,' which was (and, in a shoddy replica is currently) a bookstore in paris. i've been there. because it's some sort of mecca. but it just makes me sad that i wasn't alive in paris in the 20s and 30s.

but i digress. sylvia was frie
June Seghni
Feb 05, 2013 June Seghni rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I can't imagine the amount of research that must have gone into this book, but it kept me enthralled,despite the densely packed information and detail.How I would love to have been a fly on the wall at Shakespeare and Coin the time of James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway and so many others...The way of life of the period is completely gone..everyone seemed to get by on the financial kindness of friends and patrons,allowing them to get on with the business of creating without the sordid necessity of ear ...more
Oct 22, 2008 Allyson rated it it was amazing
It took me over a month to finish but I finally did! This was a huge book with so much information in it I couldn't just run through it. I took time with it and am glad I did. I know more about James Joyce than I ever thought I wanted to know. But I also know more about everything that was happening in Paris for 20 years, and I have always wanted to know that. I loved this book and am sure that if I turned around and started reading it all over again I would catch a million things I didn't catch ...more
Lynn Mccartney
Jul 16, 2012 Lynn Mccartney rated it it was amazing
Still hooked on this topic. It started last summer with Paula McClain's The Paris wife and David McCullough's The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris. This book was fascinating because it filled in the gaps and added wonderful background information about Gertrude Stein, Man Ray, James Joyce, Proust, Henry Miller, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Picasso, and so many others.
Aug 29, 2015 Myles rated it really liked it
Just before reading this book I read a history of New York in the 1920's, roughly the same period as this book. That book suggested the changes that took place in the New York of the Roaring Twenties essentially defined modern America. Before me sits a book which in its own way refutes that hypothesis. Literary Paris of the 1920's encompassed characters as diverse as James Joyce, Andre Gide, Ernest Hemingway, composers like Igor Stravinsky (whose biggest works debuted in the decade before actual ...more
Aug 17, 2007 Trina rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
Lots of names and dates. Worthwhile as a reference or for those who want a reading list of modernist writers living in Paris in the early part of the century.
Dec 01, 2015 Pamela rated it liked it
Shelves: biography, history
I really, really wanted to love this book. It's a period I love. It's all about books. I am very interested in Sylvia Beach and the work she did. So why didn't this turn out to be a 5 star read. Possibly because it's so confusingly written and repetitive that it's hard to figure out what year you're actually in at any given point even though the chapters are headed by years, and possibly because the author spends every bit as much time obsessing over James Joyce as Sylvia Beach did, maybe more.

Aug 17, 2014 Terin rated it really liked it
Noel Fitch's biography of Sylvia Beach is excellent in the beginning, especially when he has others' biographies to rely on--including "supressed" portions of Sylvia's own autobiography. But it seems to a certain extent to drop the ball pretty much after World War II, as Sylvia sells her stock to George (?) Whitman of Le Mistral, which he then renames Shakespeare & Co. and, in his later years, continues the tradition of keeping it as a meeting place for writers (the beats) and with rooms ups ...more
Mar 03, 2010 Dan rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
The story of an American in Paris. More specifically, the story of an American woman who relocated to Paris and started a bookstore and lending library there. Sylvia Beach is perhaps best known as the woman who published James Joyce’s novel Ulysses when no other publisher would come near it. However, Beach’s work on behalf of Joyce was not the only significant contact she had with the expatriate American and English writers who were living in Paris in the twenties and thirties and who have since ...more
Jun 08, 2012 Thombeau rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
In the 1920s and 30s, the remarkable Sylvia Beach ran Shakespeare and Company, a Paris bookstore specializing in English and American literature. This Left Bank shop became a center of activity for famous writers from all over, including Andre Gide, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and James Joyce. In fact, Beach became the first publisher of Joyce's scandalous (at the time) tome Ulysses. The enigmatic and complex Joyce does not come off very well here, but Beac ...more
I love detailed non-fiction and biographies, but looks like I have my limits as well. At a point when there are hundreds of dates and details concerning the publishing industry (at least that's what it felt like) and whatnot, reading feels too much of a chore. The countless irrelevant particulars were like a thicket of weeds through which you have to make your way to find the main point. Because of this Fitch's book doesn't seem that polished (maybe the editor got tired), so even the most patien ...more
Feb 10, 2010 James rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book which uses Beach as the focal point for a fascinating portrait of literary Paris in the heydey of Joyce and Pound. Fitch narrates the story artistic community through anecdote after anecdote. From the intellectual salons at Natalie Barney's residence--of which "William Carlos Williams would recall only the lesbian women dancing together"--to the seemingly constant presence of Ezra Pound, this history provides details. This literary life seems ideal, marked by qualities such a ...more
Angela Natividad
Jan 26, 2016 Angela Natividad rated it it was amazing
Great research by the author. Rich insight into the life of a woman whose contributions to English literature are often overlooked. As an added bonus, it's never syrupy, sentimental or speculative.

Revealing snapshots of Sylvia's interactions with Hemingway, Joyce and the Nazis in Paris, too.
Nov 17, 2013 Matthew rated it really liked it
James Joyce and Sylvia Beach, owner of the famed Left Bank bookstore Shakespeare and Company, met at a Parisian party and struck an instant rapport, a mutual respect that led to the publishing of his "Ulysses. " Joyce could not find anyone willing take on the project, so Beach offered her services even though she was merely a bookshop owner and new nothing about publishing. Originally riddled with errors, as it was typeset by non-English speaking Frenchman, the novel spawned critical inquiry for ...more
Kelly Proudfoot
Jul 15, 2016 Kelly Proudfoot rated it really liked it
Wonderful account of Sylvia Beach and her relationship with James Joyce and how she helped him publish Ulysses. I became less and less enthralled with Joyce as I read. I didn't know what a "money-grubbing" user he was!

I also loved the story about how Sylvia started Shakespeare and Co. (her bookstore in Paris) as well as the famous and not so famous authors and artists she mixed with. I'm a big fan of literary circles - such as the Bloomsbury group, Anais Nin etc. - which is what drove me to buy
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  • Shakespeare and Company
  • Charmed Circle: Gertrude Stein and Company
  • Paris Was Yesterday, 1925-1939
  • Women of the Left Bank
  • Exile's Return: A Literary Odyssey of the 1920s
  • Kiki's Paris: Artists and Lovers 1900-1930
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  • Wild Heart: A Life: Natalie Clifford Barney and the Decadence of Literary Paris
  • Paris Was a Woman: Portraits from the Left Bank
  • Among the Bohemians: Experiments in Living 1900-1939
  • Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin: Writers Running Wild in the Twenties
  • Dawn of the Belle Epoque: The Paris of Monet, Zola, Bernhardt, Eiffel, Debussy, Clemenceau, and Their Friends
  • Hemingway: The Paris Years
  • The Crazy Years: Paris in the Twenties
  • For the Soul of France: Culture Wars in the Age of Dreyfus
  • Paris: The Biography of a City
  • Bohemian Paris: Picasso, Modigliani, Matisse and the Birth of Modern Art
Noël Riley Fitch is a biographer and historian of expatriate intellectuals in Paris in the first half of the 20th century. Every book Fitch has written has some connection with Paris and the artists who lived and worked there, including her biographies of Sylvia Beach, Anaïs Nin, and Julia Child.

In June 2011 Noël was awarded the prestigious Prix de la Tour Montparnasse literary award in France fo
More about Noël Riley Fitch...

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