Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation: A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

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

4.01 of 5 stars 4.01  ·  rating details  ·  406 ratings  ·  45 reviews
The story of Sylvia Beach's love for Shakespeare and Company supplies the lifeblood of this book. 'An absorbing book, backed by an impressive amount of research. Working from the rich collection of Sylvia Beach's papers, Noel Fitch has written an objective story that corrects many of the errors and misjudgments to be found in other literary memoirs of those eventful years...more
Paperback, Reprint, Illustrated, 447 pages
Published May 17th 1985 by Norton (first published 1983)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,211)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details

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...more
Lynne King
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...more
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 3 of 5 stars
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...more
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
Stephen Gallup
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...more
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
Kelly Cooke
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...more
June Seghni
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
Bill Ardis
Goodreads recommended this and I finally found a copy. Was instantly hooked, Sylvia Beach was a fascinating person. Her bookstore seemed to be at the center of literature in the 1920's, as people like Hemingway, Joyce, Pound, and others turn up at Shakespeare & Company. Besides running the bookstore, Beach also is a publisher. It is due to her efforts that Ulysses by James Joyce is first published. A good part of the book deals with Beach's (frustrating) relationship with Joyce.
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
One of my favourite books.
Nicole G.
Sylvia Beach was very influential on the literary world of American expatriates in Paris. She had a lending library there, and many now-famous 30s writers were slowly making a name for themselves then. Sylvia Beach was also responsible for publishing James Joyce's Ulysses, when no one else would touch it, and it was confiscated if found! She seems like an intriguing woman, and not given enough space in other Left Bank books.
Margery Walshaw
Not only is this a great book for readers, but a must for writers as well. It will give you inspiration about your craft as well as making you wish that you were part of the literary Paris crowd of the 20s and 30s. Noel Riley Fitch, my dear writing instructor...a writer and researcher like no other.
May 12, 2010 itpdx marked it as abandoned
I am giving up on this one. I have read the first hundred pages and the last two chapters. It just does not seem to have a it about Beach, her bookstore/library, Joyce, the writers and artists of France or the American writers who visited or lived in Paris during the time between the wars?
The author, Fitch, often sites parts of Beach's memoirs that were suppressed or didn't make it into the published book. That might have made an interesting story!
Sylvia Beach was the delightful dynamo who brought James Joyce's ULYSSES to the reading public when no publisher would touch it.
But another ten years transpired after her publication in France before it gained legal entry into the United States.
Professor Fitch's book is a wonderfully detailed account of the cross-pollination of American and European writers and artists in the early 20th century and of Sylvia Beach's pivotal role in bringing them together.
Rob Innis
Fitch's book provides a wonderful and detailed account of Sylvia Beach's role in promoting literature during the 1920s - 1939 period providing a detailed insight into not only the period but the main characters of the day. A great deal of the book involves the publication of Joyce's 'Ulysses' by Beach as well as ups and downs with running Shakespeare &Co. A must read for anyone interested in that period of literary and Paris history.
This is a very well written, very detailed, and very well researched book about the woman and the book shop that was ground zero for the American expatriate movement to Paris in the 1920's and 1930's. In addition Sylvia Beach published and printed the first twelve editions of Ulysses by James Joyce. This is a must read book for any one interested in this period of French, English and American literature.
behind every great man, indeed.

This book is very careful to not come right out and call Ms. Beach a dyke, but I am pretty sure that is the name of that tune.

I enjoyed this book immensely. All the favorites of 20's Paris are there; Hemingway, Joyce, Stein, Fitzgerald, Pound. Apparently they were also all friends and patrons of Ms. Beach's little book store.

Also, Joyce was a cad.
I agree that this book isn't for everyone, as another reviewer noted, but if you are interested in literary history(ies), particularly if you are interested in this particular literary moment (and you should be; it is fascinating), this is an engaging read on the literary culture of Paris in the 1920s and 1930s as it rotated around a particular bookshop, particularly its proprietor, Sylvia Beach.
Nov 15, 2011 Marta added it
This is pure history, but reads like a story. I will probably never finish this book, but I recommend it to anyone interested in the Lost Generation or who is fascinated with Paris.

Update: I never finished this book, which is typical for me when it comes to non-fiction. Still, what I read was fun. I may finish this before I go to Paris next time, someday.
I'm going to do a class on English and American literature between the wars - this should help me enormously ;_) I'm so glad I got through the early frustration of thousands of details, but it was so well worth it. Really an important book if one appreciates modern literature.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 73 74 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Charmed Circle: Gertrude Stein and Company
  • Shakespeare and Company
  • Women of the Left Bank
  • Paris Was Yesterday, 1925-1939
  • Kiki's Paris: Artists and Lovers 1900-1930
  • Wild Heart: A Life: Natalie Clifford Barney and the Decadence of Literary Paris
  • Exile's Return: A Literary Odyssey of the 1920s
  • Paris Was a Woman: Portraits from the Left Bank
  • Everybody Was So Young: Gerald and Sara Murphy: A Lost Generation Love Story
  • Hemingway: The Paris Years
  • Among the Bohemians: Experiments in Living 1900-1939
  • Memoirs of Montparnasse
  • Bohemian Paris: Picasso, Modigliani, Matisse and the Birth of Modern Art
  • Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin: Writers Running Wild in the Twenties
  • Paris: The Biography of a City
  • Paris France
  • Dawn of the Belle Epoque: The Paris of Monet, Zola, Bernhardt, Eiffel, Debussy, Clemenceau, and Their Friends
  • For the Soul of France: Culture Wars in the Age of Dreyfus
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
More about Noël Riley Fitch...
Appetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child Anaïs: The Erotic Life of Anaïs Nin Walks in Hemingway's Paris: A Guide to Paris for the Literary Traveler Literary Cafés of Paris Paris Café: The Select Crowd

Share This Book