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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

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  840 ratings  ·  86 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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Dec 29, 2012 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.

Aug 02, 2016 rated it liked it
"Yet for all her freewheeling and independence, Sylvia Beach was a woman for others. ...Although she had no pretensions to literary talent herself, she lived her life among books, trusted her own literary judgement, and helped those artists she believed in. Indeed, she vicariously shared the joy of their success. She possessed an outgoing and vivacious personality; a nervous, restive energy; and a witty unsentimental intelligence. Occasionally she used the flattery and disarming diplomacy of the ...more
Stephen P
Jun 29, 2014 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
Dec 11, 2012 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
Jun 07, 2014 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 08, 2013 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
BAM The Bibliomaniac
Nov 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
Riley Fitch indulges the reader with the stories behind Sylvia Beach's love for her bookstore on the left bank in France, which was a magnet for the popular authors of the 1920s.
A bit of a suffragette, Beach battled to find her place in society, "insisting that Americans seem interested only in sports and business," while she "has been cursed with a preference for books", a sentiment I think many of us could agree with.

(Sidebar: does anyone enjoy Ulysses? I have never been able to get past the
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
Dec 22, 2014 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
Sina khozeimeh
کتاب را من کامل خواندم. برای درکِ فضای فرهنگی ادبیِ دهه های بیست و سی میلادی با محوریتِ کتابفروشیِ شهیرِ شکسپیر و شرکا و شرحِ احوالِ سیلویا بیچ و جیمز جویس و آدرین مونه ، علاوه ی ترجمه ی پاکیزه ی خانم فرزانه طاهری ، بی هیچ اغراقی یک شاهکار به تمام معناست. حیف که در دوره ای تلخ و بی وفا به سر می بریم که یک مجلد کتاب را به هفتاد و پنج هزار تومان باید بگیریم . اما برای هر کس که طالبِ خواندنِ کتابی درست و حسابی ست میگویم که کتاب را بی هیچ فکرِ پس و پیش بگیرد و لذت تام و تمام ببرد. این کتاب شایسته ی ...more
Jun 30, 2011 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
Stephen Gallup
Sep 30, 2010 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
Nov 14, 2012 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
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.
Jun 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american
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.
This is a very clever biography which strikes a wonderful balance between personal information and context. As the title suggests, this is a biography of Sylvia Beach - publisher, American expatriate in Paris, and founder of the famous Shakespeare and Company bookshop. However, as again suggested by the title, this is also a biography of the Lost Generation - a movement of artists and writers which Sylvia Beach wasn't part of per se. The clever thing about this biography is that Noel Riley Fitch ...more
Mar 05, 2012 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
Kelly Cooke
Mar 22, 2008 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
Jun 26, 2008 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
Jan 11, 2013 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
John Mchugh
Jul 18, 2016 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.
Lynn Mccartney
Jul 16, 2012 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 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
My Paperback
Jul 29, 2007 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.
Michele Cacano
Having recently finished Sylvia Beach's memoirs on Shakespeare and Company, I was looking for more detail and perspective on the era. Detail, I got, in spades, but perspective was still lacking. I want to say that I am grateful to the author for documenting this period so thoroughly. It is amazing to think that many of these authors and others from the Left Bank that were there in the 1920s and '30s were actually still alive when this book was written. Noel Riley Fitch interviewed many of them. ...more
Aug 20, 2017 rated it liked it
This book had the promise of something much better. It has all the ingredients of what from me would rate a 4 or a 5. The information was there, some of the engaging details were there, but there was far too much other stuff getting in the way to be able to concentrate on Sylvia Beach, an incredible woman who deserves a better biography.

I was familiar with the author, Fitch, having read her book on Julia Child a few years ago. I went back and took a look at what I wrote about that book. I quote
Mike Violano
Jun 11, 2018 rated it liked it
The beginning of Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation was so entertaining and signaled the promise of a early 20th century literary history filled with famous authors and a winning Parisian bookseller of English language books. The middle of the book is a bloated collection of facts, events and anecdotes with the recurring appearance of James Joyce who becomes more annoying, arrogant and tiresome with each page. Sylvia Beach is the heroine of this history but she deserves a tighter biography.
Bruce Reiter
Dec 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Here I was ready to genuflect to one of the greatest of Irish authors only to find James Joyce as a lazy egomaniacal sponger. Granted I have read neither Ulyssses nor Finnegan's Wake but I had hopes for the author I met in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and The Dubliners. This is a filling description of the Period. All of the interactions among Beach, her family, friends, literary acquaintances and detractors are brought together in a superb example of research. The Reader feels a part o ...more
Nick Anderson
Jul 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
I FINALLY finished this book! While it is fascinating and packed with thoroughly-researched information, it is a long and slow read, with names constantly being introduced without much preface, and the writing and references can get very circular.

I am a devout fan of this era, so I really enjoyed the book, myself. Ms. Beach was quite the amazing human, and I had no idea that James Joyce was the biggest freeloader in the history of literature. (Seriously.)

Additionally, I purchased my copy of this
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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
  • Everybody Was So Young: Gerald and Sara Murphy: A Lost Generation Love Story
  • Memoirs of Montparnasse
  • 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