and Company: A literary treasure in the heart of Paris, France
2016 marking 400 years since The Bard’s passing, William Shakespeare even
gets a mention in the heart of Paris, France, at a historic and fascinating
book shop named Shakespeare and Company.
shop has a long history. It was back in 1951 that an eccentric American
by the name of George Whitman decided to open a book shop in the centre
of Paris with ambitions of creating a literary hub in France’s capital.
Whitman reportedly had communist leanings and wanted to create a space
where he could welcome all writers to stay as his personal guests in Paris
at the book shop, at that stage named Le Mistral.
created this bookstore like a man would write a novel, building each room
like a chapter, and I like people to open the door the way they open a
book, a book that leads into a magic world in their imaginations.—
store is still located on the banks of the Seine, opposite Notre-Dame today
and changed its name to Shakespeare and Company in April 1964, to celebrate
the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth.
travelling in the country, Oliver’s Travels offers many lovely properties,
villas in France, but anyone staying near Paris and with a literary
bent should spend at least one night – or at the very least a visit – at
what is these days dubbed Shakespeare and Company, right in the heart of
the City of Light.
book shop’s motto has been painted over an inner door on the second floor
and reads wisely, “Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels
in disguise," a rather endearing welcome to potential literary guests.
It was the place to be for Anglophone writers and readers and soon became
a Left Bank literary institution.
building was constructed in the early 17th century and was originally a
monastery, La Maison du Mustier. George at one stage said he used to like
to pretend he was the sole surviving monk, saying, “In the Middle Ages,
each monastery had a frère lampier, a monk whose duty was
to light the lamps at nightfall. I’m the frère lampier here
now. It’s the modest role I play.”
rules were relatively simple. Guests – nicknamed “Tumbleweeds” by Whitman
– would be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis, but each of them
was tasked with reading a book and writing a one-page autobiography during
their stay, possibly on the typewriter pictured below, and had to help
out in the book store for an hour or two each day.
in the 1950’s the shop was a much-loved base for many writers of what was
dubbed the “Beat Generation,” including Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs,
Anaïs Nin, Richard Wright, William Styron, Julio Cortázar,
Henry Miller, William Saroyan, Lawrence Durrell, James Jones, and James
Baldwin, among many others.
were simple, with 13 beds, concealed as bookshelves by day and sleeping
the writing guests at night.
to Whitman – who called the shop “a socialist utopia masquerading as a
book shop” – as many as 40,000 people have slept in the revered book shop
over the years.
and Company: Still going after all these years
years down the line George Whitman is no longer with us, but his daughter,
Sylvia, has taken over the daily management of the book shop and the traditions
still continue, as the newly dubbed Shakespeare and Company has become
a utopia for literary travelers, seeking an unusual place to stay in Paris.
selling books and offering simple accommodations to weary travellers, the
bookshop holds regular activities, including a popular Sunday tea, writers’
meetings and poetry readings.
and Company has since even been in the movies, when the shop was featured
in the Richard Linklater film "Before Sunset" (Ethan Hawke actually slept
over in the book shop) and in the Woody Allen film "Midnight in Paris."
at 37 rue de la Bûcherie at Kilometer Zero – the point at which all
French roads begin in Paris, France – Shakespeare and Company now has an
website and has even modernized to include an online store. However,
the store itself retains its original outward and inward appearance and
décor, including a set of well-worn and travelled stairs.
- France Travel Guide - Travel