Monday, June 11, 2018

Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation: A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties Paperback – May 17, 1985 by Noel Riley Fitch ( W.W. Norton and Company)

In 1917, Sylvia Beach walked into a Paris bookshop, where she met Adrienne Monnier, the woman who would become her life companion. In 1919, Beach opened her own English-language bookshop and lending library, Shakespeare and Company, which would become the cynosure of an entire literary movement. Literary expatriates were drawn to her shop, and Ernest Hemingway declared of Sylvia, "No one that I ever knew was nicer to me." But her most celebrated literary efforts are those she made on behalf of her literary idol, James Joyce, undertaking the publication of Ulysses. Noel Riley Fitch uses Beach as the focal point for a fascinating portrait of an artistic community filled with 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, Fitch's account solidifies the importance of the time and place he so vividly re-creates.

Courageous, hardworking, self-sacrificing, determined, witty, and charming, Sylvia Beach built her famous Shakespeare and Company Bookshop into a veritable hub of international literature, published Joyce's Ulysses, [and] served as cheerful den-mother to hundreds of writers, artists, and composers.... Professor Fitch's richly detailed biography, the product of ten years' research, projects Miss Beach's busy life against the moving background of literary Paris in the golden age between the wars, and stands as an admirable and wonderfully readable achievement in historical biography.

Fitch fills out many gaps in the Joyce story and offers us a new view of Joyce, the genius, the injustice collector, and the most incredible literary leech of all time. Sylvia Beach emerges as one of the most remarkable women of the twenties.

This is 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 in Paris.

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