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Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation: A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties Paperback – May 17, 1985


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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. --Ron Hogan

Review

“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.” (Leon Edel)

“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.” (Carlos Baker)

“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.” (Malcolm Cowley)
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Product Details

  • Series: History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (May 17, 1985)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393302318
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393302318
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #124,858 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

74 of 78 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 12, 1998
Format: Paperback
This book has been in print for many years because it is the definitive history of literary Paris for the expatriates of the 1920s and 1930s. It is now happily used as a text book in universities, but is intented as a good read for any general reader interested in Hemingway, Stein, Joyce, Pound, and company.
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35 of 35 people found the following review helpful By S. A Troutt on May 17, 2004
Format: Paperback
This is one of the best books that I've ever read about the 'lost generation' of Americans literary refugees in Paris. The writing is excellent, the research exhaustive and thorough with unparalleled access to Ms. Beach's 'surpressed' portions of her autobiography "Shakespeare and Company". It is readily apparent from this book that without Ms. Beach and her unflinching support, there would have been no "Ulysses" (and maybe no James Joyce). But there was so many other authors she supported and nurtured as well, as the quote from Ernest Hemingway cited above illustrates as well. This book is almost a 'must read' for those persons interested in American literature of the mid 20th century.
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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By D. Blankenship HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on April 12, 2005
Format: Paperback
This one has been around for some time now and it is not the worse for wear. For those interested in our literature and literary Paris during the 1920s and 1930s, then this is one of those "must reads" (I truely hate that term, but know of no better to describe the improtance of this work at this time). The author's research is absolutely miticulous and fills in many gaps in the story of this remarkable woman. Do be warned though. Many of the names of people mentioned here are rather obscure (at this day and time) for those not immersed in the literary world. This can make the work a bit difficult to follow at times. That being said, this is a wonderful work to read to cause many of these names to become less obscure than they are now...one more of the many reasons to read this work! The book covers some of the intimate details of Beach's relationship with friends and lovers that she so well side steps in her own account of this time. Recommend this one highly. Actually, you probably should purchase this one as it is one that is a good book for reference and one you will probably want to reread.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By F. Schultz on January 11, 2009
Format: Paperback
Noel Riley Fitch may not know everything about the artists and writers of early to mid- twentieth century Paris, but she certainly comes close. Just as Sylvia Beach and her French counterpart Adrienne Monnier between them seemed to know all the English-speaking and French writers of Paris, respectively. Sylvia Beach owned Shakespeare and Company, an English language bookstore and Ms. Monnier, on the opposite side of rue de l'Odeon, owned La Maison des Amis des Livres. Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation is an excellent biography of Ms. Beach which details her involvement with literary Paris, especially the time between the wars. If there is a very heavy emphasis on her involvement with James Joyce and her publishing the many editions of Ulysses, that was the reality of her life. And if Mr. Joyce comes across as a self-preoccupied schemer, who showed Sylvia Beach very little gratitude for all she did for him practically gratis, well, that was the reality of her life, too.

Paris between the two world wars was a fascinating place and Sylvia Beach was in the thick of it. As the author says in her introduction, "Sylvia Beach created a literary center that magnetically attracted artists from all over the world during what Archibald McLeish calls the `greatest period of literary and artistic innovation since the Renaissance." T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Andre Gide, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Samuel Beckett, Leon Edel, Janet Flanner, Virgil Thompson, Paul Valery, and Thornton Wilder to name a few, were part of Shakespeare and Company in a real sense.

The full title of this book is Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation: A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties & Thirties, and an excellent literary history it is. Highly recommended. By the way, for those who plan to visit Paris, check out Walks in Hemingway's Paris: A Guide to Paris for the Literary Traveler, by the same author.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Walter M. Holmes on February 9, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation

This is an ambitious and serious work, accessible in style, and packed with information in over four hundred pages. It has three main themes, clearly defined in the introduction.

The first is the love between Adrienne Monnier and Sylvia. The details of this, so we are told, 'were and are still little known' in 1983 when this book was first published. The second is her admiration for, and championship of, James Joyce. The third is her bookshop, Shakespeare and Company, which was a key feature of the literary scene in Paris between the two World Wars.

By far the most detail is provided on her professional relationship with Joyce. Her efforts to get Ulysses published and smuggled into America, her financial and personal efforts to support the author, and the amount of time and energy she invested, are the key theme of the book.

Naturally Sylvia knew all the other familiar literary figures of the time. Hemingway and Pound are frequently mentioned, as is Gertrude Stein.

As intimated in the introduction there is less to be said about more personal relationships. In a way this seems rather a pity. The anecdotal style and recurring references to various incidents along the way give the writing a rather disjointed feel. Inevitably there is also a certain sense of déja vu particularly for anyone familiar with biographies of Hemingway for example.

The strength and the weakness of the book is the amount of text devoted to James Joyce. Joyce attracts great, but not universal, enthusiasm. The man himself seems to have had more arrogance than charm. Depending on the side of this divide which the reader favours this book will firmly hold the attention or will, in places, rather pall.
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Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation: A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties
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