While most visitors to Paris are familiar with the iconic English bookstore located near Notre-Dame, not everyone knows that it was originally opened by Sylvia Beach on November 17, 1919. After a brief introduction to Beach during a "Writers of the Left Bank" walking tour, I wanted to learn more about this American expat who generously offered hospitality and encouragement to struggling authors. Good things must come to those who wait and incessantly scroll through their Twitter feed because that's how I discovered that Cynthia Morris, the author of the novel Chasing Sylvia Beach, was offering a free Sylvia Beach walking tour of Paris last Friday. In spite of a two hour dental appointment to replace some fillings in the morning, I pushed myself to meet Cynthia by the statue of Henri IV on Pont Neuf in the afternoon. I wasn't disappointed.
As the sun cast a rosy glow over the buildings lining the Seine, Morris explained her long fascination with Sylvia Beach, who was "curious, brave, and above all, devoted to books and people who write them." Resolute in her desire to introduce more women to this literary pioneer, Morris obtained a grant from the Alliance Française to study Beach's private letters at the archives in Princeton University. Unable to find the secret that would shed new light on the woman who lived life as a daring adventure, Morris decided to change course and write a historical novel.
Pausing in front of Le Danton, a charming cafe perfectly situated at the confluence of five roads near the Odeon metro stop, Morris mentioned the challenges of writing a novel set in 1937, for it's only by entering some sort of dream state where the writing process becomes almost mystical that an author is able to fully capture the essence of the past. The people coming and going, the buses and the streets - they all have to be true to the period. After we made our way to the building where Shakespeare & Company was previously located at 12 Rue de l'Odéon, the author enthusiastically pointed to the wooden front of the Librairie Guénégaud next door and exclaimed, "There. That's what Sylvia's bookshop would have looked like!"
If you would like for Cynthia Morris to transport you back to the days of Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce and Gertrude Stein, pick up a copy of Chasing Sylvia Beach. Many thanks to Cynthia for a very educational tour!
Time for me to run because I'm going to a chocolate talk and tasting at Shakespeare & Company this evening. In a time honored tradition, they still host author events just as Sylvia Beach did when she opened the beloved English bookshop in Paris.
Please click here to read more about Chasing Sylvia Beach on Amazon. The 21 customer reviews are all 4 and 5 stars.
|Plaque at 12 Rue de l'Odéon. "In 1922. In this house. Mlle Sylvia Beach published "Ulysses" by James Joyce."|