Biography and History

Born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1887, Sylvia Beach was the second of three daughters of Eleanor Orbison Beach and the Reverend Sylvester Woodbridge Beach (Princeton Class of 1876), a pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Princeton. She is best known for running the bookstore and lending library Shakespeare & Company and for publishing James Joyce's Ulysses.

With the help of Adrienne Monnier, owner of the bookshop La Maison des Amis des Livres, Beach opened Shakespeare & Company at at 8, Rue Dupuytren in Paris in 1919 as a bookshop, lending library, and occasional publisher specializing in English and American literature. In 1922 the shop moved to 12, Rue de l'Odéon, across the street from Monnier's establishment, where it remained until its closing in 1940. During two decades, Shakespeare & Company served as a meeting point for expatriate writers and American visitors to Paris. Beach was interned for six months during World War II, but although she managed to keep her inventory hidden in a vacant apartment nearby, she did not re-open the shop after the war.

Sylvia Beach chronicled her experiences with Shakespeare & Company and life in Paris between the wars in a memoir of the same title, Shakespeare and Company, which was published in 1956. Towards the end of her life, she was widely honored for her publication of Ulysses and her support of aspiring writers during the 1920s. She remained in Paris until her death in 1962. Her ashes were buried in the Beach family plot in Princeton, NJ.

Source: From the finding aid for C0108

  • Sylvia Beach Papers. 1872-1999 (inclusive).

    Call Number: C0108

    This collection documents the life and activities of Sylvia Beach (1887-1962), the American author, publisher, and owner of the Paris bookshop Shakespeare & Company, the Paris bookshop that was a meeting-point for French, English, Irish and American writers during the 1920's and 1930's. The collection consists largely of files relating to Shakespeare & Company; Beach's writings and translations, in particular her memoir Shakespeare & Company ; and files relating to the circle of artists and writers surrounding her throughout her life. Included are family, personal, and business correspondence; business records of Shakespeare & Company; personal and family records; manuscripts and artwork by members of her circle; photographs; and memorabilia.

  • Jackson Mathews Collection of Sylvia Beach. 1921-1965 (inclusive).

    Call Number: C0141

    Consists of letters and other material related to Sylvia Beach (1887-1962), the American proprietress of the Paris bookshop Shakespeare and Company, collected by Jackson Mathews (1907?-1978).

  • Selected Papers of Desmond Harmsworth. circa 1870-1988 (inclusive).

    Call Number: C1302

    Consists of selected papers of Desmond Harmsworth (1903-1990) and other members of the Harmsworth Family, including manuscripts, correspondence, and legal and business documents between Desmond Harmsworth Limited and The Nonesuch Press.