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.