Sylvia Beach, just turned 33, is curious about the couple she sees walking towards her bookshop, Shakespeare & Co., on the Left Bank.
On the left is a stout, tall woman, about 200 pounds, in rustic clothes, her head styled with a double bun that resembles a basket. Next to her is a smaller woman, dark-haired, thin, like a bird, with drooping eyes, a hooked nose, and the trace of a mustache, in gypsy-like clothes.
As they get closer, Sylvia recognizes them as American writer Gertrude Stein, 46, and her constant companion, Alice B. Toklas, 42.
Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas
Sylvia is familiar with Stein’s works, Tender Buttons and Three Lives. And of course she has heard talk of the salons the two women have held at their home, 27 rue de Fleurus, on the other side of the Jardin du Luxembourg. Before the Great War, the local painters would come. Now, the Left Bank community is still reorganizing after the Armistice, and Sylvia has been so busy opening her shop, she hasn’t yet sought out her fellow Americans.
So here comes Stein for her inaugural visit to Shakespeare & Co. to sign up as a subscriber—not the first. The 91st.
During their chat, Beach mentions that she would welcome more American and British customers. Stein promises that she will help by sending out a flyer to all their friends.
A few days later, Sylvia sees the promotion which Stein has written and Toklas has typed up and mailed out:
Rich and Poor in English…
The poor are remarkably represented…
In dealing with money we can be funny…”
With the cost for book rentals listed on the back.
Beach feels that Stein’s subscription is
merely a friendly gesture. She took little interest of course in any but her own books.”
But, like many of Shakespeare & Co.’s visitors over the years, Gertrude and Alice really like the atmosphere in the store.
Sylvia Beach at Shakespeare & Co.
“Such Friends”: 100 Years Ago… is the basis for the book, “Such Friends”: The Literary 1920s, to be published by K. Donnelly Communications. For more information, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In 2020 I will be talking about writers salons in Ireland, England, France and America before and after the Great War in the University of Pittsburgh’s Osher Lifelong Learning program.
Manager as Muse, about Maxwell Perkins and his relationships with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions.
If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, you can download my audio walking tour, “Such Friends”: Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.