Sylvia Beach, 33, American ex-patriate bookshop owner, does not want to be at this dinner party.
Her partner, Adrienne Monnier, 28, owner of the Left Bank’s other most popular bookshop, has been invited by the host, French poet Andre Spire, soon to turn 52, whom Adrienne knows well.
But Sylvia doesn’t. Nevertheless, Adrienne is persuasive.
34 rue du Bois de Bologne
As Sylvia is planning a quick exit, Spire comes over and whispers to her,
The Irish writer James Joyce is here.”
That puts a different twist on it.
American poet Ezra Pound, 34, who is lounging in an armchair in a velvet jacket and open-collared blue shirt, has made sure that everyone in Paris knows that the amazing James Joyce, 38, is in town.
Beach has admired Joyce’s work—from Dubliners to Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Pound has spent the past month on a public relations campaign to line up ahead of time everything the Joyce family will need to live in Paris: first a hotel room, then a free apartment for three months, then a French translator for his work.
Beach chats with Nora Barnacle, 36, Joyce’s partner for the last 16 years and mother of their two children. Nora is thrilled to be able to speak English with someone; for the past 10 years in Trieste they’ve all been speaking Italian.
During a dinner of cold cuts and free-flowing wine, Joyce refuses any alcohol by turning his glass upside down. He’s determined to not drink until 8 pm in the evenings.
Afterwards, Sylvia walks into the library and finds Joyce leaning against a bookcase; thin, a bit stooped. She cautiously approaches him, and, offering her hand, asks,
Is this the great James Joyce?”
He limply shakes her hand saying, in his Dublin lilt,
They talk about his family’s move to Paris and she notices that his right eye looks odd, distorted by the thicker right lens of his glasses.
He asks her,
And what do you do in Paris, Miss Beach?”
He is enchanted by the name of her bookshop, Shakespeare & Co., and writes it down, along with the address, in his notebook held very close to his eyes. He tells her that he will visit soon.
Adrienne finds Sylvia and says that the guests are leaving. Beach shakes Joyce’s hand again.
As she is walking out, Spire asks Sylvia if she has been bored. Beach replies,
Bored? I have just met James Joyce!”
Thanks to Paris resident Gregory Grefenstette for help in pinpointing the location of this meeting.
“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 email@example.com.
This fall I will be talking about writers’ salons before and after the Great War in Ireland, England, France and America in the Osher Lifelong Learning programs at University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie-Mellon University.
Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ relationships with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions.
My presentation, “Such Friends”: Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Round Table, is available to view on the website of PICT Classic Theatre. The program begins at the 11 minute mark, and my presentation at 16 minutes.
If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, you can download my audio walking tour, “Such Friends”: Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.