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Shakespeare and Company Walking Tour with Kerri Maher – Paris (plus map!)

11th January 2022

Shakespeare and Company Walking Tour with Kerri Maher

UK cover

Shakespeare and Company Walking Tour with Kerri Maher, author of The Paris Bookseller – PARIS

As a devoted reader and traveler, I love knowing the inside scoop, the little-known facts and hidden gems of a city, a person, or event, because that knowledge helps me feel like I am part of the story.  I feel especially lucky that as a writer of historical fiction, I get to take readers along for the ride to exotic places and times—perhaps none more so than my most recent novel, The Paris Bookseller, which is about the original Shakespeare and Company Bookstore in Paris, the home away from home of Lost Generation writers like Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, and Gertrude Stein.

Even travelers familiar with this literary institution don’t realize that Shakespeare and Company has had three locations, and that the first two, owned and operated by visionary American entrepreneur Sylvia Beach in the 1920s and 30s, were actually more library than shop because so many of her expat writer clientele couldn’t afford to buy books.

And that’s just the beginning.

U.S. book cover

Come along on this walking tour with me, and I’ll let you in on the inside story of Shakespeare and Company, Paris.

Let’s start at the current store, at 37 Rue de la Bûcherie, also known as “Kilometre Zero,” “the point at which all French roads begin”; indeed, this location feels like a starting place for all things Paris. In this multi-story building right on the Seine with delicious nooks and crannies filled with books and history, you can purchase a novel or book of poetry in English, chat with one of the friendly and knowledgeable staff, who just might happen to be a writer themselves, one of the “Tumbleweeds” that the shop puts up as they write their way through Paris.  You can also enjoy a cafe creme or fresh pressed juice and sandwich from the café next door as you gaze at the majestic Notre Dame de Paris on the Ile de la Cite just a few meters away from your chair.

Thus fortified, you can set out.

It’s worth going a tiny bit out of your way to cross the rue de la Bûcherie, onto the Quai de Montebello, a wide promenade along the Seine where the Bouquinistes sell everything from Eiffel Tower keychains and original paintings to vintage posters and antique books at their small, lively stalls.

Shakespeare and Company Walking Tour with Kerri Maher

Hang a left so the river is on your right, and walk and shop for a long block (Montebello will become Quai Saint-Michel), then take a left at the Place St. Michel. In a short block, you’ll encounter the Fontaine Saint-Michel, one of many monumental fountains decorating the city, this one designed by Gabriel Davioud and built in 1858-80, during the Haussmanization of Paris in the mid-nineteenth century, a vast modernization and beautification project that transformed the city into the grand, romantic stunner we enjoy today, and made it so attractive to artists like Renoir and Picasso.

Continue up the Boulevard Saint-Michel with the fountain on your right and walk a few more blocks through this touristy area.  When you get to the busy thoroughfare of the Boulevard Saint-Germain, cross the street then turn right.  Walk a block past a Sephora on your left, then take a left onto the smaller rue Hautefeuille.  On your right will be the large and lovely stone buildings of the Universite de Paris, otherwise known as the Sorbonne; the university as well as the many other écoles and lycess nearby comprise the reason this neighborhood is known as the Latin Quarter (students all used to read and write in Latin!).

After a block, take a right on the rue de l’École de Médecine and admire the medical school to your right (if you’re so inclined, stop in at the Museum of Medical Devices and Tools on this block).

Before you know it, you’ll go left on quiet little rue Dupuytren.  There, at Number 8, Sylvia Beach opened the very first location of Shakespeare and Company on November 19, 1919.  The space is now two shops, one a salon and the other a cosmetics store.

Continue up the block then take a right on the rue Monsieur de Prince, which will very quickly deposit you into the Carrefour de l’Odeon, a bustling plaza of shops and restaurants, all with sidewalk seating. I highly recommend the cheese plate at the on-theme Les Editeurs, where you can munch and sip and watch the world go by, much as Sylvia and her friends might have done in the 1920s.

From the Carrefour, take rue de l’Odeon on your left, and walk toward the neo-classical Theatre de l’Odeon, one of France’s six national theaters, rebuilt in this location in 1819.  There, on your right at Number 12, is the second and most famous address of Sylvia’s Shakespeare and Company, where she moved in 1921, across from the shop of her romantic and business partner Adrienne Monnier.  Adrienne’s French-language shop-and-library La Maison des Amis des Livres, was Sylvia’s inspiration, and together, their bookshops comprised Odeonia, Adrienne’s affectionate name for their Franco-American literary dream.  James Joyce, whose banned novel Ulysses Sylvia took an enormous risk to publish in 1922, called it Stratford-on-Odeon.

Shakespeare and Company Walking Tour with Kerri Maher

Hemingway (Alamy)

Appropriately, there is no sign of the former bookstore at 12 rue de l’Odeon, because in 1941 Sylvia and some devoted friends had to erase the shop entirely to save it from seizure by the Nazis.  In a matter of hours, Sylvia and company moved all the books to the 4th story of the building, dismantled the shelves, and painted over the sign.  In 1945, right after the liberation of Paris, Ernest Hemingway strode down the Odeon, gave Sylvia a hug that swept her off her feet, and “liberated” Shakespeare and Company—a story she tells charmingly in her own memoir.

If you’re not ready to leave Sylvia’s Paris, may I recommend her memoir as well as Hemingway’s reflections on being a young writer in Paris, A Moveable Feast, and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wrenching and brilliant short story Babylon Revisited, three of my all-time favorite Paris in the 20s treats. Best paired with dark chocolate.


Photos © Kerri Maher unless otherwise stated

Kerri Maher is the author of The Girl in White Gloves, The Kennedy Debutante, and, under the name Kerri Majors, This is Not a Writing Manual: Notes for the Young Writer in the Real World. She holds an MFA from Columbia University and was a writing professor for many years. She now writes full-time and lives with her daughter and dog in a leafy suburb west of Boston, Massachusetts. Learn more online at kerrimaher.com.

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