I have often referred to the book CHARMED CIRCLE by James R. Mellow as it was the book that first got me interested in Gertrude Stein and her crowd.
Now I’m so happy to announce that the contemporary incarnation of an iconic institution that played a pivotal role in the lives of many members of Stein’s Charmed Circle is now selling copies of my book GERTRUDE AND ALICE AND FRITZ AND TOM (GAAAFAT.*)
[*not to be confused with what many a gay man is trying to lose at Gold’s Gym!]
That institution is Shakespeare and Company in Paris! The original bookstore sold and championed the works of Stein, Joyce, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald among many others. Its modern counterpart has continued the tradition for more than sixty years.
I must confess that copies of the book are already at another Shakespeare & Co., the beautiful, little English-language book shop in Vienna located on the poetically named street, Sterngasse (“star way“), which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. But having copies of the books in Paris within a catapult’s boulder throw from Notre Dame is such a thrill.
Not to mention that were Fritz and Tom to turn around in the illustration in the book in which they are on Notre Dame’s tower (within the watchful glare of a gargoyle), they would have a direct view across the Seine to where the current Shakespeare and Co. bookstore has been located since 1951. (The bookstore, founded by George Whitman was originally named Le Mistral, but was renamed in 1964 as a tribute to Sylvia Beach who died that year.)
Whitman died in December of last year at the age of 98.
Born in Baltimore, Sylvia Beach moved to Paris in the last years of WWI and opened Shakespeare and Company at 8, Rue Dupuytren in 1919. Two years later it moved to its famous location at 12, Rue de l’Odéon. The shop was a combination English-language bookstore and lending library replicating the French version of the store that had been started by Adrienne Monnier who would become Sylvia’s life partner . Gertrude and Alice were among the first holders of “library cards”. In her autobiography, published in 1959 Beach recalls the “Two Customers from Rue de Fleurus”:
“Not long after I opened my bookshop, two women came walking down rue Dupuytre. One of them, with a very fine face, was stout,wore a long robe, and on her head, a most becoming top of a basket. She was accompanied by a slim, dark, whimsical woman: she reminded me of a gypsy. They were Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas.
…Gertrude subscribed to my lending library, but complained that there were no amusing books in it. Where, she asked indignantly, were those American masterpieces The Trail of the Lonesome Pine and The Girl of the Limberlost?
…To make up for her unjust criticism of Shakespeare and Company, she bestowed several of her works on us: quite rare items such as Portrait of Mabel Dodge at the Villa Curonia and that thing with the terrifying title, Have They Attacked Mary: He giggled:A Political Caricature.”
Another connection between GAAAFAT and Sylvia Beach and Shakespeare and Co. is Joyce’s book ULYSSES.
Jane Heap and Margaret Anderson, the guardians of Fritz and Tom, serialized the Joyce book in The Little Review from 1918-1921. Publication of the book was halted when the U.S. government considered the material in the last installment obscene: it contained a masturbation scene.
Heap and Anderson were tried and a portion of the book was declared obscene. They were fined $50 each. Sylvia Beach published ULYSSES in 1922, but it was banned in the U.S. until 1934 when it was judged “not pornographic, so it could not be obscene!” Only 1000 copies were printed and are among the most prized books by collectors of 20th century first editions.Well, now that copies of GERTRUDE AND ALICE AND FRITZ AND TOM are at Shakespeare and Company in Paris, let’s hope that were Gertrude Stein to stop by today, she would be as pleased as punch to find that amusing book there, a few shelves away from the American masterpieces by members of her Charmed Circle!