I just read at Le Monde about the death George Whitman, the man who opened the famous bookshop in front of the Notre Dame church.
The small library, founded in 1951, was first called Le Mistral, but later changed its name to Shakespeare and Company. The change came from the desire to make a tribute to the famous old bookseller Sylvia Beach, who had created a bookstore at the beginning of the century that was a reference in English and American literature and that soon became a landmark in Paris.
Sylvia’s address – 12, rue de l’Odéon – was closed during the Second World war and the bookseller was never able to reopen it. Still, the place was so notorious that, nowadays, the building carries a plaque telling the story of the bookstore who helped publish James Joyce’s Ulysses for the first time, when all publishers rejected it.
The address was swarming with aspiring writers and book lovers. Sylvia’s philosophy was to make her bookstore a place of admiration of the letters and she, always generous, used to lend books to those who could not afford to pay. This is the case, for example, of Ernest Hemingway, who tells in his book A movable feast about the kind Sylvia, a gentle woman who was always let him borrow whichever book he wanted without having to pay for them.
And this was the same philosophy adopted George Whitman in his version of Shakespeare and Company. During the years of the Beats, he got visits from people like Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. The address has appeared in several movies and is mandatory address for any book lover who goes to Paris.
Whitman died the last December 14 and was buried in the cemetery of Père Lachaise. The charming bookshop is now in charge of his loving daughter, Sylvia Beach Whitman. In its oficial website, it hangs a pretty tribute to his life.