On this day…11 July

On 11 July 1920 Joyce met Sylvia Beach for the first time.

Joyce had been invited to the home of André Spire on the afternoon of Sunday 11 July 1920. There he met Sylvia Beach for the first time. A young American woman, Beach ran the bookshop Shakespeare and Company, and was to publish the first complete edition of Ulysses in 1922.

The Joyces had only arrived in Paris from Trieste on 8 July. Joyce had come at Ezra Pound’s suggestion, planning to spend three months or so in Paris so he could finish the ‘Circe’ and ‘Eumaeus’ episodes of Ulysses. Pound had mustered his Paris friends to help welcome Joyce and one of them, Ludmila Bloch-Savitsky, provided the Joyces with an apartment free of charge.

Bloch-Savitsky, a Russian-born French translator, had earlier been persuaded by Pound to translate A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man into French, and having heard from Pound about the Joyces arrival in Paris, she wrote to her friend André Spire asking him to host them for an afternoon.

Spire was a poet who had worked for the French Department of Labour and the Department of Agriculture. He had also been active in various workers’ movements and was a Zionist. Among the others invited to lunch in his home at Neuilly-sur-Seine that day were André Fontanas, Ezra Pound, Julien Benda, and Adrienne Monnier and her American friend Sylvia Beach. Monnier ran the bookshop La Maison des Amis des Livres on the rue de l’Odéon, and Beach had opened an English-language bookshop, Shakespeare and Company, on the rue Dupuytren in November 1919.

Beach was introduced to Nora Barnacle who was delighted to find someone who spoke English. The guests sat at a long table to eat lunch, but Joyce refused to drink. To his embarrassment, Pound gathered all the bottles at the table and lined them up in front of him.

While the other guests were chatting after lunch, Joyce wandered into another room, looking at books, and Beach came in to introduce herself. Joyce asked her what she did, and she told him about Shakespeare and Company. Joyce took a small notebook from his pocket and holding it close to his eyes made a note of the name and address. They were interrupted by a barking dog and Joyce told her of his fear of dogs. They continued their conversation, and Beach later wrote that though she was conscious of his genius she found him very easy to talk to.

Joyce visited her at Shakespeare and Company the following day.


Sources & Further Reading:

Beach, Sylvia: Shakespeare and Company, New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1959.

Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – new and revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Norburn, Roger: A James Joyce Chronology, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.