Beach, Sylvia (1887–1962) By Crawford, John
Sylvia Beach was an American expatriate best known as the owner of the iconic Parisian Shakespeare and Company bookstore, located at 8 rue Dupuytren until 1921, and then at 12 rue de l’Odéon the Left Bank area of the city. The popular bookstore and lending library was a point of convergence for many modernist writers and artists in Paris’ thriving arts community, including Ernest Hemingway, André Gide, André Maurois, Robert McAlmon, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and James Joyce. A supporter of James Joyce, Beach was the first publisher of Joyce’s Ulysses.
Born Nancy Woodbridge Beach, Sylvia Beach spent much of her youth distancing herself from a household made uneasy by the tense marriage of her mother, Eleanor Thomazine Orbison, and father, Sylvester Beach, a Presbyterian minister who served several parishes in New England, including the prominent Princeton, New Jersey community. Beach’s early refusal of material wealth was often at odds with her father’s attempts to gain social status among affluent Princeton parishioners. However, Beach found some hope for her ambition of becoming an independent woman during a year spent in Paris in 1902, during which her father served as Associate Pastor of the American Church of Paris. This period helped develop Beach’s love for Paris, its artists, and its liberal atmosphere.