During the 1920s, two independent publishing ventures played significant roles in the shaping of modern literature. Founded in 1919, Sylvia Beach's Paris bookshop, Shakespeare and Company, emerged as a leading center for literary life, hosting author readings, a lending library, and later a publishing office. In 1917, Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard established the Hogarth Press, first in Richmond, Surrey, and from 1924, in London. As the Woolfs wrote in 1919: "Our object in starting the Hogarth Press has been to publish at low prices short works of merit, in prose or poetry, which could not, because of their merits, appeal to a very large public."

The publication of two experimental masterpieces, James Joyce's Ulysses by Shakespeare and Company (1922) and Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway by the Hogarth Press (1925), forever expanded the narrative possibilities of English literature. Both publishing enterprises took on significant risks, gave opportunities to nonconformist authors, resisted mainstream publishing norms, and prioritized literary excellence over monetary rewards.

Marie Monnier-Becat (1894–1976). Shakespeare and Company, painted storefront sign. [Paris, ca. 1920]. Sylvia Beach Papers.

In 1919 Sylvia Beach (1887–1962) opened Shakespeare and Company, her celebrated English bookshop in the Left Bank of Paris, acting upon the encouragement of Adrienne Monnier. The storefront sign, designed to hang above the entrance at 8, Rue Dupuytren, was painted by Adrienne’s sister, Marie Monnier-Becat; it replaced two earlier signs that had been stolen. In 1921, Beach moved her shop to 12, Rue de l’Odéon, across from Monnier’s French bookshop.

Shakespeare and Company lending library records, 1919-1940 (cards for Ernest Hemingway, 1925-1938). Sylvia Beach Papers.

Like Adrienne Monnier’s French bookshop with its La Madison des Amis des Livres, Shakespeare and Company also served as a subscription lending library. Beach noted in her autobiography that “Lending books…was much easier in Paris than selling them,” and the nearly 600 subscribers recorded in the circulation cards attest to this wild success. Among the many notable readers were Simone de Beauvoir, Walter Benjamin, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, and Gertrude Stein.

Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961) with Sylvia Beach (1887–1962) in front of Shakespeare and Company. Photograph, ca. 1928. Sylvia Beach Papers.

Shakespeare and Company was a hub of activity for the so-called “Lost Generation” of American writers who found refuge in Paris throughout the 1920s and ’30s. In addition to Beach’s lasting friendships with F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein, among others, her “warm friendship” with Ernest Hemingway started the moment they met. Hemingway frequented the bookshop regularly and referred to himself as Sylvia’s “best customer.”

James Joyce (1882–1941) with Sylvia Beach (1887–1962) at Shakespeare and Company. Photograph by “Alliance Paris.” Paris, ca. 1921. Sylvia Beach Papers.

This is the earliest image of Sylvia Beach and James Joyce together, taken in 1921 at the threshold of the recently opened Shakespeare and Company in Paris.

James Joyce (1882–1941). Ulysses. No. 94, signed by the author. Paris: Shakespeare and Company, 1922.

2022 marked the 100th anniversary of the publication of Ulysses, one of the most influential novels of the twentieth century and the only novel that Sylvia Beach chose to publish. Beach met Joyce in 1920 and soon agreed to publish the experimental and challenging work under the Shakespeare and Company imprint. Ulysses faced an immediate embargo in America, based on charges of obscenity, and was not published there until 1934.

“The Reading Has Begun.” Cardboard door sign, undated. Sylvia Beach Papers.

A simple handmade door sign was used to indicate that patrons of the Shakespeare and Company bookshop should proceed through the courtyard so as not to interrupt ongoing readings.

Richard Wright (1908–1960). The Man Who Lived Underground. Typescript, 1946. Sylvia Beach Papers.

After publishing Native Son (1940), Wright began working on his second book-length manuscript, about a falsely accused Black man who retreats underground following a violent police encounter. Citing concerns over its radical depiction of police brutality, Harper & Brothers refused the manuscript. Disillusioned by race relations in the U.S., Wright moved to France where he met and befriended Sylvia Beach in 1947. This manuscript draft is part of the Beach Collection, suggesting that Wright continued to revise and seek publishers for his second manuscript.

Richard Wright (1908–1960). The Man Who Lived Underground. Afterword by Malcolm Wright. New York: Library of America, 2021.

In its entirety, The Man Who Lived Underground spent nearly 80 years unpublished. Wright adapted and published portions of the original manuscript as short stories. In 2020, Wright’s descendants prepared a posthumous draft for publication by compiling the different typescript manuscripts scattered across different archival repositories, including the one displayed here. With its full publication, Wright’s work is now believed by scholars to have served as a possible inspiration for Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.

Second hand books are wild books, homeless books; they have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack.

Virginia Woolf

Leonard and Virginia Woolf. Two Stories: Written and Printed by Virginia and L.S. Woolf. Richmond (London): Hogarth Press, 1917. Page proof in proof wrappers. Robert H. Taylor, Class of 1930.

Their first foray in publishing, this proof copy elucidates the learning curve encountered by two nascent independent publishers. Personally printed and bound by Virginia and Leonard Woolf, the misprints, overlaid texts, and misaligned margins illustrate the Woolf's attempts to perfect their typesetting technique on the hand press they purchased for merely 19 pounds. The press would soon assume the name Hogarth Press and become a much sought after publisher.

Virginia Woolf (1882–1941). Mrs. Dalloway. London: L. & V. Woolf at the Hogarth Press, 1925. Robert H. Taylor, Class of 1930.

Mrs. Dalloway was Woolf’s second book-length work and one of her best-known novels. Originally titled, “The Hours,” Woolf experimented with nonlinear narrative progression. As the protagonist Clarissa prepares to host members of London’s society class across a single day in Spring 1923, the plot travels back and forth through time providing the subtext for Clarissa’s life and the social milieu of post-war London. Owing to its structure, Mrs. Dalloway draws comparisons to James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Virginia Woolf (1882–1941). To the Lighthouse. London: L. & V. Woolf at the Hogarth Press, 1927. Robert H. Taylor, Class of 1930.

Readers have long been captivated and frustrated by the powerful use of literary allusion and frequent shifts in perspectives in To The Lighthouse. Organized in three parts, the narrative unfolds across three movements. With the freedom allowed her by being her own publisher, Woolf engaged in self-reflexive and philosophical questions on sexuality, nationality, race and class as they intersect gender. This landmark achievement in modernism both articulates and responds to contemporary history and politics.

Virginia Woolf (1882–1941). Autograph letter regarding sale of press, circa 1920 - 1923. Robert H. Taylor, Class of 1930.

Woolf gained the freedom to continue developing her innovative style by establishing her own press. In 1923, she refused to sell Hogarth Press, recognized for publishing experimental works of little interest to commercial publishers. In its three decades, Hogarth Press would publish nearly 530 titles including important works by Katherine Mansfield, E.M. Forster, and Sigmund Freud, several of Woolf’s best-known novels, and T.S. Eliot’s groundbreaking work, The Waste Land.