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The Letters of Sylvia Beach

Sylvia Beach; Edited by Keri Walsh and with a foreword by Noël Riley Fitch

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Paper, 376 pages, 30 illus.
ISBN: 978-0-231-14537-4
$21.95 / £15.00

April, 2010
Cloth, 376 pages, 30 illus.
ISBN: 978-0-231-14536-7
$29.95 / £19.95

Copyright information


To Marion Peter
May 23, 1921

Dearest Marion,

... My shop is a great success and self supporting and all that sort of thing and just think I am publishing a book now. Ulysses by James Joyce, the greatest book and author of the age. . . . ! You probably saw in the papers the uproar caused by the trial of the Editors of the Little Review for printing some of Ulysses in it, and how they were fined $100 and their thumb prints taken. Nine stenographers gave up the typing of the last episode here in Paris and a gentleman from the British Embassy burned a dozen pages . . . he threw ’em into the fire in a rage. Ulysses is a masterpiece and one day it will be ranked among the classics in English literature. Joyce is in Paris and I told him I would publish his book, after the publisher in New York threw up the job in a fright.

Excuse such a long letter Marion, and write me one day soon wont you?!

Much love from



ToMarianne Moore

July 12, 1926

Miss Marianne Moore

Editor, The Dial

152 West 13th Street,

New York.

Dear Miss Moore,

Mr Joyce is writing a new book, installments of which have appeared in some of the reviews. He has just finished another section of it and has left it with me to dispose of as I have charge of such matters for him. It consists of four consecutive parts and there are from 30000 to 34000 words in all, 115 pages of typescript, commercial size. A certain review has made Mr Joyce an offer for it but I do not think it is a suitable place for his work nor the price offered sufficient for a thing that has taken him so long to write and is the finest piece of writing he has done. I should be very glad to give it to you for The Dial if The Dial would care to have it. Your review occupies the highest place among reviewers and is the most appropriate one to bring out Mr Joyce’s work. What would you offer for the exclusive rights in America and Europe to publish this section?

I hope that your work on The Dial leaves you time for your poetry of which I am a great admirer. Are you bringing out another volume soon?

Yours faithfully,

Sylvia Beach


To Ernest Hemingway

October 8, 1929


Dear Hemingway,

Joyce would telephone to you if you had one. He asked me to ask you and Pauline to go to their house this evening at about nine. He hopes you will excuse the invitation coming at the last minute, but the party is quite impromptu. They only just now decided to have you. He hopes you are free.

Yours hastily


(Please excuse scrawl)

To William Carlos Williams

October 15, 1929

Dear Bill,

You have a right to feel awfully down on me for the way I have treated your MS. It is such a fine piece of your work, and I didn’t deserve to have it entrusted to me. I should have written to tell you that I have received it and would arrange about its publication over here, and all this time you have been left without a work. It is quite unforgivable. Adrienne was ill at the time I got the MS., and since then we have had an unbroken series of what they would call “emmerdements” ranging from a felon on my thumb and a finger cut off in the door of the car to the dog nearly dying with typhus; and Adrienne after an abscess in her tooth is now being slowly cured of a “dilatation d’estomac” which we hope will wind up the series, but I know I should have attended to the MS. in spite of all that. You do everything under far greater difficulties, I am sure. I love your “Novelette”, and am going to see what is the best arrangement for its publication after it appears in Transition. Jolas was very much pleased to hear that Transition could bring it out and said it would appear in the one after this. For the publication in book form, I will see the Crosbys of the Black Sun Press about it. Unfortunately Harry Crosby seems to be going in for aviation mostly for the present, and a great deal of the funds that might be used for publishing must going in to flying now. I will see them and let you know. They would be the best ones, if they have the disponibilités.

I am sending you the last two copies of “The Great American Novel” that I have left. Collectors in the United States are giving anything to get copies, I am told. The book is very rare and is likely to go up more and more. Will you please settle up with Bill Bird for them. He supplied them to me on sale.

Please scold me all I deserve. I am really very sorry to have been so remiss towards one I admire so much.

Give my love to Florence (if she will accept it now.)

Yours very sincerely,



To Paul Léon

August 31, 1932

Mr Paul Léon

27 Rue Casimir Périer,


Dear Mr Léon,

Your letter of the 30th has come. I would, indeed, feel it very deeply if Mr Joyce thought it best to sever my connection with ULYSSES. But in devoting myself to his work during the last ten years, combined with the exertions of running my shop, I have sacrificed my health to such an extent that my headaches, which the doctors agree are due to fatigue and mental strain, have not yet yielded to any treatment, and it is obvious that I must take care in the future if I am to continue to do any work at all. If I were hurried into printing a new edition of ULYSSES just at the present moment when the tourist season is over—and my books prove that sales depend largely on American visitors in the summer—without knowing something definite of the plans of Mr Joyce’s publishers in America, there might be difficulties such as I have no longer, unfortunately, either the health or the courage to cope with. I am sure Mr Joyce will understand that my decision in this matter has not been taken lightly. To lose ULYSSES that I have always admired and loved above everything would be so painful to me that I cannot bear to think of it, but I must do what I think wisest, and Mr Joyce knows that he is quite free to take any step that he considers best for his interests. There is nothing to stand in his way.

I enclose a statement of sales up to date.


To James Joyce

October 24, 1932

Dear Mr Joyce,

I am sending you the complete Chaucer that you were looking for, a letter from Mr Okakura about that Japanese edition of ULYSSES and the articles that he sent, and a letter from Mr Daughtry asking for permission to quote from one of your poems in a book he is writing. As Mr Léon takes charge of all your affairs, perhaps you would be so kind as to ask him to reply to these gentlemen. Although I shall always continue to be devoted to your work, Mr Joyce, I am sorry that I shall no longer be able to serve you personally. My time and energy are entirely absorbed in the problem of keeping my shop going in these bad times. Since most of the English and Americans have gone away, the library terms have to be revised for the French who, I hope, will take their place. From morning till night I am busy cataloguing and arranging the books and attending to all the rest of the work that is always accumulating on account of my headaches so often laying me up.

I want to thank you again for the sacrifice of a part of your royalties that you make in the arrangement with the Albatross for their publication of “Ulysses”. But I would have far preferred Mr Wegner’s first proposition to give me 1% on your royalties which you would have received in full, my part being paid by the publishers. If that saw fit to give me a little something on the sales I was naturally very glad, and Mr Wegner assured me that your royalties would not be affected by it. I regret that with the arrangement you make, it has to come our of your own pocket. As it is done now, I will accept it, as I told you, but now for an indefinite period. Only until they have paid me twenty thousand francs which I shall consider an indemnity for the plates that I had hoped to transfer to any publishers taking over “Ulysses” and which otherwise are a dead loss. After that sum I shall instruct the Albatross to turn over my part to you, in the future.


To Ernest Hemingway

November 25, 1932

Dear Hemingway,

Thank you for sending me Death in the Afternoon! I’m awfully proud of having a signed copy. Its such a great book and I don’t mean the size. It is a very very fine achievement and places you right at the top. Theres no one but you that could have written that book and by golly what beautiful descriptions you have done of the fighting! gives you a true emotion and I don’t think anyone could help being carried off their feet by your work. You have your readers “à la petite cuillière.” Such complete information about the fighting and the fighters and the bulls—you hang on breathless. And the funny talks with the old lady. And fifty cows for one bull. I have told Adrienne a lot of it and she is very pleased and interested in what you have done and thinks it was such a good idea and that you have a splendid “tempèrament d’écrivain.”

Well this time Shakespeare and Company was the first to get your new book in Paris. We had it October 10, long before Brentanos. And its the only Christmas present everybody seems to want this year.

I’m sending you an old print of a bull fight that we thought might amuse you, and an album that you probably have already or if not it might amuse Patrick. I hope Pauline is well and the two boys and yourself (your eyes better?) Tell her I wear the smart gloves she gave me but have to keep my thumb and little finger folded up against each other on account of her hand being smaller sized than mine.

With best wishes for Christmas and love to you both



To Marion Peter

May 1, 1936

My dearest Marion,

Your kind letter of the 20th of April enclosing a cheque for five hundred francs has come—your very generous donation to Shakespeare & Co—and you say I’m not to feel grateful—! Well I’m afraid that’s not possible Marion dear—I do feel awfully grateful and so much touched to think that you want to help me in the struggle to hold out this year and next, and that your big contribution is certainly more than you can afford at this moment when you are feeling the hard times. It is a proof of the truest friendship which I shall never forget. And the letter you wrote me was so kind and encouraging, I cant begin to tell you how I felt when I read it! You must ask me anything in the world except not to feel grateful! There is nothing else I wouldn’t do for you.

The readings have been a great success—I wish you could have attended the three that have taken place this year—Gide led off in January, Valéry followed in February and Schlumberger in March. Last month T.S. Eliot was to read but he was not able to get here and his reading has been postponed till the 6th of June. Jean Paulhan, editor of the “Nouvelle Revue Française” is giving one a week from today, and perhaps Eliot’s will be the last before the autumn when I hope Duhamel and Maurois will read something. It is very interesting at these readings, about sixty-five people, the members of the group that are in Paris—unfortunately some of the best friends like yourself are far away—and families of the writers, all seat themselves around the shop which somehow manages to accommodate them comfortably, and the writer sits at a little table at the left of the fireplace (if you remember how the land lies) and it is so wonderful to hear a great poet like Valéry, the Milton of France to-day, as Adrienne Monnier says, reading aloud from some unpublished manuscript. And everyone listens so attentively, but the atmosphere is not at all formal. It is like a party of a few intimate friends. I do hope you will be here just at the time a reading takes place, Marion dear! I would be so glad. A number of interesting people are always present, Joyce, for instance, much to the excitement of everybody curious to see him, and the New York Times has asked if they can take a photograph of the Eliot reading. This Shakespeare & Co group is considered a very significant friendly meeting of the French and American book lovers....

With ever so much gratitude dearest Marion for your kind generosity to me, and your friendship, and ever so much love



To Richard Wright

May 26, 1947

Dear Dick,

Thankyou for your fine letter of the 3rd which I got on the 12th and hoped to answer right away. But this is the nearest I could get to ‘right away’. I was so very glad to hear from you, how you and Ellen and Julia were, what you did about your house, how you found things over there when you got back, etc. I have your photos before me, and think of you often. I knew you were terribly busy and that was why you didn’t write—besides, I am the last person to reproach anyone with not writing letters. But I am sorry to hear you have not had time for your next books. All that business about the house and the crook lawyer must have been disgusting. It is too bad you were not able to hold onto your house, though owning property, they say, has its drawbacks too.

I am sorry to hear what a disgrace our people are, smashing all our hopes in a new world—a rotten business. Makes me sick to think of it. And from what you say, not even interested—just bogged. Well, over here, I wouldn’t say anything was settled yet—its fairly seething, at least underneath. Two great extremes are waiting the first opportunity to meet in a clash and the middle had better skedaddle if it doesn’t want to get pressed flat. Backers: Right: U.S.A., Left: URSS, as you know. Meanwhile bread has gone down to 250 gr. a day, there is no meat ever, nor coal, nor sugar nor nuthin. It doesn’t sound possible to have less than nothing, yet we are told to expect less next winter. There is always the B.M. for people with money. But 7.000 frs is the minimum set for workers. And by the way, your radio friend, Benjamin Le Blévennec, is very pleased because he has a job in a government-owned television factory and is now earning from 12.000 to 13.000 a month. His wife and little girl Julia’s age have arrived from Austria. And I wonder, dear Dick, if you mind if I use your radio occasionally. Benjamin says it is better to use them, keeps them fit, but perhaps you think it awfully cheeky of me. Dont hesitate to tell me what you think of me. My set broke down, and it was Benjamin who advised installing yours in its place, in the kitchen where, as you know, I spend a great deal of my time. He will set it up as soon as you come back wherever you are living. Where are you going to stay? I hope in Paris, and that an apartment will be found for you. The situation for lodgings is worse and worse. There are the hotels, and certainly they are cheaper than in America or in London. I have been the round of them lately for information for a friend who has a travel bureau in London and I think they are not dear.

Thankyou for your kindness in mentioning my memoirs to your publishers. I have had offers from quite a number of publishers, but would rather be at your Harpers than anywhere. In fact I would be very lucky if they were interested. Will you please tell them to hold on till I can send a piece over for them to look at. I will do my best to have it there before you leave, but unless I can send it by air I wonder if I can make it now. I would so much like to have you hand it to them. The trouble is I am getting a translation of Michaux’ ‘Barbare en Asie’ ready for Laughlin who wants it immediately, so my book has got swept aside. He wants my book too, but if it is sellable Harpers would be much better. Now MRS BRADLEY. She wrote me the same day your letter came to say Harpers would be interested in the memoirs and she said to come and see her about it. What is the use of her coming into this? She replied, when I said you were attending to the matter for me, that she represented Harpers over here, arranged all these matters for them. But I really don’t see the necessity, and told her so. Said I must get all I could out of my one book, and with your help could do without an agent. She then said she quite understood, but would write to Harpers and everything could go through her hands as usual ‘without any expense to me’ Why did Harpers communicate with her, I wonder. In this case her services are not needed, are they? With such a friend as you on the spot, and I am very grateful dear Dick!

I hope Sartre has been sending ‘Les Temps Modernes’ with ‘Black Boy’ which has interested French readers tremendously. They are waiting impatiently for ‘Native Son’ now. It is to come out any minute I hear. You may be sure Saillet will be doing a big business with it as soon as he can hold of it. You will see for yourself when next you drop in at the Rue de l’Odéon. And I think it is a very good thing for ‘Black Boy’ to appear in Sartre’s review. Everybody reads it. But as these things are very expensive, the real impact with the public will only come when your beautiful ‘Black Boy’ appears in book form. I suppose you have arranged with a press-cutting agency here to collect the ones about your work. I will set aside anything important on the subject I see, for your files when you get here. I shall be in Paris around the middle of July but not long after. The Briggses (you remember Jim Briggs) are to arrive towards the 10th, but after a day or two in Paris they will go on down to their house in Touraine. Then I will retire to my mountain in Savoie. Am going to Switzerland on the 12th of August to visit a friend. Where have you decided to go? Italy perhaps? Switzerland? By the way, Adrienne Monnier will be closing her library on the 20th of July till the end of August.

With best love to Ellen and Julia and yourself, with thanks again

from Sylvia

PS I haven’t heard any strange rumors about Gertrude, except that Virgil Thompson is producing another opera in collaboration with her (ghost). As for Alice, she is now running the whole show and seems to be thriving. Talks just as though she were the original Stein.


To Jackson Mathews

July 2, 1959

Sylvia Beach

12, Rue de L’Odeon

Paris, VI

July 2nd, 1959

My dear dear Muscleman:

You are so tired of hearing from me but this is just to let you know strictly in confidence as they asked me to keep it so, that the University of Texas has cabled and telephoned and written about wanting my whole collection of what they call “Memorabilia” including letters, photographers, manuscripts in fact the whole business and would pay my price “within reason”. I told them the Joyce items were just about arranged for but the other stuff might perhaps be available. They would wait till I sent them an idea of what there would be, and I will try to give them an idea of the items in the Shakespeare and Company Library before I leave for the mountains. The doctor says I should get up and away there now as I am really tired, but don’t you think if these people offer me a good price it might influence our part of plans concerning the extra things? I know you and Dr. Silverman must be waiting to hear what they amount to, but I haven’t had a single minute since I got back to get out of these books and etceteras and make a list of them, not to speak of valuing them. Once at Les Deserts everything but the cows will have to be dropped: correspondence is quite delayed, specially cables, wires, special deliveries and other urgent matters: the postoffice you know is a long way off down a steep mountain and there’s no telephone in the Chalet de Sylvia. Only Les Vaches. Now Dr. Silverman spoke of coming over in September: would that be better: give us time to work out the tax problem and have our vacation, make all the lists: and by the way, dear Jack, if I may ask you to be so kind has Mr. Ader had the one I gave him copied? If I could have it back—have lost the only copy I had left with vacation.

But instead of giving you the trouble of calling Ader, why don’t I write to him and ask for the list? Will do so.

There has come up an additional bother: these performances of “Ulysses in Nighttown” they are to give at the Theatre des Nations on the 7th of July. I am going away before then [that is I thought so, but am now staying here till end of July while having a tooth treated—will let Dr Stafford know I’ll be here instead of in Savoie all through July] but have had visits and telephoning and photoresearch concerning the play, and the publicity is what they are counting on me to help them with: I don’t like to refuse these friends I met at the Gotham Book Mart, and Zero Mostel is a splendid Mr Bloom and all that, but the man who has wormed his way into the affair is someone to avoid: I’ll tell you why when I see you: and when are you coming? Don’t think you are going to escape from me: I’m a clingstone-beach.

With ever my gratitude
and much love

If you happen to talk with Buffalo you could mention that I have had offers for the OTHER ITEMS. Might be a load off the minds of our friends. But until I know whether they (the offerers) want the Joyceless part of the collection all the same, its vague. Indeed it is.


To Ezra Pound

July 13, 1959

Dear Ezra:

Thank you for your picture—looking fine! The Pound exhibits delighted your fans at the Exhibition—Bill Bird contributed items—had a lot myself.

Hope your work is progressing—

Yours affectionately


To H.D.

January 4, 1959

Villa Kenwin

Chemin du Vallon



January 4th 1959

My dear dear H.D.:

Thank you for taking the trouble to write me such a lovely letter—a delight that greeted me on my arrival here—but it only made me miss the writer of it all the more. Oh if H.D. were here! I complained of this to “The Management” but what could they (Bryher) do!

Otherwise they are showing me such a good time: weather dried up and sunrise over the Lake and mountains, moon too overhead. It’s a real holiday, this is!

And Bryher has done me the honor to let me read her book, at least the first part of it about her childhood, and travels as a child, and school days.

I am carried away by this book that’s going to make a huge mark: it’s going to be like Bryher, and as fine and original and deep as this Bryher people are now to meet. I am very interested in all she tells me and her way of seeing and doing whatever hoes on in her life and world. Now for the continuation as soon as she has done this important job of hers! It is hard to wait. It will be the one autobiography of our time.

I hope you’re having some outings in the sun: Bryher says you get around quite “briskly” as Adrienne used to say. What a relief to have Christmas behind us and all over safe and sound, isn’t it? Two flutes etc . . . ! Holy Night Peaceful Night!

Kenwin is really quiet in spite of the warning about dogs that’s so frightening on the gate. Only this tortoiseshell tabby cat of Elsie’s and she hardly meows at all.

With many, very affectionate wishes to H.D
for a complete recovery in 1960
and love from Sylvia


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About the Author

Keri Walsh is assistant professor of English at Fordham University in New York.

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