SYLVIA BEACH AND ADRIENNE MONNIER heard Maréchal Pétain’s appeal for an armistice over the radio at lunchtime on Monday, 17 June. Afterwards, they reopened their bookshops until six in the evening. Adrienne sold only one book, appropriately, Gone with the Wind. Sylvia’s business was little better. Her landlord, who did not want the Germans to requisition his building and would not easily find another tenant, helped by waiving her rent. In her diary that evening, Adrienne wrote, ‘Gloomy evening. I feel defeat and that it’s going to be fascism.’ The next day, Tuesday, her concerns were more personal: ‘No meat, no butter, only a bit of pork.’ At four o’clock that afternoon, the concierge at Sylvia’s apartment and bookshop, Mme Allier, hurried across the street to tell Adrienne something was wrong. Adrienne wrote in her diary,
Sylvia, who left this morning around 9.00 on bicycle, has not yet come back. Seriously worried. Telephone the American Embassy, tell Mme Allier to go to the police station. Around 6:30 Marthe Lamy arrives on bicycle (she feels her Spanish blood rising), tell her my worry about Sylvia; she telephones the Hôpital Marmottan, where they bring those who are injured in street accidents, and the American Hospital. Around 7.00 Sylvia arrives. She had gone to Carlotta’s apartment on the boulevard Suchet, then to the American Embassy. [Carlotta Welles Briggs, Sylvia’s childhood friend, had left for the United States and asked Sylvia to guard her Paris apartment.]
Sylvia’s safe return at seven o’clock barely diluted Adrienne’s depression. Her diary for the day concluded, ‘I am resigned to defeat and fascism.’ Like most other Parisians on 18 June, she and Sylvia missed General Charles de Gaulle’s defiant speech on the BBC’s French service.
On Wednesday, more of Paris’s cafés and restaurants were opening. Adrienne, who made a long inspection of the city on foot, saw ‘Fouquet’s open with great style. The Triomphe and various others of lesser importance also open.’ Paris acquired an unexpected array of German musical bands. Adrienne heard one at the Rond-Point des Champs-Elysées ‘composed chiefly of drums, brass instruments, and Chinese bells. Rather monotonous march.’ A little further on her promenade, near the Hôtel Crillon, was ‘another orchestra, playing somewhat lighter marches’. In the Place de l’Opéra, the Café de la Paix was ‘open with terrace: many Germans at the tables’. She ate lunch at ‘the Danish Patisserie, which never shut’. In the evening, she and Sylvia walked in the Luxembourg Gardens ‘to see the borders of pink flowers’. When Sylvia asked a woman with a dog whether she made drawings of her pet, she answered, ‘No, only when he is dead.’ On Thursday, things were better. Sylvia and Adrienne found ‘superb escarole and even tarragon and chives’ at the market in rue Mouffetard and ‘a bit of beef at the butcher’s’, but no butter or potatoes.
On Sunday, 23 June, the day after Germany and France signed the Armistice at Compiègne, Sylvia and Adrienne took afternoon tea at the apartment of a young American diplomat, Keeler Faus. Adrienne thought his flat was ‘ravishing, books in profusion, fine old furniture, etc.’. She observed, ‘Feeling of the embassy people, completely isolated, as if on an island, with the German police next to them (quartered in the Ministry of the Navy).’ Walking home, the two women saw ‘an interminable procession of vans and artillery pieces [on the] boulevard Saint-Germain’. But a ‘working class man’ there told them, ‘The game isn’t over; if the English were to beat them, that would give me pleasure, really.’ The next week set the pattern for their life under occupation: a Sisyphean quest for food that appeared as mysteriously as it vanished from patisseries, greengrocers, butchers and black marketeers. On Friday, 28 June, ‘Sylvia goes to Nortier’s (she had been told that there would be butter). No butter … No meat. Almost nothing on the market.’ On Sunday: ‘Nothing at the market, no meat. Still no butter or potatoes. Ate peas at noon bought yesterday at the Bon Marché; the most tender of the year … A few raspberries, like yesterday, a little bit mushy.’
Adrienne needed butter for her Savoyard sauces and to make pastry, which Sylvia called ‘her great amusement and indoor sport’. But there was never enough. On Tuesday, 2 July, she moaned, ‘This morning, saw at Nortier’s a queue of more than a hundred people [waiting] to have a quarter [kilogram] of butter.’ The monthly soap ration was only 100 grams, and women had to queue for that. Adrienne and Sylvia needed patience even to buy books to sell in their shops. ‘We often have to stand in line at the publishers,’ Adrienne wrote, ‘and most of them give us copies of the good titles one at a time.’
‘Parisians who survived the exodus came back,’ Sylvia wrote of the early months of occupation, ‘and my French friends were delighted to find Shakespeare and Company still open. They fairly stuffed themselves on our books, and I was busier than ever.’ Although busy, she was unhappy. Her world had been separated from almost everyone, apart from Adrienne, she loved. James Joyce was in eastern France at Saint-Gérand-le-Puy, awaiting a visa to enter Switzerland. Her oldest friend, Carlotta Welles Briggs, had moved to Altadena, a suburb north of Los Angeles, where Sylvia’s father and sisters already lived. The letters Sylvia wrote to them revealed a growing anxiety about her father’s health. The Reverend Sylvester Beach at the age of 88 was losing his sight and his hearing, and he was increasingly distracted. In his lucid moments, he fretted for his daughter in occupied Paris.
Sylvia’s relations with her father and mother, while close, were troubling. Her mother had warned her, when she was in her early teens, ‘never to let a man touch me’ and later confessed to Sylvia that she and Sylvester had a ‘miserable marriage’. After her three girls grew up, Eleanor Orbison Beach travelled in Europe without her husband. When Sylvia was studying Spanish in Madrid in 1915 and 1916, Mrs Beach lived with her. She also stayed in Paris near Sylvia and her youngest daughter, Cyprian, who were sharing an apartment in the Palais Royal in 1917. The Reverend Sylvester Beach remained at his rectory in Princeton amid occasional rumours that he was philandering. Sylvia had always been passionate about her father. Christened Nancy for her maternal grandmother, she changed her name at an early age to Sylvia, the feminine equivalent of Sylvester. (Eleanor Beach had originally intended to name her second daughter Gladys, inspiring James Joyce to call a character in Ulysses ‘Gladys Beech’. Sylvia’s change of name from that of Eleanor’s mother to a version of her father’s may have seemed like a declaration of disloyalty.) Sylvia felt the tug of two parents vying for their children’s affections within a marriage marred by emotional warfare. Nonetheless, both parents encouraged their daughters to pursue careers and establish independent lives. Of the three girls, only Mary Hollingsworth Morris Beach, called Holly, married. Sylvia was a publisher and bookseller, and her sister Cyprian became an actress. At the time, publishing Ulysses, deemed obscene by Puritan America, and appearing in films were scandalous. ‘The cinema for my sister and my Ulysses publication must have made life difficult for my father,’ Sylvia admitted. If Sylvester Beach had qualms about his daughters’ work, he never said so.
Sylvia’s estrangement from her sister Cyprian was also hard. As youngsters, they had been inseparable. Cyprian’s beauty made her a star in French silent films, but no one thought Sylvia was beautiful. Even one of her greatest admirers, the writer Katherine Anne Porter, observed, ‘She was not pretty, never had been, never tried to be.’ When the two sisters were living in the Palais Royal, an actor in a play next door at the Théâtre du Palais Royal was so besotted with Cyprian that he climbed up to their balcony and went inside to introduce himself. Sylvia was not surprised: ‘Cyprian was so beautiful that you couldn’t blame a fellow for coming in the window without an invitation.’ The actor was not the only one to dote on her. ‘Among my sister’s admirers was the poet [Louis] Aragon, then active in the Dada movement,’ Sylvia wrote. ‘After raving about his passion for the momie [mummy] of Cleopatra at a Parisian museum, Aragon told me he had now transferred his admiration to Cyprian. Later, in search of Cyprian, he made frequent visits to my bookshop and sometimes recited for me his Alphabet poem and the one called “La Table”.’ ‘Alphabet’ was a monotonous recitation of the alphabet, and ‘La Table’ endlessly repeated the word ‘table’. The poet Léon-Paul Lafargue also declared his love for Cyprian, but she was as indifferent to him as to the fans who recognized her as Belles Mirettes (Beautiful Eyes) in a 1917 film serial that was playing in weekly instalments at Paris cinemas.
Sylvia’s publication of Ulysses in 1922 had made her one of the most famous women in Paris, while Cyprian’s film career was fading. In 1923, the two sisters had a mysterious argument over something that they kept secret from everyone else. In January 1923, Cyprian sent a letter to Sylvia that said she was ‘miserable’ when she was with her and wanted never to see her again. She moved back to the United States, where she looked for movie roles in Hollywood.
An unexpected tragedy further distanced Sylvia from her family. In 1927, French police served Sylvia’s 63-year-old mother with an arrest warrant. It seemed Eleanor Beach had been accused three years earlier of shoplifting at the Galéries Lafayette department store. The sum involved was only a few francs, but she had left France without appearing in court. When she received the summons on a subsequent visit to Sylvia, Mrs Beach feared public disgrace. She wrote a long letter protesting her innocence and took an overdose of pills. At five o’clock that evening, she died in the American Hospital of Paris. Sylvia covered up the suicide, permitting her father and sisters to believe the cause of death was a heart attack. If Sylvia suffered the guilt that usually follows the suicide of a loved one, she had to bear it alone.
When the war began in September 1939, the Reverend Sylvester Beach asked Sylvia to come home. On 9 January 1940, she wrote to her sister Holly, who had invited Sylvia to stay in California, ‘It’s pleasant to think of a visit to the folks, but this is not the right time for such plans unless there is something definite in view for me over there. I would not be allowed to return here and the journey would use up enough money for me to live on a year or two here. And Carlotta has provided a perfectly safe comfortable delightful dwelling I can go to anytime Paris got uncomfortable.’ Carlotta Welles Briggs had inherited her father Frank’s country house, La Salle du Roc, at Bourré in the Touraine. The house, which Sylvia had known since she and Carlotta were teenagers, was partially built into mountain caves. In an earlier letter to Holly, she had reassured her that ‘caves are bombproof’.
Sylvia nonetheless missed her family. ‘If only I could see my daddy and the California girls and Carlotta, it wouldn’t be at all bad over here,’ she wrote to her father on 10 April 1940, ‘though today we have heard of another of Hitler’s snatches and we wonder what next.’ Hitler’s ‘snatches’ of the day before were Norway and Denmark, his prelude to the invasion of France a month later. Sylvia scolded her father for sending another $10 cheque, adding, ‘And you know I am getting along in this little war very nicely. You needn’t ever worry about me. If for any reason things got difficult I would sail away right back home.’ Holly wrote on 20 May that she had read Sylvia’s letters aloud to their father, who feared for Sylvia’s safety and often sent her small sums of money. ‘Of course,’ Holly wrote, ‘we can’t help worrying about you in these terrible days, but we are concerned that the Allies must win and we hope that beautiful Paris may never be threatened. We know you will go down to Carlotta’s if necessary.’
Carlotta Welles Briggs wrote regularly to Sylvia, usually enclosing a cheque to help her survive. She reminded her to take some jam from her Paris apartment and to use or give away the clothes her husband Jim had left behind. On 25 August, Carlotta wrote to Sylvia from Altadena that she was ‘very glad to read a letter which Cyprian received by diplomatic channels and so to know that you had stuck to your shop and were still, as far as we could tell, all right’. She sent Sylvia money to have her piano moth-proofed by the Steinway dealer. In the same letter, she asked, ‘Are you still riding your bicycle around?’ Three months into the occupation, everyone in Paris was either riding a bicycle or walking.
Sylvia, from the distance of Paris, had also been commissioned to keep an eye on Carlotta’s house at Bourré. A mutual friend, an American named Gertrude de Gallaix, went to La Salle du Roc at the end of the summer with her French husband, Marcel de Gallaix. Marcel was a lawyer who represented some of the wine growers who were resisting German confiscation of their lands. Gertrude wrote a distressing letter to Sylvia on Monday, 2 September. While helping to take honey from the hives near the house, a bee stung her ankle and left her immobile for a few days. She continued, with a cavalier disdain for apostrophes,
But the really unpleasant news is that the Germans are back. We headed here Tuesday morning the 27th–during that heat wave … Friday my husband left here at 7:00 a.m. to return at 8:00 p.m. having spent the day at Blois on business. And that afternoon the soldiers came looking for officers quarters. That was the beginning of our troubles.
Wednesday afternoon they were back again, and Wednesday evening while we were in the garden the officers came!! They were furious at not finding us, so my husband went to the mayors where they threatened to requisition the whole house–and told us we must clean the Welles room at once.
Gertrude’s maid from Paris, Maria, and Mme Julia, Carlotta’s housekeeper, spent the whole day sweeping and polishing the house for the Germans. With Gertrude, they carried chairs and curtains down from the attic to make two rooms habitable for a captain and lieutenant who were to be quartered there.
The most dangerous time was Friday noon, when the Colonel came himself to see the house–we had guests, so he had the discretion not to come in on the drawing room floor, but he was quite pleased with the Welles room. He told us we didn’t need two homes–that we had a domicile in Paris. My husband insisted it was his office–and after showing him the rooms downstairs (he also looked into the drawing room) and learning we were to have officers he did not insist again. But he had come determined to turn us out!!!
Gertrude advised Sylvia to ‘be thankful you haven’t had to face soldiers and officers again and again as we have here’. In Paris, Sylvia confronted other difficulties. Merely to eat, she and Adrienne became scavengers, chasing the latest rumour of butter, eggs or fresh fruit in one shop or another. Shakespeare and Company no longer received periodicals and books from the United States. The Germans were censoring her favourite authors, including André Gide and Ernest Hemingway. Adrienne had ceased publishing herGazette des Amis des Livres, because most of her authors were either banned by the Germans or could not pass German censorship. The writers who had fled from France or been forced underground were being replaced in the main journals and publishing houses by a clique, including Marcel Jouhandeau and Robert Brasillach, who were either fascists and anti-Semites already or adjusted their philosophies to German Kulturkampf. Symbolic of the change was the appointment of one of France’s most anti-Semitic authors, Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, to edit André Gide’s prestigious Nouvelle Revue Française.
Odéonia, whose literary giants had been left-wing and pro-Jewish, was giving way to the salon of Florence Jay Gould. In the American beauty’s suite at the Hôtel Bristol, followed by the move to her flat at 129 avenue Malakoff in 1942, collaborationist French writers socialized over champagne with the celebrated German author Ernst Jünger and Propagandastaffel officer Gerhard Heller. The French writer Claude Mauriac wrote in his memoirs of one of Mrs Jay Gould’s parties that he was ‘stupefied to be shaking hands with one of those [German] officers whose contact I find so repugnant on the metro … The champagne and the atmosphere of sympathy and youth made everything too easy. I should not have been there.’ Florence’s friendship with the German Ambassador Otto Abetz was so intimate that he gave her a long-term Ausweis to travel freely between Paris and her winter house at Juan les Pins, where her husband Frank was living. Gerhard Heller was charmed by Mrs Gould and was honoured to be welcomed into her ‘sanctuary’. He reminisced, ‘She was beautiful, great, with chestnut hair; a very attractive woman in her thirties; she had a great knowledge and a great love of literature. She deployed another lure, very important for the period: her table ignored rationing.’ One writer, who smuggled an anonymous ‘Letter from France’ to Cyril Connolly’s London magazine, Horizon, described the new bookmen of the right:
Among the collaborationists the best known are Jacques Chardonne … Abel Bonnard–now more commonly known as Abetz Bonnard, a degraded and corrupt academician who has long been a public laughing stock; [Pierre] Drieu La Rochelle, a clever and talented Fascist; Ramon Fernandez, a professional Fascist and drunkard; Henri Bidou, an able journalist; and Bernard Fay, a professor who has just been made head of the Bibliothèque Nationale, in place of [Julien] Cain, and whose first act was to ‘lend’ Marshal Goering that institution’s great collection of hunting books. [Fay was a friend of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas.]
Neither Sylvia nor Adrienne had a place in the collaborators’ literary milieu, and they despised those who did–apart from Jacques Benoist-Méchin. They had known Benoist-Méchin as a teenage music student, who played in George Antheil’s orchestra when Antheil was living above Shakespeare and Company. A writer and translator as well as a musician, war veteran Benoist-Méchin came to Odéonia in 1920. Adrienne wrote of him in 1926, ‘He was there when [Paul] Valéry read us, in a corner of the bookshop, the pages ofEupalinos, which he was about to hand over to his publisher. One day he showed us, jubilant, a copy of Partage du midi [Break of Noon] that he had written by hand. We saw him translate fragments of Ulysses for [Valéry] Larbaud, who was preparing his lecture on Joyce … No young man was so much the son of the house as he was … I am very proud of our son.’ She did not write what became of that pride in January 1941 when his ministerial-level appointment as Vichy’s secretary general for relations with Germany put him in daily touch with the Nazis.