November 17 in Literary History: Sylvia Beach Opens Shakespeare and Company

The most significant events in the history of books on the 17th of November

1603: Sir Walter Raleigh goes on trial for treason. Although found guilty, he would be imprisoned in the Tower of London for much of the next fifteen years (T. E. Hulme wrote a little poem about it); his neck would eventually meet the cold blade of the exeuctioner’s axe on 29 October 1618.

1866: Voltairine de Cleyre, American anarchist writer and feminist, is born. She spoke out against the ways in which religion impinged upon the individual freedoms of women in the United States, and wrote and published widely on the issue, among many others.

1914: Thomas Hardy’s Satires of Circumstance is published. His second volume of published poems, following the 1898 volume Wessex Poems, the Satires contained Hardy’s celebrated ‘Poems of 1912–13’, which include many of the Joyce1poems he wrote in response to the death of his long-estranged first wife, Emma. These include ‘The Voice‘ and ‘Beeny Cliff‘.

1919: Sylvia Beach opens Shakespeare and Company at 12 rue de l’Odeon, on the Left Bank, Paris. It is the first of two bookshops that she would open in the city, and would become a cultural hub at which many writers could be found, from Gertrude Stein to Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce. Indeed, it was Beach who got Joyce’s 1922 novel Ulysses published as a book, after it had been serialised in the Little Review. We’ve discussed the publication and legacy of Joyce’s Ulysses here.

1939: Auberon Waugh, son of Evelyn Waugh, is born. Known as ‘Bron’ (though he was nothing like Bron from Game of Thrones), he wrote several novels as a young man but gave up fiction to focus on journalism.

1968: Mervyn Peake, author of Gormenghast, dies. The Gormenghast trilogy is not as well-known or widely read as J. R. R. Tolkien‘s The Lord of the Rings, but some writers – such as fantasy author Michael Moorcock – have argued for its superiority as a work of imaginative literature. The series comprises the three volumes Titus Groan (1946), Gormenghast (1950), and Titus Alone (1959).

1992: Audre Lorde, Caribbean-American poet, dies. Her poem ‘Coal’ can be read here.

2013: Doris Lessing dies. The oldest recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Lessing was awarded the prize in 2007. We gathered up some of her wittiest and wisest quotations in this post.

Today is also International Students’ Day, so here’s a little student- and book-related fact to leave you with. Katherine Whitehorn’s 1963 student cookbook Cooking in a Bedsitter advised: ‘If your friends don’t like garlic, get some new friends.’ Quite.

Image: James Joyce with Sylvia Beach and Adrienne Monnier at the offices of Shakespeare & Company, 1938 (photograph by Gisèle Freund), public domain.

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