Explore the Literary History of Paris

Famous authors, books, and the City of Light.

My fascination with writers and Paris began when I met writer Morley Callaghan at his 86th birthday party in 1989, and heard about his legendary boxing match with Hemingway at which Scott Fitzgerald was the hapless timekeeper. I taught literature to adolescents, mostly boys, for twenty years and often included A Moveable Feast on the curriculum: the students found Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Ezra Pound and Miss Stein as beguiling as I did. On a recent trip to Paris, I researched the places they and other writers of the 1920s, thirties and forties lived and frequented and then I wandered around Paris in their ghostly footsteps.

Below, I invite you to do the same; take a virtual walk through Paris’ literary history by clicking on the white dot on the maps to learn about what happened in that exact spot.

Shakespeare and Company (12, rue de l’Odéon)

Sylvia Beach’s illustrious English language bookshop moved from its original location of a former laundry at 8 rue Dupuytren to Rue de l’Odéon, the place frequented by expat writers throughout the twenties and thirties. In addition to selling books, Beach set up a lending library from which—for a small monthly fee—subscribers could borrow as many books as they liked. The first book James Joyce borrowed from Sylvia Beach’s lending library was fellow Irishman John Millington Synge’s play Riders to the Sea.

In June 1920, Ezra Pound dropped by, boasting of his carpentry and asking Beach if there was anything around the shop that needed mending and he mended a cigarette box and a chair.

When Ernest Hemingway first visited in December 1921, he borrowed books by Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Turgenev, Conrad, Flaubert and Henry James. When his wife Hadley gave birth to their son, Hemingway wrote to Beach, “If the baby had been a girl we would have named her Sylvia. Being a boy we could not call him Shakespeare.”

On May 12, 1937, Hemingway gave a fundraising reading with Stephen Spender at Shakespeare and Company to help save the bookshop. He was so nervous that he drank from Spender’s beer stein. He claimed he would never again do another public reading—not even for Sylvia Beach. The audience included journalists Janet Flanner and Martha Gellhorn, James Joyce, poet Paul Valéry, and the U.S. Ambassador to France. On September 20, 1938, Hemingway borrowed Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, about the Spanish Civil War, from the Shakespeare and Company lending library, and never returned it. Of Beach, Hemingway would write in A Moveable Feast, no one that I ever knew was nicer to me.”

Beach became famous when she published James Joyce’s Ulysses in 1922. Canadian novelist Morley Callaghan noticed when he visited in 1929 (and bought a copy of The Great Gatsby), that the shop was a shrine for Joyce lovers. A section of the wall was taken over by a whole series of portraits of Joyce: as he was now with the heavy glasses, then as a student, a small boy, and even as a little baby.”

During the late 1930s, while a member of the French Resistance, Samuel Beckett lived with his mistress in a second floor room above the bookshop.

In 1938, E.M. Forster, a shy, silent visitor, best known for A Passage to India (1924), joined the lending library.

On June 6, 1945, T. S. Eliot read from “The Waste Land” and early parts of “Four Quartets.” He was in Paris for the premier of his play Murder in the Cathedral. Beach sold more copies of T. S. Eliot’s various titles over twenty years in business than of any other writer except Joyce.

Sylvia Beach’s apartment (18 rue de l’Odéon)

Bookseller and publisher Sylvia Beach lived at 18 rue de l’Odéon in a fifth-floor apartment with her partner Adrienne Monnier from 1921 until 1936. On June 27, 1928, they hosted a dinner party for the Fitzgeralds and James Joyce. F. Scott Fitzgerald signed Beach’s copy of The Great Gatsby that night and drew a cartoon inside, which he titled “Festival of St. James.” In it, Fitzgerald is kneeling in awe beside Joyce who is fashioned with a halo and his round spectacles and the women are depicted as mermaids.

By 1944, though Beach and Monnier were no longer a couple, Beach remembered during the liberation of Paris taking Hemingway up to Adrienne’s apartment: He was in battle dress, grimy and bloody. A machine gun clanked to the floor. He wanted to know if there was anything he could do for us. We asked him if he could do something about the Nazi snipers on our street. He got his company out of jeeps and took them up to the roof. We heard firing for the last time in the rue de l’Odéon.”

Richard Wright’s residence (14 rue Monsieur le Prince)

Richard Wright lived at the Hôtel Trianon Palace on the Rue de Vaugirard in 1946 when he first arrived. He and his family then moved to Rue Monsieur le Prince, around the corner from the Shakespeare and Company bookshop, where they stayed until 1960. Owner Sylvia Beach said, Of all writers I have known he is the most unselfish and thoughtful. Fellas like Hemingway appear uncouth beside Dick Wright.”

Hôtel Ritz Paris (15 place Vendôme)

Circa 1925, Scott Fitzgerald offered a pretty girl a bouquet at the Ritz bar. She refused. According to Hemingway, F. Scott gallantly ate the whole thing, petal by petal in front of her.” Some of those details make it into Fitzgerald’s story “A Diamond as Big as the Ritz.” He’d also describe the hotel in Tender is the Night, where a character had been since nine in the morning. When he arrived seeking sanctuary the windows were open and great beams were busy pulling up the dust from smoky carpets and cushions.”

Ernest Hemingway lived at the hotel for a number of years and during the liberation of Paris in August 1944, he held court at the saloon (now renamed Bar Hemingway in his honor), ordering 73 martinis for soldiers. His dear friend, singer Marlene Dietrich, allegedly sat on the lip of Hemingway’s bathtub and sang to him while he shaved.

He welcomed visitors including J. D. Salinger, George Orwell, and Orson Welles. He also wooed his fourth wife, Mary Welsh, in his rooms at the Ritz.

Marcel Proust was also a regular of the Ritz, often arriving late at night to observe the goings-on in the lobby, then dining alone in a private room, where he would receive gossip from the well-informed maître d’hôtel Olivier, the model for his character Aimé in his epic work In Search of Lost Time. Proust loved the iced beer served by the hotel that he requested one on his deathbed and famously sent his driver to fetch it.

It was also at the Ritz on Place Vendôme, where novelist and screenwriter Irwin Shaw and photojournalist Robert Capa sent this note to actress Ingrid Bergman when she stayed there while entertaining troops after the war. As a result, she and Capa had a wild affair. Dated June 6, 1945, the note reads:

1. This is a joint effort. At your service, Robert Capa and Irwin Shaw. 
2. We planned to send flowers with this note, inviting you to dinner. Consultation with our financier, however, reveals it is possible to pay for either flowers or dinner, but unfortunately not both. Dinner won by a close margin. 
3. Our taste is for champagne, but our budget is for beer. Our supply of charm is unlimited. 
4. We do not perspire and we sleep standing up.

We will call you at 18:15. 
Signed: two veterans of love and war.”

Café Les Deux Magots (6 place Saint-Germain des Prés)


James Joyce would join Ernest Hemingway for drinks at Les Deux Magots. He called him, a big powerful peasant, as strong as a buffalo. One night, Hemingway put that strength to good use, transporting a drunk Joyce home over the cobbled streets in a wheelbarrow. Joyce admitted that Paris is like myself, a haughty ruin, or, if you like, a decayed reveler.”

The café was also home to other literati: novelist Ford Madox Ford could often be spotted playing dominoes at Les Deux Magots. And in November of 1948, Richard Wright met James Baldwin for lunch here after Baldwin moved to Paris from New York with only forty dollars to his name. Baldwin lived in Paris for nine years, and wrote some of his greatest works there: his first two novels, the semi-autobiographical Go Tell It On the Mountain and Giovanni’s Room, as well as his collection of essays, titled Notes of a Native Son.

There is a plaque outside the café naming the area Place Sartre-Beauvoir after the legendary philosophizing power couple Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.

L’Hôtel (13 rue des Beaux Arts)

L’Hôtel is where Oscar Wilde lived and then died in 1900 at only 46. They may well be apocryphal, but his last words are believed to have been, Either this wallpaper goes, or I do.” He is buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery, his grave marked by Jacob Epstein’s sculpture resembling the sphinx.

Henry James’ flat (29 rue Cambon)

One street away from the Hôtel Ritz is Rue Cambon, where Henry James lived in a third-floor apartment at 29 rue Cambon from 1875 until 1876 as he was writing The American, which was serialized in The Atlantic Monthly throughout 1876 and 1877 before being published as a book. The building is now Chanel (Coco Chanel opened her first boutique just steps away at 21 rue Cambon). In The Tragic Muse (1890), James describes the “great square” of nearby Place de la Concorde, where the bank of the Seine, the steep blue roofs of the quay, the bright immensity of Paris” waits.

Henry Miller’s home (36 rue Bonaparte)

In April and May of 1928, Miller and his wife June lived in a little hotel at 24 rue Bonaparte, close to the Seine. Across the street, in the narrow rue Visconti, he taught June how to ride a bicycle.

In February of 1930, Miller rented a fifth floor room here at 36 rue Bonaparte, the Hôtel Saint Germain Des Prés and wrote in a letter to a friend, I love it here, I want to stay forever. I will write here. I will live and write alone. And each day I will see a little more of Paris, study it, learn it as I would a book…The streets sing, the stones talk. The houses drip history, glory, romance.”

In 1931, he and June lived in the Hôtel Lenox (15 rue Delambre), where he wrote, I have no money, no resources no hopes. I am the happiest man alive.”

In the third chapter of Tropic of Cancer, Miller wrote about Place de Furstenberg as deserted, bleak, spectral. In the middle of the square four black trees that have not begun to blossom. Intellectual trees, nourished by the paving stones. Like T.S. Eliot’s verse.”

In 1939, Miller stayed on the Île Saint-Louis in a house owned by American writer James Jones (author of From Here to Eternity), at 10 Quai d’Orléans, before heading back to the U.S. to avoid the expected Nazi occupation of Paris.

E. E. Cummings’ home (46 rue Saint-André-des-Arts)

From 1921 until 1923, E. E. Cummings lived here, claiming Paris was a spiritual place continuously expressing the humanness of humanity.” Like Hemingway, Cummings had served as an ambulance driver during World War I. A poem in his collection is 5 celebrates Notre-Dame Cathedral: Paris this April sunset completely utters/ utters serenely silently a cathedral/ before whose upward lean magnificent face/ the streets turn young with rain.”

Michaud’s (29 rue des Saints-Pères)

At the corner of Rue Jacob and Rue des Saints-Pères was upscale restaurant Michaud’s where James Joyce, his wife and the whole Celtic crew dined nightly according to Hemingway. Years later, in 1934, when he had money of his own, Hemingway took Janet Flanner (an American journalist who wrote under the pen name “Genêt”) and James Joyce to lunch at the expensive establishment and sat in a stupor of silent worship.”

Quai des Tuileries

Anaïs Nin lived on a houseboat on the Seine, observing the homeless there who were comical, humorous, their delirious oratory…often ironic and witty.” Henry Miller would wander along the river at night, going mad with the beauty of it, the trees leaning to, the broken images in the water.” Hemingway also liked to walk along the quais when he finished work or when he was trying to think something out.”

On May 20, 1931, Nin joined the lending library at Shakespeare and Company and took out Enormous Room by E. E. Cummings. In 1932, Nin danced on tables for Henry Miller at Le Viking, a Montparnasse nightclub at 29 rue Vavin.


Montparnasse Cemetery

Samuel Beckett is buried in Montparnasse Cemetery alongside his wife Suzanne whom he met in 1938, though, at the time, he was also having an affair with Peggy Guggenheim, who in her eighties remembered, There was no man like Beckett.”

Other writers buried there include poet Charles Baudelaire, philosophers Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre and The Lover’s Marguerite Duras. Pilgrims to her grave leave ballpoint pens, their tips plunged into the soil of the potted plants on her headstone.

Ezra Pound’s apartment (70 bis rue Notre-Dame des Champs)

Ezra Pound, poet and former secretary to W. B. Yeats—and best man at his wedding—lived here with his wife Dorothy Shakespear from 1920­–1924. They had a ground-floor studio apartment. Pound built bookshelves for Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare and Company, and in 1921, he helped Beach sell pre-ordered copies of Joyce’s Ulysses, bringing subscriptions from Winston Churchill, Aldous Huxley, H. G. Wells, Virginia Woolf and William Butler Yeats.

In 1922, he received T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” and according to Eliot, Pound’s “blue penciling on it would be preserved as irrefutable evidence of his critical genius.” Ernest Hemingway and Pound played tennis in the nearby Luxembourg Gardens and Pound introduced Hemingway to Ford Madox Ford and James Joyce. Hadley Hemingway said that her husband “listened at Pound’s feet as to an oracle.”

Also in 1922, Pound established Bel Esprit,” a fundraiser to spring T. S. Eliot from his position at Lloyd’s Bank in London so he could write poetry full time. Poet William Carlos Williams subscribed twenty-five dollars a year, while also suggesting that Pound get himself crucified on Montmartre and use the proceeds to finance art.

Pound’s most famous imagist poem, “In a Station of the Metro” was written about Place de la Concorde: The apparition of these faces in a crowd; petals on a wet, black bough.”

Hemingway wrote that Pound’s studio apartment was as poor as Gertrude Stein’s studio was rich. It had good light and was heated by a stove and it had paintings by Japanese artists that Ezra knew.

In 1934, American journalist Katherine Anne Porter stayed there and described it as having six rooms on three floors, two baths, and central heating…a little closed garden full of shrubs and ivy-covered walls.”

Edna St. Vincent Millay’s temporary lodging (159 rue Notre-Dame des Champs)

In 1922, Edna St. Vincent Millay stayed at Hôtel Vénétia here—the same street where Ezra Pound and Dorothy Shakespear lived—ambling distance from the great cafés on Boulevard du Montparnasse like Le Select, La Coupole, La Rotonde and Le Dôme. In a letter to a friend, Millay delighted in her daily lunch of choucroute garnie, “fried sauerkraut trimmed with boiled potatoes, a large slice of ham and a fat hot dog,—yum, yum, werry excillint. Hemingway’s Jake Barnes in The Sun Also Rises noted that, No matter what café in Montparnasse you ask a taxi driver to bring you to from the right bank of the river, they always take you to the Rotonde.”

George Orwell’s abode (6 rue de Pôt de Fer)

English author George Orwell lived here off the rue Mouffetard in 1928, in a cheap boarding house on the rue de Pôt de Fer (which he called Rue de Coq d’Or). While he was writing Down and Out in Paris and London, he worked as a plongeur, or dishwasher, at a hotel. Of that time he wrote, You discover the secrecy attaching to poverty…There are letters you want to answer, and cannot, because stamps are too expensive.” Fellow expat T.S. Eliot later rejected the book when he worked as an editor at Faber and Faber. Of living so close to the razor’s edge of poverty, Orwell wrote, There was a sort of heavy contentment, the contentment a well-fed beast might feel in a life which had become so simple…Work in the hotel taught me the true value of sleep, just as being hungry taught me the true value of food. Sleep had ceased to be a mere physical necessity; it was something voluptuous, a debauch more than a relief.”

Luxembourg Gardens

In 1923, Ernest Hemingway and Ezra Pound regularly played tennis on the public courts. When he didn’t have enough money for lunch, Hemingway would wander through the gardens and on to the Musée du Luxembourg (the city’s first public museum), where he could stare at Cezanne’s still life paintings and feed his hunger through images. The Luxembourg Gardens also play a key part in the settings of many of the era’s novels: in The Ambassadors (1903), Henry James’ protagonist Lambert Strether has an epiphany about his identity here and it’s also where the final scene of William Faulkner’s Sanctuary (1931) takes place.

Le Falstaff (42 rue du Montparnasse)

In 1929, Canadian novelist Morley Callaghan, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway drank at this bar after a boxing match at the nearby American Club, located at 4 rue de Chevreuse. Even though there wasn’t a boxing ring there, there was plenty of space and Callaghan and Hemingway often boxed together in a “downstairs back room that had a cement floor.” One time, while Scott Fitzgerald was acting as time-keeper, he lost track of time and let a round go too long, provoking Hemingway’s ire: All right, Scott. If you want to see me getting the shit knocked out of me, just say so. Only don’t say you made a mistake.”

Hemingway had studied the sport and his imagination was full of triumphs, but Morley, who was about a foot shorter, not to mention overweight at the time, had actually boxed with fit college boxers back home and had technique that was real. Callaghan landed a solid blow on the much-larger Hemingway, knocking him to the ground and splitting his lip open, but despite the beating he took, Hemingway later told his pal Jimmy, the bartender at Le Falstaff and a former pro lightweight fighter,

Hemingway’s Apartment (6 rue Ferou)

When Hemingway left his wife Hadley in 1926, he moved in here with Pauline Pfeiffer (his mistress and, later, wife) at the apartment owned by her uncle Gus, only a short walk from the Church of Saint-Sulpice, where she went to Mass.

In March 1928, a skylight fell on Hemingway’s head, provoking an amused letter from Ezra Pound wondering, Haow the hellsuffering tomcats did you git drunk enough to fall upwards thru the blithering skylight!!!!!!!!!”

William Faulkner’s home (42 Rue de Vaugirard)

William Faulkner lived in a little hotel close to the Luxembourg Gardens on Rue de Vaugirard from the summer of 1925 through December of that year and wrote letters home to his mother in Mississippi on Wednesdays and Sundays. In one he observed, Everything in the garden is for children—it’s beautiful the way the French love their babies.” He went to mass at the Church of Saint-Sulpice and assured his mother he’d be a good Catholic soon.” Of Notre-Dame Cathedral, he observed that it was covered with cardinals mitred like Assyrian kings…and gargoyles—creatures with heads of goats and dogs, and claws and wings on men’s bodies, all staring down in a jeering sardonic mirth.”

James Joyce’s flat (71 rue du Cardinal Lemoine)

In 1921, James Joyce lived at 71 rue du Cardinal Lemoine as he finished writing Ulysses. The apartment belonged to critic Valery Larbaud, who would later write of the novel, It is wonderful! As great as Rabelais: Mr. Bloom is an immortal like Falstaff.” Had he and his wife Nora not moved to 26 avenue Charles Floquet two arrondissements away in 1922, the Joyces and the Hemingways would have been actual neighbors. After leaving rue du Cardinal Lemoine, the Joyces relocated to 9 rue de l’Université, where, in a rickety elevator, cramped with American poet Robert McAlmon and Canadian novelist and playwright Morley Callaghan, Joyce delighted, Think what a loss to English literature if the lift fails and the three of us were killed.

Ernest Hemingway’s writing room (39 rue Descartes)

Around the corner from his little third-floor flat at 74 rue du Cardinal Lemoine, Hemingway rented a fifth floor room in which to write, often wearing down seven pencils if the writing went well. There he’d eat chestnuts and oranges that he bought from a market on Rue Censier. In A Moveable Feast he’d recall, I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, ‘Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence.’” The ground floor is now a restaurant, La Maison de Verlaine, because the great poet Paul Verlaine died there in 1896, the year F. Scott Fitzgerald was born.

Gertrude Stein’s apartment (27 rue de Fleurus)

Gertrude Stein hosted a salon on Saturday evenings in her two-floor apartment at 27 rue du Fleurus, close to the Luxembourg Gardens. She lived there with her partner Alice B. Toklas. She claimed, Paris is where the 20th century was.” In addition to writers like Ford Madox Ford, Ernest Hemingway and Ezra Pound, painters including Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso were frequent visitors. Of her, Hemingway said, Gertrude Stein and me are like brothers.” After Stein visited Shakespeare and Company in March of 1920, proprietor Sylvia Beach said she had the face of a Roman emperor on the body of an Irish washerwoman.” Hadley and Ernest Hemingway named Stein the godmother of their son John when he was baptized in March of 1924 at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church nearby (5 rue de la Grande Chaumière), now gone.

La Closerie des Lilas (171 boulevard du Montparnasse)

It was at this brasserie where Ernest Hemingway met poet Archibald MacLeish while finishing his short story “Big Two-Hearted River,” and where he read Fitzgerald’s copy of The Great Gatsby. It was also where he finished writing The Sun Also Rises in September of 1925. Jake Barnes, Hemingway’s protagonist, was likely named after his fellow novelist Djuna Barnes and the rue Jacob where he and Hadley first stayed. By then they were living above the sawmill a couple of streets away at 113 rue Notre Dame des Champs and Hadley would take baby “Bumby” (né Jack) in a rented strolled to the nearby Luxembourg Gardens.

Of the brasserie, Hemingway would later recall, “It was warm inside in the winter and in the spring and fall it was fine outside with the table under the shade of the trees on the side where the statue of Marshall Ney was, and the square, regular tables under the big awnings along the boulevard. And, in The Sun Also Rises, he’d have Brett order a whisky and soda there, musing, I was a fool to go away. One’s an ass to leave Paris.”

Morley Callaghan and his wife Loretto had drinks there in April of 1929; later he reminisced about the lighted tables spread out under the chestnut trees; a little oasis of conviviality!”

Illustration by Ariella Elovic

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About Janet Somerville

JANET SOMERVILLE writes about books, film and theater. She spent twenty years as a literature teacher and is currently working on a novel about Martha Gellhorn that begins when she arrives in Paris in early 1930 with her typewriter and a dream of becoming a foreign correspondent. Follow her on Twitter at @janetsomerville.

  • Love this post.

    THANKS.

    Elizabeth
    Silver’s Reviews
    My Blog

  • Patricia Young

    Very interesting article about a long lost age!

  • Tina Culbertson

    This looks great!

  • anne

    Disappointed that Natalie Clifford Barney, co-founder of bel spirit was overlooked.

    • anne

      Sorry about the autocorrect. That’s bel esprit of course

  • Janet

    I loved the article

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