George Whitman, owner of Shakespeare and Company, the Paris bookshop that became a place of pilgrimage for lovers of English-language literature, has died in his flat two days after turning 98, reports The Washington Post.
Shakespeare and Company first opened opposite Notre Dame cathedral in 1951 after Whitman arrived from America after the end of World War II.
Alongside the ramshackle rooms and towering piles of English and American literature were 13 beds on which Whitman claimed 40,000 wannabe writers had rested their heads over the years. He once described his shop as "a socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore".
Customers over the years included novelists like Richard Wright and Henry Miller and Beat Generation icons William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. It featured recently in Wood Allen’s film Midnight In Paris as well as in countless books, documentaries and travel guides published over the past fifty years.
The shop was originally founded in 1919 by another American expatriate, Sylvia Beach. In her time it was a refuge for Ernest Hemingway and the famous ‘Lost Generation’ of writers who socialised in Paris in the 1920s. Hemingway describes the shop in his celebrated memoir of that time A Moveable Feast. Whitman and Beach met in the 1950s and became friends before he bought her book collection in 1962.
Whitman will be fondly remembered by the many travellers and artists passing through Paris whom he housed without charge. His only request in return was that they read one book a day and wrote a short autobiography before they left.
Shakespeare and Company bore a line from William Butler Yeats that its many visitors couldn’t miss:
Be not inhospitable to strangers
Lest they be angels in disguise.