Sylvia Beach and the Melanholy Jesus
Beneath Napoleon’s Hat: Tales from the Parisian Cafés
Volume 3: Sylvia Beach and the Melanholy Jesus
Paperback £10.95
Colley Books
Stanton House
07977 464272

Hemingway has the first word, a refreshing change from his usual habit of having the last. He is central to the myth of Paris. Unavoidable. He describes the pleasures and hazards of writing in his favourite café, La Closerie des Lilas. He introduces us to Sylvia Beach and her remarkable bookshop/lending library/literary salon/honorary café, Shakespeare and Company. A short story in three words. It was just across the road from Adrienne Monnier’s La Maison des Amis des Livres and housed new writers from America and Europe. Its melancholy Jesus was James Joyce. Sylvia Beach would be the self-declared midwife who somehow delivered Ulysses to a startled world.
Her dedication to this troublesome and ungrateful Irish genius would lead to the demise of her precious bookshop; an ending that even Hemingway could not forestall as, single-handedly, more or less, he set about liberating Paris from the German occupation.
Freedom and Jean-Paul Sartre were elusive companions. At home in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the head of the Famille Sartre is discovered and praised, not for anything he was thinking or writing but for setting in motion the singing career of Juliet Gréco, a much more agreeable being than Nothingness.
Finally, B. S. Johnson commands attention on the terrace of La Coupole, the magnificent café-restaurant in the boulevard du Montparnasse. He informs, rages, entertains, bullies, bemuses and astounds his unassuming, vegetarian companion. An accidental meeting provides an audience of one for this All-or- Nothinger poet, novelist and film-maker.