Tuesday, 26 June 2018

A Walking Tour of Joyce's Paris: The Left Bank

Here's a beautiful photograph of Sylvia Beach and James Joyce in Paris. To find out where it was taken, come with me on a walking tour of Joyce's Paris!
We begin at 177 Boulevard du Montparnasse, outside the Closerie de Lilas, where Joyce had his first drink and argument with Arthur Power (Power's book Conversations with James Joyce should really be called Arguments with James Joyce - they disagreed about everything!).  
Ney in front of the Closerie de Lilas

We walk north past the statue of Marshal Ney, which stands on the spot where he was shot by a firing squad in 1815 - giving his own order to fire.  All the Paris statues struck me as more dramatic than our London ones.

Ney is in Finnegans Wake in the Waterloo episode 'Hney, hney, hney!' 10.15.


Then we turn left into Rue Notre Dame des Champs and go west until we reach number 70 bis. This was where Ezra Pound had his studio, in 1921-4.

Ezra Pound had been a tireless and unpaid literary agent for Joyce since 1914. He created the audience for both A Portrait and Ulysses, which he described as 'an epoch-making report on the state of the human mind in the twentieth century (first of the new era)'. Pound encouraged Joyce to write, found him patrons and publishers, gave him his cast-off clothes, and persuaded him to come to Paris in 1920. However, Pound didn't like Finnegans Wake, telling Joyce, 'Nothing short of divine vision or a new cure for the clapp can possibly be worth all the circumambient peripherization.'

Pound's studio was described by Sylvia Beach:

'He invited me to his studio in the rue Notre Dame des Champs to see his furniture, all made by himself. He had painted the woodwork too. Joyce, commenting on Pound's furniture, thought a cobbler should stick to his last, but I'm sure that a 'violon d'Ingres' is a very good thing for a writer.''  

Shakespeare and Company p.27

Pound made his own furniture because, unlike Joyce, he knew how to live on a shoestring.
You can see some of his furniture in this photograph, taken in the studio in October 1923. From the left, we have Pound, who loved to assume a horizontal position, John Quinn, the wealthy New York lawyer and art collector, Ford Madox Ford and James Joyce. Look at the chairs that Joyce and Ford are sitting in!

Pound's own chair doesn't look home-made!
  In the studio courtyard, this wonderful photograph was taken on the same day.

Pound was a genius at connecting people. He'd invited them all here to set up a new journal, the transatlantic review, to be financed by Quinn and edited by Ford. This would publish the first extract of Finnegans Wake in April 1924.

The way to the courtyard is usually locked by a steel gate. However, in 2015, David Burke, who leads Writers in Paris walking tours, found it open and photographed the courtyard. Amazingly, the statue to Joyce's left is still there, though she's lost her arms and head.



We now walk south west along  Rue de La Grande Chaumiere, back to the Boulevard. From here you can walk down Rue Delambre, past the Hotel Lenox where Joyce was photographed by Man Ray, and past the American Dingo Bar down to Edgar Quinet's and Samuel Beckett's tombs in MontparnasseI described these in my last post.

We walk west along the Boulevard, admiring on our right the lovely neon sign of the Select, another Hemingway favourite. We stop at the traffic island at Place du 18 Juin 1940,  all that remains of Les Trianons, Joyce's favourite restaurant of the 1920s. Read about his nights in Les Trianons in my last postPicture in your mind the ghostly figure of James Joyce attempting to climb up one of the lamposts here, as described by Robert McAlmon.

While you're here, stop to look at the Wallace Fountain. These were built all over Paris in the 1870s, financed by the English philanthropist, Richard Wallace.  The four nymph caryatids represent kindness, simplicity, charity and sobriety.  



We now walk north east along Rue de Rennes, turning left into Rue Blaise-Desgoffe. At number 6, we find our first Joycean address, the Victoria Palace Hotel – just five minutes from his favourite restaurant. Joyce lived here from August 1923 to October 1924, and wrote most of Books One and Three of Finnegans Wake here. Yes this was where he ceated Anna Livia Plurabelle and Shem the Penman!

There is no plaque to Joyce on the wall, but I was pleased to see the initials VPH, which he  placed in Finnegans Wake in memory of the hotel

'its tailor's (Baernfather's) tab reading VPH' 99.13; 
'V for wadlock, P for shift, H for Lona the Konkubine' 284.F06


We retrace our steps to the Rue du Rennes and walk northeast, until we find, on our left, the aptly named Rue du Regard (Look Street).

At the top of this street, where it meets Rue de Cherche Midi, we find Joyce's eye clinic. This was where Dr Louis Borsch performed five operations on Joyce's left eye between 1923-5 (a sphincterectomy, two iridectomies, a cataract extraction and a capsulotomy).

Joyce, who had eleven eye operations in total, described himself to Harriet Shaw Weaver as an 'international eyesore, holder of the world amateur record for eye operations.'

Joyce in 1926
Sylvia Beach describes the first Paris operation, which Joyce suffered in April 1923, soon after having seventeen teeth extracted.

'The Left Bank clinic where Joyce had his operation was a small two-storied building on a corner where two streets met. The names of these streets, as Joyce observed, were quite appropriate: rue de Cherche-Midi ('Southern seeking Street' would you translate it?) and rue du Regard....
 An eye operation must be a dreadful ordeal, particularly for someone as sensitive as Joyce. Conscious, he watched it going on and, as he told me, the instrument looming up in front of hs eye appeared like a great axe.'  

Sylvia Beach, Shakespeare and Company, p.71 

The two storey building has been pulled down, replaced by a tall modern building with a beauticians on the ground floor. 


Going right along Boulevard du Cherche Midi, we reach Boulevard Raspail, and walk north, advancing through the years of Joyce's life in Paris. The massive Hotel Lutetia, at Number 43-5, was his final address here, where he lived in the opening months of World War Two.


Joyce lived here from October to December 1939 and again from 22 January to 1 February 1940 before leaving for his final journey to Zurich. 

'What is the use of this war?' he demanded of Beckett....Joyce was convinced it had none. What was worse, it was distracting the world from reading Finnegans Wake...He was drinking and spending heavily; to Beckett...he said, with something like satisfaction in his voice, 'We're going downhill fast'.'  Ellmann.

Continuing north, we go back to a happier time in Joyce's Paris years. Number 5, on the right side of Boulevard Raspail is another of his addresses, an expensive flat where he lived from December 1920 to June 1921. While here, he finished Circe, wrote Eumaeus and began Penelope and Ithaca.

'An eye attack was hanging on and off for a fortnight owing to cold and damp in the hotel so we took this flat for six months. it has about 100 electric lamps and gas stoves but how I am going to pay for it damn me if I know....I have a piano here and telephone. I hope to finish Circe before Christmas. By the way, is it not extraordinary the way I enter a city barefoot and end up in a luxurious flat?'   

To Frank Budgen 10 December 1920, Letters p 151


We cross the Boulevard Saint Germain, heading into the lively and pretty Saint Germain-des-Pres. A right turn along Rue de Bac takes us to Rue de L'Université, and Joyce's very first Paris address, at number 9.  This was a cheap hotel, with no name, when Joyce stayed here. We had trouble finding this one because it's recently changed from the Hotel Lenox (the name were were looking for) to a Boutique hotel, the Saint, with a bistrot called Kult

Joyce lived here, in cold damp cramped conditions, for a few days in July 1920,  then from November to December 1920 and, for a third time, in October 1921September 1922. On his first two stays, he was writing Circe here.  On the third, he finished Ulysses here - mostly adding material to the printer's proofs.

This was the hotel he left to move to 5 Boulevard Raspail above.


We've earned a drink! I suggest we go east along Rue de l'Université and Rue Jacob until we reach Rue Bonaparte, where we turn right to the famous Les Deux Magots. The name is a nickname from the magots, the statues of two Chinese mandarins or magicians inside.

'Yes I remember Les Deux Magots. I think I saw James Joyce there in 1928 but I've never quite been able to swear to that because J. was not of very distinctive appearance.'  

George Orwell to Celia Kirwen, 20 January 1948 (George Orwell: A Life in Letters p384)

We had a Hoegaarden and a Ricard.

We're here not because of Orwell or Sartre or Hemingway, but because James Joyce came to Les Deux Magots in 1922 to be interviewed by Djuna Barnes for Vanity Fair. 

Sitting in the café of the Deux Magots, that faces the little church of St. Germain des Près, I saw approaching, out of the fog and damp, a tall man, with head slightly lifted and slightly turned, giving to the wind an orderly distemper of red and black hair, which descended sharply into a scant wedge on an out-thrust chin....
   He sat down opposite me...ordering a white wine. He began to talk at once. “The pity is,” he said, seeming to choose his words for their age rather than their aptness, “the public will demand and find a moral in my book—or worse they may take it in some more serious way, and on the honor of a gentleman, there is not one single serious line in it.'
  For a moment there was silence. His hands, peculiarly limp in the introductory shake and peculiarly pulpy, running into a thickness that the base gave no hint of, lay, one on the stem of the glass, the other, forgotten, palm out, on the most delightful waistcoat it has ever been my happiness to see. Purple with alternate doe and dog heads. The does, tiny scarlet tongues hanging out over blond lower lips, downed in a light wool, and the dogs no more ferocious or on the scent than any good animal who adheres to his master through the seven cycles of change.
  He saw my admiration and he smiled. 'Made by the hand of my grandmother for the first hunt of the season' and there was another silence in which he arranged and lit a cigar.

You can see this waistcoat in the Joyce Tower and Museum in Sandycove, Dublin.


Refreshed, we walk back north up Rue Bonaparte, turning right into Rue de L'Abbaye and then down to a little winding side street, Rue Cardinale. At Number 2 here we find Harry and Caresse Crosby's Black Sun Press.

There are no street numbers. It's hard to know which is number 2, but it was probably one of these.

Harry Crosby was a death-obsessed opium-smoking sunworshipper who committed suicide in bizarre circumstances on 10 December 1929 (his mistress died alongside him).  Not long before, he had cabled his Boston Brahmin father: 'PLEASE SELL $10,000 WORTH OF STOCK. WE HAVE DECIDED TO LEAD A MAD AND EXTRAVAGANT LIFE.'

Six months before his suicide, Crosby published an exquisite edition of three fragments from Work in Progress. It was a limited edition, with a hundred copies on Japanese vellum, signed by Joyce, and 500 on Holland Van Gelder paper. You can imagine how much these sell for now! You can see one in the Joyce Tower in Dublin.

Constantin Brancusi produced his famous 'portrait of Joyce' for the frontispiece of the Black Sun publication.

Ellmann says that, 'When Brancusi's sketch was shown to John Joyce in Dublin, he remarked gravely, 'The boy seems to have changed a good deal.''

The emblem of the press was a black sun, and the street art in Rue Cardinale, with an upside down (falling?) man against a black background seems fitting.

Lisa in Rue Cardinale



We leave the dark world of the Black Sun, and make our way south, crossing the Boulevard Saint Germain, and walk to the Rue de l'Odeon. At number 12 we are thrilled, at last, to find a plaque honouring Joyce!

We've reached Sylvia Beach's famous bookshop, Shakespeare and Company. It was Sylvia Beach who published Ulysses here in 1922. To hear the whole astonishing story of how she did this, watch this wonderful interview with Sylvia Beach in Dublin in 1962.

There are still lots of small bookshops in the area. Nearby I found one with this in the window.

Beach's original bookshop, where she first met Joyce, was at number 8 Rue Dupuytren, which we reach by walking north up Rue de l'Odeon, then turning right and then left. It now looks like this.

Here are Joyce and Sylvia Beach standing in the doorway.

This is where the photograph at the top was taken, from inside the bookshop.

If you now feel hungry, the place to go is Polidor's Restaurant nearby, which is the nearest thing to a 1920s Paris restaurant you'll find. It was a film location in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris.

To most visitors to Paris, Shakespeare and Company doesn't mean Sylvia Beach's bookshops, but George Whitman's, named in her honour, which is where we head next. We walk north to the Boulevard St Germain, crossing by another dramatic statue, of Danton, and then into the Latin Quarter. Heading towards the Seine, we reach the Rue de la Huchette, which Joyce's friend Elliott Paul immortalised in The Last Time I Saw Paris. There's a beautiful Soundlandscapeblog matching modern recordings with Paul's descriptions of the street.

Shakespeare and Company is just to the east. This is one of the great inspiring bookshops of the world. When we visited, a woman was playing the piano upstairs and people were reading books in all the rooms.

Yer man is on the stairs, but the bookshop has far more Hemingway books than Joyce's.

This must be the world's most welcoming bookshop. Whitman's philosophy is summed up above the doorway to the 'Sylvia Beach Reading Room'.

On their website it says that, over the years, 'more than 30,000 young and young-at-heart writers have stayed in the bookshop'.


We walk east beside the river, and then we cross over the little Pont de l'Archevêché and the Pont St Louis to the Ile Saint-Louis, where we stop for an ice cream at Berthillon's. Lisa and I last came here thirty years ago, when I was astonished to find a queue of people stretching down the street. 'Why would anyone queue for ice cream?' I ased Lisa. She wanted to join the queue and find out, but I didn't want to. Luckily this time, there was no queue.

There's a great travel bookshop, named after Ulysses, nearby at 35 rue Saint-Louis.

We walk along the north side of the island until we reach 29 Quai d'Anjou

This was where Ford Madox Ford produced the transatlantic review, which published the first extract from what Ford called Joyce's 'Work in Progress'. 

Ford shared his office with Bill Bird who ran his Three Mountains press here. Ford describes it in his 1933 memoir, It Was the Nightingale.

Ford's book has a wonderful framing device where he's sitting in Lavenue's restaurant, opposite Les Trianons, waiting to meet Joyce, who never arrives. Eventually, Sylvia Beach and Nina Hamnett walk past and ask if he's going to see Joyce in Les Trianons. 

Read it online here.

Before leaving the Quai d'Anjou, stop to admire the dolphin swimming down the drainpipe at number 17. The is the Hôtel de Lauzun, where Charles Baudelaire, the greatest poet of Paris, lived as a young dandy in the 1840s, and where his Club des Hashischins met. He began writing Les Fleurs du Mal here.

'my shemblable! My freer!'  FW 489.28


At the end of the island, we turn south, crossing the Seine at the Pont du Sully. Then we walk south until we reach 71 Rue Cardinal Lemoine.  This is the only one of Joyce's eighteen Paris addresses to have a plaque.

Joyce lived here rent-free, from June until October 1921, thanks to the generosity of the famous French writer, Valery Larbaud, whose home it was.

'Valery Larbaud, the French novelist and translator of Samuel Butler, who is raving about Ulysses has given us a charming furnished flat for the summer (rue Cardinal Lemoine 7, Paris VI)'  To Claude Sykes, Letters p.164

There was also a maidservant.

Valery Larbaud
Sylvia Beach, hearing that Larbaud was 'laid up with the grippe' had sent him all the copies of the Little Review with Ulysses extractsThe next day, she received a letter from Larbaud in which he said that he was 'raving mad over Ulysses,' and that since he had read Whitman at eighteen he had not been so enthusiastic about any book. 'It is wonderful! As great as Rabelais!' (Sylvia Beach, Shakespeare and Company p.57)


The plaque describes Joyce as a 'British writer of Irish origin', which is strictly true (Joyce hung onto his British passport all his life, refusing offers of an Irish one). Yet Larbaud said of Ulysses, 'With this book Ireland makes a sensational re-entrance into high European literature.' (quoted by Gorman p295)

Larbaud's flat does sound charming. It was full of his collection of toy soldiers:

'Larbaud, curiously enough for such a peace lover, possessed an enormous army, and a growing one of toy soldiers. He complained bitterly that they were beginning to crowd him out of his rooms, but he made no effort to control them....When we saw the housing conditions at his place, we didn't wonder that Larbaud was uneasy. Troops had invaded his little flat; soldiers were swarming all over the place.'  

Sylvia Beach, Shakespeare and Company, p.57

Valery Larbaud, toy soldier collector

'You went through a big gateway, and down a long passage opening into a kind of square with shady trees around it. Larbaud's apartment was in one of the houses behind these trees. it was a secluded spot and one where Larbaud liked to retire for long periods of solitude and work...So now, in these neat little rooms of Larbaud's, with the polished floors, the antique furniture, the toy soldiers, and the valuable books in their fine bindings, the Joyces were installed.'

Sylvia Beach, Shakespeare and Company, p.57

Arthur Power visited the flat with Joyce, and admired Larbaud's studio:

'I have seen rooms designed for many purposes but never as yet had I seen a room specifically designed for writing. it was shaped like the cabin of a ship, had a low rounded ceiling wth a light in the middle....It was also soundproof and draughtproof....But to my surprise Joyce told me he did not like working in it.
–I don't like being shut up. When I am working I like to hear noise going on around me – the noise of life; there it was like working in a tomb. I suppose I could have got used to it, but I didn't want to because then I might have lost the ability to work wherever I happen to be, in a lodging-house, or in a hotel room, and silence might have become a necessity to me as it was, for example, to Proust'
               Arthur Power, Conversations with James Joyce, p.105  

The plaque says that Joyce finished Ulysses here. In fact, he carried on writing the book after he left here on 4 October 1921, when he returned to the hotel in Rue de l'Université.  

'Am working like a lunatic, trying to revise and improve and connect and continue and create all at the one time.'  

To Robert McAlmon from 9 Rue de l'Université, 10 October 1921.

'A few lines to say that I have just finished the Ithaca episode so that at last the writing of Ulysses is finished. I have still a lot of proofreading and revising to do...'

To Robert McAlmon from 9 Rue de l'Université, 29 October 1921. 

Joyce carried on adding new material to the proofs, sending in his last additions on 31 January 1922.
And this is where we end our tour of the Left Bank. 

In the next post, I'll take you to several more Joyce addresses around the Eiffel Tower and the Champs-Élysées, and to the restaurant where James Joyce met Marlene Dietrich....