February 26, 2024

Angel in disguise

Shakespeare and Company is a bookstore in Paris where one feels like being in one’s own apartment, just exactly how founder George Whitman wanted it to be, says Charukesi Ramadurai

George Whitman liked to call himself the Don Quixote of the Latin Quarter. His windmills were the faceless bookstore chains and one-size-fits-all websites that threatened the existence of a bookshop like his, and even the famous bouquinistes (sellers of used and rare books) with their green boxes across the Seine.

Sylvia Whitman, his daughter and present owner of the Shakespeare and Company bookshop says, “He would also say that his biography had already been written in Dostoevsky’s The Idiot . I truly think he imagined he was living in a novel himself… he was certainly more eccentric than any character I’ve read in books.”

I know it is fashionable to call it “the end of an era” when someone famous or important dies but in George Whitman’s case, it was definitely so. With him went an age where people loved to read and in his case, lived to read (he once said that he was in the book business since it was the business of life). Sylvia Whitman has been shouldering his legacy since her return from the UK over 10 years ago. “It has been very difficult adjusting to life at the bookshop without this eccentric, witty, wild character at the centre of it… I am still trying to find my way in,” she admits candidly.

Read my story on the Shakespeare and Company bookshop in Paris and a tribute to its eccentric and brilliant owner George Whitman: 12 DECEMBER, 1913 – 14 DECEMBER 2011

Also read: The other Shakespeare bookshops

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