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Champagne and Shakespeare: Bricktop and Sylvia Beach in Interwar Paris

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The names “Bricktop” and “Sylvia Beach” appear sprinkled throughout histories of the expatriate experience of Paris in the 1920s and ‘30s. Bricktop’s nightclubs on the Right Bank of the Seine River, and Shakespeare and Company, Sylvia Beach’s bookshop on the river’s Left Bank, served as two of the most popular gathering places for Paris’s native and foreign residents. Sylvia Beach is well-represented in scholarly studies of the Lost Generation of writers, artists, and intellectuals, and was the subject of a lengthy biography, but Bricktop has received less serious attention. This thesis compares and contrasts her life with that of her contemporary Sylvia Beach, in an attempt to establish Bricktop as Beach’s equal in the position of hostess to the City of Light’s illustrious expatriates.

Relying on archival sources, each woman’s own published account of her life in Paris, the published letters and remembrances of fellow expatriates, and related secondary sources, this study thus also challenges the simplistic divisions that have crept into our common conceptions of interwar Paris. Literary memoirs like Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, or even scholarly treatments such as William A. Shack’s chronicle Harlem in Montmartre: A Paris Jazz Story Between the Great Wars, have contributed to a stratified portrait of Paris’s expatriate community, often separated according to gender, race, class, profession, and location. While such distinctions certainly did exist, examining the lives and careers of Bricktop and Sylvia Beach reveals a fascinating, and more complicated network of social and commercial connections among the various sets of international celebrities in Paris than we have usually acknowledged.

Billheimer, Sarah Grace. Champagne and Shakespeare: Bricktop and Sylvia Beach in Interwar Paris. (Under the Direction of Dr. Katherine Mellen Charron.)

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