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Adieu George Whitman, owner of Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris

George Whitman's famous bookshop, on the Left Bank. Today, we remember this incorrigable angel. Read on, and prepare to share your own tributes and stories. 

ange (ahnzh)
    : angel

Some expressions: 
mon ange = darling 
beau/belle comme un(e) ange = beautiful as an angel
être aux anges = to be in seventh heaven
un ange passe = an angel is passing
être le bon ange (or ange guardien) de quelqu'un = to be someone's guardian angel

Reverse Dictionary
angel cake = le gâteau de Savoie
to go where angels fear to tread = s'aventurer en terrain dangereux

Audio File: Listen to the following scripture (and to all of the expressions listed above) by clicking here: Download MP3 or Wave File
N'oubliez pas l'hospitalité; car, en l'exerçant, quelques-uns ont logé des anges, sans le savoir. 
Be not inhospitable to strangers, for, in practicing it, some have entertained angels in disguise.
                                                                    —Hebrews 13:2

A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

Adieu, George

As many of you know by now, George Whitman passed away on Wednesday, at the age of 98. For those who didn't know him, or who are not familiar with this literary legend, I will try my best to introduce you to him. Perhaps I could begin by telling you how it was I came to meet him?
Sometime in the early 1990s, I had wandered into George's famous bookstore, Shakespeare and Company. I must have just finished touring Notre Dame cathedral, then happened across the Seine to the lighted bookshop, a beacon to writers, poets, drifters and, oh yes, to customers looking for a good book.
Walking into Shakespeare and Company is like walking into a book: the scene is as dramatic as the characters that live there... I immediately noticed George! How could you miss him? He sat behind a messy desk, looking as worn as his cherished editions. His clothes were tattered too; a psychedelic ensemble of layers covered him from head to toe: a colorful shirt clashed with a colorful vest which clashed with a colorful coat and so on...

His hair fought for distinction above the rest: unruly white locks, seared at the ends (did you ever see the video of George "cutting" his own hair: no scissors necessary; a pocket lighter sufficed!).

Seeing George was sensory and emotional overload for this aspiring writer: for here was the greatest character of all! Only, instead of pulling out my notebook and sketching George, via words—it was all I could do to hurry past him, and hide among stacks. There, I could better process what I had just seen: evidence of the ultimate hero.
Hidden there, in the cooking section I heard his voice.
"What have you found?" George inquired. A little startled, my eyes shot down to the books in my hands. I was struck by the irony of the subject matter: there was a book on home cooking... and another on women's lib (it was, I believe, a book on women writers who had emblazoned a path to publication—in a time when only men were allowed to publish).
"Bah!" George grunted, "get rid of that one," he said, of the women's lib book. "Follow me...." Chance was mine, when next I was treated to a tour of the bookshop.... 

On the way upstairs George literally bumped into one of his "tumbleweeds" (one of the 40,000 lost souls/writers he would host in his shop) and screamed, "What are you doing here? There's work to be done!" I witnessed, for the first time, the bookseller's duo personality: part angel par "incorrigible" (he certainly had a temper, perhaps to temper his overgenerosity?).
"Good for nothing bums!" he grumbled as we made our way up the stairs (I would later learn that George referred to himself as nothing but a bum). In one of the many rooms, there were people my age, early 20s, sitting around a table with a typewriter on it. "How are you getting along?" George asked the group of bed heads (these particular bums had messy hair to rival—or honor—their host's.).

"They're writing their memoirs," George explained. I watched, in awe, wishing for anything to trade places with one of the young, down-and-out writers who got to live in this house of books and dine with its cranky host.

A sign above the door read: 
Be Not Inhospitable To Strangers Lest They Be Angels in Disguise
Our tour continued and it was du pareil au même, or more of the same: all of the rooms were packed floor to ceiling with books. There were beds pushed up against the teetering bookshelves (this, it appeared, was where the bum-writers slept). In a little closet I thought I spied a toilet, or was that the edge of a stove? The furniture was as eclectic as the books on the shelves (and beneath and around them).

A door off one of the rooms led to a stairwell, where an old spiral staircase joined the various levels of the bookshop. George pointed up to the third floor, it seemed he lived up there....

I was grateful for the generous tour, an impromptu look-see that many before me (and many after...) had enjoyed as well. It all depended on George's mood, if he felt like it, he might show you around and even invite you to stay. 

"You'll have to come back for soup sometime," he offered, telling me about the irish stew he is known to make. I couldn't believe he was offering this to me, as he had to the writers in the upstairs study.
I did return to his shop, years later. I regret that I was too nervous to reintroduce myself. I figured he would have forgotten me, after so many comings-and-goings.

And then, a dream came true and I had the honor of speaking at the bookstore... I asked his daughter, Sylvia, if by chance George would be around for the talk. "He's upstairs resting," she said, "but he will hear you," she assured me...
Saying a nervous "bonjour" to the audience... wondering if George might, by chance, be listening from his room just above...
George's daughter, Sylvia Beach Whitman

Back at home while processing the photos from my talk, I saw this beautiful image, of Sylvia, listening in on the talk. That is when I remembered her assuring words, "He will hear you..."
I like to think that Sylvia was the conduit to that end, that by her ears her bed-ridden father did hear so many of the goings-on downstairs—and that, by her sweet spirit, his own now lives on.

                                    *    *    *

Post note: I am so glad I took George's advice and, instead of reading about women writers (in the women's libbish book, I opted for the cook book... went home, had babies, took care of my husband... and wrote about it all in one of those autobiographies that he encouraged his "drifters" to undertake! George, you are the man! Thank you for creating this eclectic, warm, bookstore that continues to create and welcome writers and readers. We love you dearly.)

I wrote about my talk at Shakespeare and Co. (and overcoming public speaking jitters) here. Don't miss it.
Respond to this story, here in the comments box. Have you ever heard about Shakespeare and Company bookshop? Ever been there? Did you meet George? Please share your memories and thoughts here.

You must watch Portrait of a Bookstore as an Old Man. Savor the documentary this weekend, or when you have the chance. It is a touching video and will tell you most everything you need to know about Shakespeare and Company and the incorrigable angel behind it. RIP, dear George!

Some news articles:

Across the street from Shakespeare and Company: Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris

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Suzanne, Monroe Twp., NJ

I too stepped into Shakespeare and Company after a tour of Notre Dame one spring day. Although I did not meet George, I was surprised to learn that the startling looking man who had been at the entrance was the owner, George. You have described him beautifully, Kristin. I don't think I have ever been in a bookstore so packed with books! It was quite overwhelming. Your memory of your tour and subsequent reading are very touching, as is the photo of Sylvia. Thank you for reminding me of that day in Paris.

Sue at  Naperville Now

Loved this post -- and your encounter with George. Well-told, mon amie.

Jacqueline Gill

I have often read about his bookstore, one more place on my list to visit. You have made France come alive foe so many,thank you.
P.S. " It's " always and only means " it is."

gail bingenheimer

J'ai aimé le message aussi.

Mair Buddug

You used the word incorrigible (correct spelling) twice spelled correctly and twice as "incorrigable." You should have spell check. It is disrespectful to your readers to make these kind of mistakes. On another note, your use of the term "Women's Lib" instead of Feminism is also disrespectful. Women your age need to take greater interest in the history of women my age. We suffered and worked for the freedoms that women your age benefit from. If you don't want to read books about feminism, fine, but please don't disparage what your foremothers went through.

Eileen deCamp

Hi Kristin,
Loved this post! Thanks so much!

Priscilla Fleming Vayda

It would seem that Mair Buddug has grievances to air. I too am of a certain age, having just celebrated my 79th birthday. And I celebrate both women's lib and women who love their homes and children and spouses. Life should be all inclusive! I have worked (writer and painter) and kept house and have driven carpools to and from school. And I have loved it all. I have also had the opportunity to visit Shakespeare and Company each time I have gone to Paris. And my dear Kristin, believe me, you are not at all disrespectful to your readers. Keep up the good work and continue to create and to be there for your family and friends and readers.

Julie S. from San Diego

Thank you for this beautiful post, Kristin. I have visited Shakespeare and company while in Paris and loved your description of this magical place located near Notre Dame. There is a wonderful video about this shop on the show "Unseen France". George's daughter talks about her father and the history of the bookstore. I feel like I know you from your writings, generous photos, and wonderful hospitality to strangers passing through Provence. I feel it safe to say that you would never be intentionally disrespectful to anyone. Have a wonderful holiday and many thanks for all the beautiful, fun stories, moments, and lessons you bring to my students and to me each week! Joyeux Noel and Joyeuses Fetes!!

Pat Cargill

Well, chere Kristin, despite the sour note above, the chat room today exudes its usual open hearted ambiance. Remembering a beloved George who helped to give a lift to aspiring writers, a noble endeavor, I feel renewed appreciation for those who work to open life more fully for others so that the over whelming unfairness inherent in this world is eased.

Simply because you did not choose a book about libbers' writings, does not disparage or deny their importance and the work they did and many still do. Bitterness should not be the legacy of anyone's life, but sometimes, that is the case. No matter what we may achieve in our professional or personal life, none of it will be worth a damn if we have not found peace within and the sense of the interconnectedness of all, which is evidenced by lovingkindness and compassion.

Julie S. from San Diego

Very well said. Thank you, Pat!!

Kathleen Freeman

To Provence from the Heart of Ohio- You motivate again. Encore une fois. Merci. The Tunis sheep are in the meadow eating red clover and the heritage turkeys are ready for their own harvest. Let us have a wonderful day where we are planted to grow and bloom. And may our children learn of the peace we know. (Writings being a part of it.)


The post from Mair Buddug was uncalled for & disrespectful in the extreme in my opinion.

My memories of that corner of Paris are all happy as my husband and I spent many of our wedding anniversaries at the Notre Dame Hotel just over the road from that book shop. We almost always went in to browse, but never met George & and I am very pleased to get all that background.

Thank you, Kristin

Suzanne, Monroe Twp., NJ

As a feminist, I was amused that it was George himself who encouraged Kristin to put down the book about early women publishers in favor of the cookbook. A quirkiness of George's? Une bonne jeste? After all, he resurrected Shakespeare and Company in the 1950's which had been owned by Sylvia Beach, the second bookstore in Paris to be owned by a woman. And, he named his daughter after her. Beach was a champion of writers and causes. If it hadn't been for Sylvia Beach ... well you know the story about publishing Joyce's Ulysses. Kristin, please proofread my French to see if it is correct. You know me. Joyeux Noel a tous!

Linda R.

Thank you for sharing your memories of Shakespeare & Company, Kristin. Why I didn't enter the bookstore when I had the opportunity, I can't imagine. C'est la vie. There is a wonderful hotel in Newport, Oregon, named after the original bookstore proprietor Sylvia Beach. As it happens I was visiting the coast and wandered into the hotel this past Tuesday - a slow day and the desk clerk let me peek into the various rooms on the main floor, each named after and decorated in the style of a particular author - Hemingway, Steinbeck, Colette among others. It doesn't make up for my lack of curiosity when in Paris, but it makes me feel closer, if just for a second. Again, thank you for sharing. George Whitman sounds as though he was truly a treasure.


I have never been to Paris but I did hear of this wondrous bookstore via a documentary on TV one evening. How lucky you are to have met such a singular soul in George. His daughter's photo is of an angel and I hope she is able to carry on this rare line of work.

Bobbie Wolcott

Thank you for this warm reflection on meeting George Whitman.

I cherish my memories of visits to Shakespeare and Company. Last year as I ascended the stairs to the second floor I was led to the piano room by notes of John Lennon's early years. A young man sat on a chair playing the piano with his girlfriend listening nearby. As if in a trance, I took a seat on the bed while others appeared and joined me at the call of this "Pied Piper". This was much to the surprise of the musican, as he kept looking back at his girlfriend as if to say "what do I do?". She would simply smile nodding her head up and down, nudging him to continue to play.

I will return to Paris next year and again spend time at this very special place.

Julie F in St. Louis, MO

I will come back to read comments later and savor this story some more, but I just had to say that I am so envious of this encounter. And that picture you took of the outside of the shop should be framed and hung over your desk. When I was in the shop this summer it was raining so the place was so crowded I couldn't lazily relish it as in past visits. But I bought a Joan Didion book for the train ride back to Dijon.


Your words took me right there with you. Thanks for the experience.


For anyone who loves literary Paris and the role that Shakespeare and Company played in it, make sure to read the wonderful biography of the store's founder: Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation: A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties by Noel Riley Fitch.

Ron - Pittsburgh, PA, USA

How many souls stumbled upon his store during their first tentative tour of Paris? Too many thousands, I'm sure.

Your story brought back my first encounter with S & C, and for that I thank you! My biggest fear is that, as a society, we are seeing not only the passing of people like George Whitman, but also the passing of small, intimate, idiosyncratic stores such as his. We have big boxes and low prices -- but we are paying a huge price for that...


I, too, am one of the privileged to have "seen" George on many occasions during my annual visits to Paris since the '90's. I was too timid to engage him in conversation, not that he ever conversed with anyone in my presence. He was gruff and intriguing at the same time. It is comforting to know that Sylvia will continue to remain at the helm of this iconic, odd and fascinating place. R.I.P. George
Cynthia- New York, N.Y.


I went to Paris in the 1980's for two weeks by myself. Loved every minute of it. Yes, I found myself in the most amazing bookstore with the most interesting people. Stayed there for about two hours pretending to look at the books when I was actually people watching. I remember George and you have described him beautifully - there is something special about people who love books as he did. You could feel it in the store. I am very sorry that he is gone.


You have painted a beautiful and very descriptive portrait of George. I have been to this bookstore, but, sadly, I don't remember seeing him. Thank you for sharing this with us.


Kristin, I hadn't known that George Whitman had passed until moments ago when I read your post. I've never gone to Paris without a visit to Shakespeare and Co. And he was ALWAYS behind his desk, just exactly as you pictured him with your words. I feel saddened that he is gone, but gladdened that he WAS.

Bill Facker



Salut Kristin, your story today made me feel I was there, à la librairie with you.
Tu es un ange. Et si je ne me suis pas trompée, c'est un ange, non masculin et jamais féminin.
Bonne soirée, Kristin ma chère.


I visited France in September of this year and spent a wonderful afternoon at Shakespeare & Co. I love the history and all the stories about the bookstore and George Whitman. One of my favorite books was Time Was Soft There by Jeremy Mercer. Actually going there and wandering through all the rooms, nooks and crannies in that magical place was something I will never forget. And the books........who knew so many books could fit in one place. At 98, he certainly lived the good life and as Frank Sinatra would say....."I did it my way.


Oh oh, j'ai fait une faute étourdie, c'était une faute de frappe. J'ai voulu dire que le mot ANGE, c'est un NOM masculin.

Betty Davis

Yes, I was at Shakespeare & Co for your talk and it is a fond memory. I had seen George on a previous occassion, but I didn't know his story then. After I read Time was Soft There I wish I had met him. I think that's the back of my head in the picture of your talk. I met your wonderful husband and since you didn't have a pen to sign the books, I gave you one. I enjoyed the talk and I enjoy your writings. Merci.

Scott Fox

Bravo, Kristin, and thank you.

I'm so happy you took up your pen (keyboard!) to write this after I sent you the notice of George's passing.

Although I'm a writer, too, I knew you would do a better job of remembering George for all of us.

I was lucky enough to meet George when I was looking for a job in Paris after my college exchange program had finished.

I didn't realize until years later who it was who had given me permission to post my plaintive "job wanted" ad on his bookstore bulletin board.

But I've always been grateful that he also blustered me into returning to the Cite Universitaire dorms to post Shakespeare & Co. postcards on their bulletin boards in return. It was there I found the job posting I needed!

Thank you, George. Rest in peace.

Cheryl in STL

My favorite Shakespeare and Company moment? It was being there, sitting across (almost knees touching!) from Ann Mah, listening to you! I was certain that George would be listening, too. Thanks for this post!

Lisa A., CA

What a wonderful story...thank you so much for sharing it. 98 years old...what a full can only hope to reach 98. You are so lucky to have met him and his lovely daughter!! Such wonderful photos that really capture that moment.

Gwyn Ganjeau

Kristin, i hope you sent George's daughter that photo. it is quite magical.

Pat Cargill, thank you for so eloquently and gracefully neutralizing the negativity. Your response was quite inspired and inspiring. I'm afraid on reading the unfortunate and brittle comment made earlier, my response was to do a bit of finger-waving of my own. But your thoughtful comments made me realize a more heartfelt and tender approach is what really creates change. Thank you.


I did not know about George's passing until I read this post. I'm going to hunt for the black and white photo I took of him back in 1986. He was sitting at his desk reading, the door to the outside was ajar, I was outside and took his photo. It was a special moment for me. We have visited the shop many, many times in our years of staying in Paris. We spoke maybe twice with him, usually just nodded as we entered or left when he was present. We are so grateful for his establishing his shop and look forward to stopping by this winter, perhaps to have a few words with his daughter.


Thank you for your excellent post about George. We lived in Paris and environs for over a dozen years beginning in 1980 and frequented Shakespeare & Co often as you could trade used books 2 for 1.

He was quite an interesting character. We also saw Lawrence Ferlinghetti there a couple of times.

(Just an aside that you might find interesting, Kristin... We used to live a few barges down from the writer William Wharton in Le Port Marly).

I love your blog. We hope to return to France soon.

I hope you'll have a Kindle version of your book :)

All the best & Happy holidays

Robert Wildau (fellow Provencal)

I was lucky enough to live just a couple of blocks away off Rue de la Harpe for a couple of years in the 60s and was in and out of S & Co all the time. On many subsequent visits to Paris I never failed to pass by. The last time was a year ago March when George was pretty much confined to his bed, though I wouldn't have been surprised to see him at any moment: he always looked like he'd been sleeping in his clothes anyway. That place, with Notre Dame looming through the traffic on the quai captured so well in one of your photos, was a powerful vortex in the world of literature (by comparison to the famous vortices around Sedona). The question now is whether a coat of paint after 60 years would constrain its vibe.

Cynthia Lewis

Dear Kristin,
You would never be anything but kind, thoughtful, generous and hospitible toward others. Please completely ignore the uncalled for comments a reader of "a certain age" made earlier today. I, too, at age seventy-five fall in this age group and I do not understand how she could have written what she did.
On a happier note, thanks for a fascinating FWAD today! I'm looking forward to the arrival of "Blossoming In Provence" in my mailbox.
Sincere best wishes for you and your family, Cynthia

Julie F in St. Louis, MO

I finally arrived back home after a busy day out of the house. I immediately tweeted out a link to this touching story. 140 characters are not enough to praise it.

Karen from Phoenix, AZ

I hope to one day visit Shakespeare and Company. I have been fascinated with it for many reasons.

Thanks for sharing your wonderful thoughts and sincere voice. George's daughter does look like an angel.



Thanks for your piece on Shakespeare and Company and that stalwart George Whitman. I first visited that bookstore in 1957 when as a college student I spent the summer in France. I went back more than once..first to find Stendhal's "Le Rouge et Noir" and later on my last trip that summer to find a French cookbook to take home with me. What a splendid place, and what a true "book man" he was! 'Brings back fond memories.

Lee Isbell

Beautifully described and such affection shown, Kristin. I love it.

Dawne Polis

Kristen, I have a feeling that George gave you such a wonderful tour because he sensed that in you he truly was entertaining an "ange"! This is such a lovely post, and a wonderful tribute to this great man.
Oh, and I was in Paris the morning of your talk at the bookstore in 2010, but flew home that very day! You can't imagine how disappointed I was to have missed you!
Christmas Blessings to you and your family,

Kim Uyyek

Thank you for this loving tribute. I am thrilled that I got to have tea in George's apartment one Sunday afternoon, back in the 80s and a friend of mine stayed at the bookstore for a few weeks when she was between apartments. So many fond many memories of my years in Paris. Thank you.

A few years ago, I read an account of Shakespeare & Co., written by a man who lived there for a long time. He helped facilitate the reunion of Sylvia and George. Do you know the name of this book?

jo de Facate`

George was a real horse-trader. I used to stop by with books I no longer needed with the hopes of getting something new to read but no matter what exchange I proposed George would always come out further ahead that I'd planned. If I'd offer 6 for 3 he'd say 6 for 1 and eventually a deal would maybe be struck for 6 for 2. Sometimes I would leave with one new book.
In the early '90s I shared a couple of meals upstairs with the residents and found them to always be a wonderful group.
When I was staying in a flat on Rue Chanoinesse I'd walk over to sit in on some of the many readings that took place and George would usually make an appearence.
A truly unique man that contributed so much to we who were priviledged to meet him and to the literary community throughout the world.


The kids and I looked for Shakesphere and Company when we went to Paris. One of the books I purchased was Julia Child's, "The Art of French Cooking". It was a delightful store. I love the history behind it as well.

Susan Carter

As I lover of books and bookstores, I find it hard to believe it took me 7 trips to Paris before I visited Shakespeare & Co. I finally went in last summer and was entranced, kicking myself for not having gone sooner. I went back again and spent time just wandering through the floors, entranced by the history it offered. I'm so sorry I never had the chance to see George at his desk, but I'm confident his spirit will always remain.

Kaaren Kitchell

Hi Kristin,

I wasn't able to read your post on George Whitman 'til Saturday, since Richard and I were busy getting our post (on the very same subject) ready to send Friday night!

I love the sensory detail and the personal experience you describe with George, the bookstore and reading there. And we linked independently to a few of the same videos!

My husband, Richard Beban, and I have read our poems at S. & C, too, and felt more thrilled by that reading than any other either of us has done in our lives. Maybe it's being in Paris, facing Notre Dame.

Anyway, thank you for this wonderful post, and congratulations on publishing your book.

Here's our link, if you have time to read it; it says more about our experience of George and Sylvia and the bookstore:

Love to you,

Kaaren Kitchell


thank you thank you


Not until I saw the picture of Notre Dame did I realize my husband and I have been to the bookstore. It was our first trip to Europe in 1996 and we were on a tour (my husband insisted) which happened to have mostly Australian's on it. Happily, these were the most fun and warmly inviting people you could ever spent three weeks with. We wouldn't have visited the bookstore, except that it was cold and the bus was late picking us up and to escape the cold, several of us went into the bookstore. Sadly, I don't remember seeing George, but I remember some of the people in our group talking about the colorful shop keeper. I guess I missed a great opportunity. It is so sad to hear he passed, but heartening to know he lived a long life.

Jackson Dunes, Pug At The Beach

I knew nothing of this bookshop or this man until now. I'm fascinated by the story behind the shop. Thanks for sharing your experiences.


Un ange passe -> an awkward silence

The French expression un ange passe is used to describe a sudden, unexpected break in conversation due to some kind of awkwardness or embarrassment.

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