Poets in Paris: Galignani’s Bookshop and Reading Room
Posted by Alison Chapman
Mention Paris and bookshops and most people will perhaps think first of Shakespeare and Company, famously owned by Sylvia Beach and frequented by Joyce, Hemmingway and Pound. In Hemmingway’s late memoir of his life in Paris, A Movable Feast (1964), Sylvia Beach is about the only person who avoids his ridicule and wrath, as he documents her kindness, support and generosity to expatriate writers. Literary tourists still flock to this shrine on the banks of the Seine, and marvel at the well-stuffed if haphazardly (and charmingly) organised shelves.
But for the Victorian poetry enthusiast, Galignani’s Bookshop has an even more magical draw. Important as the first English-language bookshop on the European continent, it opened in Paris in 1801 in 18 rue Vivienne.
But it wasn’t only a bookshop. Galignani’s also boasted a fine reading room where Parisians and visitors could read mostly English-language publications. In addition, Galignani was a significant publisher, establishing Galignani’s Messenger in 1819 (circulated throughout Europe — sadly, the British Library recently disposed of all the print copies of this important title — and for which Thackeray worked in the 1830s for 10 francs a day [Brake, Demoor, p. 241]), publishing editions of all the major nineteenth-century British authors such as Wordsworth and Scott, as well as issuing popular travel guides (the bookshop also sold many copies of the even more popular guidebook series, Murray’s Handbooks for Travellers). The Galignani name was synonymous with British authors on the European continent, and when British authors visited Paris they frequented the bookshop and reading room, and also avidly read the Galignani newspaper. As Peter Cochran points out, the Galignani pirated editions of English writers were cheap and highly sought after by the hundreds of tourists who visited the bookshop (Tennyson’s copy of Byron’s works was a Galignani [Cardwell, p. 42], and William St. Clair tells us that, although Wordsworth complained about Galignani’s piracy of his poems, in his own library were Galignani editions of Coleridge, Shelley and Keats [p. 302]). Letters of the Brownings frequently mention popping into Galignani’s, as well as their anxiety to see the news printed in the Messenger. Galignani’s has been termed “an elegant literary salon” (Sasson, p. 329). It was certainly central to the English tourist’s experience of Paris in the nineteenth century, as well as to the reception of British writing in Europe.
In 1856, I think because of Haussman’s changes to Paris, the bookshop moved to its current location, 224 rue de Rivoli, an exclusive address opposite the elegant Jardin de Tuileries. I was there recently, while on a research trip to Paris, and although the staff were regretfully vague about the history of the building, I did hear from one of them of a new study on the bookstore and publishing business forthcoming next year. Galignani’s is important for reminding us of the intimate European connections within the production and consumption of British writing — and, in particular, of nineteenth-century poetry — and how print culture, place and sociability are so very enmeshed too. And, if you find yourself in Paris sometime, it is still a tremendous bookshop, although sadly the reading room no longer exists.
Laurel Brake and Marysa Demoor, Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century Journalism (Academia Press, 2009)
Richard Andrew Cardwell (ed.), The Reception of Byron in Europe, 2 vols (Thoemmes Continuum, 2004)
Donald Sassoon, The Culture of the Europeans, from 1800 to the Present (Harper Press, 2006)
William St. Clair, The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period (Cambridge University Press, 2004)
The Poets in Paris: Galignani’s Bookshop and Reading Room by Alison Chapman, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.