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Adrienne Monnier

Blatt & Bild Archiv-Recherchen
Published by Corinna von List in Who knows ... ? · 15 June 2020
Adrienne Monnier: publisher and bookshop owner
It is 65 years ago that Adrienne Monnier took her own life.
This is a brief overview of her life, her courage and her incredible achievements.  
Born on 26 April 1892, Adrienne Monnier spent her life in the Parisian metropolis of Seine. Throughout her childhood her mother would take Adrienne and her sister Marie to visit the many theatres, galleries and opera houses in Paris and they both became well acquainted with the world of art, music and dance. The world-famous actress Sarah Bernardt made a particular impression on Adrienne and left a lasting impact on the young child. Her mother had successfully introduced her children to the world of art and theatre and Adrienne grew up dreaming of a life filled with books and authors and literature.
At the age of 18 Adrienne Monnier passed the Brevet Supérieur (comparable to the British A Levels) and after leaving school she took a job in England as an au pair. She returned to Paris a year later and studied to become a secretary. She secured a position with Les Annales Politiques et Littéraires – a popular newspaper in France, with a circulation of around 200,000 copies a week. Here Adrienne worked closely with Yvonne Sarcey, the co-editor of the Sunday magazine.  Although she held a demanding role and was involved with many aspects of the editorial office, she still dreamt of owning a bookshop and continued to aim towards establishing herself as a bookshop owner in the Quartier Latin de Paris.

On November 15 1915, in the middle of the First World War, Adrienne finally opened her bookshop.  She called it La Maison des Amis des Livres (Friends of Books House) and it was located at 7 rue de l'Odéon, in the elite Parisian publishing and university district. She was one of the first women to ever own her own bookshop.

Her bookshop together with Sylvia Beach's bookshop Shakespeare and Company, just a few houses away, became two of the most important meeting spaces for British, French and American authors, during the interwar period.   Authors such as Nathalie Sarraute, James Joyes, André Gide, Jacques Prevert, Ernest Hemingway and Leon Paul Fargue, to name a few, all regularly met at the two bookshops and enjoyed the informal, ‘family’ atmosphere. The bookshop became a hub of cultural exchange and literary conversation, where like-minded people exchanged ideas and became friends.

During the German occupation of Paris between 1940 and 1944, Adrienne Monnier kept her bookshop open and it continued to be a popular meeting place for highly acclaimed authors, albeit under much changed and more difficult conditions.

Gertrud Woltmann and other female, German communications assistants, almost certainly would have strolled past this jewel of Parisian literary life, when on a walk through the Latin Quarter.

Adrienne was plagued with chronic rheumatism.  In 1951, as a result of this extremely painful illness she was forced to give up her bookshop.  The shop had become a highly respected and well frequented, Parisian institution. A short time later she was diagnosed with a serious illness of the inner ear, which affected her balance, caused her long-lasting dizzy attacks and gave her constant ringing noises within the inner ear. Faced with the constant progression of the illnesses and with no hope of recovery, she took an overdose of sedatives and ended her own life.  She died in Paris, on 15 June 1955.

Source: Adrienne Monnier: Rue de l'Odeon, Paris : Alban Michel 1989

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