Inside the Milberg Gallery: In the Company of Good Books - Beach & Woolf: Making Modernism

The following is part of a series of inside looks at the current exhibition in Princeton University Library’s Ellen and Leonard Milberg Gallery in Firestone Library - “In the Company of Good Books: Shakespeare to Morrison.” 

Curated by Jennifer Garcon, Librarian for Modern and Contemporary Special Collections, Gabriel Swift, Librarian for American Collections, and Eric White, Scheide Librarian & Assistant University Librarian for Special Collections, Rare Books & Manuscripts, the exhibition celebrates the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s “First Folio” and showcases Princeton’s diverse collection of English literature and many of the writers and readers who brought life to English literature around the world.

Sylvia Beach's Shakespeare and Company painted storefront sign (front and back) by Marie Monnier-Becat

Marie Monnier-Becat (1894-1976). Shakespeare and Company, painted storefront sign (front and back). Paris, ca. 1920. Sylvia Beach Papers.

During the 1920s, two independent publishing ventures played significant roles in the shaping of modern literature. Founded in 1919, Sylvia Beach’s Paris bookshop, Shakespeare and Company, emerged as a leading center for literary life, hosting author readings, a lending library, and later, a publishing office. In 1917, Virginia Woolf and her husband, Leonard, established the Hogarth Press, first in Richmond, Surrey, U.K. and from 1924, in London. As the Woolfs wrote in 1919: “Our object in starting the Hogarth Press has been to publish at low prices short works of merit, in prose or poetry, which could not, because of their merits, appeal to a very large public.”

Cover of “Mrs. Dalloway," 1925. Illustration of bouquet of yellow flowers on a partially navy stage with curtains pulled back.

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941). “Mrs. Dalloway.” London: L. & V. Woolf at the Hogarth Press, 1925. Robert H. Taylor, Class of 1930.

The publication of two experimental masterpieces, James Joyce’s “Ulysses” by Shakespeare and Company (1922) and Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway” by the Hogarth Press (1925), forever expanded the narrative possibilities of English literature. Both publishing enterprises took on significant risks, gave opportunities to nonconformist authors, resisted mainstream publishing norms, and prioritized literary excellence over monetary rewards.

"Mrs. Dalloway" was Woolf's second book-length work and one of her best-known novels. Originally titled, "The Hours," Woolf experimented with nonlinear narrative progression. As the protagonist Clarissa prepares to host members of London's society class across a single day in Spring 1923, the plot travels back and forth through time providing the subtext for Clarissa's life and the social milieu of post-war London. Owing to its structure, "Mrs. Dalloway" draws comparisons to James Joyces's "Ulysses."

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The exhibition is open through December 10, 2023 at the Milberg Gallery in Firestone Library. Please visit the website to view the gallery’s opening hours and for information about public tours, related programming, and how to visit.

Discover more through the companion digital exhibition.

Published November 21, 2023.

Media Contact: Stephanie Oster, Library Publicity Manager