Culture

A Mecca for Anglophone Readers in Paris

Set under the elegant arches along the Rue de Rivoli, the Galignani bookstore – “the first English bookshop established on the continent,” as written on the front – has been welcoming Anglophone readers since 1856. Ideally located between a century-old tearoom and a palace hotel renowned for having hosted monarchs visiting Paris, Galignani combines sophistication with intellectual pleasure; an invitation to an adventure suspended in time.
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The front of the Galignani bookstore, under the arches of the Rue de Rivoli in Paris. © Librairie Galignani

A passion for books has flowed through the veins of the Galignani family for at least five centuries. The oldest record of this heritage dates back to 1520, when a Latin grammar book was published in Venice by a certain Simone Galignani. However, the founder of the current bookstore is called Giovanni Antonio Galignani. The venerable patriarch – whose sculpted bust stands in the fine-arts section – left his native Italy in the late 18th century and moved to London. He then travelled to Paris, where he, his British wife, and his father-in-law, a printer, opened a reading room in 1801. The establishment was located at 18 Rue Vivienne, and was devoted to English-language works. Visitors could find both periodicals and popular books reprinted on-site by the Galignani family.

The Anglophone community was very small during the First French Empire. This may be why the family decided to start publishing Galignani’s Messenger in 1814, a newspaper that became a leading name across the continent. When Giovanni Antonio died, his sons took up the mantle. The Messenger became a daily and, with the support of advertisers, continued to develop. Thanks to the advent of the telegraph, the publication shared news from London with travelers in Paris and the English community across Europe, along with a small circle of Anglophile French readers. Offices were soon opened in Nice, London, and New York in an effort to better inform the literary and business-minded customers who made up the majority of subscribers.

In 1856, the Galignani brothers moved to 224 Rue de Rivoli, the bookstore’s current address. Their luxurious reading club attracted a demanding, refined clientele. Giovanni Antonio’s son then handed the keys to the company over to his nephew Charles Jeancourt-Galignani in 1882. The Messenger printed its final issue in 1895 and the publishing house came to an end in the early 20th century. However, the bookstore was booming. When the German occupation made it impossible to work with English publishers, André Jeancourt-Galignani, Charles’ son, starting selling French books and launched an arts section which was an instant hit.

Coffee-Table Books and Works in French and English

Let us now explore the bookstore’s three sections, respectively devoted to books in French, fine-arts publications, and works in English. After walking through the door, visitors first enter the history section. “A good historian has neither era nor country,” wrote Fénelon. Bookseller Katia Wisniewski truly brings this quote to life as she highlights the diverse authors presented on the shelves, covering all centuries, all schools of thought, from all over the world. “We are also considering combining French and English books to create more connections between various subjects,” she says.

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The bookstore’s fine-arts section, with volumes about fashion, photography, painting, and decorative arts. © Librairie Galignani
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Danielle Cillien-Sabatier, the bookstore’s managing director since 2009. © Librairie Galignani

In his Histoire de la Révolution française, Jules Michelet showed that authors could shift from literature to history. With that in mind, it is no surprise that the history section leads into literary works, a department managed by Valérie Chardon. A simple glance is enough to remember that 2022 is the 100-year anniversary of the death of Marcel Proust. From the Dictionnaire des personnages d’A la recherche du temps perdu (a hefty, 608-page tome) to Soixante-quinze feuillets (exclusive manuscripts published a year ago showcasing the genesis of this major novel), and the biography of Céleste Albaret, the writer’s faithful housekeeper and secretary, this year promises to be Proustian!

A little further on, Daniel Mitchell is busy in the fine-arts section, where he masters fashion, photography, painting, and decorative arts. Once again, the shelves are bristling with books; the jewelry section itself has more than 500 works from the United States, England, Italy, and France. And if the one you are looking for is out of stock, the store will offer to find it on the second-hand and rare books market. It is easy to understand why Karl Lagerfeld, an immensely learned figure who read in three languages, was a regular at Galignani.

We then walk through the English-language section. Anne Perrier, the head of this department, is delighted to have heard that two new novels by Cormac McCarthy will be published in the fall. And that’s not all! “The Last Chairlift, the 15th book by John Irving, is expected in October!” We receive the same reaction from Christian Rutherford, a native Brit and an expert in English literature and poetry, and from Nicolas Fouint, who specializes in the fields of history and royal families. At the back of the store, beyond the shelves given over to current affairs, finance, economics, and the environment, Margot Barbe oversees the youth section. She stays abreast of everything happening on TikTok and knows the latest reading recommendations for teens and young adults by heart. Today’s top trends include It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover, the must-read The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by American writer V.E. Schwab, and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid, 500 copies of which have already been sold at Galignani.

Supported by a dozen employees, managing director Danielle Cillien-Sabatier works with the Jeancourt-Galignani family to continue writing the bookstore’s history. This year marks the 220th anniversary of the original reading room’s creation. Much time has passed, but curious aesthetes still make up most of the regulars. And as we know, this pursuit knows no limits!

 

Article published in the May 2022 issue of France-Amérique. Subscribe to the magazine.

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