Hemingway doesn’t have enough money to buy books so he uses the rental library of Shakespeare and Company, a bookstore owned by Sylvia Beach. Shakespeare and Company is a “lovely, warm, cheerful place” with pictures of famous writers on the walls. Sylvia has thick brown hair and “pretty legs”; Hemingway adds that she is kinder to him than anyone else he knows. Hemingway is initially shy about joining the library, as he doesn’t have enough money to pay the deposit, but Sylvia assures him that he can join and pay when he has enough. Hemingway checks out books by Turgenev, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and D.H. Lawrence. Hemingway asks Sylvia when James Joyce comes in, and Sylvia tells him that it is usually in the afternoons. Hemingway admits that he’s seen Joyce and his family eating at Michaud’s, but it is too expensive for Hemingway himself to go inside. Sylvia invites Hemingway and Hadley over to her home for dinner, and Hemingway promises that he will come after he pays his deposit.
It is clear that Hemingway feels a sense of shame about his poverty and the way in which it restricts him from participating fully in the social world of the other writers and artists in Paris. This passage also shows how he is embraced by the older generation living in Paris, who are generous and trusting of him even though they do not necessarily have reason to be. It seems as though Sylvia (like Stein) believes that Hemingway will go on to find great success—a belief that obviously turns out to be correct. Through the encouragement of the older generation, Hemingway finds a place for himself within the artistic community of Paris and the support he needs to find his feet as a writer.
Hemingway has no hot water in his apartment; the only indoor toilet is an “antiseptic portable container.” Hemingway tells Hadley about Shakespeare and Company, and they agree to walk down to the River Seine together, have a drink at a new café, come home and eat, read their books, and make love. Hadley adds “and we’ll never love anyone else but each other,” and Hemingway agrees that they never will. They realize that they are both very hungry, and plan to have lunch at home. Hemingway tells Hadley they will have “all the books on the world” and that they can take them on trips with them. Hadley asks if they have Henry James at Shakespeare and Company; Hemingway replies that they do, and they conclude that they are very lucky. Hemingway comments that he should have knocked on wood at that moment.
Hemingway seems to deliberately exaggerate his and Hadley’s sense of naïve happiness and innocence in this passage. As young newlyweds who have recently arrived in Paris, they are ecstatically in love with each other and with the city around them, such that their poverty and meager surroundings do not bother them. Hemingway’s final comment that he should have knocked on wood when announcing how lucky he was adds an ominous, tragic note to the scene. While at this point everything is working out perfectly, this happiness is doomed not to last forever.