Rue de l’Odéon

Arrondissement 6

Numbers: 7, 10, 12, 22

Rue de l Odeon photographed in 1905 from the steps of the Theatre. The bust of the playwright Emile Augier in the centre of the square was melted down in 1942 to be turned into German guns

The gently climbing slope from the crossroads with the Boulevard St Germain up to what is now called the Odéon-Théâtre de l’Europe, was opened up in 1779 as the rue du Théâtre Français. The theatre at the southern top of the slope was built between 1779 and 1782 in the garden of the huge Hôtel de Condé private house, owned by a junior branch of the Bourbons.

Thanks to the opening of the theatre, in 1782 the road was the very first in Paris to be given pavements with gutters running next to them. It was given its current name in 1797 under the Directorate.

A watercolour and ink painting by a contemporary JD Periel of the fire at the Odeon Theatre on March 20 1818

The surrealist poets André Breton and Louis Aragon first met each other in 1917 at No. 7, the bookshop called ‘The Friends of Books’ (Maison des Amis des Livres). This bookshop was also frequented by Jacques Prévert. On March 19 1918 Breton and Aragon launched their magazine, Littérature, from there.  Among the other literary left figures who wrote for it were André Gide and Paul Valéry.

The bookshop’s owner, Adrienne Monnier, held a launch party at No. 7 for James Joyce‘s novel Ulysses on December 7 1922.

No. 10 was where Thomas Paine lived from 1797 to 1802, when, describing Bonaparte ‘as the biggest charlatan the world as ever seen’, he took the opportunity of a brief peace with England to leave Paris for America.

Tom Paine lived for five years at No. 10 Rue de l’Odeon. While initially hoping Bonaparte would spread freedom throughout Europe he quickly became disillusioned, and left France at the earliest opportunity in 1802.

Next door was another famous bookshop. No 12 was the first site of the English-language bookshop Shakespeare & Company. Owned by an American, Sylvia Beach, it became a major draw for radical writers living in Paris in the interwar years such as Hemingway, James Joyce and Simone de Beauvoir.

Shakespeare and Co at No 12 with Sylvia Beach and Ernest Hemingway on the right around 1922

Further up the street, on March 31 1794, this was where at No. 22 rue du Théâtre Français that Camille Desmoulins was arrested. He had lived there since 1782. He was executed with Danton on April 5. His wife, Lucile, was executed a week later. They had married in 1790 with Robespierre a witness who in 1792 became their son’s godfather.


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