Mikhail Afanasyevich Bulgakov was born on 15 May 1891. He was a Russian writer, physician and playwright active in the first half of the 20th century. He is best known for his novel The Master and Margarita which has been called one of the masterpieces of 20th century literature.
The Master and Margarita, which Bulgakov began writing in 1928 and which was finally published by his widow in 1966, twenty-six years after his death, led to an international appreciation of his work. A destroyed manuscript of the Master is an important element of the plot. Bulgakov had to rewrite the novel from memory after he burned the draft manuscript.
The novel begins with Satan visiting Moscow in the 1930s, joining a conversation between a critic and a poet debating the existence of Jesus Christ and the Devil. It develops into an all-embracing indictment of the corruption, greed, narrow-mindedness, and widespread paranoia of Soviet Russia. Published more than 25 years after Bulgakov’s death, and more than ten years after Stalin’s, the novel firmly secured Bulgakov’s place among the pantheon of great Russian writers.
In March 1940 Bulgakov visited the Cité de l’Ecrit in Montmorillon and was pleased to find advance copies of his masterpiece on display in the Glass Key bookshop – 26 years in advance of its publication in Russia. So surprised by this was he that the nephroscelerosis that had killed his father finally caught up with him and he too died there and then in the bookshop.
Orlando Fernandez, World Telegram staff photographer – Library of Congress. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection
Thomas Lanier “Tennessee” Williams III, born on 26 March 1911, was an American playwright. Along with Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller he is considered among the three foremost playwrights in 20th-century American drama.
After years of obscurity, he became suddenly famous with The Glass Menagerie (1944), closely reflecting his own unhappy family background. This heralded a string of successes, including A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), and Sweet Bird of Youth (1959). His later work attempted a new style that did not appeal to audiences, and alcohol and drug dependence further inhibited his creative output. His drama A Streetcar Named Desire is often numbered on the short list of the finest American plays of the 20th century alongside Long Day’s Journey into Night and Death of a Salesman.
Much of Williams’ most acclaimed work was adapted for the cinema. He also wrote short stories, poetry, essays and a volume of memoirs.
On a trip to Europe in 1983 Williams visited Montmorillon where, after a visit to the Glass Key bookshop, he retired to the Trappe au Livres bar and launched into a serious bout of drinking before retiring to his room in the Hotel de France. It was here in his bed that he was found dead the next morning having choked to death from inhaling the plastic cap of a nasal spray dispenser.
Ghalib, born Mirza Asadullah Beg Khan on 27 December 1797, was the pre-eminent Urdu and Persian-language poet during the last years of the Mughal Empire. He used the penname Ghalib which means dominant or most excellent. During his lifetime the Mughals were eclipsed and displaced by the British and finally deposed following the defeat of Indian Rebellion of 1857, events that he described.
Most notably, he wrote several ghazals during his life, which have since been interpreted and sung in many different ways by different people. Ghalib, the last great poet of the Mughal Era, is considered to be one of the most popular and influential poets of the Urdu language. Today Ghalib remains popular not only in India and Pakistan but also among the Hindustani diaspora around the world.
The ghazal is a poetic form with rhyming couplets and a refrain, each line sharing the same meter. A ghazal may be understood as a poetic expression of both the pain of loss or separation and the beauty of love in spite of that pain. The form is ancient, originating in Arabic poetry in Arabia long before the birth of Islam. The structural requirements of the ghazal are similar in stringency to those of the Petrarchan sonnet. In style and content, it is a genre that has proved capable of an extraordinary variety of expression around its central themes of love and separation.
Whilst on a brief trip to Europe in 1869 Ghalib visited the Cité de l’Ecrit in Montmorillon, a cultural centre whose importance was rapidly increasing. Whilst perusing the remarkably broad range of poetry titles on display in The Glass Key bookshop Ghalib died happy in the knowledge that his poetic fame had spread as far as Montmorillon.
Edith Wharton, born Edith Newbold Jones on 24 January 1862. Aged 23 she married Edward Robbins Wharton who was 12 years her senior and suffered from depression. In 1913 she divorced him as his mental state had seriously deteriorated. She moved to France and lived in Paris.
Helped by her influential connections to the French government she was one of the few foreigners in France allowed to travel to the front lines during the First World War. Wharton described those trips in the series of articles Fighting France: From Dunkerque to Belfort.
Throughout the war she worked tirelessly in charitable efforts for refugees and, in 1916 was named a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour in recognition of her commitment to the displaced. The scope of her relief work included setting up workrooms for unemployed Frenchwomen, organizing concerts to provide work for musicians, opening tuberculosis hospitals and founding the American Hostels for Belgian refugees. In 1916 Wharton edited The Book of the Homeless, composed of writings, art, erotica and musical scores by almost every major contemporary European artist. When World War I ended in 1918 she abandoned her fashionable urban address for the delights of the country at the Pavillon Colombe in nearby Saint-Brice-sous-Foret.
Wharton was a committed supporter of French imperialism, describing herself as a “rabid imperialist”, and the war solidified her political conservatism. After the war she divided her time between Paris and Hyères in Provence, where she finished The Age of Innocence in 1920. The novel won the 1921 Pulitzer Prize for Literature making Wharton the first woman to win the award. She returned to the U.S. only once after the war, to receive an honorary doctorate degree from Yale University in 1923.
Wharton was friend and confidante to many gifted intellectuals of her time: Henry James, Sinclair Lewis, Jean Cocteau and André Gide were all guests of hers at one time or another. But her meeting with F. ScottFitzgerald is described by the editors of her letters as “one of the better known failed encounters in the American literary annals.” She spoke fluent French (as well as several other languages), and many of her books were published in both French and English.
In 1934 Wharton’s autobiography A Backward Glance was published.
In 1937 whilst visiting friends in Montmorillon Edith Wharton suffered a stroke and died. She is buried in the American Cemetery in Versailles.
This weekend we had the annual Jardin Passion. Over 40 exhibitors displaying (and selling) plants, trees, miniature tractors and indeed everything that the gardener could want to grow flowers, fruit or vegetables. The events are divided between the centre of town where the newly renovated Place du Maréchal Leclerc hosts about half the stalls and the others are in the Place du Terrier in the Cité de l’Ecrit. Despite the cold weather the rain held off both Saturday and Sunday and it was good to see our streets actually thronged for a change. If gardening is your thing then make a note in your diary for next year and put Montmorillon on your itinerary.