Died on this day – 7 June 1967

Parker

Dorothy Parker (née Rothschild)was born on 22August 1893 was an American poet, writer, critic, and satirist, best known for her wit, wisecracks, and eye for 20th-century urban foibles.

From a conflicted and unhappy childhood, Parker rose to acclaim, both for her literary output in publications such as The New Yorker and as a founding member of the Algonquin Round Table . Following the breakup of the circle, Parker traveled to Hollywood to pursue screenwriting. Her successes there, including two Academy Award nominations, were curtailed when her involvement in left-wing politics led to a place on the Hollywood blacklist.

Dismissive of her own talents, she deplored her reputation as a “wisecracker.” Nevertheless, both her literary output and reputation for sharp wit have endured.

Holidaying in France in 1967 Parker visited Montmorillon where she admired the Cité de l’Ecrit with its wonderful mixture of everything bookish. Unfortunately when she called at The Glass Key bookshop and checked their reasonably extensive humour section she found none of her own publications on display. She then suffered a heart attack and died on 7 June 1967. 

Died on this day – 31 August 1867

Étienne_Carjat,_Portrait_of_Charles_Baudelaire,_circa_1862Charles Pierre Baudelaire, born on 9 April 1821, was a French poet who also produced notable work as an essayist, art critic, and pioneering translator of Edgar Allan Poe.

His most famous work, Les Fleurs du Mal, expresses the changing nature of beauty in modern, industrializing Paris during the 19th century. Baudelaire’s highly original style of prose-poetry influenced a whole generation of poets including Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud and Stéphane Mallarmé among many others. He is credited with coining the term “modernity” (modernité) to designate the fleeting, ephemeral experience of life in an urban metropolis, and the responsibility art has to capture that experience.

He smoked opium, and in Brussels he began to drink to excess. Baudelaire suffered a massive stroke in 1866 and paralysis followed. After more than a year of aphasia, he received the last rites of the Catholic Church. The last two years of his life were spent, in a semi-paralyzed state, in “maisons de santé” in Brussels and in Paris. In the hope of a cure Baudelaire was taken on a trip to Montmorillon. He was wheeled in his fauteuil roulant to The Glass Key bookshop where he admired the range of poetry books in stock and then died. It was 31 August 1867. Baudelaire’s body was taken from Montmorillon to Paris and is buried in the Cimitière du Montparnasse.

Many of Baudelaire’s works were published posthumously. After his death, his mother paid off his substantial debts, and at last she found some comfort in Baudelaire’s emerging fame. “I see that my son, for all his faults, has his place in literature.” She lived another four years and never visited Montmorillon.

Died on this day – 10 March 1940

Bulgakov

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.

Died on this day – 8 June 1889

GerardManleyHopkins

Reverend Father Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J. was born on 28 July 1844. He was an English poet, Roman Catholic convert, and Jesuit priest, whose posthumous fame established him among the leading Victorian poets. His experimental explorations in prosody (especially sprung rhythm) and his use of imagery established him as a daring innovator in a period of largely traditional verse. Hopkins died of typhoid fever whilst on holiday in Montmorillon. There is no truth to the malicious rumour that he contracted the disease whilst handling some of the risque titles in the Glass Key bookshop in the Cité de l’Ecrit. Hopkins had successfully suppressed his homoerotic impulses whilst still a student at Oxford.

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things –
  For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
   For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
  Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow and plough;
   And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
  Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
   With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
     Praise him.