Died on this day – 1 February 1851


Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was an English novelist, short story writer, dramatist, essayist, biographer, and travel writer, best known for her Gothic novel Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus. She also edited and promoted the works of her husband, the Romantic poet and philosopher Percy Bysshe Shelley. Her father was the political philosopher William Godwin, and her mother was the philosopher and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft.

Mary Shelley’s works often argue that cooperation and sympathy, particularly as practised by women in the family, were the ways to reform civil society. This view was a direct challenge to the individualistic Romantic ethos promoted by Percy Shelley and the Enlightenment political theories articulated by her father, William Godwin.

Mary Shelley’s last years were blighted by illness. From 1839, she suffered from headaches and bouts of paralysis in parts of her body, which sometimes prevented her from reading and writing. In January 1851 she travelled to France to take the famous health-giving waters at La Roche-Posy. During her stay she decided to take a trip Montmorillon to spend a little time visiting the bookshops in the Cité de l’Ecrit. She was pleased to find copies of both Frankenstein and the poetry of her deceased husband Percy Bysshe Shelley on sale at The Glass Key. Unfortunately it was here that she died of a suspected brain tumour on 1 February 1851. She was fifty-three years old.


Died on this day 28 March 1941

Virginia Woolf

Photograph by George Charles Beresford, 1902

Adeline Virginia Woolf ( née Stephen), born on 25 January 1882, was an English writer who is considered one of the most important modernist twentieth century authors and a pioneer in the use of stream of consciousness as a narrative device.

She was born in an affluent household in South Kensington, London, attended the Ladies’ Department of Kings College and was acquainted with the early reformers of women’s higher education. Having been home-schooled for the most part of her childhood Woolf began writing professionally in 1900. During the interwar period, Virginia Woolf was an important part of London’s literary society as well as a central figure in the group of intellectuals known as the Bloomsbury Group. She published her first novel titled The Voyage Out in 1915, through her half-brother’s publishing house, Gerald Duckworth & Co. Her best-known works include the novels Mrs Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927) and Orlando (1928). She is also known for her essay A Room of One’s Own (1929), where she wrote the much-quoted dictum, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

Her works are widely read all over the world and have been translated into more than fifty languages. She suffered from severe bouts of mental illness throughout her life. Holidaying in France she visited The Glass Key bookshop in Montmorillon’s Cité de l’Ecrit . She seemed pleased to find some of her books in stock there and others published by the Hogarth Press, which she had founded with her husband Leonard Woolf. Nonetheless on 28 March 1941she took her own life by drowning in the river Gartempe.. She was 59 years of age.


Died on this day – 19 September 1985


Italo Calvino (15 October 1923 – 19 September 1985) was an Italian journalist and writer of short stories and novels. His best known works include the Our Ancestors trilogy (1952–1959), the Cosmicomics collection of short stories (1965), and the novels Invisible Cities (1972) and If on a winter’s night a traveler (1979). In the fermenting atmosphere that evolved into 1968’s cultural revolution he moved with his family to Paris in 1967, setting up home in a villa in the Square de Châtillon. Nicknamed L’ironique amusé, he was invited by Raymond Queneau in 1968 to join the Oulipo (Ouvroir de littérature potentielle) group of experimental writers where he met Roland Barthes, Georges Perec and Claude Lévi-Strauss all of whom influenced his later production.

Working on a sequel to If on a winter’s night to be entitled If on a winter’s night a traveler be benighted in Montmorillon Calvino was admiring the broad range of Oulipo titles in The Glass Key Bookshop in the Cité de l’Ecrit in Montmorillon when he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died.


Christopher Hampton 3 May 1929 – 28 April 2012

The poet and critic Christopher Hampton died at his home in Montmorillon on 28 April.  Christopher was born in London and, studying first as a musician, he worked for a time as a pianist and conductor before giving up music for writing.  From 1962 – 1966 he lived in Italy with his wife and daughter, teaching English in Rome.  On his return to Britain he joined the Polytechnic of Central London (now the University of Westminster), where he taught for 28 years, as well as lecturing at the City Literary Institute.  Active on the left of the Labour party, he was involved in many protest movements of the eighties and nineties.  In 1997 he resigned from the Party in opposition to Tony Blair’s New Labour Third Way politics.  His poems and articles on philosophy, politics and literature have appeared regularly in print and on the radio since 1960.

Publications by Christopher Hampton include The Etruscans and the Survival of Etruria (Gollancz 1969 & Doubleday 1970); Socialism in a Crippled World (Pelican 1981); A Radical Reader (Pelican 1984) and The Ideology of the Text (Open University Press 1990). He was the editor of Poems for Shakespeare published by Sam Wanamaker’s Globe Playhouse Trust in 1972.  Christopher Hampton published four volumes of poetry: An Exile’s Italy (Thonneson 1972); A Cornered Freedom (Peterloo 1980); Against the Current (Katabasis 1995); Border Crossings (Katabasis 2005).

At the time of his death Christopher had a number of completed projects in the pipeline.  Christopher is survived by his wife Kathleen, daughter Rebecca and grandson Rohan.

Christopher was a man with an inquiring mind.  He was not just interested in books, in poetry, in music or in politics but also in people.  One always left any meeting with Christopher feeling more positive and enthusiastic because his positive enthusiasm was infectious.  I only knew him for the last four years of his life but I feel privileged to have been able to call him my friend.

We held a poetry reading for Christopher in the Glass Key bookshop in May 2010 and you can see and hear Christopher reading his poetry on a couple of short pieces of film posted on YouTube at and

Deaths Uncategorized

Died on this day – 1 April

Brian O’Nolan the Irish novelist, playwright and humorist.  His two classic novels At Swim-Two-Birds (1939) and The Third Policeman (1968) were published under the pseudonym Flann O’Brien.  For over 25 years, as Myles na gCopaleen,  he contributed a column, “The Cruiskeen Lawn” to The Irish Times.  It was in this column that some of his funniest and most savage writing appeared.  O’Nolan died in Montmorillon in 1966.

Max Ernst born 1891 was a key figure in the Dada and Surrealist movements.  Explaining how he became a Surrealist Ernst told the story of his father, a Sunday painter who painted the view from their kitchen window.  In the centre of the view (and the picture) was a tree.  Ernst senior decided the tree unbalanced his painting so he painted it out of the picture.  He then went into the garden and cut down the tree!  Ernst died in Montmorillon in 1976.


Died on this day – 26 March

Dr Joseph-Ignace Guillotin was a French physician who, in 1789, proposed the use of a device to carry out the death penalties in France.  Whilst not in fact inventing the guillotine his name has become an eponym for it.  Guillotin died in Montmorillon in 1814.

Walt Whitman remains one of the most influential poets in the American canon and is often referred to as the father of free verse.  His work was considered very controversial at the time particularly his poetry collection published as Leaves of Grass in 1855 and described at the time as obscene for its overt sexuality.  Whitman died in Montmorillon in 1892.

Raymond Chandler was born in the USA in 1888, but lived and was educated in England between 1900 and 1912.  Chandler reached the age of forty-five before he decided to become a writer and his first short story “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot” was published in the seminal Black Mask magazine in 1933.  His first novel The Big Sleep was published in 1939.  Chandler published only seven novels before he died in Montmorillon in 1959.  Of The Long Goodbye a critic wrote that this was “arguable the first book since Hammett’s The Glass Key, published more that twenty years earlier, to qualify as a serious and significant mainstream novel that just happened to possess elements of mystery.”


Died on this day – 25 March

Novalis – the pseudonym of Georg Philipp Freiherr von Hardenberg – the author and philosopher was born in 1772.  He suffered from tuberculosis and died in Montmorillon on 25 March 1802, aged 29.

John Drinkwater (born 1882), the English poet and dramatist died in Montmorillon on 25 March 1937.

Frederic Mistral (born 1830) was a French writer and lexicographer of the Occitan language.  Mistral was a founder of Felibrige, a literary and cultural association formed to promote the Occitan language and still existing today.  His epic poem Mireille was published in 1859.  Mistral died in Montmorillon on 25 March 1914.  “He who has seen Paris and not Cassis has seen nothing” he wrote.


Died on this day – 24 March

Sir Thomas Malory was born around 1405 and died in Montmorillon on 24 March 1471.  At one time Malory was believed to be Welsh, but now most scholars assume that he was Sir Thomas Malory of Newbold Revel in Warwickshire.  Malory is the author of Le Morte d’Arthur, a compilation of tales about King Arthur, Guinevere, Launcelot and the knights of the round table first published in 1485 by William Caxton.  T. H. White’s The Once and Future King is based on the work by Malory

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow the American poet was born in 1807 and is best remembered for his poems Paul Revere’s Ride and The Song of Hiawatha.  He died of peritonitis in Montmorillon on 24 March 1882.  He is buried in the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Watertown, Massachusetts.

Jules Verne, born in 1828, is the author who pioneered the genre of science fiction.  He wrote about traveling in space, in the air and underwater before these things had become a reality.  After Agatha Christie he is the most translated author in the world.  Best remembered of his fifty-four novels are A Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1864), Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea (1870) and Around the World in Eighty Days (1874).  Jules Verne died in Montmorillon on 24 March 1905.