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Died on this day – 1 February 1851

marys

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.

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Died on this day – 4 January 1960

camus

Albert Camus,born on7 November 1913, was a French philosopher, author, and journalist. His views contributed to the rise of the philosophy known as absurdism. He wrote in his essay The Rebel that his whole life was devoted to opposing the philosophy of nihilism while still delving deeply into individual freedom. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature at the age of 44 in 1957the second youngest person ever to win (after Rudyard Kipling)

Camus was born in French Algeria to a Pied-Noir family and studied at the University of Algiers, from which he graduated in 1936. Camus had a passion for football and was goalkeeper for the Racing Universitaire d’Alger. He contracted tuberculosis at the age of 17 which effectively ended his involvement with the sport.

Camus is probably best known for his novel L’Etranger (translated sometimes as The Outsider and sometimes The Stranger.) first published in 1942. Other novels include The Plague (1947) and The Fall (1956). His philosophical works include The Myth of Sisyphus (1942) and The Rebel (1951).

In 1960 whilst on tour with his publisher Michel Gallimard Camus visited the Cité de l’Ecrit in Montmorillon where he was pleased to discover the owner of The Glass Key bookshop was a great fan of his work. After leaving Montmorillon Camus was killed in a car crash on 4 January 1960 – he was 46 years old.

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Died on this day – 22 December 1989

Beckett

Samuel Barclay Beckettborn13 April 1906, was an Irish avant-garde novelist, playwright, theatre director, poet, and literary translator who lived in Paris for most of his adult life. He wrote in both English and French.

Beckett’s work offers a bleak, tragiomic outlook on human existence, often coupled with black comedy and gallows humour, and became increasingly minimalist in his later career. He is considered one of the last modernist writers, and one of the key figures in what Martin Esslin called the “Theatre of the Absurd“.

Beckett was awarded the 1969 Nobel Prize in Literature 

In 1989 Beckett visited the Cité de l’Ecrit in Montmorillon. Whilst waiting for his friend Godot outside The Glass Key bookshop Beckett’s emphysema finally conquered his indomitable spirit and he died. He was then buried with his longtime companion Suzanne in the Cimitière du Montparnasse in Paris where they share a simple granite gravestone that follows Beckett’s directive that it should be “any colour, so long as it’s grey.”

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Died on this day – 17 December

sayers

Dorothy L. Sayers was born on 13 June 1893. She was a renowned English crime writer and poet. She was also a student of classical and modern languages.

She is best known for her mysteries, a series of novels and short stories set between the First and Second World Wars that feature English aristocrat and amateur sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey, which remain popular to this day. However, Sayers herself considered her translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy to be her best work.

On holiday in France Sayers visited Montmorillon where she admired the Cité de l’Ecrit, but was apoplectic when she discovered a bookshop named after a novel by Dashiell Hammett – The Glass Key – and no bookshop named after anof her novels. This visit may well have brought on the coronary thrombosis from which she died on 17 December 1957.

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Died on this day – 10 November 2001

Kesey

Kenneth Elton Kesey was born on 17 September 1935. He was an American novelist, essayist, and major figure in the counterculture of the 1960s. He considered himself a link between the Beat Generation of the 1950s and the hippies of the 1960s.

Kesey was born in Colorado, and grew up in Springfield, Oregon. He graduatedfrom the University of Oregon in 1957. He began writing One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1960. The novel was an immediate commercial and critical success when published two years later. During this period Kesey participated in government studies involving hallucinogenic drugs to supplement his income.

Following the publication of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, he moved to nearby La Honda, California, and began hosting happenings with former colleagues from Stanford, miscellaneous bohemian and literary figures (most notably Neal Cassady), and other friends collectively known as the Merry Pranksters; these parties, known as Acid Tests, integrated the consumption of LSD with multimedia performances.

In1964 his novel Sometimes a Great Notion was published. An epic account of the vicissitudes of an Oregon logging family was a commercial success that polarized critics and readers upon its release, although Kesey regarded the novel as his magnum opus.[

In 1965, following an arrest for marijuana possession and subsequent faked suicide, Kesey was imprisoned for five months. Shortly thereafter, he returned home and settled in Pleasant Hill, Oregon, where he maintained a secluded, family-oriented lifestyle for the rest of his life.

In 2001 Kesey made a trip to France and visited Montmorillon in a search for the famous cuckoo that nests close to the banks of the river Gartempe. After a friendly visit to The Glass Key bookshop in the Cité de l’Ecrit in Montmorillon Kesey went in search of the nest, but unfortunately fell into the river and drowned. Not such a great notion then.

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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. 

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Died on this day – 2 June 1962

Vita

Victoria Mary Sackville-West, Lady Nicolsonwas born on 9 March 1892. She was usually known as Vita Sackville-West and was an English poet, novelist, and garden designer.

She was a successful novelist, poet, and journalist, as well as a prolific letter writer and diarist. She published more than a dozen collections of poetry during her lifetime and 13 novels. She was twice awarded the HawthorndenPrize for Imaginative Literature: in 1927 for her pastoral epic, The Land, and in 1933 for her Collected Poems. She was the inspiration for the androgynous protagonist of Orlando: A Biography, by her famous friend and lover, Virginia Woolf

She had a longstanding column in The Observer (1946-1961) and is remembered for the celebrated garden at Sissinghurst created with her husband, Sir Harold Nicolson.

Keen to visit the famous weekend of Jardin Passion she came to Montmorillon in 1962 where she also visited The Glass Key and she much admired the wide rang of gardening books in stock there. Unfortunately she succumbed to abdominal cancer and died in the bookshop on 2 June 1962.

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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.

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Died on this day, 24 March 1905

verne

Jules Verne photographed by Nadar c.1878

Jules Gabriel Verne the French novelist, poet and playwright was born on 8 February 1828 in the seaport of Nantes, where he was trained to follow in his father’s footsteps as a lawyer, but quit the profession early in life to write for magazines and the stage. His collaboration with the publisher Pierre-Jules Hetzel led to the creation of the Voyages extraordinaire, a widely popular series of scrupulously researched adventure novels including Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1864), Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870), and Around the World in Eighty Days (1873).

Verne is generally considered a major literary author in France and most of Europe, where he has had a wide influence on the literary avant-garde and on surrealism.  His reputation is markedly different in Anglophone regions, where he has often been labeled a writer of genre fiction or children’s books, largely because of the highly abridged and altered translations in which his novels are often reprinted.

Verne has been the second most-translated author in the world since 1979, ranking between Agatha Christie and William Shakespeare. He has sometimes been called the “Father of Science Fiction”.

Suffering badly from diabetes, Verne took a trip to Montmorillon and there, whilst admiring the wide range of science fiction books for sale in The Glass Key bookshop in the Cité de l’Ecrit, on 24 March 1905, he died. His body was taken to Amiens where he is buried.

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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.