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 – 4 January 1960


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.


Died on this day – 22 December 1989


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.”


Died on this day – 17 December


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.


Died on this day – 2 June 1962


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.


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, 24 March 1905


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.


Died on this day 6 April 1992

Isaac Asimov


Isaac Asimov, born Isaak Ozimov on or about 2 January 1920, was an American writer and professor of biochemistry at Boston University. He was known for his works of science fiction and popular science. Asimov was a prolific writer, and he wrote or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000 letters and postcards.

Asimov wrote hard science fiction and, along with Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke, he was considered one of the “Big Three” science fiction writers during his lifetime. Asimov’s most famous work is the Foundation series. His other major series are the Galactic Empire series and the Robot series.

Asimov wrote hundreds of short stories, including the social science fiction “Nightfall”, which in 1964 was voted by the Science Fiction Writers of America the best short science fiction story of all time. Asimov also wrote mysteries and fantasy, as well as much nonfiction.

Asimov’s wide interests included his participation in his later years in organizations devoted to the comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan and in The Wolfe Pack, a group of devotees of the Nero Wolfe mysteries written by Rex Stout. He was also a prominent member of the Baker Street Irregulars, the leading Sherlock Holmes society.

In the spring of 1992 Asimov was on a cruise and the ship docked at Bordeaux. With time in hand Asimov took a trip to see the famed Cité de l’Ecrit in Montmorillon. It was here in Montmorillon whilst admiring the broad range of science fiction titles available at The Glass Key bookshop that Asimov died on 6 April 1992. (It may, of course, have been on Betelgeuse).


Died on this day – 30 March 2005

Photo credit: Chris Felver

The American poet Robert Creeley was born on 21 May 1926. He was author of more than sixty books. He is usually associated with the Black Mountain poets, though his verse aesthetic diverged from that school’s. He was close with Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, Allen Ginsberg and Ed Dorn.

In his later years he was an advocate of, and a mentor to, many younger poets, as well as to others outside of the poetry world. He went to great lengths to be supportive to many people regardless of any poetic affiliation. Being responsive appeared to be essential to his personal ethics, and he seemed to take this responsibility extremely seriously, in both his life and his craft. In his later years, when he became well-known, he would go to lengths to make strangers, who approached him as a well-known author, feel comfortable. In his last years, he used the Internet to keep in touch with many younger poets and friends.

Despite suffering the onset of pneumonia in 2005 Creeley made a trip to Europe and paid a visit to Montmorillon. He expressed enthusiasm for the concept of the Cité de l’Ecrit and was impressed by the range of books by American poets available at The Glass Key. Staying at the Hotel de France Robert Creeley died at sunrise on 30 March 30 2005 of complications from preumonia. He is buried in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


Died on this day – 15 February 1869

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.