The most significant events in the history of books on the 21st of October
1687: Edmund Waller dies. He was an important figure in the development of the English heroic couplet (perfected by John Dryden and Alexander Pope) and was at one time hugely admired, though he is now best remembered for just one poem, ‘Song‘ (‘Go, lovely rose’).
1772: Samuel Taylor Coleridge is born. He is credited with coining the words bipolar, bisexual, psychosomatic, and selfless. His most enduringly popular poems are probably ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, ‘Christabel’, ‘Frost at Midnight’, and ‘Kubla Khan’.
1777: Playwright Samuel Foote, known as the ‘English Aristophanes’, dies. He lost one of his legs in an accident but took it good-humouredly, and often made jokes about it.
1921: The film The Sheik premieres, starring Rudolph Valentino. It was based on a novel by Edith Maude Hull. It helped to make Valentino world-famous, one of the first superstars of the silver screen. The novel, meanwhile, has not lasted, despite being a bestseller at the time.
1929: Ursula K. Le Guin is born. (The K., by the way, stands for Kroeber.) A prolific author of fantasy and speculative fiction, Le Guin has influenced a whole raft of writers in those genres. One of her best novels is the 1971 dystopia, The Lathe of Heaven, about a man whose dreams can have an impact upon the real world. (It’s set in 2002, and like so many futuristic dystopias set in the near future, it was wildly inaccurate in many of its prophecies.) The title is taken from Chuang Tzu, though it’s a mistranslation of a phrase more accurately rendered into English as ‘the scourge of heaven’, as Le Guin later discovered.
1940: For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway is published. Taking its title from John Donne’s Meditation XVII, it centres on Robert Jordan, a young American who is fighting for the republican cause in the Spanish Civil War.
1969: Jack Kerouac dies. The cult that grew up around the Beat Generation writer would lead to Johnny Depp buying a raincoat once owned by Kerouac for $15,000.
Image: Hemingway posing for a dust jacket photo by Lloyd Arnold for the first edition of For Whom the Bell Tolls, at the Sun Valley Lodge, Idaho, late 1939; Wikimedia Commons; public domain.