November 1 in Literary History: W. H. Smith Opens Its First Railway Bookstall

The most significant events in the history of books on the 1st of November

A momentous day in literary history, November the 1st saw the first performance of a classic Shakespeare tragedy, Jane Austen’s most famous novel rejected, and a well-known bookshop make history…

1604: William Shakespeare‘s Othello is performed for the first time, at Whitehall Palace in London.

1611: William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, probably his last single-authored play, also has its premiere on this day, seven years after Othello. It’s also performed at Whitehall Palace.

1790: Edmund Burke publishes his Reflections on the Revolution in France. He predicts that the Revolution will descend into chaos and little good will come of it. Thomas Paine, who would himself be a victim of the Reign of Terror (and would narrowly escape execution), will write his Rights of Man in response to Burke’s arguments.

1797: Jane Austen’s father asks if bookseller Thomas Cadell would be interested in reading his daughter’s book, First Impressions. Cadell says thanks, but no thanks. The book would later be rewritten and published (in 1813) as Pride and Prejudice.

1848: W. H. Smith open their first bookstall at Euston Station. W. H. Smith came into being when Henry Austen2Walton Smith (so ‘H. W. Smith’) set up as a news vendor in London in 1792. By the 1860s most major railway stations in Britain had a W. H. Smith stall. In 1860 a W. H. Smith circulating library would also be founded, enabling subscribers to the service to borrow a book at one station and then return it (and exchange it for a new book) at another station.

1871: Stephen Crane is born. He is best remembered for writing The Red Badge of Courage (1895), a novel about the American Civil War. Crane died aged just 28.

1896: Edmund Blunden is born. He was a noted war poet and was later appointed Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford.

1955: Noted critic and reviewer James Wood is born. He makes it onto our list of the best books about literature, for his excellent introduction, How Fiction Works.

1972: Ezra Pound dies, leaving his vast modernist epic The Cantos unfinished, though the poem stands at nearly a thousand pages as it is. Pound was an important figure – perhaps the most important figure of all – in Anglo-American modernism, helping James Joyce’s Ulysses to get into print and encouraging and promoting T. S. Eliot‘s work.

Image: Jane Austen (author unknown, 1873).

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