This post is the first in a four-part series on why bibliophiles find Europe a compelling destination that feeds their love of books and literature.
France and England are ideal destinations for bibliophiles: both countries have a rich history of supporting a system of patronage for poets, playwrights, novelists, and essayists. Some of the most beloved English-language writers–and writers whose translated works have been widely read in English–are buried in England and France. It may seem macabre to begin this series with death, but there is a long and noble tradition of honoring the dead and their living accomplishments by visiting their graves.
Making an informal pilgrimage to the burial sites of famous writers can add a few hours or several days to your journey through Europe, depending on how dedicated you are to seeing as many authors as you can. While this is by no means a comprehensive list of all the writers buried in England and France, here is a sample of who you’ll see in both these countries.
Montparnasse Cemetery, Paris
Located in Paris’ 14th arrondissement, the cemetery in Montparnesse houses the remains of some of France’s most renowned writers and philosophers of the 20th century, and as such it can be crowded with tourists in the busy season. However, we’ve been to this cemetery on a drizzly day in May, and it was nearly empty, but just as beautiful.
Marguerite Duras, died 1996 – novelist and screenwriter known for her autobiographical novel The Lover, as well as her screenplay Hiroshima, Mon Amour. If you visit her grave, make sure to bring a pen to leave in a flower pot near her tombstone.
Simone de Beauvoir, died 1986 (interred with Jean-Paul Sartre, died 1980) – feminist theorist, novelist, and existentialist. Her ashes are interred at Montparnesse Cemetery with her lifelong companion, existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre.
Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris
Père Lachaise is not only the largest cemetery in Paris, it’s also the most-visited cemetery in the world. While Jim Morrison’s grave is perhaps the most famous one at this cemetery, there are several other English-language writers whose graves are worth visiting. The cemetery opened in 1804, and it’s estimated there are more than one million bodies buried there!
Oscar Wilde, died 1900 – Irish playwright and novelist. He died of meningitis in France at the age of 46, after fleeing the British Isles where he was imprisoned for two years.
Richard Wright, died 1960 – American novelist, writer, and poet, known for Native Son and Black Boy.
Gertrude Stein, died 1946 (interred with Alice B. Toklas, died 1967) – novelist, poet, and playwright of the literary modernist movement and Parisian avant-garde. Gertrude Stein, though American, lived in Paris most of her life, with her partner Alice B. Toklas whom she shares a tombstone with.
Westminster Abbey in London
The number of famous English writers interred at the Westminster Abbey is remarkable, as is the queue to get in. While a church has stood on the grounds of Westminster Abbey since the eleventh century, the current building dates back to 1245. Many of the greatest English writers are buried here, at Poet’s Corner.
Geoffrey Chaucer, died 1400 – Considered to be the father of English literature, writer of the Canterbury Tales and first “resident” of Poet’s Corner.
Charles Dickens, died 1870 – Prolific writer and journalist, who remains one of the most read English writers of all time.
Jane Austen, died 1817 – Author of more than six novels, who broke with the sentimental conventions of her time to usher in a new era of realism in English literature.
Cemeteries Off the Beaten Path
Holy Trinity Church, Stratford upon Avon in Warwickshire
William Shakespeare, died 1616 – poet, playwright, and actor, William Shakespeare is buried at the Holy Trinity Church, and his grave even includes a curse on anyone who moves his bones. There is also a tribute to him at Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey.
Wolvercote Cemetery, Oxford
J.R.R. Tolkien, died 1973 – writer known for the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit books, his grave includes references to characters from the Middle Earth, the world he created in his best-loved stories.
At BellaTerra, we love making your European dream come to life by designing custom trips that suit your particular hobbies, passions, and interests. If you’re a bibliophile looking to tour Europe’s literary culture and history, contact us today and we’ll get started.