Anthony Burgess remembered in Malta
Iwas unable to attend any of the three Anthony Burgess events which took place between 11th and 13th October. This year is the centenary of his birth. The main event was a Symposium – Anthony Burgess in Malta. The keynote speaker was Professor Andrew Biswell, director of the International Anthony Burgess Foundation. His paper was Anthony Burgess: The Years in Malta. He promised me a copy.
Other speakers were Dr Giuseppe Schembri Bonaci and Prof. Ivan Callus.
The following day the film A Clockwork Orange, which had been banned in Malta all those years ago and which is based on Burgess’s novel, was screened.
A piano concert took place on the last day which premiered scores by Anthony Burgess performed by the composer Tom Armitage, who resides here. It was a very busy week for me and I missed it all.
However I did have the pleasure of meeting Prof. Biswell for coffee at Cordina’s.
Andrew Biswell (who is the same age as my eldest) is not one to boast of his achievements but I happened to find out that he was in Monaco in February where he spoke about the connections between Burgess and the Principality. He examined the links between the period of Burgess’s residence in Monaco and the late flowering of his literary and musical creativity. Drawing on a wealth of unpublished material, the talk was illustrated with photographs and music. This was the first time that the story of Burgess’s life in Monaco was told in detail.
Anthony Burgess was a Founding Trustee of the Princess Grace Irish Library where the talk took place.
The Burgess’s had moved to Monaco in 1975. Living in the top floor apartment at 44 rue Gimaldi. Anthony wrote many of his most famous works in the Principality including Earthly Powers and the two volumes of his autobiography. His detailed diary of his life on the Riviera has been preserved in the archive of the International Anthony Burgess Foundation.
Naturally as Director of her husband’s Foundation Prof. Biswell was well acquainted with Liana Burgess. He told me that she made sure that her husband’s memory would live on and established the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, leaving a collection of Anthony’s books and papers to the Foundation, which is based in Manchester.
The Burgess Foundation is an independent educational charity that encourages public and scholarly interest in all aspects of the life and work of Anthony Burgess. Every year it awards the 3,000 Pound Sterling Observer/Anthony Burgess Prize for Arts Journalism, open to writers from around the world. Now, that’s a chance for some clever Maltese writer to participate.
There is little Prof. Biswell doesn’t know about the Burgess family. He is Burgess’s biographer and has published The Real Life of Anthony Burgess which he says is now obsolete, so he is working on a new edition.
I was very sad to hear that Anthony and Liana’s only son Andrea, whom I remember well, died in 2002 aged 37, following an incident related to his epilepsy. Prof. Biswell said that Liana never recovered from this sad loss. She died in 2007 at the age of 78.
Andrew Biswell is Professor of Modern Literature in the Department of English at Manchester Metropolitan University. He has all kinds of plans to carry on with the work of the Foundation. Amongst them is an exhibition in Malta about Burgess’s stay here. Hopefully the exhibition will then travel to other countries.
There are plans to write a book about Liana Burgess, who was herself an accomplished academic and translator.
Another book planned is an edition of Burgess’s letters. He was apparently an inveterate letter writer.
Prof. Biswell also told me that there are many photos of Anthony and Liana which they took of each other in Malta.
During his short stay Prof. Biswell went to visit the house in Lija where they lived when they arrived in Malta in 1968. It had been requisitioned as it was empty since they had left Malta for Italy, as censorship of his books became unbearable, but it was later on returned to them and sold.
Prof. Biswell is, as you can imagine, a fount of knowledge. Is there anything he doesn’t know about Burgess? He collects the original first editions of Anthony Burgess’s books including the ones which were censored in Malta.
He told me that often, when a fan wrote to Burgess asking for a signed photograph, he would say that he was not photogenic and would send them a newly composed sonnet instead.
“For some reason or another publishers always ask for a photo of Anthony not smoking. There are more than 7000 photos in the archive, but he is smoking in all of them. Even when he appears not to be smoking, he is hiding a cheroot out of shot,” Prof. Biswell remarked.
Andrew Biswell will be returning to Malta in the near future. firstname.lastname@example.org
Professor Andrew Biswell at Cordina’s
The Burgess ‘s house in Main Street, Lija