Anthony Burgess re­mem­bered in Malta

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - LIFESTYLE & CULTURE -

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. mbenoit@in­de­pen­dent.com.mt

Pro­fes­sor An­drew Biswell at Cor­dina’s

The Burgess ‘s house in Main Street, Lija

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