Arse vs. ass

* In ‘Anal Magic’, a review reprinted in Homage to Qwert Yuiop of Norman Mailer’s 1983 novel Ancient Evenings, Burgess writes:

The anus is here sometimes called the ass or the asshole. This is a pity. The word should be arse, which has an ancient ancestry, whereas ass is an Americanism of puritanic provenance.

* Burgess makes the same point in A Mouthful of Air:

‘Ass’ for ‘arse’ does not seem to represent a willingness, on British lines, to make the word arhotic; rather it is a puritanical substitution which forces a real ass to become a donkey or burro.

* There is an exchange on the subject in Chapter 10 of the 1984 Burgess novel Enderby’s Dark Lady, or No End to Enderby:

‘Arse is one thing, ass quite another.’

‘That first word is a British perversion of that second one.’

‘Ah, bloody nonsense.’

* In The King and the Adulteress: A Psychoanalytic and Literary Reinterpretation of Madame Bovary and King Lear (1998), Roberto Speziale-Bagliacca explains (see the extract below) that Burgess wrote personally to him to advise that, as Speziale-Bagliacca put it, he

tread carefully on this [arse-ass] matter.

* Burgess is not just inimical to ‘arse’. He also takes a stand against ‘pussy’. He writes in his essay on sexual arrogance (he used the foreword to the 1991 Grove Press edition of Frank Harris’s My Life and Loves for this purpose):

To call the female pudenda a ‘pussy’, as Harris frequently does, is as much an evasion as to call it, as the eighteenth-century pornographers did, ‘the bower of bliss’, but at least the more orotund term raises it to a paradisal level, while the other is a childish reduction, a nursery animalisation that is ignoble.

Extract from Roberto Speziale-Bagliacca’s ‘The King and the Adulteress: A Psychoanalytic and Literary Reinterpretation of Madame Bovary and King Lear’ (1998)

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