I suggest now that we all strip ourselves stark ballock naked

Burgess in SE Asia

‘We’re speaking naked, naked,’ says Anthony Burgess as he begins this talk at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London.

I know of no photograph of a naked Anthony Burgess (author of Pourquoi nous aimons la Royauté — Paris Match, N° 1680, 7th August 1981; see the English translation). But there is this one of the then teacher-writer clad only in shorts, sitting outside his house — probably in Kota Bharu.

There exists to my knowledge no picture — unless it has been eaten by termites — of Burgess employing the best of both worlds, as W. Somerset Maugham put it, i.e. wearing a sarong with a pyjama jacket. Maugham was wrong about this, pyjamas being as Asian in origin as is the sarong.

All the same, like Prince Henry of Wales and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Burgess does appear to have had a thing about nakedness, as this extract (p. 145 of the Penguin edition) from his 1963 novel Honey for the Bears (read the Liana Burgess ‘running commentary’ here) suggests:

There was a jam-jar with a scant bunch of the flower in it, sitting on the cloth-topped soap-box by Anna’s side of the bed. ‘For that the furtive ties pronounce auriculous,’ recited Paul, ‘and in fat andirons cross and cowslip lay – then foreshore tits wax loud in holdall brew.’ There was applause. Feodor started a sort of frog-dance. They were all old Russia after all, God bless them. ‘I suggest now,’ cried Paul, ‘that we all strip ourselves stark ballock naked.’

And in the same novel:

Paul woke up startled to find himself naked and sweating on the red leather settee by the forward bulkhead.


He [like Prince Henry of Wales] was interested to see that he was stark naked.


She [like Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge] was naked down to the navel.


he had been profoundly and unholily stirred by that slapped wet nakedness


he [like Prince Henry of Wales] revelled in…total nakedness


The light from the window seemed in love with his head: it polished its nudeness and was an auricome for the stubble above the folded nape.

That’s before we even get started on other books, such as Earthly Powers, which is full of nakedness. To take one of countless examples in the novel:

Hortense went back with me to Monaco. It was only when the train was nearing Nice and she was gold-flushed with excitement at her first view of the Côte d’Azur that I began to wonder at the propriety of having her stay in an apartment where a susceptible Italian artist sometimes made our morning coffee naked and occasionally micturated without shutting the toilet door.

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