Author Archives: Geoffrey Grigson


Visiting Australia, Burgess discovered that

the chip on the shoulder was still there, and I wondered why. It was hard for this Pom to say the right thing. My commendation of Patrick White’s achievement aroused snarls about the ‘Keep Australia Patrick White Society’.

White gave Burgess and his second wife dinner,

exquisitely cooked by his Greek companion. He spoke highly patrician English and made no secret of his homosexuality.

Burgess apprehended that

the digger prejudice was so strong that one had to suspect an occult vein of homosexuality in the most ostentatiously virile.

There was

a lower-middle-class shame about sex.

The prudery, along with anti-intellectualism,

seemed to be British colonial legacies.

The moral and mental climate of Australia

did not do justice to the land itself, vast, with bewilderingly rich flora and fauna.

The politicians could have been respected

if they had made their philistinism an aspect of a policy.

One writer said to Burgess,

I’m a lowbrow and I write for lowbrows.

Another writer, Frank Hardy,

trembled with resentment of Patrick White, who had let Australia down by viewing it through the prism of a Pommy education.

A literary woman came up to Burgess and said,

We don’t want whingeing Poms like you here. We want blokes like Yevtushenko.

Burgess asked her,

You understand his Russian?

She screamed:

That’s not the bloody point!

Australia, Burgess felt,

seemed a country that was doggedly determined to honour no-bloody-nonsense rather infantile masculinity.


Amis on Burgess’s wives

Lynne, a translator and Burgess’s first wife, wanted Burgess to beat up Terence Kilmartin (who produced among other things a translation of Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu). Liana, a translator and Burgess’s second wife, ballocked Kingsley Amis for presumptuously thinking he understood the problem faced by Czech Marxists whose country had been occupied by the USSR.

Australia: the beach

By the time Burgess caught up with D.J. Enright in Singapore, the professor of English was

resigning, along with other expatriates, from the university.

Talking of Australia, Enright told Burgess: ‘You’ve been to worse places.’ Down under, Burgess found that this was

an understatement. This was the country for young Andrea [Burgess’s stepson] to grow up in, bare brown toes splaying on the beaches under the sun.

Australian women, Burgess noted with delight, were

well-built and beautiful.

He was particularly interested in

a very beautiful waitress, with sumptuous long legs exposed in a miniskirt,


leaned over a table to collect a plate and displayed those legs to the limit.

Burgess was, he confesses,

unholily moved.


I lived for a long time on the same busy square, and I would probably still be living there if the landlord had not thrown me out.

Burgess lived here at 16A Piazza Santa Cecilia (the third floor flat) from 1970 or 1971 (after his return from Malta) until about 1976, when he moved to Monaco — while returning often to the Rome area to his residence at Bracciano.

The apartment was at Number 16A, on the third floor, and it had a salon, two bedrooms, a workroom, a bathroom, and a cold water kitchen. In the 1970s, Italian, or Milanese, furnishings were at their best, and the flat soon became a model of chic, what with wall bookshelves in the shape of a half-globe, a huge metal light-picture with beaten bronze doors to shut off or open up individual luminous patches; a great Italian letto matrimoniale, of the deep wide kind in which the wives of Mafia bosses dictate midnight policy; tables, chairs and desks of lucid cream or crimson; floor lamps in body-shaped parchment of the kind called ghosts or fantasme. The elegance was unabetted by tidiness: Liana said that life was not the making of beds but the unmaking of them. The untidy life of the piazza and of the narrow abutting lanes, car-honks, song, the labour of the makers of fake antiques, was answered by the baroque beauty of the basilica of Santa Cecilia, where the bones of the patroness of music were said to lie. We looked out on the flaking golden putti who guarded her church, some of whom made minute obscene gestures at such rulers of Rome as would pass or enter. There was a baroque organ within, and on this I was occasionally to play, though not the tunes of Cyrano. Gazing out, I felt happiness stirring like a threat. Despite the thieves, the streets and piazzas of Rome were a joy. I was always addressed as professore. To be a writer in Rome was no small thing.

The planet Kartoffel

Burgess on how to plot your SF novel

Burgess on why most SF is so damned dull

Science fiction plots, writes Burgess, are

easily devised. We are a million years into the future, and the world is run by the Krompir, who have police robots called patates under a grim chief with a grafted cybernetic cerebrum whose name is Peruna. There is a forbidden phoneme. If you utter it you divide into two identities which continue to subdivide until you become a million microessences used to feed the life system of Aardappel, the disembodied head of the Krompir. But there is a phonemic cancellant called a burgonya, obtainable on the planet Kartoffel. You can get there by Besterian teleportation, but the device for initiating the process is in the five hands of Tapuach Adamah, two-headed head of the underground Jagaimo. Man must resist the System. The Lovers, who amate according to the banned traditional edicts of Terpomo, proclaim Love. Type it all out and correct nothing. You will find yourself in the Gollancz SF constellation.

On Sophia Loren

Burgess was quite interested in the Italian actress Sophia Loren. He wrote (see Abacus paperback edition of Homage to QWERT YUIOP, p. 127):

One of the heroines of our time….Total beauty…a paradigm of virtue…universal respect…goddess….When I first met her I was inclined to grovel on the carpet, but her humanity forbade it. She is a woman raised to a higher power….She cooks tasty meals out of scrag end…a real woman, ready to cook pasta and fagioli…a universal woman….Special femininity…tempestuous fieriness tempered with a hard sense of disillusion which yet allows room for hope….There are beautiful girls enough, but very few as beautiful as Sophia…her beauty is something immanent…the totality of her beauty….The body is beautifully made…a beauty that could strike straight at the appetite….The hunger that such a woman arouses…makes men howl with lust…eliciting the drying up of saliva and the lump in the throat as she exposes what is a delectable body…refocillating many a wilting male appetite…sex goddess…capacity to excite is part of her universal role…the universality of a human appeal…all woman….I was charmed, overwhelmed…a fine woman…passionate and earthy….I wish for consummation…the glow of her femininity…

New York

In the early 1970s, the Burgess family — AB, Liana, Andrea, and their Ethiopian maid — lived at Apartment 10D, 670 West End Avenue, in New York in the USA.


Burgess writes in his autobiography:

I foresaw, and said so, that

  • student indiscipline
  • victimisation of the faculty, and
  • the elevation of racial rights above the demands of scholarship

were going to degrade the study of the liberal arts, kill the departments of humanities, and leave the real work in the hands of the students of computer engineering.

Tangiers: Medina

Extract from Burgess’s novel of Tangiers, Enderby Outside (1968):

Tangiers sounded like just the sort of place a man of Rawcliffe’s type would end up in. Moorish catamites. Drinking himself to death. Drinking was too slow a process.

His true place was that Kasbah, high up at the end of the town, where beggars slept at night in the doorways of shark shops, all Rif rifles from the iron-founding Midlands.

Up there the white huddled Medina on the hill, once watchful of the sea-invaders. Blood and buggery, the Koranic cry of teeth as the scimitar slashed. And now a pretty cram of stucco for the visiting painter. Donkeys, palms, the odd insolent Cadillac with a sneering wealthy young Moor in dark glasses. This bilious sea. There were not, thank Allah, many police about and, in any case, they did not greatly molest beggars.

‘Give him something, George, go on. Poor old man.’

And the plebeian tourist, in open-necked shirt and double-breasted town suit, handed Enderby a tiny clank of centimes. His wife, growing a lobster colour that was vulgarly Blackpool, smiled in pity. Enderby bowed and allahed.

It was really surprising what you could pick up on this game — handfuls of small tinkle that often added up to well over a dirham, filthy torn notes that the donors probably thought carried plague, the absurd largesse of holiday drunks. He was eating, if not sleeping, well on it all. Arab bread with melon-and-ginger confiture, yummiyum couscous (better than Easy Walker’s), fowl-hunks done with saffron, thin veal-shives in a carraway sauce — all at a quiet fly-buzzing incurious shop near the little Souk or Succo, one that had, moreover, a Western WC instead of a hazardous wog crouch-hole. He was also drinking a fair quantity of mint-tea, good for his stomach.