Category Archives: Australasia

Burgess on Patrick White

In a letter to Geoffrey Dutton, Patrick White writes amusingly about Burgess’s second wife. And in one in the same year to Marshall Best, he writes:

Anthony Burgess seems to have ruffled the Australian Writers in a talk he gave, in which he said: ‘A country is only remembered for its art. Rome is remembered for Virgil, Greece for Homer, and Australia may be remembered for Patrick White.’ The newspaper report continues: ‘The entire gathering of writers, which did not include Patrick White, held its breath in shock for a moment before releasing it in a smothered gasp. No one clapped.

 

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Australia

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.

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,

who

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

Burgess was, he confesses,

unholily moved.

Wellington

In Wellington, writes Burgess,

blandness was merely the thin surface of a bubbling muddy unrest among the young. It was as the author of a novel they considered subversive, though it was merely theological, that they tried to force drugs on me, affirming that I would write better stoned.

At the airport after their tour, Burgess and Liana

drank cocktails called Death in the Afternoon while waiting for the afternoon flight to Fiji. A girl named Helen Bradshaw, one of the New Zealand secretaries in Brunei, appeared in hail and farewell to mourn Lynne’s death. ‘She had death in her face. It always seemed to me that she wanted to die.‘ Too much death altogether before a flight to Fiji.

Rotorua

The waitresses at the motel, Burgess writes in his autobiography, were

glorious Maori girls.

He was in Rotorua to open a convention of booksellers, who, he says,

exulted in their thriving greeting-card, paper doily and Barbara Cartland businesses and disparaged literature as a nuisance — hard to sell and it got in the way of the doilies. The next morning I thundered about booksellers’ responsibility and attacked suburban philistinism.

Christchurch

Burgess writes that Christchurch

seemed grim and dourly northern. A foul wind blew in from the Antarctic. There was a fair amount of resentment down there, resentment of big Australia, which called Kiwis ‘Poms without brynes’, and of a distant Britain which was neglecting its Commonwealth, and New Zealand mutton, to become Europeanised.